Sunday, August 31, 2008

It's Autumn - - Official!

"Here we have Autumn Mist," I wrote in an email this morning. "Soon it'll be the spiders' webs."

Then I looked out of the window.

They're everywhere, all over the trees and bushes:

Here's a closer look at the traditional and beautiful Orb Web:

and if you would like to make one, click here for full instructions!

Here's different kind of web, on the bushes by our garage:

And finally, here she is, the spinner of the orb web, waiting for a fly to come along and twang one of the strands:

So, folks, it's officially Autumn in England: season of mists and mellow fruitfulness as old John Keats put it.

I think we're all still waiting for summer, for golden bucket-and-spade seaside days, for the feel of the sun on our skin.

Maybe next year.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

A New and Unusual Use of the Word "By"

I saw this on television. And I don't understand it.



Firstly, I don't understand the concept behind this kind of marketing idea, which HAS to be, "If I buy this perfume I will be as rich, beautiful, successful etc as Kate Moss."

If I buy some, then do I have to go out with some dull booze'n'druggie kind of person and leave posh clubs late at night looking very much the worse for wear?

But actually, the main thing is this. In what sense, preceisely, is this perfume "by" Kate Moss? Did she frolic through the fields picking flowers, dry them and mix them expertly to create this fragrance? Or did she even go into a lab and mix some synthetic smells to make it? I don't think she did, and neither do you. So does anyone? How can it be "by" Kate Moss?

If Amy Winehouse brings out a perfume, I won't be rushing to buy it.

So - - who played Maureen Maskell, then?

In a moment, when I've gone on a bit about a few other things, I'm going to show you the end credits from an episode of Juliet Bravo.

Juliet Bravo was a television police series which ran from 1980 - 1985, about a female police inspector (whose name was not Juliet Bravo, something which confused nearly everyone) in an all-male police station in Lancashire.

I really enjoyed it - both with Stephanie Turner (an old friend of my friend David Robertson's) in the leading role, and also with Anna Carteret in the later series (she used to go out with another old friend, it's a small world). It wasn't made on a huge budget: when they were filming it, they just kept changing the number plate on their one police car, so it looked as though they had several.

My friend Marcus was in it once as a teenager, playing a Bad Lad. He made a brave attempt to alter his one line.

His line was "Oh look! It's the police!"

He wanted to say "Oh fuck! It's the fuzz!" which is a line that has rather more character but it was the early Eighties and a family show and he had no chance of success.

Anyway, please have a look at the closing credits. What do you notice?



Well, I noticed that Joanne Whalley was in there, before she was ever in Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective as the pretty nurse who had to cover Michael Gambon (who played Philip Marlow who suffered from psoriasis) in cream, whilst he tried very hard to think of things that were very dull and not erotic in any way at all.

And I also noticed that the journalist was played by a Manchester actor called Malcolm Raeburn, who was in a play written by a friend of mine a few years ago.

But - as in that splendid line from that magnificent film Airplane! - that's not important right now. What is important, and what I'm getting at, is that I could read the credits.

Yes, in those far-off days you could actually read the credits, and find out who was in it, and who the director was, and even the Assistant Floor Manager, if that was what interested you.

These days, at the end of most television series, the closing credits whizz by so fast that it would be impossible to read them - and anyway, they usually cover at least half the screen in an advert for something else, so that the credits are about two millimetres high as well as going at the speed of scandal.

I think it's a real shame - and also, not fair on all the people who've worked on the programme, including the actors. Whoever it benefits, it most certainly isn't the viewers.

Friday, August 29, 2008

And now - - English!

I'm still engrossed in The Eleven Plus Preparation Book, first printed 1958, reprinted 1966.

Now I'm going to try to engross you a bit, too.

The eleven-plus, you will remember, was an exam taken by all state school children in Great Britain and Northern Ireland (it may have been taken in other places too, she said hastily) and your result decided which kind of school you went to: - a more "academic" school called a Grammar School, or a supposedly more "practical" school called a Secondary Modern.

There were questions about Arithmetic (which I thrilled you with a couple of days ago) and now we're moving on to English.

The eleven-plus has now been abolished almost everywhere. Looking at these questions, I am surprised by how difficult some of them are, and also by how middle-class they are.

Let's start with some easy ones, shall we?

Write five suitable questions to which you think the following would be good answers: -

1) Because I was in a hurry.
2) He is called Robert.
3) It was exactly two o'clock.
4) Yes, we do.
5) Last November.

Oh, don't tempt me - - !

Far trickier are these:

1) What animal is sometimes called Bruin?
2) What is the wife of a Duke called?
3) What is the name given to a big railway station that is at the end of the line?
4) What is the name of the most important church in a city?
5) What kind of artist makes figures out of stone or clay?

And then we have this:

Write a composition on one of the following: -

EITHER:

a) Describe the best day of your summer holidays last year.
OR:
b) Your friend and you are walking in the country when you are caught in a very bad mist. Tell the story of what happened.

Me, Sir! Let me do it! I can do it! I want to do it! -- Oh yes, I was well in my comfort zone with this kind of thing. I hated exams, but I still remember that feeling of "oh yes, I can do this, I know what they want - - "

I think that perhaps I peaked at eleven. It's been a gradual downhill slope ever since.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Everyday and the Special

Sorting the endless family belongings, I've found that pieces of paper with writing on come in two types.

There are the pieces of paper that have been kept because they're special, and the ones that have been kept because they simply haven't been thrown away - they have lurked in a drawer somewhere for thirty years or so, minding their own business, hoping nobody would notice them.

There are quite a few of the special ones:

It's painted on a postcard, with a quite definite rugby reference. So who painted it, and who received it?

Well, Uncle Dick was my grandfather, my mother's mother, Richard. He's the one who fought in the First World War and I have all his letters from the trenches. He died when I was eighteen months old but not before he'd made a huge impression on me by sending me a postcard with a picture of a monkey on it. I was delighted, and I have sent a lot of postcards ever since I was old enough to send them.

Who drew it, painted it and sent it? Well, I'd put my money on Amy, the family's Most Artistic Person, now eighty-four and still the family's Most Artistic Person: because she was married to Uncle Dick's nephew. Wonderful.

Then there are the ones which were a bit special, because they were sent for some kind of anniversary.

This was a birthday card to me from my Grandma, my mother's mother Charlotte.

She lived with us for about thirty years, so I saw many, many examples of her precise, early-last-century writing: she was born in 1898.

And it's so very familiar to me - it's as though she wrote this yesterday. It's hard to accept, looking at this, that there'll be no more of this writing ever: she died in 1991, age ninety-three.

So, the card was a bit special then: it's very special now.

Finally, here's a letter from the Communist to me, sent in December 1977 - the month that I met my husband Stephen - when I was away in Cardiff at university. The Communist was working in his chemist shop then, but also rehearsing for an amateur pantomime, and his letter, full of backstage complications, is very funny to me now, and yet very poignant, in these days when he has trouble even signing his name.

Dear Daphne

I have a choice between dropping you a line and looking at my script for tonight's run through.

Elizabeth is ill - some sort of breakdown - and has withdrawn from the Lion, she herself arranged with Harriet to do it. Harriet rang Pam, who said "Yes, please!" - but Doreen, who knows the part and is doing it at the matinee, had told me when Elizabeth was on holiday and missed rehearsals, that if she dropped out, Doreen would like to do it. I told Pam that I thought that the part should be shared between the two, as I believed that Doreen would be hurt, but Pam was adamand that Harriet do the full evenings and Sat - She phoned Jean, who agreed with her, and then phoned Doreen - who, of course, said she didn't mind.

Phil and I were a bit put out - and I was crosser cos bloodyjohn was there and stuck in his oar - said the Director must be ruthless and kept saying it.

Anywhereway, it's arranged now, so don't mention it. So we are rehearsing Sat. evening for the new Lion. Mam still has a bad cold and cough. Nanny phoned to ask how you are.

Your name is on the programme.

See you soon.

Love Dad


Nanny was my other grandmother, from Lithuania originally, who died in 1990, age 96. I remember all the people mentioned in the letter - the show was Alice Through the Looking-Glass.

The Communist sent me lots of letters when I was away, all written in his lunch hour at the shop, and I took this completely for granted - - and yet I kept them. So, even then, I must have known that, one day, the everyday would turn into the special.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

And Everything In Its Place

"A place for everything, and everything in its place." So my Grandma used to say: my mother's mother, Charlotte, who lived with us here for many years and was always trying to make order out of our chaos.

Good idea, Grandma, and I'm trying to put it into practice.

The trouble is, nothing that has entered this house has ever left. Or so it seems, anyway.

There are layers and layers of Ancestral Junk, dating from different periods in time.

There are boxes of Parental Junk. Much of it's next door at their house, but I still discover little caches of books with titles like "Greatest Short Stories of the 1930s", and a little membership booklet to show that, after the Second World War, my mother was a Friend of Czechoslovakia.

There are my brother's old school exercise books. My old school exercise books. Emily's old school exercise books. Old drawings. Old paintings. Old clothes. Old blankets. Old toys. In the depths of cupboards, old wallpaper. Many, many old postcards and old greetings cards.

Some things I can give to a charity shop - other things have such a sentimental hold on me that I just go "aaaaaaah" and have to find somewhere to put them.

I have to say that the other members of my family don't help - they all hate throwing things away. If I hire a skip and put things in it, my mother will take half of them out again.

So I'm sorting, and sorting, and sorting.

After a while, I can't face it any more and it's then I turn to ironing.

Ironing's a job I go for when I feel I should be doing something useful, but can't face anything else.

For ironing, to me, feels like cheating, because I can do it whilst watching television. I don't mind doing it: I'm quite good at it: and I like the resulting pile of folded, ironed clothes.

I know that many people these days don't bother with ironing, and I know it doesn't usually matter, unless you need a smart shirt for something.

Perhaps one day I'll think "That's it, no more ironing for me!" But that won't be until there's a place for everything in this house, and everything's in its place. I can't see that happening any time soon.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Eleven Plus

I was in the the second-to-last year that did the Eleven Plus examination in Leeds. Two years after I did it, it was abolished, and Comprehensive Schools, attended by everybody, were brought in.

At the time, it was absolutely crucial - if you passed it, you could go to grammar school and the world was your oyster. You could do lots of exams and get a good education and go to university.

If, however, you failed it, the Secondary Modern school awaited you, and that was it - you'd become a plumber, not a professor.

Yes, it was a simple green light/red light, yes/no system, deciding your destiny for you at the age of eleven (or, in my case, because my birthday's in July, ten).

The original idea was that the little innocent children would just turn up at school one day and be told that they were taking a lovely exam that day. And they'd all just go in and do it, and some would pass and some would fail.

There were tests in English, in Arithmetic and in General Intelligence.

But then many schools realised that if they "taught to the tests" the school's results would be a lot better.

Therefore, by the time I got to the top year of primary school, we had three classes:

4A, taught by Mr Storey. Nobody in his class was ever permitted to fail the eleven-plus.
4B, taught by Mr Robson. A few people at the top of the class passed it.
4R (short for Remove) - - Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here, was the general feeling. They didn't try to make children feel better about their ability, or lack of it, in those far-off days.

So, in my eleven-plus year, we worked and worked on knowing our tables instantly, and doing mental arithmetic (60 sums in 30 minutes: but all of class 4A had been so drilled by Mr Storey that we could get the lot done in twenty minutes and have ten minutes to check). We had practised our General Intelligence so much that our general intelligence had doubled - - or, rather, our ability to pass General Intelligence questions in the eleven-plus. As for English, there was no tricky word whose spelling we could not chant in chorus.

And I still remember almost all of it. The dozens rule! (Twelve buns at tuppence halfpenny will cost half a crown, because there were twelve pence in a shilling). My tables! How many yards in a mile (1, 760, since you ask).

Knowing my tables has come in useful on most days ever since. But the rest of it - - no. Because, for one thing, the world went decimal.

Yesterday, sorting out ancient junk, I found The 11 Plus Preparation Book (first published 1958, 11th impression 1966, just in time for me as I took it in 1967).

And I was stunned by how difficult the questions were. Even allowing for the datedness of the content.

Let's have a little go at some Arithmetic, shall we?

What number when multiplied by itself gives 169?

Add 173lbs to 2cwt. 1qtr.1 stone, 5lbs.

It might help you to know that cwt is short for "hundredweight" and that there are fourteen pounds (lbs) in a stone, 28 pounds in a quarter (qtr) and a hundred and twelve pounds in a hundredweight.

A girl can cycle three times as quickly as she can walk. It takes her 40 minutes cycling altogether to go to school in the morning and then home again in the evening. How long will it take her to walk to school?

A farmer has a field which has 6 sides. He finds that he needs 31 chains of fencing to fence the field completely. (22 yards in a chain, ten chains in a furlong, eight furlongs in a mile, folks) The first 4 sides take 5 chains 12 yards; 3 chains 10 yards; 4 chains 5 yards; 6 chains 13 yards. The last two sides are of equal length. How much fencing is needed for one of these sides? (I don't know about the farmer, but I think I need a little lie down in his field).

A prize of £3.12s (that's three pounds twelve shillings: there were twenty shillings in a pound) is to be shared between three boys so that for every 3s. Jim has, Jack will have 6s. and Tom's share is always three times as much as Jim's. How much will each boy receive? (Who knows? But they will, if they passed their eleven-plus).

Rulers are bought for 10s. per dozen and sold at 1s. each. What is the profit on 3 score? (A score is twenty)

Okay, so the teaching of maths has greatly changed and children today no longer have to worry about two men filling a bath with coal and how long they would take to do it. But I wonder how many eleven-year-olds would be able to tackle these kind of questions today, even if they were couched in measurements that they had heard of?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Three Grand Well Spent


It was 1959 when my parents bought this house, which you can see peeking out behind the overgrown trees and the fence which Gareth painted and which turned out more orange than expected. There used to be railings in front, but the Government took them in the 1940s, apparently, to help to defeat Hitler. And it worked!

Yesterday, sorting some ancient junk, I found the original information from the estate agent.

The property is L-shaped, but it is admitted that the front of the house is very plain and IT IS ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL TO GO INSIDE THE HOUSE TO APPRECIATE THE DELIGHTFUL CHARACTER.

Not, perhaps, the most eye-catching leaflet, but the house was an interesting mixture: built in 1896, it had been modernised in some ways: ATTRACTIVE MODERN FEATURES, INCLUDING CENTRAL HEATING. The central heating was powered by anthracite (tiny pieces of coal) and the Communist used to spend every Saturday afternoon, after finishing work in his chemist shop, "shovelling anthracite" as he used to term it, to make sure that there was enough heaped in the coal cellar nearby to power the boiler - which was down in the cellar - for the next week.

The cellar was always, therefore, lovely and warm, and washing hung down there dried really quickly. The heating didn't work so well in the rest of the house though - I notice "try sash windows" in my mother's writing on the leaflet. And they were lovely old windows: it's just that they let rather a lot of air in, even when they were closed.

The house was crumbling in a rather genteel manner, even then, and we spend a lot of time - and money - trying to prevent it from doing so, even now.

But my mother knew what she was looking for - she likes Outside in general, and gardens.

THE PRIVATE WALLED GARDEN TO THE REAR SOME 800 SQUARE YARDS IS A DELIGHFUL VALUABLE FEATURE: attractive lawns, 8 apple tres, 4 pear and 1 cherry, sundry trees and shrubs and for the children plenty of jungle (or vegetable space) and also SPACE FOR SOME POULTRY IF REQUIRED.

Where are my poultry? I've wanted some ever since!

And both my parents like plenty of light:

ALL THE ROOMS ARE LIGHT AND BRIGHT, AND ALL PRINCIPAL ROOMS HAVE WINDOWS TO TWO WALLS.

The directions for how to get here sound like something crafted by Charles Dickens:

TRANSPORT: No. 31 Gledhow bus from Tatler Cinema in Boar Lane or in Vicar Lane near Bradbury's Pork Butcher shop, and alight at the Terminus.

The asking price was £3,600 which was a lot then. My parents couldn't afford it but after a few months, when the house hadn't sold, the sellers came back to my parents' lower offer. They managed to buy it because my grandmother sold her house in Barrow-in-Furness and came to live with us, because my grandfather had died.

It's never been smart, this house. We've never managed to get it to look stylish in any way at all. My parents got rid of most of the original Victorian fittings - which upset me even at the time - because that was what you did in the Sixties. They built on two more rooms, with a glorious Sixties flat roof which is a bit of a pain to maintain.

The whole house always looks as though, if someone were only to spend fifty grand on it, it might look rather swish - it does have lovely high ceilings and the original plaster decorations on some of the ceilings - but, actually this is a myth. We have spent lots on it, since we bought it from my parents in 2000. It's had a new kitchen, a new bathroom, new central heating, double glazing, the outside re-coated, plenty of decorating, lots of new shelves (thanks John). And it still looks - well, a bit scruffy. Perhaps it's just us.

But, there is one crucial thing that I notice in the estate agent's blurb, and it's this. After the bit about IT IS ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL TO GO INSIDE THE HOUSE TO APPRECIATE THE DELIGHTFUL CHARACTER, it says:

It is a very intriguing house, with definite character and interest and a happy atmosphere which is very rarely found.

Now that, I think, is absolutely true. It's strange how a house can have an atmosphere - but this one does and always has done, and I think many people would say so. I've always loved it, and I know I've been lucky to spend so much of my life living here.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Butch Cactus and the Succulent Kid

There are some things that just aren't interesting, and cacti and succulents are two of them.

But please bear with me, I shall do my best.

I don't really know what the difference is between a cactus and a succulent (stay with me, please, I promise it will get better) except that all cacti are from either North or South America, and succulent is a word that I really, really dislike, like moist, that's another one - - it just sounds - - ewwwwwwww.

You see, I like looking after people first, animals second, plants third: and part of this looking-after thing is providing food and drink. But cacti and succulents just don't count - they don't need enough looking after. Where's the fun in that? For the first few years I owned them I tried to convert them into proper plants by giving them lots of water, and yes, I did talk to them: "Evolve or drown, you boring bastards!"

They just kept on growing. Slowly.

You can, should you wish to, read the website of the British Cactus and Succulent Society which tries very hard to make them sound interesting. Some of them flower as often as twice a year! And you can go away on holiday (to Arizona, or Mexico, presumably, with Cactus Tours Travel) and leave them for two or three weeks and they will come to no harm! Yes, the blasted things will still be alive when you get back, damn them, as boring as ever.

Anyway, here are some photos of my cactus collection. Or it could be my succulent collection, I don't know and I don't care. Try not to get too excited.

Unlike these cacti (or succulents).

And now, some more. Brace yourselves.

I think the two on the right are auditioning for some Western. See, this is where they were meant to be, not on my bedroom windowsill.

The trouble is, they've been on that windowsill for years and years. They belonged to my grandmother, my mother's mother, who used to live with us. What is now our bedroom used to be her living-room, and these interesting cacti were on her living-room windowsill. When we bought the house from my parents, there they were. And there they still are.

She died in 1991, and she'd had them for ages then. So I can't get rid of them - they're a living link to her. And about every third time I draw the curtains I get speared by one of them, and it's jolly painful.

That's the first time I've ever written about cacti (or succulents): it may well be the last: I can hear you hoping that's the case. Meanwhile, here's a clip from a good film.

(It's set in AMERICA!! Did I happen to mention that I'm GOING TO AMERICA IN NOVEMBER?!!)

There are probably some cacti in the background somewhere.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Story of The Fary and the Todstool

Today, clearing some ancient junk, I found again a little book containing the moment when I realised that writing was pretty cool.

I'd learned to talk early, at just one year old - this may, perhaps, be no surprise to you.

Anyway, my mother read to me a lot and I was really keen to learn to read and hence was an early reader, too, and an early writer. I started school at four, because I was held to be ready, though I didn't like it much.

When I was five, the teacher gave me a little booklet, about four inches square, with paper cut from an exercise book on the outside and lined paper stapled in the middle. She invited me to write a story. I remember thinking hey, this is fun, I know how to do this. And I remember struggling with the word "jam" which just wouldn't come right no matter what I did.

As for all other spellings, I remember being supremely confident that I had this spelling lark well under control. No other words gave me any trouble.

So I wrote The Story of the Fary and the Todstool, and drew some illustrations too.

And here it is, in full, for your perusal, exactly as I wrote it.

This is the Story of the fary and the Todstool
by Daphne.

one up on a time their was a fary who livd in a todstool. one day she lookt out of her hours and it was Snowing oh bother She sied now I canot go to the Bacors to get sume Bred and thears Nothig for dinner. now what shall I do. are yes Ill order my things

Now what is their to be orderd. a pound of butter some eggs and some Boyld ham. Now what else.
I No some gam and some peunuts and some sosigies. you are my Best pet he seid to her gould fish. as she put her coult and hat on.


She bout the eggs the boyld ham and the gam and the butter. and went home to wayt for the food to arive.
But it Never came what is the matter Now she seid. for she was getting rather tierd of thing going wrong. oh well I spose I will hav to go out agane. she seid as she went to put her coult and hat on. oh oh ooooh she seid.

--------------------

And there it ends. I had run out of time. I remember it attracted quite a lot of attention - I was only five after all - and I had to take it round the other classes to show it off, though I felt this was undeserved as it was unfinished.

Looking at it now, I rather admire the consistency of the spelling in Little-Daphne-World - such as the repeated "coult" for coat - and the brave struggle to spell "jam". Not to mention the truly inspirational one-off of "sosigies".

There are some plot inconsistencies - the fary can't go out because it's Snowing: and yet she does go out, to order the food to be delivered. In those days - yes, I'm afraid we are talking 1961 here - the grocer's boy would, of course, bring your order round on a bike and I would have known that. Sadly, we never get to hear of what crucial part the todstool would have played in the plot.

Because there was so much fuss about it in the school at the time, I think, the phrase "the fary and the todstool" has passed into family history.

"Yes, this writing lark's fun," thought the five-year-old Daphne, "and when I grow up I'm going to write a blog. Provided they've invented the internet by then, of course."

Going West at Last

I hardly dare to tell you this.

Because you've all done it far more than I have, I guarantee it.

Travelling, I mean.

I've always wanted to travel but, after my first baby died in 1984 aged three weeks, I had a deep-vein thrombosis in my leg, and it wasn't diagnosed for ages, until it travelled to my lung, and by then it had done a lot of damage to my leg.

Now, that little story was not a bid for sympathy: it was an explanation. My bad leg was so damned painful for a long time afterwards that I couldn't really have contemplated a long plane journey - or even, for a while, a short one.

But over the years, it's got better. Not completely better, but a lot better. I do quite a lot of walking, and some swimming, and those have helped.

Then I started this blog. And, a year ago, through blogging, I met Silverback, and we have become good friends. And he lives in Florida for half the year.

Now, all my life I've known I was never going to visit America. It was dinned into me from a very early age. Because, as you may have realised, the Communist is - well, a Communist. He believes, very strongly, that the Capitalist system is unfair (true) and he believes - I think - that if the planet's wealth was evenly distributed we would all be happier (and I would argue that this is a naive way of looking at things - but I don't do party politics so that's enough of that).

So of course, in those days, he could never go to America, because in those days in order to get in you had to answer a big fat NO to the question "Are you, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?"

Yes, the very idea of crossing the Atlantic, to our family, was something impossible, along with a package tour to the Moon, or the Communist closing a car door gently (he always thought that they needed to be slammed with the full force of his strength, which was considerable, since he had been a miner during the Second World War).

And now, in late November, Stephen and I will be going to Florida for two weeks. Yes, it's in the United States of America! We plan to visit Silverback, and to meet his friends Debby and Dennis and other friends too.

I can't believe it. Mention has been made that, on arrival, duct tape will be needed to close my open mouth. Perhaps I'll calm down in a week or two. But at the moment I'll be doing the ironing, and I think "OH WOW I'M GOING TO AMERICA!" and I'm having lunch and I think "OH WOW I'M GOING TO AMERICA!" and I'm drifting off to sleep and wake up suddenly thinking "OH WOW I'M GOING TO AMERICA!" You get the picture.

I told the Communist. He seemed to think it's a pretty good idea. Perhaps he's mellowing in his old age.

The First Time - - - and the Second Time - -

It's strange how you don't hear a song for ages and ages, and then suddenly hear it twice in one day.

The two versions I heard were X-Factor winner Leona Lewis's version:



and I also heard Roberta Flack's 1972 version:



So, which do you prefer? Okay, perhaps you hate the song: I love it, absolutely love it. There is a big place in my heart for sentimental ballads and this one gets me every time.

I think Leona Lewis has a great voice, and I think she sings it very well. But Roberta Flack's version is simpler, and gives me goosebumps every time I hear her beautiful voice. So, for me, this is the better version. What do you think?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Goodbye Kelloggs

Yesterday I went into the computer room - which might, perhaps, more accurately be termed "the reptile room"- to Stephen's perennial complaint - and found that Kelloggs the Corn Snake had died in the night.

It can be hard to tell with reptiles. Just a few weeks ago I was totally convinced that Kelloggs was dead - he'd had septicaemia a while back, and had to have his tail amputated (yes, snakes do have tails!) and I prodded him, and he didn't move. But on that occasion he was just very soundly asleep.

This time it was much easier to tell, and I shan't go into details in case you never read my blog again. He was about nine years old, which isn't young, but not incredibly old for a corn snake. They did say the septicaemia might recur, and I think that's what had happened.

When Emily was small and said she wanted a snake, having held many snakes at the superb Silent World in Tenby, we said that she could have one if she found out everything about looking after them.

She read lots of books and decided that a corn snake (this link takes you to photos, so don't look if you don't like snakes) would be best as they are fairly easy to look after: they eat mice, which you can buy frozen from the pet shop, in different sizes, getting bigger as the snake grows. You thaw them out and then you have to wiggle them so that the snake thinks they're alive. Snakes really aren't that bright.

We bought Kelloggs, then the size of a pencil, from Paws for Thought which is an excellent pet shop where they have a lot of specialist knowledge.

As he grew, he moved from a tiny space the size of an ice-cream tub to the 4'6" vivarium where he lived as an adult snake. He was about 4'6" long. Snakes don't need a huge tank, because they really don't like to move about very much - they stay in the hot place till they get too hot, and then they move to the cold place until they cool down a bit, and sometimes they have a drink of water. That's about it really. In between they may think profound thoughts - - but probably not.

He was always very tame, probably because he'd been handled since he was so young and had never been hurt by a human being. And he was a surprisingly interesting pet.

When we got him, I remember saying that we'd still have Kelloggs when Emily left home - - and so it proved.

And now he's dead: he's going to be buried tomorrow and my mother's going to plant some forget-me-nots there. No more mice in the freezer. It's the end of an era.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Summer's Afternoon in the Hospital

I was supposed to be meeting the Communist at the hospital this afternoon so that the Big Boss Man could look at his eye - the one with the detached retina - and decide whether they'd be able to operate to un-detach it again.

So this was a big deal to the Communist, the question being

a) Am I going to be blind in one eye for ever?

or

b) Am I going to get some sight back, even if it's not perfect?

The Communist, of course, had been worrying about it all since his last appointment a few weeks ago.

At that appointment, I checked that they had booked the right transport - an ambulance that can take a man in a wheelchair. If you're new to this sad saga, he had his left leg amputated last autumn because of diabetes.

Anyway, I had also spoken to the nursing home where he lives, three times, to check that the correct transport had been arranged, and was assured that it has been.

I walked to the hospital because it's not too far, and got there just in good time, and two o'clock came and went and the Communist failed to arrive.

So I made a few enquiries and, to cut a loooooong story short, they had sent the wrong kind of ambulance, the kind where you lie down, which was no use at all, since you can't get the Communist out of his wheelchair without two people and a mechanical hoist.

The Transport Woman - clearly used to dealing with Slightly Stroppy Daughter and the like - said "Well, we can only send the ambulance we're asked to send. They get it wrong a lot."

So they said that they were now sending the correct ambulance, and they did, and the Communist finally arrived at the eye clinic at about twenty past three, by which time I was really, really cross and upset, mostly because I knew that he would be upset.

And he was, though trying to put a brave face on it. But luckily they saw him pretty quickly, and it was tricky to manoeuvre him into the correct position for the machine to look into his eye. He saw the Second-in-Command Man, who went and fetched the Big Boss Man.

The Big Boss Man said that there had been a haemorrhage behind the retina, which had detached it, but that it had already done a lot of damage and operating would be dangerous for the Communist and wouldn't have much result. In a few months the blood would clear and he might get a little bit of vision back, but not much.

So that was that. Fortunately the other eye's in pretty good nick, considering it's going to be eighty-five on September 14th.

And then we went to wait for an ambulance to go back again. The Communist suggested that I might like to leave and go home but I wasn't going to leave him on his own, sitting in the foyer near the coffee shop, which, of course, was closed.

So we waited. I was bored and he was exhausted.

After half an hour or so they laid on some entertainment - the fire alarm went off. It was very, very loud and went on for a very, very long time. Everyone stayed exactly where they were. Nobody suggested that everyone should perhaps leave the building. The Communist and I were about two yards from the exit anyway so I reckoned we'd make a mad wheel for it when we saw the smoke.

Two fire engines turned up.

Yes, yes I know that you know what a fire engine looks like but by then I was very, very bored so I had to take a photo of something.

Some firemen got out and milled about. The alarm continued. Loudly.

Here are the firemen, milling, next to the queue of people waiting for transport.

Finally the firemen stopped milling about and went back to their fire engines and the alarm stopped.

And a paramedic arrived and called the Communist's name and we went in the ambulance and went back to the nursing home, where they had saved him something to eat.

I was really worn out with the hanging around and the stress of it all. The Communist was doing his best, for a man who'd just been told he's permanently blind in one eye, but I think it will take him a few days to recover.

That's the thing about the National Health Service. If you have an accident or a serious illness, it will scoop you up and look after you. If, however, you're just rather old and infirm, it will do its best to finish you off.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Twisting Perfection

Of all the tongue-twisters in all the world, this one's my favourite.

It's by Dr Seuss, excellent writer of children's books (though whoever put the music on this site should be stuffed head first into the Cat in the Hat's hat).

And in a book of tongue-twisters called Oh Say Can You Say, he wrote this most perfect of rhyming verses. I love verses that rhyme and scan - I hate it when you know they should, but they don't quite. I don't like it when writers twist things round to force a rhyme, such as "the sun did shine" and I don't like it when words should rhyme, but don't, in an "I walked into the kitchen, and there I saw a vixen" kind of way.

This little verse, however, is great.

Upon an island hard to reach
The East Beast sits upon his beach
Upon the west beach sits the West Beast
Each beach beast thinks he's the best beast.

Which beast is best? Well I thought at first
That the East was best and the West was worst
Then I looked again from the west to the east
And I liked the beast on the east beach least.Beast sits upon his beach.
U

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Stand and Deliver

Righto, get your frilly shirt on - - this is to get you in the mood for what I'm going to write about.



Yes, Adam Ant, singing in the days when highway robbery was illegal.

But now it's not - - in Britain we made it legal in the form of car clampers.

It's been an ongoing problem here for absolutely aaaaaaaaages. What happens is, you are driving in a strange city and can't find a car park, or the car parks are full, or they're horrendously expensive.

So you park on an empty bit of waste ground, bothering nobody, and when you get back you find that your car is now sporting a nasty yellow clamp on one of its wheels, and you have to pay anything up to a hundred quid to get it removed.

Up comes Neanderthal Man who has clamped it, and who only takes cash. He points to a sign. It is fifteen feet above ground level in a crevice where no light ever penetrates, and it says that you can't park there or you will be clamped, no excuses accepted, so tough.

Then Neanderthal Man marches you to the nearest cash machine and you give him lots of money and he removes the clamp and off you go.

Or, worse, you come back to find your car gone.

This happened to one girl in a television programme about it all last night - she was eighteen and had been to a pop concert, and came back to her car, eighty miles from home in Birmingham, a city that she didn't know, and there it wasn't.

It had been - amazingly, but the clampers told us so it must be true - clamped and then towed away, apparently, all in the nine minutes that she was late getting back after her parking ticket expired.

Her father offered to pay the four hundred quid (FOUR HUNDRED QUID! including forty quid for overnight storage, words fail me) by credit card so she'd get the car back the same night, but they weren't having any - - cash only.

Some undercover reporters parked an ambulance for a few minutes on a bit of waste ground to see what would happen. Guess what - they clamped it, showing no interest at all in the fact that it was an ambulance.

In this house by now we were shouting at the screen. What particularly annoyed us was that the television company had blobbed out the clampers' faces so that they couldn't be identified.

Yes, yes, we understood the legal reasons for it but by now we were past caring. "We want Vigilante Justice!" we yelled. "We want Baseball Bats!" We nearly shouted that good old cliche "It's Political Correctness Gone Mad!" but we stopped ourselves just in time.

Some Jobsworth Git from the Security Industry Authority banged on ponderously and with great defensiveness about how these clamping people have licences, so everything's all right.

Apparently the Trading Standards Authority has issued 5,000 of these Licences to Print Money and has revoked about fifty of them.

The Communist once had his car clamped. He arrived home with no clamp, having parted with no money. How did he manage this?

"Oh, well, I never noticed the clamp so I just drove backwards and forwards a bit wondering what was the matter. And then the clamp broke, so I drove off."

This is not how it works usually though. What could be done about it all? Well, firstly, the notices should be HUGE, and very obvious. And secondly, once a car has been clamped it should be illegal to tow it away until at least a day has gone by, with strong penalties, rigorously enforced. And thirdly, car-clampers should be recruited entirely from a pool of retired milkmen. (Why? Did you ever know a milkman who wasn't nice? No!). And fourthly, any car clamper or tower-away person found behaving like a jobsworth moron should have a car clamp attached to their leg for about a fortnight.

Look, I didn't say my solution was going to be easy to implement, or politically acceptable in any way. But it's going to be what happens when I'm in Charge.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Cycling in the Wet

Nearly three years ago, Stephen started cycling to work. It's six miles each way, and coming home is all uphill, oh yes.

At first he only did a day or two every week, but he's gradually built it up until now he does every day unless there's absolutely torrential rain in the morning when he's about to set off.

You know that thing they keep telling us about how lots of exercise makes you lose weight? Well, it's true - he wasn't exactly podgy to start with and now he's back to the thin strip of thinness that he was when I first knew him.

He's not very talkative, isn't Stephen. When he meets you, he'll talk for a short while and then disappear off somewhere. Emily used to introduce him to her friends thus:

"This is my father. He never speaks. It doesn't mean that he doesn't like you."

If he stays in the room, even for a while, it means that he really likes you.

It's fair to say that I am more talkative than he is.

He doesn't tend to write, either, unless it's in binary, for it's a well-known fact that he is indeed Half Man Half Computer. But suddenly, this week, completely out of the blue, he wrote something, though he doesn't know why. And I thought you might enjoy it, so here it is.

Cycling in the Wet

When people are exhorted to cycle more, maybe use their bicycle for commuting to work, the accompanying picture is always of young, fit, sexually attractive people, on nice new bicycles; at most there is a sprinkling of carefully sprayed-on dirt so it doesn't look too artificial. It is sunny, the road is open, and it looks kind of fun.

Reality can be a little different. Oh, it can still be fun: whizzing downhill at reckless speeds, rolling past traffic jams and even just gently moving along in the sunshine can all be very enjoyable. But there are also times when it is not quite so pleasant. And of course us slightly older, somewhat overweight and definitely unfit cyclists are hardly ever used in the pictures.

So sometimes it is fun and sometimes it isn't. It is even possible for it to be both at the exact same time, as this particular incident shows...

I set off in the morning in bright sunshine. It is close to a perfect day: sunny, no wind, and the traffic is very light. I almost expect to see photo-shoots of cyclists around every corner.

But during the day, while I toil at my work, it clouds over. It starts to rain. Then it starts to rain heavily. Then it starts to rain really heavily. Then it starts to rain really, really heavily. The sound of the water is deafening even through the double-glazed, totally sealed, un-openable office windows. So I look at the weather forecast and see that the rain is expected to last through the afternoon and evening, will probably include thunder and lightning, and weather and travel warnings are being issued.

Now it just so happens that getting proper wet-weather gear is one of those things I haven't got around to doing: I have only a “shower-proof” jacket to sling on. OK, I think, I am going to get wet. If I can accept this before leaving the building I won't mind so much: it is all a matter of attitude.

In actual fact I get a pleasant surprise when I step outside: I find the rain is curiously warm. I've never felt such warm water outside of a bathroom before, and it is strange but not at all uncomfortable. So I set off.

I do indeed get pretty wet fairly quickly. But it doesn't seem to matter much, and I quite enjoy the odd sensation, mainly because of the total lack of chill: it really is, and remains, lovely and warm. I keep going, feeling reasonably OK about it all.

After a bit I come to one of the more enjoyable sections: a long downhill stretch. It is not the steepest section, but still good enough to get to quite a speed, and I move up the gears to top as usual.

As I tootle along, I see a puddle ahead. No surprise in this weather. A quick look round, no traffic coming in either direction, so I decide to go round: no point in splashing water up from the road. I move out from the side of the road a bit.

Now I notice that the puddle seems to be getting wider. I keep going around until I am totally on the wrong side of the road, and up ahead the “puddle” widens to cover the whole road. And judging by the way the kerbstones are only just visible, it must be at least an inch or two deep.

Before I have a chance to decide what to do about all this I hear, coming up from behind, a police car with its sirens going. OK, no choice: I move over, into the water, to get out of its way. Now things start to happen a bit faster: it might help to read this next bit in slow-motion.

I find the depth of water varies quite dramatically from one moment to the next. This in turn affects steering, but before I can start to worry about that the next excitement starts. I expected a bit of splashing from the front wheel, but nothing like what happens. It feels like someone has pushed firehoses up both trouser legs and turned them on full: any sensation of wetness is lost in the solid pressure that drives both legs up around my neck. I am, in effect, water-skiing while holding on to my bike somewhere below. This severely reduces my ability to push the pedals round, or, indeed, control the bicycle in any way whatsoever..

I now find the police car is going past. They have slowed down, which is kind, but they restrict my options in terms of direction: them on one side, the edge of the road on the other. Not that it matters, I am not sure I have much control over my direction at this point anyway.

And now a further restriction: a big blue van up ahead that is pulling over and stopping to let the police car through. All very right and proper, but I now have nowhere to go. And I am still travelling at what might, in retrospect, be thought an unwise speed.

While considering what to do about all this I realise something I should probably have thought of before. All this water is actually on a hill: this is not a stable state of affairs. Water on a slope does not normally sit still. It begins to dawn on me that this is not so much a puddle, no matter how big, but is more like white-water rapids. Things I can't identify are being pushed along under the surface. The water is actually moving very fast in odd directions, so I am being pushed randomly to the left and right, on top of the unpredictable bumps from the unknown things beneath the water.

And then there is the matter of brakes. Now bicycle brakes are not terribly efficient at the best of times. When they get wet, their stopping power reduces to not much more than a vague hope.

So there's a lot of things going on, and I really need to start thinking about putting them in order and deciding on what, exactly, I am going to do about each one. I should probably make a list.

But the decision is taken away, and thankfully without anything nasty happening. I find I am slowing down at a very high rate: presumably the energy of the water going up my trousers is being efficiently extracted from my forward motion. In fact my deceleration is possibly faster than I would have chosen: I am not at all sure my back wheel is in any effective contact with the ground, I must be doing some sort of reverse wheely. But I slow down enough to avoid the van, and without needing to apply my brakes at all. And with things now going a bit slower, I can return to a more normal approach to cycling along the side of the road.

So I continue.

But a little slower than before, and with very wet legs.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Graffiti

In some pantomime years ago the baddy - one half of an Italian gangster-style double act - was called Graffiti.

The entire point of this name was so that his partner in crime could turn to him dramatically as the goodies closed in, and say,

"Graffiti, the writing is on the wall!"

Brought the house down every night. No gag like a cheap gag.

Anyway, I usually don't like graffiti of the "Daz and Shaz Were 'Ere" type. It's usually dull to read and looks a mess.

And, of course, sometimes you get political graffiti "I love Gordon Brown" or "Deirdre Barlow is Innocent". Perhaps those two aren't good examples.

Then, just occasionally, you get graffiti that is well-done, entertaining and can really be described as art, such as the works of Banksy.

But then there's this, which I found in Roundhay Park, on one of the three dozen or so notices that they've set up round the lake to warn you that water is wet and quite deep and that if you jump in and lie at the bottom and breathe in then it won't be good for you.

"I Like Toast".

It's a whole new genre of graffiti. It could, perhaps, be at the cutting edge of a whole new movement in writing on walls. What next? "Scrambled Eggs for Me, Please!" or "Mine's a Bacon Sandwich".

Remember, you saw it here first.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Whatever Happened to Him?

In my earlier post today, I put up a photograph of David Robertson at our wedding in 1980. He was one of the witnesses.

He was also a witness for my daughter Emily and son-in-law Gareth's wedding, six months ago, and here's a photo of him there, with another old friend and Good Thing, Martin Riley. David's on the right:

At our wedding he was being slightly dramatic, you may remember:

But of course, that was nearly thirty years ago and David's now sixty-three, so of course you'd expect slightly different behaviour these days.

Here he is, last February, in the evening, after the wedding:

Perhaps it's not just me who hasn't changed much.

Doing the Maths and Writing the Lyrics

The new series of The X-Factor has just begun and yes, I've been watching the first episode because - - oh, look, I just have, okay?

They said that they'd had a record number of people entering this year - 180,000. (Of whom, if this first episode is to be believed, approximately 179,982 couldn't sing).

So - - 180,000 people. And say they each get three minutes in front of the panel. That's twenty of them an hour. So if we divide by twenty we'll get the number of hours it would take to audition them all. At a conservative estimate.

So180,000 divided by 20 = 9000 hours.

So if the panel auditioned people for, say, eight hours a day we have:

9000 divided by 8 = 1,125 days.

So, since the last series of The X-Factor finished at Christmas the panel have spent 1,125 days auditioning people. No wonder they look a bit tired.

But hey! Wait a minute! There haven't been 1,125 days since Christmas!

Can it be that there's something going on that we're not being told about?

And if there is, I think we should be told. Because whoever wins this (and my money's currently on the single mother with five children because she's attractive and feisty with a great voice and a sob story as well) is going to have the Christmas No. 1, because they always do.

It will be called Rushing to the Light and it will go like this:

Oh in the clouds before this had begun
My life was lost and I had never won
And now I've found you everything's all right
I'm in the sunshine not the darkest night

For this is me now, everything's come true
I'm feeling bright where I was feeling blue
My heart is beating harder now today
I'm rushing to the light, I'm on my way

Well, if it's not exactly like that, I tell you now it will be very similar. Anyone want to sign me up?

Anniversary

Exactly six months ago, on February 16th, 2008, this happened:

Emily and Gareth, getting married in Tenby. They've just gone back to their house in York after making sausage sandwiches in the kitchen at our house and then going to visit the Communist in the nursing-home. It's a pleasure to see them enjoying these everyday things.

"Gareth!" exclaimed Emily after lunch. "Where's my pony?"

"What pony?" enquired Gareth.

"Well, I asked where my eye-liner was and you gave me some money to buy some eye-liner. So I was hoping that the same thing would work with a pony."

"Gareth," I asked, following her lead, "Where's my narrowboat?"

Anyway - prepare yourselves - exactly twenty-eight years ago, on August 16th, 2008, this happened:

Yes, Stephen and I got married, and this photo was taken in Roundhay Park, Leeds, because we had our reception in the Mansion there. And, like Emily and Gareth, we had great weather. Though I think they look rather more stylish than we did. Oh, those glasses! Deirdre Barlow would be proud of me.

Yes, 1980. I was a child bride, obviously. - - Oh, all right then, since you can always check on my Blogger profile, I'll confess that I was twenty-four and Stephen was my toy-boy of twenty-one.

The following year - knowing he'd lost all chance of marrying me, of course!! - Charles married Di. Yes, it was that long ago. Though my dress was rather less over the top than hers.

I always, as I've often said, prefer everyday photos to ones of special occasions.

The special-occasion ones make you think, though, about the people in them and what's happened since. If you click on the photos they will enlarge.

In this photo, on the far left is my grandmother, my mother's mother, born in Lancshire in 1898 and here, at eighty-two, looking much older than my mother does now, at eighty-four. She lived to be ninety-three and died in 1991.

Then we have my brother Michael, who was fifteen then, and has lost several stone in weight since those days. He's been with his lovely wife Deborah since he was about twenty, and they have two delightful children, Daisy and Flo. And he's lived in Amsterdam since he was twenty-one.

Third from the left is the Communist, then aged fifty-five: that's how I remember him looking for years and years. I don't know why my mother isn't on this photo!

And next to the Communist is my other grandmother, who was born in Lithuania and had the strangest Eastern-Europe-meets-Leeds accent that you have ever heard! She didn't ever quite know how old she was, as she came to England aged about fourteen with no birth certificate, but she died in 1990, aged at least ninety-six.

Then me (oh! glasses! oh! hair! aaaaaaaaaargh!) and then Stephen, who was then a thin strip of thinness, and, I have to say, isn't that much fatter now. And one of the reasons that I hate it so much when women complain publicly about their husbands or partners is because Stephen has always, always supported me in everything I've done: thank you for the last twenty-eight years, Stephen!

Then Stephen's mother Iris, and then his stepfather, Derrick. They'd been married for about three years then. And twenty years later, Derrick very suddenly told Iris that he was leaving her for a childhood sweetheart whom he'd been forbidden to marry at the time, and Iris has never got over it.

Yes, old photos, they do make you think.

And finally, another make-you-think photo:

Ah yes, let's guess who's the actor in this photo! On the left, my dear friend David Robertson: we'd been friends for about eight years when this photo was taken. I wonder what happened to him? - - Well, since you ask, he's in Italy at the moment on holiday, I spoke to him on Thursday, because he's still my dear friend. And next to David is my brother Michael again.

But the original of this photograph is small so I hadn't noticed the couple in the background: my cousin Lynda and her husband Campbell. In 1982 Lynda, an expert diver, was killed in a cave-diving accident just a few days before Christmas and I can still feel the shock of it.

So, have I changed in all that time? Not much, personality-wise, and I think you'd recognise me from the photo if you met me today - though my glasses have got smaller, and my hair's got shorter, and I've got a bit wider. And I still value my family and close friends above everything else. So, looking at the photos, I feel just the same.

Inside every fifty-something is a twenty-something wondering what happened.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Sweet

I was invited to help devise some training for some healthcare professionals today. The suggested topic was diabetes, and one reason that they had chosen me was that I'm diabetic (Type 2) and have a good knowledge of it.

They had brought some things to eat during the discussion.

On the table were a tub of chocolate cornflake cakes, a bag of chocolate finger biscuits, half a dozen Fondant Fancies - which were little cakes - and a tub of toffees.

Would I please help myself?

"Well, no, thank you, because - - er - - I'm diabetic."

They all wore expressions of shocked realisation.

"Oh - - yessssssssssss - - - of course."

Funny thing, this diabetes lark, though not in a good way.

When I said in June that I was going to do some work at a new Diabetes Institute in Paris, because it mean that I was going to Paris, several people said to me, jokingly, "Ooh! I wish I had diabetes!"

Has anyone ever said, even in jest, "Ooh! I wish I had cancer!"? No, I thought not.

Which, I think, shows that diabetes isn't taken as seriously as it might be.

Type 1 diabetics, in case you don't know, are the ones whose body doesn't manufacture insulin, and they always need to inject themselves with insulin.

Type 2 diabetics, on the other hand, either don't produce enough, or have a body that's become resistant to the insulin that they do produce.

The insulin - and this is a rather simplified explanation, so do bear with me please if you know a lot about it - sends the sugar from food whizzing round your body and into your muscles etc, thus giving you energy.

If your blood sugar's too high, it means that the sugar is just sitting there in your blood, rather than going to the muscles. So you feel tired.

Type 2 diabetics usually have to go on to insulin eventually: but to start with they might be able to bring their blood sugar down by diet - eating things that aren't laden with sugar and that release energy slowly, such as wholegrain cereals.

The next stage - which I'm at - is to take tablets - there are some which lower the sugar, and some which boost the insulin.

The problem with having too much sugar in your blood, apart from tiredness, is that - well - where does your blood go? Yes, everywhere in your body. And it coats everything with sugar, which wrecks everything, though slowly.

So you may get circulation problems, and kidney problems, and nerve damage, such as peripheral neuropathy, which means not being able to feel parts of the bits of you at the edges, such as your feet. And wounds don't heal very well. And you can - like the Communist - eventually develop leg ulcers which simply won't heal, and you have to have your leg amputated.

And your eyes don't like being coated in sugar either, and tend to not work very well, and you can get blurred vision, and you can go blind.

Oh yes, and it can predispose you to heart problems - - anyway, enough! The point is, diabetes takes an average of fifteen years off your life, apparently, so it's a good idea to take it seriously.

Which I do; though my blood sugar's too high at the moment. I check it using a monitor that sticks a pin in your finger to get a drop of blood. The result should be about 7: mine is usually between nine and eleven. Last Saturday evening, however, I got a spectacular one-off reading of 19.2, and couldn't really work out what I'd eaten to cause it, which was rather worrying.

You are supposed to not let your blood sugar drop below 4. But mine never goes that low because by the time it gets down to 6 I am about to faint dead away: so I always carry an emergency banana everywhere so I can eat something before it does that.

I don't smoke or drink alcohol and I eat a pretty healthy diet with lots of fruit and vegetables. I am pretty much a model diabetic patient, which is why I'm so fed up, because my blood sugar's still high.

So, wishing to ask why my blood sugar's so high, and why I feel so faint before it goes down to 4, I went to the doctor yesterday.

I tried to book an appointment with the practice's diabetes specialist doctor: he's on sabbatical for another four weeks. So I had to book with someone else.

She was a new registrar, very young. She was lovely and I smiled to myself as she did all the things that doctors are taught to do in Communication Skills - the area in which I work - during training. Luckily, she didn't ask what my job is, because "and I help to train and assess doctors in Communication Skills" would never be a helpful answer in these circumstances.

The poor woman floundered about for a bit but clearly didn't know enough and finally suggested, as tactfully as she could, that I should come back soon and see a proper grown-up doctor.

Diabetes is, amongst other things, really a bit of a bore, and a bit of a life sentence. And you don't get time off for good behaviour, damn and blast it.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Picture This

You may notice that I've lurched into the twenty-first century now and have one of those thingys that tell you how many visitors you've had to your blog, and where they've all come from, thanks to Technology and Silverback, who did it all for me whilst I sat there trying to look encouraging and being grateful.

So now I'll find out if anyone actually reads this, apart from you wonderful people who leave comments. Hello World.

It all made me realise that I don't see icons, apart from ones that I expect to see. There's a little picture of a house at the top of my screen, and I'm told that this means the home page, and I spend half my life on the computer and I'd never noticed it.

And I'm the same with any pictures that are supposed to have a verbal meaning. There was a television programme called Catchphrase, which worked on the simple idea that you had a picture of a stone rolling down a hill gathering no moss as it went, and people had to guess the phrase it represented, and then say that the phrase was "A rolling stone gathers no moss!" and win a prize.

I could never do any of them. I'd be going "well, it's something round rolling downwards and there's some green stuff too".

Washing labels? Forget it! I've worked out that Crossed Out means Do Not, as in Do Not Place in a Circle. Whatever that means.

I do read fast though, so by the time I've worked out what a little picture's supposed to mean, I could have read - and yes, even understood - a full explanation.

It's not that I don't like pictures - I do. I just don't like pictures that ought to be words instead.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Stretch Right Up and Touch The Sky

I first heard this playing very loudly on someone's transistor radio when we'd stopped for a break on the way to Tenby (oh, what a surprise, I hear you say) on holiday, years and years ago. And from then on, whenever I heard this song, it was summer in my head and I'd feel that heart-lifting SUMMER feeling.

I don't remember ever seeing this video - if you can call it that - before. Quite why they're apparently in the middle of a London roundabout singing about Summer as traffic streams past, I'm not sure. Is that a Beetle or a Morris Minor with the soft top? I found myself wondering.

Today we got nearly two hours of sunshine (I was indoors working, damn it) but hey, it's raining again now.

So here it is, the karaoke version for all we sodden Brits. Let's sing along. It's being so cheerful as keeps us going.


The Scent of 1965

In 1965 my parents decided to do some mid-Sixties improvements to our 1896 house. My brother was about to be born, and with two children they would need a modern, up-to-date house, with none of that Victorian rubbish left.

Just to fill in those who have not been previously introduced to the story of the house: my parents bought the house in 1959, and then bought the bottom half of next door's garden in 1965. And then in 1999 Stephen and I bought the house from my parents, and they had a house built in the garden, which was big enough to build in because of the extra chunk of garden from 1965. There's still plenty of garden left, and my mother still lives in the new house, though the Communist now lives in a nearby nursing home.

The Communist always hated the Victorians because, being born in 1923, he found them to have existed just long enough ago to be old-fashioned, but not long enough ago to be interesting. He regarded everything Victorian as stuffy and best done away with.

Even at the tender age of eight, I disagreed with him. I hated it when they put hardboard round the old banisters, and removed the large knobs from top and bottom of the banisters, and pulled out the fireplace and replaced it with a blank wall.

But I couldn't remember quite what they'd done to the doors in the hall, except I knew I didn't like the result. The doors were now entirely flat, with hardboard on the top, and then covered in wallpaper of a kind designed to trap and keep as much dirt as possible.

There may have been some good things about the 1960s but, judging from our house, the decor was not one of them. Some people got the Summer of Love but we got the Summer of Textured Wallpaper.

And then, of course, in subsequent bouts of decorating they'd just painted over the whole horrible lot, most recently in a colour best described as Poisonous Mushroom.

Actually, I suspect it was only one subsequent bout of decorating. It's a very big area, the hall, stairs, back passage (oh stop it now) and landing. In September 1977, just before I went away to spend a year at the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff, the water-tank burst and flooded the hall so the whole area was redecorated and had a new carpet put down.

Then, at intervals, since about, say, 1985, my parents had looked at the hall and thought it could do with decorating. And then thought hey, it's a big job, and left it for another decade or so.

So now, in 2008, having had lots of the rest of this house decorated, we can stand it no longer. But the door to the lounge (oh yes, "lounge" very Sixties word, but that's what we've always called it so that's what it's called) had failed to shut properly for some time.

And, of course, it was still covered in Textured Wallpaper. Today, John kindly looked at it, and declared it mendable, and I explained how I much I hated the Textured Wallpaper. Froggie the cat clearly hates it too: she has scraped much of it off over the years.

Then, in about a minute, off came both the hardboard and the Textured Wallpaper with it.

Underneath was a proper door. Filthy, old and covered in peeling paint, but a proper door.

And suddenly the whole hall smelled of - well - 1965. Amazing. And, looking at the door, there is Fifties Cream on the top, and then underneath yellow, then pale blue, fawn, and finally dark red. I do remember that when I was little the large knobs on the banisters had been painted black, but this dark red showed through where they were scratched.

Through the door you can see the fawn carpet in the lounge: I don't like that either, even though it's fairly recent. It's like painting the Forth Bridge, trying to get this house sorted. But I still like it: those Victorians knew a thing or two and the rooms are large and nicely-proportioned and even the Communist's efforts to ruin them haven't totally succeeded. And it has, I think, a friendly feel to it.

Since we moved in we've done lots - new central heating, new windows, new bathroom, new kitchen - - - and it still needs lots doing. But getting the hall and stairs decorated will be a good step forward.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Proposed Theme Tune to New Bond Film

I have shamelessly nicked this from The Daily Grind . I feel that it needs no further introduction or explanation.


Beyond a Joke Now

Oh, come on, I know I'm British and hence feel obliged to bang on and on about the weather, but this is getting beyond a joke.

Firstly, today the rain was such in Leeds that there was a whole build up of stationary cars, up to their knees in water, and I had to go a different way round, windscreen wipers going like crazy, to get to the M1 on my way to John's studio in Huddersfield. And I was wearing my black cords - - favourite trousers from last winter. WINTER, please note. In Huddersfield I went to Sainsbury's and bought myself, amongst other things, a nice warm jumper.

A jumper! In August! In August a jumper should be a totally alien garment, and I should barely be able to remember what it is. Once in August I went away to Abergavenny for three days and didn't take any kind of jumper, or waterproof, or anything. That was about ten years ago, in the days when we had Summer.

Then Katrin told me that in Bavaria, where she comes from, it has been so hot and dry that the apples have been falling off the trees without ripening.

And then, this afternoon I saw some of Silverback's excellent films of America (thank you). Where it was 100 degrees Fahrenheit and the sun was blazing down.

When I finally climbed out of the Grand Canyon and looked out of the window the sun was shining through the Leeds clouds, to my amazement.

It lasted about five minutes and then started raining again.

In November I'm going to Barcelona, because Stephen's going to the Tech-Ed conference there, and I'm going with him for a few days. It's Computer Geek Heaven. But you have to be Half Man Half Computer to go to it, and since I'm not, I shall be off exploring Barcelona. Which is quite a big deal to me, because, as I think I've mentioned before, I haven't been on a plane since 1999, and I've never been to Spain.

So I'm looking forward to that: but meanwhile, I just want some SUNSHINE. Nothing special: just some ordinary sunshine where you can sit out in the garden at lunchtime, or lie on a rug with a cold drink next to you. Last summer was really non-existent for our family as the Communist was ill throughout it, so although I think there was some sunshine, we mostly spent it visiting the hospital, so I feel it's been ages and ages and ages since I sat outside on the lawn, next to the honeysuckle.

Today, as a matter of fact, I haven't been working and I've had a really enjoyable day. But, in general, this relentless, tedious rain is really getting me down. Enough!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Throwing it in the Lake

The girl on the path in front of me, as I walked round Waterloo Lake in Roundhay Park, was finishing a large bottle of Coke as she chatted to her friends.

When she'd finished the Coke, without a millisecond's thought, she just threw the bottle to the right of her, into the lake. Not even in a happy hey-look-how-far-I-can-throw-it way, just in a matter-of-fact getting rid of it way.

She was on the edge of the lake: I was passing her on her left. She will never know how very close I came to giving her a hefty push into the lake after the bottle. In that split second I could see all the media coverage: I could see crowds of people cheering me on as I was led away to prison.

But then, I thought, oh hell, what if the wretched girl can't swim and I have to rescue her? Or what if she drowns, damn her? So I didn't do it. But afterwards, just a bit of me still wished I had.

Litter, and people who throw it, makes me just blazing mad. I walked the length of the street where I live recently - in a leafy suburb of Leeds - and it was like there'd been an explosion in a paper factory.

I've just been watching Panorama, with Bill Bryson pondering on the state of the nation's litter.

The first thing I have to get out of the way is my thoughts about Bill Bryson himself.

Whenever I've seen him on television - and it's not often - I think, how did that happen? Here is a man whose books I love, and whose evocative prose has made me laugh out loud on many an occasion.

And yet, in person, although you can tell he's a Very Good Thing, he seems to have had a bit of a charisma bypass. As a television presenter, he just doesn't cut it. His accent doesn't help - you'd expect him to have a bit of a mid-Atlantic accent but he seems to have found a different accent for every word he speaks. It's amazing. And, sadly, a bit hard to follow.

Anyway, he pointed out that every council seems to have a different policy on litter: some have instant fines, others don't seem to care. Hardly any of them have prosecuted anyone for fly-tipping.

Why we put up with it all I don't know. It's one of the single issues that makes Britain - with our glorious countryside - a shocking place for foreigners to see, and it detracts from the quality of life of all of us who live here.

It's not a minor issue. To me, it's up there with robbery. And I nearly said "with armed robbery" but I thought that was going a bit too far. Only a bit, mind.

One of the more interesting theories that I ponder from time to time, though, is what would happen if you swapped the sentences that courts award for dropping litter with the ones they dish out for murder. I'd guess there'd be only a few more murders - - and the whole of Britain would be a hell of a lot cleaner and tidier. Not that I'm advocating it, of course. Well, only in my angrier moments.

So, what to do with people who drop litter in the street, or in the countryside? Well, d'you know what, I'd get them to pick it up. Not just for a day, or for six weeks or so. I'd get them in teams, in charge of keeping a particular patch of land spotless. After a while, perhaps they'd get to understand why places are so much nicer when they're litter-free.

As for fly-tippers, probably the best thing would be to put them in the stocks for a few days and throw half-eaten curries and fish-and-chip wrappers at them. No, I'm not saying that it would help them to learn the error of their ways, or that it would teach them never to do it again. But by heck, it would be fun.