Saturday, February 28, 2009


Last night I was more tired than I've ever been since Olli was born.

In 1989, I had a difficult pregnancy and then a Caesarian birth and I remember thinking "But I can't be expected to look after a baby! I can't get up off this chair!"

It was a shock to me, because although I've never had any kind of turn of speed in anything, I had, until then, always had plenty of stamina. In my twenties I had always thought that, one day, I might swim the Channel, because I had never swum for so long that I felt I couldn't swim any more.

Being tired after Olli was born drove me nuts: I just didn't know how to cope with it.

Thinking back on it, hey ho, I was probably an undiagnosed Type 2 diabetic then too, which would explain the crushing extent of it. I know that all new mothers are tired: I know I was thirty-three which is long in the tooth in looking-after-a-first-baby terms. But I did seem quite astonishingly tired and I felt that nobody really understood quite how bad it was, kind and supportive though my family were.

(Olli wasn't actually my first baby: my first was born in 1984, prematurely, and only lived for three weeks. That's not what this piece is about but I don't feel right saying "first baby" as I did in the above paragraph, without explaining).

Last night I remembered that feeling of absolute exhaustion and I found myself wondering why on earth I felt like that yesterday. Although actually, I had just worked for twelve days in a row since I was working last weekend: and it's been pretty busy in the agency's office: and a lot of the work I've done this couple of weeks has been pretty emotionally draining.

For example, for the last roleplay I did on Friday I was playing a woman who had been told she'd got cancer - very abruptly, and without her husband being present, when she had particularly requested that he be there when she got her diagnosis. It was based on a real incident that a medical student had found to be particularly traumatic.

So roleplays like that are demanding, if you do them well, and I try to. The work in the office is demanding, too, in a different way.

I enjoy all my work. I know, in these difficult times, that I'm really lucky to have work at all. And yet it annoys me that I got so tired. Last night I was in bed and asleep by quarter to nine - a time that I - a real night owl - didn't know existed in sleep terms. I slept until quarter past seven. That's ten and a half hours, for goodness' sake! Usually if I get seven hours' sleep it's a lot.

If this is getting older, I'm not having it. Grrrrr.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Acting The Acting

Whenever my grandmother, who was from Lithuania originally, went to the theatre, we asked her what she'd thought of it.

"Ahhh," she would sigh in rapture. "The acting! The acting!"

I had the television on recently with the sound turned down, and actually, I wasn't very impressed with the acting. It was a supposedly-realistic police series and, as I watched, I wondered whether there was any way this could be mistaken for a documentary.

And there wasn't. Everyone was just overdoing it that bit much. With the sound turned up, you are drawn into the plot and don't tend to notice: but with the sound down everyone appeared to be pulling faces.

It's a game I rather enjoy - turn the telly on with the sound down and then guess. Drama or documentary? Of course it's not just the acting that makes the difference. But when it's a drama that's supposed to look like a documentary, and it doesn't, that's not good.

Not all television drama is realistic of course. If you watch Coronation Street, which is the King - or more likely Queen - of British soaps, with the sound turned down, it doesn't look natural at all. But then again, it was never meant to. The Corrie acting style is slightly heightened - there is lots of broad comedy, for example.

Just occasionally you get a very subtle tragic scene which can be very moving. Some people are very disparaging of "only a soap" but Corrie has the pick of the actors and in general they're excellent.

The other telly game that's good to play is watching the commercials with the sound turned down and looking at them all as if they're advertising contraceptives. I find that most of them seem to be.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Let Out and Let Off

Whenever I'm in charge of any teaching session, I always begin by outlining the session and then I say what time it will finish.

Then I tell the learners - whatever age they are - that if the finish time is, say, four-thirty, then that is the time that we will finish.

The reason for this is that I know what I'm like and I expect everyone else to be the same. If the class, or meeting, is supposed to finish at four-thirty, then at four thirty-one I stop listening, no matter how interesting it may be. Something in my head presses the OFF switch and I'm out of there, at least mentally. I'm in the car. I'm on the way home. I'm having tea. I've left.

Sometimes I do actually leave. If a meeting has run over and just descended into general waffle, as they tend to, I have hit on a method of getting out of there. I stand up, quietly gather my things together, look the person in charge in the eye and say in tones of great seriousness, "I'm really sorry, but I have to go now." I don't give a reason because any reason sounds false, especially if the real reason is "because I can't stand it another minute".

So if I'm running a session that's supposed to finish at half past, I finish by twenty-eight minutes past at the latest. Daphne's Rule of Being In a Class or a Meeting is this: if you are told you are to finish at four-thirty and then finish at quarter to five (just in time to get nicely caught in the rush-hour traffic) then you go out frazzled and furious. If, however, you finish even a couple of minutes early - even if the class is interesting! - you feel a tinge of guilty pleasure and you leave feeling you've somehow been Let Off.

I love my work - but even so, I know I react in exactly this way. A job that I was due to do next week - a job that I was looking forward to, that I enjoyed very much last time - has been cancelled. But because it's been cancelled at short notice, I'm still getting paid. Woohoo! I feel like I've won the lottery. My inner eight-year-old is still alive and well and rushing out of school early to get to the playground before it's teatime.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Dead Husband and the Missing Cat

It's a funny thing, roleplay. I know it's not real and the person doing the roleplay with me knows it's not real and the observers watching know it's not real.

But my job is, of course, to make it as real as possible.

A lot of the roleplay that I do for the training and assessment of healthcare professionals has a strong emotional content and I suppose that's one reason why they keep asking me to play these roles. I am, as they say, "in touch with my emotions" - I laugh a lot and I also cry quite easily, and can summon both those emotions where appropriate for a role.

Recently I was playing a woman whose husband had died suddenly, in an accident, eight months ago. The woman I was playing was very grief-stricken and I tried to show her grief to give the healthcare professional a good challenge.

Then I added on the next bit of the brief, which was that the woman's cat, her husband's favourite, her companion and her last link to her husband, had gone missing a month ago, which was the last straw.

I knew that there was strong comic potential in there so I had to do it as well as possible. For some reason "My husband's dead and now my cat's gone missing too" is likely, if done as bluntly as that, to get a laugh, which wasn't the effect I was wanting. It definitely ran the risk of becoming Comedy Bathos.

So I tried to do it as sensitively as I could and really feel the feelings and show how worried this woman was that her cat might be starving to death, trapped in a garage or shed somewhere.

After the roleplay had finished, and we'd done some feedback and I'd come out of role, all the watching students said "You made us cry!"

"Yes," said the tutor, "and I noticed when you cried. It wasn't at the death of her poor husband, was it? Oh no. It was the missing cat. That's when you all cried."

Ah yes. We Brits are a nation of animal-lovers, all right.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tek it, Luv

My lovely son-in-law Gareth was delivering a new server to a furniture shop. He's not a delivery man: he works in the support department of a computer company and this was part of his job.

After the server was installed, Gareth started looking at some of the furniture that they sold, including some rather expensive office chairs - one was £700. He found one that he liked but again, it was very pricey at £150.

"I do like this one," said Gareth to the manager.

"Tek it, luv," said the manager.

In case you don't speak Yorkshire, I must inform you that the universal endearment round here for anyone, male or female, is "love" pronounced "luv". "Tek" is the local pronunciation of "take".

"Er - - sorry?" said Gareth, who is from Gloucestershire. He now speaks fluent Yorkshire but - understandably - couldn't comprehend what the man actually meant.

"Tek it, luv," repeated the manager. "It's end of t'range." ("t'" is the abbreviation of the word "the" in these parts. In some parts of the county the word "the" has gone completely and so we get people like the nurse I know who says things like "It's time to get patient in bath." - - Really, I think everyone should learn Yorkshire - it's God's Own Language in God's Own County.)

"Er - - sorry?" repeated Gareth, still not quite understanding the actual meaning of what was being said to him.

"Tek it, luv," repeated the man. "It's end of t'range. Thi can 'ave it."

Yes, in Yorkshire dialect we retain the old English "thee" and "thou" and what we have here is the modern abbreviation of "thou canst" to "thi can". Very educational, this blog, have you noticed?

Finally Gareth realised that what was happening was that the manager was giving it to him: free, gratis and for nowt (as they say round here).

By 'eck, there's grand folks here in Yorkshire.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Saturday Sunshine in Putney

I was working near Putney Bridge this weekend and was fortunate enough to have some free time to wander about in the sunshine on Saturday.

See? A red London bus in the distance (just in case you thought I was in Normanton or somewhere).

From half-way across the bridge there was a view of a church and some other buildings:

On the far bank there were lots of people walking and jogging in the sunshine:

The church had pretty grounds around it:

and there were boats on the Thames:

Nothing special, nothing spectacular - - but just very pleasant and with a very British feel to it and it was lovely to be there on a Spring morning. I'm hoping for many more such sunny mornings this Spring.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Spring in Putney

I've been in Putney, London this weekend doing some work for nutritionists.

It's been a busy weekend but I've really enjoyed the work. Yesterday, though, I was fortunate to have quite a bit of free time and I took this photograph. Okay, perhaps it's not, as a photo, very exciting but it is Significant.

Firstly, it has a palm tree in it and that's always a good thing. Next to the palm tree, if you look closely, is a tree that's covered in lamb's tail catkins - - and what do these mean? They mean it's Spring. And thirdly - - look at the sky. What colour is it? BLUE, that's what.

It's been a grim winter for everyone in Britain I think - lots of cold, lots of snow, lots of grey.

I've found it particularly grim, ever since we got back in early December from our wonderful holiday in Florida, because of the Communist's death, of course.

Now, at last, it looks as though there's light at the end of the tunnel and Spring at the end of the winter.

Tomorrow I'll post some photos of the Thames, looking very British and very Springlike. Hurrah.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Blogging on a Blackberry

Thanks to the stinginess of Holiday Inn Express Wandsworth whose Scrooge-like manager thinks it's fine to charge a fortune for wifi, I am still blogging from my Blackberry.
Glorious day in London today and I had some free time so walked to Putney Bridge and enjoyed watching the Thames.
My work seemed to go well and I enjoyed it. And I love this Blackberry - of course I had to be reminded that it should be possible to take a photo on its camera and then email it - but once I'd grasped the general principle I worked out how to do it AND DID IT!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Hello from Wandsworth

Blogging from my Blackberry because the Holiday Inn Express want to charge six fifty an hour for t'interclacker. The receptionist begs me to complain because guests moan at him all day every day!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

China in Your Hand

I heard this the other day and I hadn't heard it for years.

It was a hit for T'Pau in 1987. No, I don't know what the words mean, since you ask, but I like it anyway. I often like songs for their "feel", their atmosphere, and not their literal meaning (who said "too deaf to hear the words, eh?")! Anyway, that's the case with this one.

If I didn't cut my hair short and keep it tamed, it would end up rather like Carol Decker's in this video. Perhaps that's where I went wrong.

In other news, as they say, I'm going to London tomorrow for the weekend, doing some roleplay about nutrition. I think it should be interesting. I hope to be able to blog from there - I'm taking my little laptop. I hope they've got the internet down there.

Planet Earth - My Part in its Downfall

A great change has come over checkout staff in supermarkets.

In previous sunny times, before we cared about the destruction of the planet, they'd happily hand over an armful of plastic carrier bags with a cheery smile.

All that's gone now.

As a matter of fact, I quite frequently take my own bags with me, and actually I do reuse them for all sorts of purposes - - bin liners - - cat litter - - but none of this is good enough, is it? Because today I forgot. Today I took my mother to Sainsbury's, which will be forever known as Smelly Aisle in our hearts because of the Dark Stench of Death in one of the aisles when it first opened.

So, having bought enough supplies for a couple of weeks, I heaved my loaded trolley to the checkout.

"Have you brought any of your own bags?"

"Er - - no, sorry."

She glared at me. "With shoppers like you," I could hear her thinking, "no wonder the Brazilian rainforest is nearly gone. And do you care nothing for the plight of the polar bear?" Grudgingly she gave me two carrier bags.

After I had carefully packed about a tenth of my shopping into these two bags, I bravely ventured forth, "Could I have some more bags, please?"

"What about the deforestation of the Philippines, then? And have you not seen how the Polar Ice Cap is melting?" she thought as she glowered and reluctantly handed over one more carrier bag.

Of course, I had filled it in about ten seconds and - with tremendous bravery, I thought - repeated "Could I have some more bags, please?"

"And you just don't care that the whole of England's green and pleasant land will soon be more landfill than land, do you?" she was thinking. One more bag was handed over.

And so we continued, one carrier bag at a time, until my eight bags of shopping were packed in the trolley.

I wondered whether it's Sainsbury's new policy and whether all their checkout staff have been told to economise on carrier bags. Perhaps the one who gives out the fewest gets a bonus.

If Sainsbury's and the other supermarkets really, really cared about the state of the planet, of course, they'd stop importing green beans by plane from Guatemala or whatever. They'd say, "Sorry, but from now on we are only going to stock local produce. No more strawberries in February. But the Yorkshire rhubarb's delicious."

They don't really care, of course: it's a token gesture so we'll all feel better. And I do believe in reusing carrier bags.

But on the occasions when I forget, or if I've just run out of bags, I don't like having to ask for every single flaming carrier bag, one at a time. I was wondering how many times I'm expected to do this before I'll be justified in throwing a big tantrum and yelling "I don't CARE about the state of the planet! Just give me ENOUGH SODDING CARRIER BAGS FOR MY SHOPPING, OKAY?"

I'm having Yorkshire rhubarb for tea. It is delicious. When the polar ice cap melts and the whole of East Anglia is underwater, it won't be my fault.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Daphne's Hot Stuff In Bed

The new hot water bottles have arrived. They are brown and furry and lovely and warm.

Interestingly, as soon as the Interesting Hot Water Bottle Parcel arrived, the temperature soared from below 32 degrees Fahrenheit to - today - a near-tropical 50 degrees, or 11 degrees if you're a new-fangled Centigrade-preferrer.

Clearly there's a law of physics operating here - - and it is Murphy's Law. Buy a hot water bottle and the temperature shoots up.

Come on folks, help me with this. Rush out to the shops and stock up on electric fires, and oil-filled radiators, and electric blankets, and duvets with a tog rating of about 25, and triple glazing. Then we might - just might - stand a chance of having a decent summer.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Farewell, Frosty

You think you've had a bad week? I think poor Frosty's had a worse one.

Here he was, on his first evening. He was very happy because the camera's facial recognition software knew that his face was a face. He didn't mind that it was cold and getting dark. He smiled bravely for us, little knowing his future.

After a day or so, it all started to go a bit blurry for Frosty, and worse than that, his nose fell off.

After that, it was downhill all the way. His head fell off, for a start. It's never a good thing when that happens.

And suddenly, his whole white world was turning green. Green, of course, is a colour which is passionately hated by all snowmen.

By yesterday morning, he was alone in a green land.

This morning, one little chunk of snow and a carrot was all that remained.

Today the temperature soared to a postively balmy 50 degrees Fahrenheit, or 10 degrees in new money. And now Frosty is gone. Gone forever. Gone to the Land of Eternal Snow.

Farewell, Frosty.

And if you had any thoughts of coming back you can forget them. I want crocuses and then daffodils and then tulips and lots of sunshine and temperatures up in the seventies, okay? We've had enough of the oh-what-pretty-snow thing. It's time for Spring!

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Penis Mightier Than the Sword

At one of my places of work I spotted a pen upon a little ledge.

I gave it no further thought except that it must belong to someone who would retrieve it shortly.

When it was still there, a week later, in a room that's used every day, I became rather intrigued.

I was sitting across the other side of the room. There was a group of men sitting near the pen. I watched throughout the afternoon as several of them picked it up, looked at it and put it down again.

Very odd, I thought. It was just a cheap pen, the kind that's given away at corporate functions. But pens are always useful so I thought hey, if none of those men wants it, and it's still there at the end of the day, I'm having it.

I returned to the room to collect my coat at the end of the day and the pen was still there.
Okay, I thought, it's mine!

So I went over and picked it up.

And then I found out why none of the men had wanted to keep it for future use.

Here it is.

Just in case your eyesight's none too good, let's zoom in on the logo, shall we?

It's a brave man who'd carry that in his pocket.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Holmes and Watson Discovered in North Yorkshire

The satnav (whose name is Sheila) took us on a remarkably interesting route on the way to Masham, in North Yorkshire. Once we got to Harrogate we thought it would be Ripon and then on to Masham, but oh no, she had other ideas. We went through winding, narrow country lanes passing farms, snow-covered fields and generally The Middle of Nowhere. All very pretty but I don't know why Sheila chose this route. We suspect it was revenge for ignoring her advice to go the simple way, up the A1.

Finally we arrived in Masham which is a lovely old market town with a proper town square in the middle and a proper fish and chip shop on the square. Fish and chips eaten outside in the slightly smoky fresh air - - fantastic!

We were going to see a play in the solid old Town Hall. Angus and Ross Theatre Company, performing Holmes and Watson - The Farewell Tour: a comedy by Stuart Fortey.

Julian Finnigan was playing Sherlock Holmes, and the play was directed by my friend David Robertson. As the writer, Stuart Fortey, is also a friend of mine, it would have been one of those occasions which can be really tricky if you hate the play.

In John Nettles' autobiography (him of Bergerac and Midsomer Murders) he says that if you go to see a friend of yours in a play, and it's terrible, and you know your friend's going to be touring in it for the next six months, then there's only one possible thing you can do when you meet your friend afterwards. And that is to look him in the eye, shake hands firmly, and declaim "Well done!"

Last night was not that kind of occasion. The play is hilarious: David's done a great job of directing it and the actors perform it brilliantly.

Sherlock Holmes is on a farewell lecture tour to demonstrate some of his greatest cases before taking a well-earned retirement. He is accompanied by Dr Watson, Inspector Lestrade and Mrs Hudson. Unfortunately, however, the set and props have been left behind in Hull, so Dr Watson has to improvise a set and props for the demanding Holmes, using whatever comes to hand.

Also, there are more parts than actors to play them so Dr Watson's acting abilities are called upon to play such roles as a Cockney floozie. Dr Watson is not, perhaps, a terribly good actor - though Dominic Goodwin, who plays him, fortunately is, and excels in his portrayals of "Dr Watson as the Prime Minister", for example.

The play has that glorious thing - a plot which seems complicated but is really easy to follow. Witty lines. Splendid comic timing. Julian Finnigan's coolly rational Holmes is a wonderful foil for Dominic Goodwin's Watson.

I loved it, and so, judging from the smiles and laughter and applause, did the rest of the - large - audience.

Stuart's done a very clever thing here - he's written a splendid play that doesn't need a van to tour it about, because it has a minimal set and a minimal number of actors. I hope that it will tour more widely after this initial outing.

If you're anywhere near any of the venues, below, do go and see it. It's a grim old winter and we could do with some fun.

Thursday 19th February: Hunsingore Village Hall
Tickets: 01423 358516 (7.45pm)

Friday 20th February: Evron Centre, Filey
Tickets: 01723 518003/518013

Saturday 21st February: Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond
Tickets: 01748 825252

Sunday 22nd February: Kirk Theatre, Pickering
Tickets: 01653 648424

Wednesday 25th and Thursday 26th February: Carriageworks, Leeds Tickets: 0113 224 3801

Friday 27th February: Sheriff Hutton Village Hall
Tickets: 01653 648424

Saturday 28th February: Hutton-Le-Hole Village Hall
Tickets: 01653 648424

All shows start at 7.30pm unless otherwise stated

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Story of Baby Balloon

It's been a strange day: I had a good trip to town buying clothes as I'm now a size smaller than last time I bought clothes. Good!

Then I had a dispiriting trip to the new hairdresser's - I can't even bear to tell you about it except the colour's good now and it doesn't look bad at all but she just didn't cut it short enough so I'm thoroughly fed up at the prospect of having to repeat the ordeal in the near future. So, since she didn't listen to me, I think I'll try somewhere else. Sighhh.

And then a great trip to see a play in Masham - - more about that soon.

But, meanwhile, the story of Baby Balloon, as told to me yesterday by our actor Andy Worthington.

When Baby Balloon was little, he slept in between his Mummy and Daddy in the big bed.

But then he grew bigger. Baby Balloon didn't fit between them any more and Mummy Balloon and Daddy Balloon kept getting pushed out onto the floor. So Mummy Balloon and Daddy Balloon decided that it was time for him to move out to his own bedroom. They prepared him a lovely room with pictures on the walls and a brand new bed and he loved it.

"Now then, Baby Balloon," said Daddy Balloon, "promise me that you'll stay in your own bed tonight, and won't try to fit in between Mummy Balloon and Daddy Balloon."

"I promise," said Baby Balloon, and snuggled down in his very own bed.

But then, in the middle of the night, Baby Balloon woke up and he was scared, all by himself in his own room. He wanted to be in the big bed, in between Mummy Balloon and Daddy Balloon.

So he crept into the bedroom and tried to climb into the bed, but there was just no room. So Baby Balloon had an idea. Carefully he untied Mummy Balloon's knot and let some air out. But Baby Balloon still didn't fit in the bed. So he untied Daddy Balloon's knot and let some air out. But Baby Balloon still didn't fit in the bed. So finally he untied his own knot and let some air out and then climbed into bed in between Mummy Balloon and Daddy Balloon.

In the morning, as soon as Daddy Balloon woke up, Daddy Balloon realised what has happened.

"Come downstairs with me," he said to Baby Balloon, " because we need to have a serious talk."

Mummy Balloon, Daddy Balloon and Baby Balloon all sat at the kitchen table.

"Now then," said Daddy Balloon, " you promised that you would stay in your own bed, didn't you?"

"Yes, Daddy," said Baby Balloon in a small voice.

"And you didn't, did you?" said Daddy Balloon.

"No, Daddy," said Baby Balloon.

"You know what you've done, don't you?" asked Daddy Balloon.

"What, Daddy?" asked Baby Balloon.

"You've let me down. You've let your Mother down. And, worst of all, you've let yourself down."

Friday, February 13, 2009

Boys and Girls Alone

Channel Four is in trouble for broadcasting Boys and Girls Alone, which is a programme where they put some children, aged 8-11, in isolated cottages in Cornwall and filmed how they got on.

Which in some cases, was not very well. Some of them bullied each other, some of them fought and some of them cried.

No, I didn't watch it, because I didn't want to. So amazing is my insight into human nature that, with really quite astonishing perception, I guessed this might happen.

William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies, about a group of public-school boys stranded on a beautiful tropical island, always had the ring of truth about it to me: the boys start off in a well-meaning way and quickly descend into savagery.

Normally I wouldn't criticise a television programme that I haven't seen, but I'm wading right in on this occasion. There's a letter in The Times from the Head of Factual Entertainment saying things like "trained child chaperones were present throughout and intervened to prevent injuries and also help to resolve or disarm any upset or fighting between the children."

Aha! So they too guessed it might not be all sweetness and light, did they? And did they, by any chance, think that this might make good television?

Similar programmes have been made with adults of course - and in their case, I think that's up to them - nobody makes them take part. What happens? Some of them bully each other, some of them fight and some of them cry. Of course, some have a great time and a few, like Ben Fogle, end up with strong careers as television presenters.

But they are adults. I don't think it's possible for a child to make an informed decision to be in such a programme: and I don't think it's fair for their parents to make that decision for them.

I'm with Ruby Parry, Cornwall's assistant director for social care and family services. "Some of the children were greatly distressed and this in our view is abusive. This distress has now been publicly broadcast to all of these children's peers and is therefore likely to have long-term consequences for some of them."

Of course, Channel Four could have chosen not to broadcast the bits where children were distressed - - but they were never going to withold those scenes, were they, because those are the bits that make good television.

I was one of the lucky ones: I was never bullied at school, in spite of being a swotty type with glasses. I was at the kind of school where that was acceptable: I had some great friends, some of whom are still my great friends now, and hardly ever had any trouble from anyone. My greatest crime was talking in assembly, which I did on a daily basis (I know that, if you know me, you'll perhaps not be too surprised by this).

But I know a number of people who were bullied throughout their schooldays, and I can't bear it in any way. When I was teaching I couldn't bear it either and when I found it happening I must say I never ignored it, I always followed it through and did my utmost to stop it. Sometimes, of course, it was the staff who were doing it, which was more tricky. I remember one PE teacher who seemed to get a perverse delight out of getting a class to line up perfectly, or to march, or whatever. Wow! Absolute power over a group of twelve-year olds! So very impressive an achievement!

I think children have enough to put up with. We should be trying to make their childhoods as safe, happy and secure as possible. So setting up a situation that was likely, by its very nature, to bring about quarrels, bullying, worry and misery, I think was just plain wrong. Okay, so some of the children might have enjoyed every moment. I'm more concerned about the ones who didn't, and their irresponsible parents.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Daphne Books a Haircut

Regular readers may remember my Hairdresser Traumas.

I used to have my hair cut by David, who was lovely because he didn't want to talk about hair, and neither did I. We talked about lots of different things, and he cut my hair, and it didn't need any input or decisions from me.

But he was a very heavy smoker, and one year slipped on the ice, and hurt his back so couldn't walk for a while, and because of the smoking got gangrene in his legs and had to have them amputated. He never did give up smoking and finally he died a few years ago.

After that, I've been going to The Woman Who Radiates Stress: let us call her Mad Barbara, though that isn't her name. She's always shouting at her juniors and generally getting things horribly wrong. Last time she dyed my hair bright ginger by mistake, and although this was quite fun in some ways, everyone agreed that I should change hairdressers - including some of my blog readers, thank you.

But I hadn't time to think about it - - well, let's face it, I don't want to. And then I looked in the mirror and - well, my hair doesn't grow down so much as OUT. So I currently look like a ginger Eighties throwback on a very bad hair day.

The moment had arrived.

I choose my hairdressers with care. Oh yes. Mad Barbara is the nearest and the next nearest is about another fifty yards down the road, so I thought I'd try them. I'm always so busy that I can't be bothered trekking halfway across Leeds to have my hair cut, even if Vidal Sassoon or Nicky Clarke were to offer to do it for free.

So I looked at the shop which has a straightforward name and not one of those gimmicky ones that hairdressers seem to go in for. Clipso. Cut and Dried. The Cuttery. Or - my favourite - Val d'Isere which is a ski resort in France - - but if you say it in a Yorkshire accent you will find out what Val does.

I walked in and a lady came up to me and smiled. "Would you like to book an appointment?" The place seemed strangely quiet and calm, compared with what I'm used to.

I have booked an appointment for quarter to one on Saturday. I left with strange feelings of guilt. I expected Mad Barbara to pounce from behind a lamp post shouting about my disloyalty.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Car Park Full So Sod Off

As I drove up to the entrance of the University of Leeds, there was the familiar sign:


This happens on many occasions when I work there. I then go and park at the Hideous Woodhouse Lane Multi-Storey and walk the unprepossessing half-mile of urban streets to the entrance to the university: and then I walk through the visitors' car park and count about fifteen free spaces, and I'm getting grumpier by the moment.

Occasionally my grumbles voice themselves to one of the Men at the Gate and he says sorry, but he was only obeying orders.

I get on well with both the Men at the Gate, even though they lack any spirit of rebellion. The parking problems are not their fault and I've been chatting to them over a period of several years. If you want Car Parking News they tend to be the best source of it, especially if you don't shout at them like many people do.

But yesterday things were different. Things were even worse.

Fortunately, I had set off really early and arrived at the university with an hour to spare. And this was just as well.

The familiar Visitors' Car Park Full sign was there, so I made my weary way to the Hideous Woodhouse Lane Multi-Storey, and it too was full. There was a queue of half a dozen cars in front of me, waiting to get in. But, because it's a big car park, I know that there's always a steady trickle of cars leaving, so I waited twenty minutes and got in, and drove up and up for ages until the air became thin and I could see clouds through the windows, and then I found a parking space.

And then I did the tedious walk along city streets to the university, where I found that the visitors' car park was not full at all, it was empty. Because they had roped it off. They had put up signs. What did these say? Did they say, "We are sorry that we have roped off your car park and that you have had to park a long way away and walk through the snow and may now be late. There is a really good reason for this roping-off that we have done and we will now explain it - - "?

No, the signs didn't say that. They said that if you had the effrontery to park in the roped-off bit then they would wheel-clamp your car and it would cost you loadsamoney to get it back, and serve you jolly well right, you scum. Something along those lines.

Several people I was working with were late, because they couldn't find anywhere to park, because by the time they got to the Hideous Woodhouse Lane Multi-Storey there was such a queue that they had banned all entry to anyone but annual permit holders.

So today, when I went back to the University and didn't even bother to try the Visitors' Car Park and parked in the Hideous Woodhouse Lane Multi-Storey and trudged throught the snow for a bit, I asked the Bearded Man at the Gate what it was all about.

"They're surveying the ground. Won't be done till at least Friday. But if you come tomorrow you can park for free at Woodhouse Moor."

Woodhouse Moor is probably a mile away. And there were no notices to tell me this.

So - - what's this Surveying the Ground thing? I could survey it for them. It's flat. It's marked out as a car park. GUESS WHAT IT'S FOR!

Rumour has it that they're building a swimming pool. But if they're planning to build it on the visitors' car park, then where are the visitors supposed to park?

Well - say the Powers that Be - the visitors, of course, should be using Leeds's fast, clean and totally reliable public transport system.

And so I would be, if only Leeds had one. But I need to work in our office in the morning, before working for the University in the afternoon. I haven't got all day to spare to spend travelling to the University.

What particularly annoys me is the complete lack of any information at all, showing complete contempt for the users of the car park. It costs an extortionate fiver to park there so nobody's going to be using it as a cheap car park to get to anywhere else. Everyone's there because they're working at the University. In my case, working to help to train the next generation of doctors and nurses, and I happen to think that's quite important.

So I think a few polite explanatory notices are the Very Very Least that they could do.

Leeds University Ground-Surveyors and Building-Builders, you are rude, thoughtless bastards, and I hate you.

That may a bit unenlightened, and not very Buddhist, and that's one reason why I'm not a Buddhist.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Buy Lovely Things

I'm not good at making things. Once - I'm pretty sure it was only the once - I had a Good Idea, and I think I wrote about it on this blog, ages ago.

I realised that a wine cork could be made into quite a cute little doll if you made it some hair from wool (in many different styles) and then gave it arms, and feet, and a face, and made it some clothes out of felt and other materials. Some had headscarves. Some had little hats. I called my little dolls Corkies.

I had quite a little cottage industry going and sold them to other children for something like 6d each - that's two and a half pence in new British money but you could get a lot for an old sixpence in those days. I gave the money to the RSPCA and the NSPCC. Yes, that's one of the reasons why I'm not the next Richard Branson: I was a naive child and it just never occurred to me to keep it.

That, however, was the peak of my craft abilities. Since those days, lots of people got better and better and I stayed the same and the same.

I don't like carelessly-made craft items of the kind that you find mass-produced in tourist shops.
Mass-produced corn dollies, that kind of thing: though I love things that are made individually, with talent.

This brings me to my friend Katrin Freitag who has just started selling beautifully-made items at her Etsy Shop online here.

She makes beautiful corsages - round brooches, I'd call them, because I don't know about such things - out of tulle and organza and other delicate materials. Each one is slightly different and they're all delightful. I saw whole trays of them at her studio - - like a field of rather ethereal flowers.

She makes other things too: all individual, all beautifully made. Have a look at the shop.

And you can buy them, and she will post them to you, or to someone else as a present: and I know from experience that they arrive looking individual and beautifully wrapped.

Go on! Cheer up someone's February!

Monday, February 09, 2009

Mild Peril in Bury

My bravery usually goes unremarked but I have to point out to you our courage at traversing the vasty wastes of snow known as the Pennines on Saturday morning.

We used a little-known cart track called the M62: here it is:

We struggled our way across Saddleworth Moor - though actually it looked, if anything, less bleak than usual when covered in snow:

Finally we emerged from the wilderness and found ourselves in Bury.

And there we saw The Lighthouse Keeper's Lunch, performed by Pied Piper Theatre Company.

It's a two-hander - the characters were lighthouse-keeper Mr Grinling and his wife, whose name, unsurprisingly, was Mrs Grinling. Robert Took, who's one of the actors I work with, played Mr Grinling (he also played the guitar and ukulele. Or it may have been a banjo. I'm not very good at small stringed instruments).

Here's a photo of Rob in his lighthouse. Yes, I know, I shouldn't be taking photos in the middle of the play, but I did at least turn the flash off and nobody noticed.

We were slightly older than the target age group, which was three to seven years. Though after a very busy week I felt that the plot contained just about the right level of tension for me.

Every day Mr Grinling would row across to the lighthouse and every day his wife would send over a basket with his lunch on it. She'd send it on a wire and he would haul it from the mainland. BUT - - and this was the crucial bit - some seagulls kept pouncing on the basket and stealing the food. So - without giving too much away - the dramatic plot centred on how the seagulls could be prevented from doing this.

Sadly they didn't ask me, or I would have pointed out that if Mrs Grinling got up half an hour earlier and got the lunch ready, Mr Grinling could have taken it with him in the rowing boat. Problem solved.

Or - and I know this is a bit controversial - she could taken the feminist approach and gone out and got a job as a chartered accountant or something and Mr Grinling could have made his own lunch.

But nobody asked me, so they had to sort out their own salvation, which they did to the accompaniment of much jolly sea-shantyish music. Finally the seagulls were thwarted and everyone lived happily ever after. I do hope that doesn't spoil the ending for you, if you happen to see the show.

It held the attention of the tinies throughout, and even I didn't cry once.

It takes a tremendous amount of skill and energy to perform a show like this and the two actors involved had both of these. So far they have done 130 performances, with more to come. It's not all glamour, showbiz.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Snowman

Olli and Gareth brought a visitor to our garden today and here he is:

It's quite fitting that he should call on us as, of course, I work for an actors' agency and this chap has already starred in an iconic animated film that the whole of our family watches every Christmas - - - and we always cry at the end.

Anyway, he was very friendly - not a standoffish film star at all - and quite happy to pose for a photo with my mother

He seems to like it in our garden and, as dusk fell, was still cheerfully standing there:

So, all together now - - we're walking in the air - - - (and I'm sorry about the poor picture quality but it was the best I could find. Fab film, it is, oh yes).

I may just sneak out in the middle of the night and see where he takes me.

Saturday, February 07, 2009


One of my colleagues has a daughter of twelve and a newish baby, just a few months old.

They lives in the countryside and, one day last week, decided to go for a walk even though there was snow on the ground. They bundled the baby into one of those baby ski-suit things and wrapped him up all cosy and warm in his pushchair, and set off down a country lane.

Suddenly, over the hedge, appeared a gang of tall teenage lads, all clutching snowballs and grinning. They could see my colleague and her daughter, but not the pushchair with the baby in, because of the height of the hedge.

My colleague held up her hand to stop them.

"Don't throw the snowballs, please. There's a baby in a pushchair here and you can't see him."

The boys all muttered amongst themselves and my colleague was suddenly very nervous. Even more so when they all rushed through a nearby gate and surrounded the pushchair.

Then, all together, the whole gang spoke, in their deep voices.

And what they said was "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaw!"

And then they said "Oh, he's so CUTE!" "How old is he?" "Does he like the snow?" "Can he sit up yet?" "What does he like to eat?"

And then they went on their gangly way.

Friday, February 06, 2009

On the Ice

As I mentioned a few days ago, I always feed the birds. What they get depends partly upon what's around, but the recipe always has a base of Dovecot Mix, often with some little pieces of fat added, plus any bread or old cereal or biscuits.

Today I added a plentiful sprinkling of dried mealworms, as robins in particular love these.

My little red bowl was full of these exciting ingredients and I marched cheerily out of the back door clutching it in one hand.

Unfortunately, the top step had decided, overnight and without letting me know in any way, to turn into a sheet of ice.

So my foot shot from under me and I landed on my back down the steps. It HURT and made me think that, after testing this business of landing from a height on something hard, I am never going to enter Dancing on Ice no matter how much they beg.

I was also covered in mealworms. Lovely.

So there I was, sitting in the snow, picking up bird food and hoping it will soon be Spring.

Stephen has just got back from Helsinki in Finland where they seem to positively relish the slippiness of the ice: Helsinki is full of ice rinks like this:

Not that this one was exactly crowded. Maybe the Finns, too, are beginning to realise that falling over on the stuff isn't fun.

Even the sea was frozen:

and there were lots of little snowy islands:

Still, it looked pretty.

I think he's had the best of the wintry photo-opportunities. He's had the frozen sea in Helsinki: I've had the bed soaked by the leaking hot water bottles, and a lap full of mealworms. No justice, is there?

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Really Rather Too Much Excitement

It was to be a quiet day in the office, which is in our house.

There was, unusually, only me: we'd decided there was too much snow to drag anyone else in and I was sure I'd manage, as this is the quietest time of the year in the actors' agency.

So I planned a day of work - - but at-my-own-pace work, going through the office inbox, and doing various other little jobs in preparation for the agency's monthly meeting, which is on Sunday.

I was wearing my scruffiest jeans, because nobody was going to see me, and a plain black T-shirt, and an old jumper.

And then, at half past ten, the phone rang.

There was an actor missing at a crucial roleplay, elsewhere in Leeds. The first roleplay was at ten past eleven. There should have been two actors and the one who was there rang me: where was the other one?

I traced it back and realised that there had been a mix-up: everyone, including me, thought that somebody else was doing the roleplay - - - and in fact, nobody was.

Now this kind of thing is very rare - we've been doing this roleplay for about ten years at about seven hundred actor-days of it a year, and there's only ever been a problem like this three or four times.

But it was crucial: the roleplay is part of the assessment for the candidates' careers, and hence really important.

I looked at the actors' board and there was nobody available. And gradually - - well, rather fast, actually - I realised who was going to do it, and that it was me.

Now, although I've done lots and lots and lots of medical roleplay, I haven't done corporate roleplay before. And although I've organised this particular batch of roleplay for about ten years, I have never actually done one, because my job is to be in the office organising it, and not out there doing it.

But I didn't know the brief for this one, and it was now twenty-five to eleven. So I asked the other actor who was there to get me a copy of the brief, and then I changed at lightning speed from Scruffy Jeans to Smart Skirt and Fairly Smart Jumper (hoping nobody would notice Fairly Old Black T-Shirt) and then I dashed out to the car, and drove through Leeds as fast as was possible, bearing in mind that there's still lots of snow.

So I got there just before eleven o'clock, and the other roleplayer kindly met me, and we ran through the snow to the correct building whilst he shouted to me the main issues in the brief.

(A roleplay, in case you don't know, is where the candidate is himself or herself, and the roleplayer plays a character having a discussion with them, so as to test the candidate's communication and management skills - that's a very concise description of course! The interaction is improvised from a detailed brief, and an assessor watches and marks the candidate).

Then he gave me the brief, and I had five minutes before I was needed.

I've always been a fast reader and I have done a lot of things at the last moment - I used to be a supply teacher - and sometimes I think I work best when put on my mettle like that. So I just read it through and hoped I'd managed to take in all the information.

I didn't have time to be frightened. I did my utmost to radiate calm to the assessor, who didn't know the mad rush that had led up to my arrival at the door of the room.

I did the roleplay four times for different candidates, each one lasting about twenty minutes, and at the time, I loved it. I found it fascinating to see how the candidates showed their strengths and weaknesses, just as with the medical roleplay that I do, and the assessors, fortunately, seemed happy with me and said I'd be very welcome back to do it again on future occasions.

Then we had lunch - - and then I went back to the office, to find that - luckily - nothing crucial had happened there in my absence. It was strange to see an email half-written on the screen, because I'd been typing it when the phone rang three and a half hours earlier.

Then I thought - - oh, my goodness, that was really rather scary! And I felt a bit shaky. I like a challenge, but I think that was really rather too much excitement for a Thursday morning. Phew.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Long-Necked Preposterous

When I was eleven my cousin Lynda, who was nine years older, lived with us for a while. Although I always called her my cousin, she wasn't my first cousin: she was Amy and Frank's daughter. Frank was my mother's first cousin. So I don't know what relation that makes Lynda really but she was like a big sister to me.

When it snowed we went out on the top lawn and did our best to make fake animal tracks. Lynda had discovered a very short verse - I think it was by Shel Silverstein - and we used to go around the lawn making tracks, whilst chanting it.

"These are the tracks of a Long-Necked Preposterous
Looking for a female Long-Necked Preposterous
But there aren't any."

Yes, barely even a verse. But good fun to stomp around the lawn to.

Lynda died in a cave-diving accident, aged thirty-five, in 1982. I think of her whenever it snows. Although actually, I think of her often anyway. The other day, at Leeds University, I saw a student wearing one of those Sixties-style check coats and I thought, for half a second, that it was Lynda. Finally my memory caught up with me and I remembered that she used to wear one very like it, in the late sixties. Isn't it strange how memory works?

Today, in the snow, on the lawn, we had real animal tracks:

So what's this animal then? I think the two on the left must be its back feet, and the ones on the right its front ones, put down first.

Here's a row of them:

Underneath is another set of tracks with round paws. I reckon those are probably a lion.

The top ones are some kind of hopping creature, I suspect. Kangaroo? Rabbit? I ought to know this better because once when I was very small I won a book all about animal tracks as a school prize. Where is it when I need it? Somewhere in this house, I'll be bound, like everything else in the world.

Okay, I'll give you my best guess and it is Grey Squirrel. Any other opinions?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Hot Stuff at Bedtime

On the worst day for travelling in I don't know how long, where did Stephen travel to? Helsinki, that's where.

And where did his luggage travel to? Paris. Obviously.

He was supposed to be going via Amsterdam but Leeds Bradford Airport was lacking the ability to put planes in the air, because of white stuff on the ground, and so Stephen had to get a taxi to Manchester, and then a plane to Paris, and then another one to Helsinki.

The luggage liked the look of Paris so stayed put for a bit. It has caught up with him now but the case is badly torn and will have to be replaced. My little red case, awwwww! It's been to Paris before, with me, so presumably that's why it wanted to stay there, and it's also been with me to America (I've been to America, you know, oh yes).

So Stephen got to Helsinki - it's a work trip - at half past eleven rather than half past four. But that's enough about him! For goodness' sake! My suffering was far greater, I can tell you. And now I'm going to.

It was cold last night, as one or two of you in Blighty might have noticed. So, what with Stephen being in Helsinki and failing in his duties as a human hot water bottle, I decided to get the hot water bottle and fill it with hot water. Okay so far?

But the last person who had put the stopper in the hot water bottle was Stephen, not me. And although I am pretty strong, (for a girly, obviously), he had tightened the stopper so much that I could not untighten it again. Now if there's a hole in the stopper top it's possible to get a long prongy thing and use some of the laws of physics to spin round the stopper and open it. I know this from many years of trying to open hot water bottles.

This particular hot water bottle had no hole in the stopper top. I could not open it in any way.

So I hunted round for another hot water bottle and finally found two, and they looked absolutely fine.

So I filled one with hot water and put it in one side of the bed. Hurrah.

Then, when I had done all the things have to be done before going to bed (such as feeding the geckos and the Giant African Land Snails, and putting the cat in the kitchen) I pulled back the duvet to climb into bed.

The hot water bottle had leaked and that side of the bed was sopping wet.

So I muttered one or two descriptive words and and hurled the hot water bottle into the bin, and then tried the next hot water bottle, which looked fine, and I screwed up the top really tightly, and turned it upside down and shook it, and it was fine.

So, I thought, I'll sleep in the other side of the bed. It was now about ten to one in the morning. So I put the bottle in the bed and went and switched all the lights off and brushed my teeth and pulled back the duvet on THAT side of the bed.

The hot water bottle had leaked and that side of the bed was also sopping wet.

"Oh dear," I said politely, "that's really rather annoying." (I may have paraphrased a bit here).

So I hurled the next hot water bottle into the bin and took all the bedding off the bed and put some of it in the washing machine and put it on to wash, and left the mattress bare so it could dry, and made up the bed in the spare room, and turned the heating up a bit as I now didn't have a hot water bottle, and went to bed, and it was now half past one.

That's all really. I just wanted you to understand my suffering and feel my pain.

Stop laughing, now.

Monday, February 02, 2009

High Table

As you perhaps know if you're living in Britain, there seems to be rather a lot of snow about at the moment and there's been a lot of "country grinding to a halt"- type news items.

Most of the bird population of Yorkshire heads to our garden in such times as they know they won't starve.

I put food out every day, sometimes twice, especially in the winter. Some on the ground, on the top lawn, as some birds prefer to eat from the ground and they have a good view of anything that might be trying to eat them.

The rest goes on the bird table and there are a couple of bird feeders too: but I find that the birds prefer the table.

I give them a seed mix called "Dovecot Mix" which is basically the same as what is marketed as Wild Bird Food - - but for some reason it's much cheaper and the pet shop once pointed this out to me. I buy it in bulk, a whole winter's worth at once.To this I add bread, any other flour-based leftovers like old mince pies, and occasionally I buy things like balls of fat with seeds in too. Sometimes I buy dried mealworms - - yum! - - as robins particularly like these. I always make sure there's fresh water in the birdbath, too.

Our bird table is not a thing of beauty. It was built by the Communist, well over thirty years ago, and like everything he made it has stamina if not looks. Here it was, today, just as I was about to replenish the food and remove the top layer of snow:

The branches next to it are from my fig tree, which I planted by accident once when I threw a bit of an overripe fig out of the window.

As you can see, the bird table is rather battered and from time to time I have vague thoughts of getting a new one.

But the trouble with new ones is they're mostly like this one if you click here:

There are several things wrong with it - - apart from the fact that it costs a hundred and twenty-seven quid!

Firstly, I don't think it needs a roof - - do birds in general need such things? I suppose it's to prevent the food from getting wet but actually that doesn't matter much - ours eat the food so fast that it doesn't stay around long, and it shouldn't be hanging around for long anyway or it will rot.

In general birds just like a clear view so that they can see that nothing's about to pounce on them.

And that brings me to the crucial element - as far as I can see, most commercially-produced bird tables just aren't high enough. Day after day I see the neighbourhood's cats try to leap up to ours and fail - it's just too high for cats to reach.

Whereas most commercially-produced bird tables are at just the right height for the cats to practice their bird-catching skills.

Really, what's needed is a table just like ours - anything more elaborate than that is just an excuse for charging lots of money. The Communist knew what he was doing on the bird-table front, which is why most of the birds of West Yorkshire seemed to be in our garden today.

I put that round ball of fat on the table today as an experiment, to see what would happen. It was next seen making its way across the lawn in the jaws of a very smug-looking squirrel.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Snow and Mr Shelley

Outside our back door, an hour ago, this was the view:

All very pretty but we're just not used to it, are we?

I went outside to go over to my mother's house - you can see it in the background, past our little snow-covered Clio. My parents' house was built in the grounds of ours: we bought our house from them in 1999.

I'd forgotten about the silence. It's that particular kind of silence that you get with snow. The whole of outside is covered in that silence at the moment.

When I was small, I loved the snow - we used to go sledging every year in Roundhay Park, Leeds, careering wildly, with dozens of others, down the slopes into the Arena. Our sledge was built by the Communist, and, like everything he built, had more solidity than grace - - but hey, it worked!

I don't think Olli's ever been sledging more than three or four times - we just don't have snow any more. Or not much, anyway.

Of course this snow decided to fall the night before I am going to take Stephen to the airport - he's going to Helsinki for a few days for work. I expect there'll be snow there, too. But they're used to it in Finland. Here, one more centimetre and it'll be WHITEOUT HELL in all the papers.

As old Shelley wrote in Ode to the West Wind:
"If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?"

Hmm. If you want an answer, Percy, I'm afraid that it's probably going to be YES.