Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Ghosts of Hockey Sticks Past

A couple of days ago, I took a photo of the pitch where I used to play hockey when I were a lass. It's less than half a mile from where I lived then - - and where I live now, in the same house.

So, Roundhay High School's hockey pitch. How I loved hockey. Not. Nobody ever taught us the rules for a start - - or if they did, I didn't understand them. Oh, all right, I probably wasn't listening. I'd be away in a daydream on a beach somewhere, which is where I used to spend a lot of time in dull lessons at school.

("Daphne! What are you doing?" shouted our scary Latin teacher once. "Pretending I'm at the seaside, Miss." - -- She'd never heard that one before.)

I usually contrived to be Goal Defence in our hockey lessons, on the better of the two teams. The other girls kindly let me do this, because they quite liked me, but they knew that hockey was not, nor would it ever be, part of my world. I was all specs and books in those days.

So, there I was, Goal Defence, on the team where a girl called Hilary was playing, and she was superb and spent the whole time hitting the ball into the goal at the other end of the pitch, with the result that the ball never came near me. Grand. I spent the whole lesson chatting to my friend who had used a similar thought process to get to be Goal Keeper or whatever you call it in hockey.

It was always freezing cold. Always. And one year, when they didn't put the clocks back but left it as British Summertime all winter, it was dark too, because hockey was first lesson, and the sun had not risen yet.

It was not until many years later, watching the England team on television, that I saw how hockey should be played, and realised that, if you could do it, it might be rather fun. Meanwhile, I continued to be a big let-down to my mother, who had, in her day, been captain of the University of Leeds Hockey Team.

Anyway, here's the pitch where we played.

Yes, they've built on it. No blue plaque anywhere - "Daphne Suffered Here" that I could see. Instead we have Kerr Mackie Primary School.

When Olli was little we considered this primary school and went and had a look round it.

It was open plan. What this meant, in essence, was that there were no walls between classrooms. You had two classes sitting adjoining each other, each trying to have different lessons, with two teachers talking to them about different things, and lots and lots and lots of noise. This was some educationalist's brilliant theory, though quite of what I don't know. He thought that children might learn better in the middle of an incredible racket, perhaps.

"And this," they said, "is the cookery department. But unfortunately we can't use the ovens because Health and Safety inspected the area and decided it couldn't be properly supervised."

Yes, another brilliant architectural design, presumably done by someone who'd never met an actual living child.

We didn't choose that school for Olli.

The crab-apple trees are still there, around the school on what used to be our hockey pitch. In the autumn we would pick the crab-apples and make them into crab-apple jelly and sell it to raise money for the School Fund.

So, hidden in time beneath the shrieking of the primary school children, are forever the memories of teenage hockey players, flitting about in our white socks and gossiping by the goalposts about Marc Bolan, T Rex, The Osmonds and David Cassidy.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Mrs Crowther's House

Ah yes, here we have a lovely blue Florida sky and some palm trees. Unusual architecture for Florida, mind you.

Okay, it isn't quite Florida. In fact it's Leeds, just across the side road from our house. Of course, I love the palm trees, always have done as I've watched them grow over the years.

A very pleasant couple live there and I remember the husband calling me over to say that his first child had been born. That was thirty-something years ago. The first-born now has children of his own.

But to me, that couple are the new kids on the block, for the house where they live is, to me, Mrs Crowther's house.

Mrs Crowther was a very very old lady who lived there when I was a very very small child. I used to go across with my Grandma - my mother's mother - who lived with us. Grandma was a tiny, feisty redhead and she kept an eye on Mrs Crowther, and I went with her to Mrs Crowther's house quite often, to help her to do it.

Mrs Crowther's house was very dark and full of carved ivory - I think she had been born in India. She did have a fridge, but my Grandma was very disapproving of its contents, most of which were rivalling the ivory in their antiquity.

"This bacon's green," said Grandma, waving it under my nose. "I'm putting it in the bin."

"It's fine," said Mrs Crowther, fruitlessly. "I ate some of it yesterday."

Into the bin it went. There was never much point in arguing with Grandma.

One day Mrs Crowther started talking to me about her own death, which she thought might happen sooner rather than later.

"It won't matter," she said. "Because I'm ready. I've had a good life."

Even at that very young age - I must have been only about five - I had no religious beliefs and couldn't believe in an afterlife, though I wished that I could (and still do). The idea, therefore, that someone could be ready to die, shocked me beyond belief.

I remember asking Grandma about it on the way home - - which was a very short way, consisting merely of crossing the road.

"Sometimes, when people are very old, they've just had enough of living, and they'd be happy to die," she said.

I couldn't imagine it.

Mrs Crowther died soon afterwards - I don't think I was told anything about her death, but I remember we drew all the curtains at our windows, because that was what was done in those days if someone died.

Grandma lived for many more years. She died in 1991, age 93. She was very deaf, but completely alert mentally. I don't know what she died of - "old age" is probably the best description.

I think her daughter - my mother, who will be 85 in April - is probably older now than Mrs Crowther was then. She's not ready to die yet, oh no, not when there's gardening to be done and beaches to be visited.

And the Communist, who was eighty-five, and who died last December, was most certainly not ready to die. As my brother and I said at his funeral, he didn't want a funeral. He wanted a trip to Tenby, a seafood salad and a false leg.

So I think that, of all the oldies I've known - and there have been plenty - Mrs Crowther has been the only one who was prepared to go gently. I have a very good memory of a lot of my early childhood, and I'm pleased that I can still remember her, because she was always kind to me.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Boat Race

I usually manage to watch the annual Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge Universities. This year I particularly enjoyed watching the scenes around Putney Bridge, since I was there earlier this year.

I like both Oxford and Cambridge as places, so I don't really have a favourite team to support - but this year I decided to support Cambridge for several reasons.

Firstly, I had a really enjoyable trip there last summer with Silverback to see a new applicant to the agency in a play (and the applicant joined, and he's been great).

Secondly, the Cambridge cox was female, Rebecca Dowbiggin, (yes, yes, I know, the race is over but she still hasn't managed to park the boat, stop it now) and I preferred Cambridge's "Come on, row faster" approach to Oxford's "We need to visualise ourselves jumping on top of the opposition's faces" technique.

Thirdly - and crucially - there were actually some blokes from Britain to be found in the Cambridge boat. The Oxford crew are all about six feet six, and mostly from abroad. In 1980, the actor Hugh Laurie rowed for Cambridge and I cling nostalgically to the idea of the race being between Proper British Chaps like him - and yes, I know he's starring in an American series, House, but he's British, okay?

The Oxford team was much bigger and stronger and much was made in the pre-race waffle of the fact that they'd had a lot of psychological coaching along the lines of visualising themselves winning and all that sort of thing.

Apparently the effort required in this race is equivalent to running up the stairs to the top of a one hundred and fifty storey building. It makes me tired just to think about it.

If you want to see the race repeated on televsion, and you don't know who won yet, then stop reading right here - - because I'm going to tell you now.

Cambridge started off well, and then petered out a bit halfway through, and Oxford got ahead and did their best to make sure Cambridge couldn't overtake by getting right in front of the Cambridge boat, and Oxford won.

Which was what was expected.

For some reason, since the Boat Race is always trailed as one of those frightfully-British occasions, with a quarter of a million people turning up to watch it, I rather wish that it still could be. I wish that the crews could have to be - - well - - British. I can see why they're not - - I can see that if your application to Oxford University says "I'm Australian, and I'm six feet nine, and I'm really very good at rowing" - - well, they might look more favourably upon your application.

But the Boat Race itself is such an old-fashioned anachronism, I wish really that they'd keep it even more that way.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Happy Birthday Stephen

It's my husband's Stephen's birthday today and he is FIFTY. Mind you, he's looking well and that's probably due, of course, to having lived with me since he was eighteen.

(I think I can hear distant laughter so you can stop that right now).

Stephen's not exactly gregarious - - in fact he's the exact opposite of gregarious. Ungregarious, probably. He likes his own company, and he talks best to computers or anything technical really. When any machine isn't working my first line of attack is to say to it, in a kindly but firm tone, "I am married to Stephen and he has gone to get the screwdriver". He can often mend things like radios by laying his hands upon them. Interestingly, I can break them using exactly the same method.

He's always been lovely to me - and to my parents - really I think my mother prefers him to me! - and he's always been a great father to Olli.

When we met and I was a postgraduate of just twenty-one and he was a first year student of eighteen, nearly nineteen, it seemed to others like a big age gap. For some reason it doesn't seem so big any more, now he's FIFTY and I'm - - - er - - right, that's enough of that, I'm stopping this post right here.

Happy Birthday Stephen!

Friday, March 27, 2009

My Inner Badness

My intentions are generally good. I hope so, anyway. I hate all cruelty, in particular, I just can't bear it. In general I think the best of everyone until they prove me wrong and if that makes me a bit gullible sometimes - - well, I'd rather be thought gullible than whatever the opposite of it is.

However, from time to time something happens that gives me a secret glow of pleasure - - and it's something BAD, and I know it's WRONG, but I just can't help it.

One of these was when Margaret Thatcher was forced out of office. You may remember that she was Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland for about six decades of my youth.

When she was forced out of office, the Iron Lady shed a tear. Normally I am moved when people cry. In this case I was moved to a secret glow of pleasure. Why? Because, d'you know what, I think she just didn't care about any of us really, and I didn't like her "no such thing as society" politics and if that makes me politically naive, d'you know what, I don't care. I'm not religious and hence I think being kind to each other and caring about each other is what it's all about.

After she'd gone from power I read a little verse, which was printed in some newspaper, and I enjoyed that too.

She milked the many
She fed the few
And now she's gone
And about time too.

The "milk" reference in case you are too young to remember, is because when I was in the first year of secondary school she stopped us getting a third of a pint of milk every day at school, and hence acquired the title "Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher". - - - Goodness, I feel old having to explain all this.

Anyway, I digress, because this post wasn't supposed to be about Margaret Thatcher, and I don't do party politics, even though my Dad was a Communist. This post was supposed to be about Fred Goodwin. Again. Remember him? He was the boss of the Royal Bank of Scotland which had to be propped up with firstly twenty billion quid of public money, and then another thirteen billion.

Of course if I'd screwed up on even a tenth of this scale, I'd be in jail, but because he was the boss of a wunch of bankers, he was rewarded with a pension of seven hundred thousand pounds a year.

Quite a lot of people are quite cross about this, including, as a matter of fact, me. And now some of them have vandalised his two million pound house. Not that he was in it at the time, he was living elsewhere, presumably in a caravan or something. He's obviously short of money since they asked him if he wouldn't mind giving back some of the seven hundred grand a year and he replied with a cheery "No, get lost" or similar.

Now, in general I hate vandalism nearly - though not quite - as much as I hate cruelty. But in this case, d'you know, I'm prepared to make an exception. SECRET GLOW OF PLEASURE. Bad, bad Daphne.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Coming of Spring

I rather like that slightly melancholy look that the landscape has in winter. Here's a lake called Nigel (yes, really) near Roanhead, Barrow-in-Furness, last weekend - - looking all moody and wintry and atmospheric.

And it's only a few weeks since Frosty was standing guard outside the old greenhouse:

Now both Frosty and the greenhouse are gone.

Goodbye, Winter - - it's time for Spring. Here are some coltsfoot I found last weekend in the sand dunes:

And look, I found sunshine too. I'm hoping for more of it, to give a warm welcome to Silverback, who is currently about to fly back from the heat of Florida to a chilly March Britain.

Welcome back, Silverback - - and bring the sunshine with you!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Old and the New

I've been working at the University of Leeds a lot recently and a little while ago I showed you some of the concrete hideousness where the School of English was situated when I was a student there in the cool and trendy Seventies.

They have gradually filled in any gaps on the campus with buildings, and all the buildings are very different from each other, depending upon when they were built.

Here's an old church - - now a club called Halo.

And here's the Baines Wing - - nicely modernised inside but old on the outside. In a good way - I like this building. It's not the best photograph of it - I was trying to avoid being seen by the students I've been working with, as they only know me as the character I've been playing.

Here's the building that contains the Rupert Beckett Lecture Theatre.

I was in that building a lot when I was a student, as it contained the Workshop Theatre. I wander through it often because it's like a time capsule - it is identical in almost every detail to how it was when I was a student - - all parquet floors and white steps.

All these buildings are very near to each other and on the left of the photo above you can just see the newest one - - which looks more Miami than Leeds. (So does the sky, as a matter of fact).

All these buildings don't exactly go with each other in any kind of aesthetically pleasing way - - but they are interesting. And at least they're not just concrete boxes.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Giong and Bananay

In the Olden Days, when I was seventeen, I learned to touch-type on a ten-day typing course at the Yorkshire Evening Post.

In those days girls often resisted learning to type as they were worried that this very skill would make them end up in a dull typing-pool job somewhere. However, I think I can say that it has been the most useful skill that I have ever learned, apart from my times tables - should you want to know what seven eights is, I can tell you in an instant that's it's fifty-six, because I was taught in my eleven-plus exam year by Mr Storey, and when you were taught by Mr Storey you stayed taught.

I'm not naturally fast at anything much so at the end of the ten days I was not a fast typist. Of course, we were working on those big old heavy machines where you had to slide the slidey kerchingy thingy across at the end of every line.

I wasn't very accurate, either, in those days - - and in those days it mattered because every error was a major occasion requiring the correction fluid known as Tippex, which would get rid of the mistake and leave a tell-tale white mark. But nevertheless, I persisted with it and even typed a few essays for other people at university.

When they invented word processors I was still slooooooooow. And still inaccurate. But now it didn't matter. I would make a mistake and instantly correct it. I went for an interview at one of those temping agencies and to my horror they gave me a typewriter to work on (ah! just now it just took me three attempts to type "typewriter" so clearly I'm still making errors and instantly correcting them - - but now I barely notice).

My typed piece for the temp agency was a total disaster. Inaccurate? It was barely English. They opened their mouths to say "Never darken our doors again" but before they could say it I said "Can I try it on a word processor, please?"

They were astonished that I could now produce a piece of perfect accuracy. "Could you do a spelling test for us, please?" - - Oh yes, please, you bet, bring it on!

I can do spelling. It's the thing I'm best at in the whole world, probably, apart from rearing frog spawn into frogs. I scored - modest cough - the highest score anyone had ever got in their test.

So I was sent out to do general admin-type work, but not to do typing, until the whole world changed into using word-processors.

Now, after fifteen years spent working for the actors' agency and typing every day, I type very fast - - but, as I've just noticed, I still make quite a few errors which I instantly correct.

There are three errors I notice that I make quite often. One is that if I type a capital N, my fingers automatically type the letters PQH after it, because the National Professional Qualification for Headship is something we've worked on a lot.

Another is that I think - or my fingers think - that any word ending in the letter a should end in ay instead. So I'd be eating a bananay on the banks the Panamay canal if I didn't stop myself.

And, finally, and most annoyingly, the word going - which I seem to type a lot - almost always renders itself as giong, which sounds vaguely Chinese.

Most young people now don't seem to bother learning to touch-type - - they just type very fast with three fingers, because they learned to type almost before they learned to write. But I'm glad I can touch-type. I'm always thinking along the lines of "What will happen if - - " and one of my "What will happen if" things is, if I ever go blind, at least I'll still be able to send people emails.

It's just a pity that I won't be able to read their replies.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Paths by the Beach

A path by the beach, or to the beach, on a sunny day. Lovely!

Here are some I saw at the weekend:

a path across the sand dunes at Roanhead, leading to the sea:

a path alongside Morecambe Bay:

another part of the same path:

and here are my mother and Amy striding out along it.

My mother was born on April 20, 1924 and her friend Amy on April 23, 1924, and they've been friends since they were at school: Amy obligingly married one of my mother's favourite cousins. I hope that, if I'm still around when I'm nearly eighty-five, I will still be able to love walking along a path like this one.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

On Cumbrian Beaches

When I was in Florida (oh here we go, she's mentioning it AGAIN) I loved the strong, bright colours, the lush green vegetation, the white sand, the bright blue sky and - especially - the palm trees.

This weekend in Britain, Spring had sprung - for a little while anyway - and I was in Barrow-in-Furness collecting my mother who'd been staying there with our wonderful cousin Amy for a week.

I got a strong reminder of what I love about the scenery here, and, particularly, the Cumbrian beaches, since my mother (84 nearly 85), Amy (84 nearly 85) and I spent a large part of the day walking on them in the sunshine. So different from Florida - and yet so beautiful too.

One of the things I love about them is the colours and the shapes - - oh, that's two things. Anyway, here are some illustrations, of shapes and colours.

You can click on the photos if you'd like to enlarge them.

Wave patterns in the sand. They never cease to amaze me.

Water on the sand (and a couple of ducks too)

Water, sand, sky. The sea should be in the distance but had decided to disappear completely for a bit - I've rarely seen such a low tide. It had come back by this morning, luckily.

An old groyne on the beach

Dry grass in the sand dunes

Pieces of slate on the beach:

Yellow lichen on a piece of slate:

Baby sand dunes forming in pools on the beach.

Many of these were taken on Morecambe Bay, perhaps most recently known for the deaths of the Chinese cockle pickers - the tide comes in "at the speed of a galloping horse" and many people have been caught on sandbanks and drowned. But I love its wide, strange beauty.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Beside the sea

I didn't post yesterday as I had an incredibly busy day - in our office in the morning, then working with medical students in the afternoon - the fire alarm went off and delayed it all - then I saw one of our actors in an excellent play in the evening and finally drove 100 miles to Barrow in Furness to collect my mother - hence I'm using the Blackberry for this. Today's been glorious and we've walked miles on beautiful beaches. Home tomorrow but hurrah for Spring!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Where the Greenhouse Isn't

Once upon a time we had an old greenhouse:

and then today, John (left) arrived and started to take it down, assisted by our friend David.

Fortunately it is going to a new home in Holmfirth, which is good. So it was all loaded into and onto John's van:

and now - - there it isn't!

I'm always surprised by how such a short period of time can make such a difference - that greenhouse has been there for years and years, and has been part of the view every time I've looked out of the office window.

The next job is to concrete the base before putting a shed there (you notice I write this as though I'll be mixing the concrete myself, which is not exactly the truth).

It's going to make a big difference to the look of the garden, which is all full of daffodils and Spring. Hurrah - thanks to John, and David, and Will who helped too.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Taxi Driver

On the rare occasions when she travels by taxi, my mother loves talking to the driver. She's incredibly sociable and by the time she's gone a couple of miles will know every detail of the driver's life - - and then she'll tell it to me. "- - and he's got three children, and guess what! The oldest one's pregnant and she's so big they thought it was twins, but it's not!"

I have to say that I have been known to be less than fascinated by the finer details of the life of someone I've never met - worse, from time to time I've said so, which I must say made me feel very cruel to my poor mother who will talk to anyone, anywhere, from the best possible motives - she's simply interested in people.

I'm interested in people too - - but actually, I'm shy and I don't always want to have to strike up an artificial conversation with someone new. So often, when I'm in a taxi, I'm sitting there thinking "Just shut up and DRIVE."

The most unpleasant thing is when you get one of those drivers who feels obliged to tell you his political opinions and - worse - assumes you share them. "Mrs Thatcher? Greatest world leader ever. I wish we could have her back, don't you?"

Yesterday I was lucky with my taxi drivers. I had to take three taxis to do a triangle from my house to Elland Road, then from Elland Road to Leeds University, and finally from Leeds University to my home. The reason for all this was that I knew I wouldn't have time to park at Leeds University.

All three were really interesting. The first one had a degree in Biomedical Science and was trying to get a job which would use it - - but meanwhile, he was driving a taxi. The second one loved football and it made him sad in a way whenever he had to go to Elland Road because he had once had hopes of turning professional until he had a bad knee injury in his teens. And the third one waxed lyrically, and very entertainingly, about Leeds traffic and the many problems that he had had with it.

So I very much enjoyed talking to all three of them. Perhaps it was that I was in a fairly extrovert mood (for me) or perhaps it was simply that from the start I thought all three were decent blokes, who didn't make assumptions about me because of the way I was dressed (all in black as I usually am for roleplay) or the way I speak (Grammar School Posh Northern).

Either way, it was an enjoyable day, the work was interesting, and the taxi drivers were a Good Thing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Elland Road at Last

Top o' the morning to you! - - okay, it's evening, but it's still St Patrick's Day.

I've worked at lots of training and assessment events for doctors. There's usually tea and coffee available when you arrive, and today was no exception:

But what's all that green stuff in the background that looks remarkably like a football pitch?

Well, it's a football pitch, because today I was working at Leeds United's ground at Elland Road. I was interested to see it, because I've lived in Leeds for most of my life and never been there before.

We were working in the Executive Suites which have a terrific view of the whole pitch - here's the room where I was working:

If you look at the large letters on the seating, that's the Don Revie stand. After Don Revie got the job of England manager, Brian Clough spent 44 days as manager of Leeds United - - and this period will be portrayed on screen in the forthcoming feature film The Damned United - see the trailer here. It comes out on March 27, has some excellent actors in it and stars Martin Sheen as Brian Clough - - and one of the actors I work with, John Savage, plays Scottish footballer Gordon McQueen in the film. I'm looking forward to it.

I loved seeing the pitch and imagining all the seats packed and noisy! Whilst I was working I kept glancing over as people watered it and wandered about on it.

Of course, these aren't the glory days of Leeds United, sadly. However, thanks to Silverback, I generally know what team they're playing and what the score is. So when one of the doctors assessing the exam today mentioned that he is from Somerset and supports Yeovil Town, I remembered that Leeds played Yeovil very recently. The score? Four nil to Leeds. Yes, I did feel obliged to mention it, since you ask. Just in passing. No gloating at all.

Monday, March 16, 2009

At the Clinic

Remember the Olden Days, when you were too ill to get out of bed and a doctor came to visit and - if he or she was a good one - made you feel better with the lovely bedside manner?

Not any more. Apparently you have to be either very elderly, or terminally ill, to get a home visit - I remember having an argument with some emergency doctor a few years back when my friend, who was then eighty-two, with flu - not a bad cold, proper flu - needed a doctor and I had to fight like mad to get them to come out to her. "No, I'm not taking her to the clinic in the car. There's snow on the ground and she has a very high temperature and can barely walk. If you're prepared to sign something that says it's your fault if she falls and breaks her hip, then I'll consider it."

The doctor came to visit her.

But on Saturday, although I felt incredibly ill, there was no chance of me getting a home visit, so Stephen put me in the car and took me down to the emergency clinic.

The doctor was mid-fifties, I'd say, and he was Chinese, though - as they say in the iconic comedy Airplane - that's not important right now, as his English was very good.

He asked what I'd been doing the previous day and I said, accurately, working to help teach medical students.

He asked what department. "Communication Skills," I said.

He looked bewildered. "What's that?" he asked.

"Teaching doctors how to talk to patients and explain things to them," I replied. Not a full explanation, granted, but I was still feeling incredibly ill.

"Why do they need that?" he asked. "Do you teach them to be assertive with patients?"

"Only occasionally," I said, "usually it's exactly the opposite. We teach them to listen to patients. All student doctors have to pass Communication Skills now or they can't graduate."

"Really?" he said, astonished.

"Yes, really," I said, "because it's really important, and I'm surprised that you don't know about it."

Now then. After this he took my blood pressure, and didn't tell me what he was doing, and didn't tell me the result until I asked. Then he stuck a thermometer in my ear. Luckily I knew it was a thermometer - it might have been a laser gun for all I knew, because he didn't tell me. Then he said, in passing, "You might have a kidney infection or because you're diabetic you might have kidney damage." KIDNEY DAMAGE?!! Thanks, mate!

Then he asked me to "pop up onto the couch so he could have a little feel of my tummy" (yes, I may have loved being talked to like that when I was three but I've grown out of it now) and then he prodded it all over, rather hard.

As a matter of fact, I knew one of the things he was checking for and it was the Murphy's Sign of an inflamed gallbladder, which in my case I had not got. But I knew how to pretend I had because I had to act it twenty-four times in an exam for doctors once. I could land myself in hospital any time I fancy, oh yes. But luckily I don't fancy, and I didn't have an inflamed gallbladder.

Medically he was, I think, adequate, but it was a good job that I know quite a bit about what he was doing or I'd have ended up even more bewildered than I was already.

And it was no place to be when you're ill. If I hadn't been feeling so dreadful, when he asked "Why do they teach Communication Skills?" I would have replied, "Because of people like you, who've been doing it badly for years and never give it a second's thought."

Just for the record: when the doctor takes your blood pressure, or your temperature, they should tell you what they're doing and why, and tell you at least something about the result. And they should "talk you through" any physical examination.

Also, they shouldn't mention any possible serious condition as though in passing, or lead you to think that you've got it, until they're sure that you have, and then they should break the bad news sensitively and carefully.

Younger doctors are much better at this kind of thing in general. Why? Because they're chosen for different criteria these days - as well as having a squillion A-levels at Grade A, they also have to be able to talk to people. Of course, in the Olden Days some doctors were brilliant at talking to people - - - but, because in many situations this ability was not regarded as at all important, many were terrible at it.

Some still are. But I hope things will change - - and they are changing - - though there's still some way to go.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Shuttle Launch

I've just watched the Space Shuttle Discovery launched. I've always loved watching a rocket launch, ever since the excitement of the Apollo missions to the Moon. It's still just as exciting to me, every time.

This time there was a bat sitting on the fuel tank - I hope it took the hint and left before it all got a bit hot round there. The commentator on NASA TV has failed to tell me this crucial piece of information, though I do know that Discovery is now flying across the Atlantic Ocean and I hope that Batty's not clinging on somewhere and shouting the bat equivalent of "Stop!"

Watching it this time was different, because I've been to the Kennedy Space Centre and I've seen the launch pads and I know how it all looks for real. I've wanted to go there ever since I can remember, and now I have been there, and Stephen and I both thought it was even better than we expected.

Wooohooo indeed.


Our house is gradually getting sorted, though it's taking a long time - Stephen, Olli and I moved in in 1999, though my parents had lived here since 1959. This is the house where I grew up, and although I've lived in other houses, I was delighted to be able to buy it from my parents and move back here, as I've always liked it. It was built in 1896 and I like the high ceilings and spacious feel to it, and I've always thought it a friendly and welcoming house, and tried to keep it that way.

My parents had a house built in the garden of the old house, where my mother still lives, and this has worked out very well.

One of the things that came with our house was the old greenhouse.

The Communist used to grow tomatoes every year, and very good they were too - several different varieties. He also grew annuals from seed - they lived in the greenhouse until they were big enough to be planted out - and vegetables, such as green beans.

Of recent years, however, my mother has used it as a shed to keep tools and suchlike in.

The tools used to be kept in the garage, but since it's really not easy to open, and covered in ivy, and very picturesque but really not really safe as a building any more, they have recently been kept in the greenhouse.

Looking out of our office window a week or so ago, I saw the garden and thought - - it looks great (and this is a testament to my mother's sterling work with it - about a third of an acre and she works on it constantly). Great. Apart from the greenhouse. Which is the Last Great Eyesore, now we've got rid of firstly the ancient caravan and secondly Gareth's ancient and very dead car.

It occurred to me that we don't now need a greenhouse - I love the garden but I don't think I'm ever going to go in for growing tomatoes.

What we need is a shed. And a nice new wooden shed would look far better than a battered old greenhouse.

Since the Communist died on December 8th I have worked non-stop - I know it's been my way of dealing with it. So it would be good to spend some of the money I have earned on The Communist Memorial Shed.

He always loved the garden, and he would be delighted by this, I know.

So very soon, our friend John Coombes - artist, film-maker, television games-show designer, writer, public speaker and, in our house, workbench-builder, office-redesigner, shelves-creator and staircase-restorer - will be adding Greenhouse-Remover and Shed-Constructor to his ever-growing list of job titles. Hurrah!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Ooh Er Poorly

I've been most horribly ill for most of today, with a stomach bug mixed with the effects of my diabetes tablets, which make me feel sick anyway.

I won't go on about it but I'm feeling better now, though rather washed out. I was lying there feeling terrible this morning trying to catch up on Coronation Street - - - every other scene had someone eating and when Ken Barlow started marvelling at the wonders of his scrambled egg I had to press the "off" button at top speed.

Sadly I was supposed to be seeing Othello, starring Lenny Henry, at The West Yorkshire Playhouse tonight, with some of my favourite relatives, and one of the actors I work with is in it, Rachel Jane Allen, playing Bianca, (she's had excellent reviews) and the whole run has been sold out so I don't expect I'll get to see it on the forthcoming tour either. Grrrrrr.

Friday, March 13, 2009

My Day's Work

The third year medical students spend some time out on the wards, meeting real patients.

As part of their Communication Skills sessions at the university, they can practise dealing with a situation that they have come across, and perhaps felt that they didn't handle very well. Or perhaps they think they need to practise explaining a procedure - - an endoscopy, or a barium meal. Or perhaps they would like to practise talking to a patient who's just been told some bad news (a third year student would not actually be breaking the bad news, of course). Or they may just want to practise taking a medical history of a patient who's just been admitted to hospital - which is something they have to do quite often, and it's very easy to miss bits out and never find out, for example, if the patient smokes, which can be crucial.

There are five or six students in a group. One chooses to do the roleplay, and, together with the facilitator, decides what the student wants it to be about.

Then this student goes out: the simulated patient comes in, and the facilitator, the group and the simulated patient devise the scenario together. "You drink red wine, but only at the weekend." The student comes back in and then they do the consultation, and the student, the facilitator, the simulated patient and the rest of the group analyse what went well and what might perhaps have been done differently.

It's a constructive, supportive learning environment and most students find it very useful.

I am a simulated patient, of course, and very used to working in this way, and I love it. Usually, however, I work from a pre-written brief rather than helping to devise the roles.

Today I have done four sessions, each of about an hour and a half, and I have played several roles:

1) A woman with suspected hepatitis who doesn't know how she could have contracted it - - but she has a husband who works abroad a lot - - she didn't know it could be a sexually transmitted disease, and nor did she know what her husband had been getting up to whilst abroad - -

2) The mother of a twenty-year-old who was concerned that she was anorexic, though the daughter hotly denied this - - there was a drama student, a trainee simulated patient, playing my daughter and it was good practice for the student to deal with Sulky Daughter and Interrupting Mother!

3) A woman who'd had a stroke, lived on her own, and didn't want to go into care, because she had a lovely house and the garden was her pride and joy - - -

4) The mother of a teenager who had to have a bronchoscopy to examine her lungs - - again there was a drama student playing the teenager - -

It was fascinating to do, of course. But, as with previous weeks when I've worked in this way, I find that I'm really tired afterwards. I find myself thinking afterwards that hey! it wasn't an eight-hour shift at the coal face, after all, so why am I so tired?

I do lots of roleplay, much of it quite emotional, and I find that these days are the most tiring that I do. So I think it's because it's a mixture of quite emotional content and having to devise it, and then learn the role as it's devised, with all the details of a patient's family and medical history and lifestyle.

Anyway, I just thought you might like to know a bit more about it. And now I'm going to bed. Though it's only nine o'clock. Phew.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Hideous Hideous Concrete

My surroundings are very important to me. I like lots of greenery, and beautiful buildings, and hills, and heather, and lakes, and the seaside, and palm trees - - not all at once, but that's the kind of thing I like.

So it was really very stupid of me to choose to do my degree (English Literature, since you ask) at the University of Leeds, in the 1970s.

In those days the School of English was temporarily located in this vile concrete building:

"Temporary" certainly - - but the School of English was there for the whole of the three years of my degree course. I pass the building very often when I go to work at the University now, as I head down that outdoor corridor to the left of it. And I always, always hate it.

In those days the Genetics department was also in that building (hey, I'm surprised they'd even discovered genetics back then) and there was a sign on the wall that read


and that annoyed me every time I saw it.

In those days the big concrete square of which this building formed a part was completely devoid of anything except concrete. Now they've tried to turn it into a little corner of the Yorkshire Dales, with some native plants:

Yes, they've tried. Though it's still hideous.

Here it is, looking a bit further to the right - -

The sun was shining. And it all still looks like Concrete Jungle.

Why, age eighteen, I didn't have enough self-knowledge to be certain that I would feel nothing but Gloom every time I clapped eyes on this place, I don't know.

I have some happy memories of my time at university, but not a single one of them is located in this building.

As for whoever designed that whole square - - well, you should be ashamed.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

It Never Did Me Any Harm

I quite often hear that phrase being used to justify something that happened in someone's youth. Usually something unpleasant.

"When I was at school we regularly got six of the best and it never did me any harm."

"When I was a young doctor we worked 90 hour weeks and it never did me any harm."

"When I was at school we were all bullied when we were first years and when we were older we did the bullying. It never did us any harm."

"When I was young we had National Service. It was a year of hell but it never did me any harm."

Sometimes it's used to make sense of something that's happened. Possibly because they don't want to accept this: it doesn't seem fair if it happened to them but it doesn't happen to the next generation - especially if it was really horrible. Possibly because they don't want to accept that they spent a whole chunk of their life in a place where things were just plain wrong.

I think that all these things DID do harm - - it's just that the person involved can't always tell.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

It Was On The Monday Morning - -

Some time ago, last week, back in the mists of time, our hot water stopped being hot water and started being cold water. At the same time, the boiler started repeatedly going out and then relighting itself, making a banging noise every ten seconds or so.

Luckily for us, we have a contract with British Gas and, even more excitingly, because we have an office in the house and hence don't want to risk being left without heating, we have a Priority Clause on this contract, which we pay extra for.

So I rang them and they came the next day. If you ring them before 10am, under this priority thingy, they will come out the same day. If you ring them after 10am then it's the next day.

Gasman Number 1 came and tinkered with it a bit and spread out lots of bits of metal on the kitchen floor and said he'd mended it and left. I didn't believe a word of it and, sure enough, soon after he'd gone, there was the familiar banging noise again.

So I rang British Gas Homecare again and they tried to flog me some emergency cover for the outside of the house. I said I was not currently interested in listening and would really like them to mend the boiler.

Gasman Number 2 turned up and said he'd mended it and off he went and - - bang, bang, bang - - hot water intermittently, heating intermittently too.

Gasman Number 3 turned up and said he'd mended it and off he went - - but luckily, this was on Saturday morning so when it immediately started banging again we were able to get him back the same day, to fail to mend it again.

He went off muttering something about "parts" and said he'd come back on Monday for an exciting fifth visit by British Gas.

He came back on Monday, which was yesterday, and got it working and all went well until this evening when I got back from working at the university to find we now have no hot water and no central heating.

So I rang Homecare and suggested that, since they had failed to mend it no less than five times, perhaps they could send someone tonight? Oh no, no chance, all the gasmen have gone home after a fulfilling day failing to mend people's boilers.

So, just for my own enjoyment really, I tried all those things that call centre people just hate, such as "And how would you feel if this happened to you?" Nothing in their training prepares them for such questions and they just go all silent on you.

But British Gas are booked in for Visit Number 6 tomorrow. I'm wondering whether I should just ring before 10am and book Visit Number 7 for the next day, secure in the knowledge that they won't be able to mend it.

I suspect they've got a way to go yet. Once, in our other house, they were installing central heating. We hadn't yet moved in. They left the house on a Friday night leaving water in the pipes and all the joints unsoldered. It took them twenty-three - - yes, that's TWENTY-THREE - visits to get the system working. At one point they were talking to Stephen on the phone telling him that it was all now sorted out and he heard a strange noise - - it was the ceiling in the next room falling down because it was so wet.

But hey, that was over twenty years ago and I expect they've really improved. Did you detect just a teensy hint of British sarcasm there?

Clearly all this kind of thing has been going on since the 1960s, as Flanders and Swann can testify. Still, at least we got a song out of it. Enjoy!

Monday, March 09, 2009

In the Skip

Bob Brague, also known as Rhymes with Plague, inquires "What is a skip?" So here we have the skip that's currently outside our house, and my husband Stephen beginning to fill it with junk.

In the background is my mother's house (which is next to our house) and to the right is the picturesque ivy-clad garage, which used to be a stable and is steadily heading in the direction of becoming a large heap of bricks.

I don't know what Americans would call a skip - but this one cost £120 for a week. You can get smaller ones - this one is approximately the size of Texas, though does look slightly smaller on this photo I admit.

The skip arrives on a big lorry. If you don't have a drive to park it on, it's put outside your house and all your neighbours sneak out at dead of night and fill it with their old sofas and dead cats.

If you do have a drive, like we do, the skip is plonked on the drive and we put lots of junk inside it. Then, at dead of night, my mother sneaks out and removes half of it "That broken chair could come in really useful."

When it's full, or at the end of the time you've hired it for, whichever is the sooner, you ring them and they come and collect it.

Ahhhhhh. It's SO satisfying.

But it's a constant battle. Because I believe that the people who rent out skips have a Cunning Plan.

At the dead of night they break into your house and put it all back again. We've lived here since 1999. I've hired a huge skip at least once every year. The amount of junk never seems to get any less. Hmmmm.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Email From an Old Friend

News seems to have spread throughout most of my friends and relatives of the Communist's death last December 8th: but some people still don't know.

The Communist worked as an actor after retiring from his work as a pharmacist: one of the television shows he appeared in was Hetty Wainthropp Investigates, playing a museum attendant - - no, I can't remember a thing about the plot as it was well over ten years ago.

A couple of days ago I received this delightful email from an old friend.

Dear Daphne

Last week I was happily watching Hetty Wainthropp when I realised the man on the screen was Ronnie. He was in uniform, and looked so nice - I don't mean just handsome, but kind. As ever. I don't have news at present of him or Joan - - I hope they're OK. And you all.

Lovely? Yes. Made me cry? Oh yes. But in a good way.

A Parisian Flower Shop

When I leave the computer alone for a few minutes it starts doing a random slideshow of photographs from the past year. I like this because sometimes it draws my attention to photographs that I have not looked at for a while.

So from time to time I will post one of these here, for no other reason than that I like it, and hope you do too.

Here's a flower-shop on the Ile Saint-Louis , Paris.

I was determined to walk along the Seine as far as the Ile Saint-Louis because I happened to be reading Bill Bryson's Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe and, by chance, I was in Paris when I got to the section on Paris - - and I was near the Seine when I got to the section about the Ile Saint-Louis and Bill told me how very pleasant it is, and he was entirely correct. In the autumn sunshine it was just glorious - - lots of narrow, pretty old roads and little shops, with the river on either side. All the tourists were a couple of hundred yards away across the bridge cluttering up Notre Dame.

Not stunning, or even particularly unusual - - just delightful.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Skater Girl

Outside our house is a skip the size of Denmark.

So I've been finding lots of stuff to put in it. And I found these.

My old roller skates. No, I didn't have one foot bigger than the other - it was that these were some state-of-the art mid-Sixties design where they fitted on to your ordinary shoes, with a slider in the middle to make them bigger or smaller.

My shoes were generally sandals of the Clarks Sensible kind, and these fitted them well.

The skates were a birthday or Christmas present - I forget which - and I loved them, and spent hours and hours skating around the neighbourhood in them. One time I hit a little stone, tripped, ended up kneeling down - - and knelt on a wasp, which of course stung me. It hurt like hell, I remember!

But I think that was the only accident I ever had on them. I was never really any good at going backwards, but forwards was fine, always leaning slightly forward to prevent my legs shooting out in front of me.

I know that, if you gave me some roller skates to wear now, I could still roller skate. The Communist made me some solid wooden stilts as well (let's face it, everything he made was either solid, or wooden, or usually both) and I know that I can still walk on stilts too, though there hasn't been much call for me to do either of these things recently.

In those days we seemed to have lots of sunny summer afternoons. Perhaps we used them all up and that's why there aren't so many now. Anyway, those are what I remember - skating round the streets in the sunshine, going nowhere in particular and having a lot of fun, either by myself or with Gillian from across the road, and then going in for tea when it was beginning to be dusk.

My skates are old, they're broken, and I should throw them in the skip. But I don't want to. That's the kind of thing that happens when you live in a house that you moved in to when you were three.

Friday, March 06, 2009


How do we recognise faces? Or, come to that, other things about people which make us able to identify them?

Today I saw a lady I've known for about fifteen years - - but haven't seen her for at least a year. I saw just the back of her head and instantly knew it was her. Many elderly ladies look a bit like her from the back - - curly grey hair - - but instantly I knew it was her curly grey hair.

And yet, if you had asked me to describe this lady's hair before I saw it, I would not have been able to do so. I would have just gone "er - grey, I think."

There have been two other instances of this kind of thing recently.

When I was in London a couple of weeks ago I saw someone whom I recognised - she was about twenty-five, sitting at a table across from me in a cafe. I was about to call out to her and even got as far as standing up before realising - - hey, wait a minute - - this girl is twenty-five or so - - but the person I know is - er - - fifty-five or so. Though when I first met her, about thirty years ago, she looked just like this girl in the cafe.

It was hard not to stare as I tried to work out exactly what it was about her that made her look like my old friend. Hair? Eyes? Mouth? It was the combination, I suppose - - and yet if you'd asked me to describe how my friend looked twenty-five years ago, I would have said "Errr - - she was slim and she had short dark hair." And that would be about it.

Last week, when a very similar thing happened, I was astonished, but a bit more prepared to work out why. One of the second-year medical students looked incredibly like one of my friends from school. This time, because she was in the group I was working with, I had a chance to have a good look at her.

So, I thought, using this girl as a reference, since she looks so like my friend Shirley, what did Shirley used to look like? What was it about her that reminded me of Shirley?

Blondish curly hair, for a start: a slim build: a turned-up nose - - the shape of the eyes. And, although of course styles have changed greatly, she had a similar kind of dress sense - - all lace and frills.

It was strange that seeing this girl helped me to remember more about Shirley than I thought I knew.

So it's all stored in there somewhere, I suppose, in our heads - - all that visual information, amazingly. It's just a question of finding the right button to press to get at it.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Money I Get When I'm Dead - - again - -

I have mentioned before that the Communist had a life insurance policy - - it started out in 1977 with Manulife and they changed to Canada Life. The Communist constantly referred to it as "The Money I Get When I'm Dead."

Now then, in order to get this money they have asked us to send them - - and I quote - -

1) The Claimants Statement duly completed by the Executor(s) of the Estate

2) The original Policy Document (or the enclosed lost document form completed if the original document is missing)

3) The original certified Death Certificate issued by the Registrar

4) The original or office copy of the Grant of Representation, which can be in the form of Letters of Administration, Grant of Probate, Grant of Confirmation Nominate or Grant of Confirmation Dative. The Grant of Representation names the Personal Represenatatives, who are entitled to deal with the Estate of the deceased. In order to admit a claim an insurance company will require sight of the Grant from the Personal Representatives. If you have a solicitor acting for you they will be able to advise you how to obtain this, or alternatively you will need to contact your local Probate Registry Office, details of which can be found in the yellow pages under Probate Registries.

Now then.

1) I rang Canada Life and they have sent me this and I can fill it in

2) And as a matter of fact, I have the original Policy Document, dated August 1977, with "Policy now Canada Life" written on the front in the Communist's writing, and d'you know what, this upset me, because he's dead now. But why - and I always wonder this on such occasions - do we have to send the policy to them when THEY SENT IT TO US IN THE FIRST PLACE?

3) Yes, I've got the Death Certificate, because my brother sensibly got six of the blasted things. Cause of death: a) Pneumonia b) Stroke. Okay, I understand why they need to see it but I wish they didn't.

4) Ah well, as for 4) - - - did any of you get to the end of that paragraph? Me neither. And I hate all that sort of legal crap that makes no sense at all.

So I rang them, and asked, firstly, why do I have to send the policy to them when THEY SENT IT TO US IN THE FIRST PLACE? Do they not have a record of their own policies? When they post the thing out, don't they write down its number on a piece of paper for future reference?

Clearly nobody ever asks this, and I could tell she was a bit confused by my question. "Errr - - it's company policy."

I moved on to 4). We need to send one of those Grant of Probate thingies because his estate was worth more than fifteen thousand, apparently.
And how long will it take to get this?
Well, it can take between two weeks and two years, depending upon the size of the estate.

"All very well," I said, "but d'you know what, my father intended my mother to have this money after he died, and she's nearly 85, and she could do with it NOW. And since we have the original policy - so you know that he had the policy - and the death certificate - so you know that he's dead - - and his will - - so you know he left it to my mother - - why can't you just PAY OUT THE MONEY?"

"And further," I said, "I'm having to deal with all this crap when my FATHER'S JUST DIED and d'you know what, I'm rather upset about it. So I think it should be as easy as possible, don't you?"

"Errr - - yes," she said.

I made an appointment to see the Communist's solicitor next week. That'll be something else to look forward to.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Burning a Bit Dim, Really

Go on then, who knows a poem about a tiger?

Yes, yes, anyone who knows a poem about a tiger - - or even a tyger - - knows this one:

Tyger Tyger, burning bright
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

Poem about a tiger? Of course! This one by William Blake. Poem about daffodils? Of course! That one by William Wordsworth.

But I digress. Back to this tiger, which I saw in Leeds City Centre today. It's a Bengal Tiger, very big and fierce:

Luckily, he's in a glass case, so not too dangerous.

I've known this tiger all my life. He was always my favourite exhibit in the old Leeds Museum when I was a child. I visited him often.

I haven't seen him for a few years, because the old museum closed. Now a sparkling new museum has opened, and, quite rightly, old Tyger has pryde of place.

I was always very thrilled by him. He's so BIG! He's so FIERCE! But now, looking at him anew, having seen a few documentaries about tygers, sorry, tigers, I found myself thinking - - and he's really rather a funny shape, frankly.

A slightly wry notice below him explains why. He was shot in 1860, but his slightly odd body shape is due to the fact that before being made into Stuffed-and-Scary he - - er - - spent some years as a rug.

If you're in Leeds, do pop along to the museum - - it's free, it's interesting, more about it in another post - and have a look at Tyger. But don't let on to him that you know about the rug part of the story. I'm sure he's really embarrassed about it.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


In the days when I wasn't so busy, I used to enjoy making bread.

All that kneading and leaving it to rise and kneading again and leaving it to rise and baking - - ah, lovely.

Then the pace of my life speeded up and I just stopped doing it. Then ten years ago, or so, I met some people who lived on a narrowboat on the canal, and they had a clever machine to bake bread.

Immediately I knew I wanted one - I had never seen one before.

Soon afterwards, I bought one - I think it was about twice the price that they are now.

They really are extremely easy to use. You put all the ingredients in the deep pan - - so bread flour, water, butter or olive oil, salt, sugar - - and then you make a little pocket in the flour and add the dried yeast.

Then you press "start" and the machine mixes it all together, and then it rises, and then the machine bakes it, all in the same pan.

It makes a wonderful smell. You can set it on a timer, if you wish, so that it's ready when you get up in the morning or whatever.

I used it lots and lots and lots but eventually it died of old age. It took me a while to get around to buying a new one, but on Sunday, there I was in Comet, and Stephen was buying a cable, and I'm not much interested in cables - - but I am in breadmakers.

The new one is smaller but seems just as good as the old one. Here's the first loaf, still in the pan:

and here it is once we'd taken it out and sliced it a bit:

Of course, it's all gone now. I'll be trying a wholemeal one next. Yippee!

Monday, March 02, 2009

Deafened at Carcraft

Back in September we bought a Renault Clio from Carcraft in Leeds.

We've been very pleased with it. Splendid vehicle.

As part of the deal the servicing was included and they wrote to us and said it was time for its six-month service.

So I rang and booked it for ten o'clock today. Would I like to wait while it was done? they asked, for it would only take about an hour.

As Carcraft is about ten miles away, I thought that would be the easiest option. Bit of a waste of part of a morning, but I could always take some work to do.

I didn't enjoy the journey much as it's all motorways and junctions, but I got there. No customers but a friendly man greeted me at the door and pointed me in the direction of the reception for people who were having their cars serviced.

The showroom is huge, and echoey. Radio Two was playing, very loudly and with a lot of distortion. By the time I had crossed the showroom I was tired of this.

When I arrived at the Service Reception there was no trace of my booking on their system. But the man at reception was very friendly - perhaps he detected just a trace of incipient psychopath in my "Oh dear, what's to be done then?" reaction to this news. He was sure that the manager could fit my car in - - he would ask.

I waited for about five minutes. Above the desk was a huge television playing one of those music video channels, very, very loudly.

He came back and said that if I didn't mind waiting an extra twenty minutes whilst they finished the job they were doing, it would be fine.

I had taken some paperwork from work with me to do and they showed me into the waiting room for customers who were having their cars serviced.

It was colder than the rest of the place - jolly chilly, in fact - but this I could have stood. But in the corner was another huge television blaring out some dreary programme about home improvement.

After about thirty seconds I was out of there. Too loud. Too cold. Out I went into the reception area. Total Eclipse of the Heart, at top volume. Now I happen to like that song. I just didn't want ANY MUSIC, okay? None of the reception staff was looking at it or listening to it - I suspect they have all learned to screen the whole lot out.

I hovered around in reception for a few minutes and couldn't stand the Death Killers video that was playing (or whatever it was. Too loud.)

So I wandered into the showroom and that was even worse. I've nothing against Radio Two. Really. Just against hearing it VERY VERY LOUDLY and echoing and distorted and continuously. Agadoo - - doo - - doo - - oh, no, sorry, that wasn't Radio Two, that was on Silverback's blog post today - very entertaining post, of course, but he doesn't explain how you stop singing that song once it's in your head. Agadon't don't don't do it again, Silverback, unless you publish the antidote: it's just wanton cruelty.

I wandered back to reception and explained that I wanted to do some work whilst waiting for my car, and enquired whether there was anywhere in the whole building that was quiet.

The man looked puzzled and took me to the canteen area of the showroom, because he thought it might be quieter. But since the speakers blasted out the sound everywhere, it so wasn't.

After a while I could simply stand it no more. I went outside.


Now then. Can I be the only person who would like a bit of peace and quiet whilst waiting for their car? Can I - in these days of laptops - be the only person who might actually want to do some work whilst waiting?

I've no idea why it's there in the first place - has some research somewhere proved that what customers really want is loud, distorted music? "I can't stand another thirty seconds of it. I was going to go for that 1996 Lada but now I think I'll go for that brand new BMW instead."

I shall be writing to Carcraft and explaining that, once this servicing deal is finished, I will just never, ever, set foot in the place again unless they do away with the music, because two hours in there was pure torment.

Here's my tip: don't go to Carcraft. Unless you're deaf. Otherwise, by the time you leave, you'll wish you were.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

More about a Wunch of Bankers

Oh, look, this story's been simmering away for days and it's still simmering. But it's been annoying me for days too so I have to have a bit of a rant about it.

A chap called Sir Fred Goodwin (the link gives you a photo of him looking, quite frankly, a bit of a twit) led the Royal Bank of Scotland triumphantly into disaster - they seem to have lost twenty-four billion quid somehow - and all us Brits had to help them out. Because we thought they were very very deserving we willingly gave them twenty-five and a bit billion, presumably so they'd have a bit to spare, to buy a round of drinks to celebrate or something.

Of course, we could have done it by the Blue Peter Christmas Appeal next year, or held some jumble sales, like we do to raise money for less important things like hospital equipment. But no - we realised that Sir Fred was an all-round Good Egg, and that it wasn't his fault that he lost twenty-four billion - - it could happen to anyone really and perhaps the battery was a bit flat on his calculator whilst he did the sums.

But, after we'd coughed up this twenty-five billion quid to bail out the bank, and lots and lots of the Royal Bank of Scotland employees were told that it's likely they'll lose their jobs, then somebody noticed that Sir Fred's pension seemed to go up a bit. He's fifty and kindly agreed to take early retirement last October, just in case he should work somewhere else and start losing a few more billions. But he only had eight million to retire on which of course is simply not enough - really, how anyone could possibly be expected to struggle by on such a pittance is incredible to me.

So Freddy pointed this out to the Royal Bank of Scotland and they said - - only eight million? Noooooooooo! Poor bastard. He'll be in penury. Let's double it.

So they did and Sir Fred was looking forward to having quite a decent retirement on £693,000 a year for life. What with the pensioner's winter heating allowance and other benefits he could probably just about have got by - and, after all, it's not many people who can lead a bank to lose THAT amount of money, so quite a triumph really, justly rewarded.

And Sir Fred asked City Minister Lord Myners if it was okay, and he said "Of course, Freddy, you're a banker, aren't you? Licence to print money, old chap. Enjoy."

Then, this week, someone found out about this and put it in all the papers.

And the Powers that Be thought hey, this is a tad embarrassing, what with it being a recession an' all - most pensioners have to scrape by on a bit less than this, and the British public may get a wee bit cross once they realise that they've given the Royal Bank of Scotland twenty-five and a bit billion.

Then they thought - - oh well, it's easily sorted. We'll just ask Sir Fred to give us it back, because what with him being a banker, he's probably put away a few bob anyway, so of course he won't mind. He's British, after all. He'll do the decent thing.

So they went to Sir Fred and said oops, sorry, this is rather embarrassing - - could we have the sixteen million back please?

And Sir Fred said (approximately): "No chance. Lord Myners knew about it. I expect Gordon Brown knew about it. Everyone important knew about it. It's just that they're embarrassed, now that all you piddling little public know about it. But if you think you're getting a penny of it back - - forget it."

Here's a clip of Gordon Brown, our esteemed Prime Minister, being embarrassed.

They're talking about changing the law now, to get some of the dosh back off Freddy. But they know, and Freddy knows, and I know, and you know, and let's face it, everyone with an IQ above about three knows that it's only because it ended up in the papers that they're thinking of changing the law. Otherwise Fred would have just kept a) quiet and b) all the money, and the Government would have quietly let him.

Now I'm not that good at losing money, but I expect I could get better if I tried hard. I can't aspire to the heights that Sir Fred reached, but if I practised a bit and managed to lose, say, a tenth of the 24 billion quid that Sir Fred lost, then do you think I could have a tenth of his pension?