Thursday, April 30, 2009

Daphne Gets Mad

There's a perception that actors earn a lot of money, and a few do.

Most, however, don't earn very much at all. If they film a video on a Wednesday, and get paid, say, £250 plus expenses, that may mean that they don't get any work on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. So their wage for the week is £250, which isn't a lot.

I'm not talking about the rather large number of people who call themselves actors but actually have a "day job" in a bank or something. I'm talking about actors who do it full-time and who do tedious temping jobs when they're out of work (some people think it's called "resting" but I've never heard actors call it that).

The actors I work with rely on their income from acting. It's not their hobby, it's their job.

From time to time people ring up wanting some actors for free. I don't mean for student films - actors will often work on student films as they can be interesting to do with a promising director. I mean the kind of job such as making a video to promote something like Kevin's Korporate Kleening.

"We haven't budgeted to pay them, I'm afraid, but it'll be good experience for them and they'll get a copy of the film."

I sometimes suggest they should try getting a plumber on the same terms. Tell him you'd like him to mend your toilet - you haven't budgeted to pay him, but it'll be good experience for him and you'll film him doing it and give him a copy. And see how far that gets you.

The ones who make me the very very maddest are the ones who book an actor: the actor does the job: they ring to say how delighted they were with him and what a good job he did - - - and then they don't pay him for ages and ages.

And when I ring them for the squillionth time and threaten them with the actors' union Equity and the Small Claims Court, they come out with the stunning line,

"Oh, well if we'd known he needed the money, we'd have paid sooner."

Sometimes I try the route of asking "How would you feel if your salary didn't arrive this month?" They go all bewildered and ask how that's the same thing. I explain that this money which is owing is, in effect, the actor's salary. And that he will use it to buy food and to pay the bills. They are amazed.

The worst thing of all is when the actors have to lay out their own money for travel and hotels and the company takes ages and ages to pay even the expenses, let alone the fee.

Our actors work a lot. But acting's not highly paid unless you're one of the relatively few stars. It's a really tough life. The actual acting is often the least tricky bit. An actor's job is trying to get the next job. And trying to get paid for the last one. Grrrrr.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


What's the greatest sin these days? Is it a) murder b) fornication c) embezzlement or d) turning up at a supermarket without your own carrier bags?

Well I think we all know the answer to that one.

"Have you brought your own bags?" asks Save-The-Planet Checkout Assistant.

There's just me, and my handbag, and I know it's quite capacious, but it really doesn't look like the kind of thing that you'd put carrier bags in.

"Yes, I've got seventeen of them stuffed down my bra. Just wait a moment and I'll get them all out," I didn't say.

I am the Queen of the Unspoken Smart-Arse Comment. And, I warn you now, if there is reincarnation and I do come back again, I'm going to say them all and hang the consequences.

"No, sorry, I just called in here on impulse, could I have some bags please?" I reply meekly.

She gives me one carrier bag. I fill it. Oliver Twist moment coming up.

"Please could I have some more?" She glares at me and silently hands me one bag.

I fill it. I have enough shopping to fill five bags.

"Please could I have some more?" Repeat glare, repeat one bag.

After four I can stand it no more and chuck the rest in the bottom of my trolley. The car park's up some steep steps and it takes me four trips to carry everything to the car.

But do I say anything? No, because I know I am in the WRONG. The future of the Brazilian rainforest is slipping through my thoughtless fingers. Mea Culpa. Peccavi.

Yes, there was a lot of Latin going on when I was at school. So I've always remembered that some old Victorian git conquered the province of Sindh in India and then sent a smart-arse telegram home which said just one word - - PECCAVI. Which is Latin for "I have sinned". Thrilling pun on "I have (conquered) Sindh". Oh hahahahaha. Frightfully witty lot, those Victorians. I bet he never took his own bags to the supermarket.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Arrival

What's this then? A very large THIS WAY arrow?

Or could it be, perhaps, a piece of our new shed arriving this morning?

The concrete where the shed will be may be seen on the left of the photo.

Regular readers of this gripping tale will remember that there used to be an old greenhouse in that spot:

And then John removed the greenhouse (and recycled it to some friends who wanted one) and then he concreted the area for the shed:

Now the shed has been delivered and soon John will be coming to turn it from one dimension into three. Hurrah.

What is it about sheds? And caravans, and tents? I love them all. Small, friendly, comforting places, all of them.

For those of you who came to this blog looking for cutting-edge political commentary, having searched for the word "Communist", I can only apologise. Perhaps a previous post might be more what you're looking for.

Not yesterday's though, I must admit. That was about rhubarb.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Strange Fruit

Okay then, what kind of flower is this? (Stick with me, I promise it'll get more interesting).

I bet hardly anyone would recognise it from this photo - - but if I pull back a bit - -

Rhubarb. This particular clump of it is growing in my mother's garden. Rhubarb's really not best known for its flowers.

I'm a bit obsessed by rhubarb, I admit it (yes, I know I promised that this post would get more interesting. It's possible that I lied to you.)

In West Yorkshire a lot of rhubarb is grown in what's known as the Rhubarb Triangle, between Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford. It's not a glamorous part of the country, but it's ideal for rhubarb, which came from Siberia originally. So to the rhubarb, West Yorkshire is like a holiday in the tropics, and it loves living here.

They grow it in what are known as forcing sheds. The rhubarb is kept in the dark, which means it spends all its time sending up long, edible stems looking for the light, and it doesn't waste its time putting its energy into growing leaves. It's probably only a matter of time until someone decides this is cruel and sets up PETR - - People for the Ethical Treatment of Rhubarb .

In the dark, silent sheds the rhubarb is picked by candlelight and this always seems both spooky and romantic to me.

In our garden, the rhubarb undergoes no such unnatural conditions. It just grows, wild and free. Huge, if it rains a lot. The leaves are poisonous but when I was a child and picked rhubarb I used the leaves as a roofing material for dens.

I love it. I love it raw, I love it stewed (with artificial sweetener, as it's quite tart and I can't have sugar). It's very easy to cook. Chop up rhubarb. Add sugar or sweetener. Don't add water. Put in a bowl in the microwave. Seven minutes or so - - done! I love rhubarb and custard. Rhubarb pie. Rhubarb crumble. Yum. The rhubarb grows every year and the rhubarb we eat now is from descendants of the rhubarb that we planted in the garden in the late 1950s.

It's high in fibre and good for you. Hurrah for rhubarb.

I promise not to write about it again for a while.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Converting Pounds (or Kilos) to Pounds

There was a letter in the Times from a retired airline pilot about the way airlines charge people.

"An airliner burns fuel at a rate precisely proportional to the weight it is carrying. The only logical ticket pricing would be that everyone should be weighed along with their baggage, and their fare should be at a rate per kilo.
No baggage limits, no fat person excesses, just a simple rate per kilo per mile."

Does that sound fair to you? I suppose it means that the very very skinny Victoria Beckham could take more luggage for the same money than, say, Dawn French.

I'm somewhere in the middle, I suppose - - I'm never going to be skinny, certainly, and I hope I'm never going to be very fat either.

It does seem fair to me - - I'm just not sure if it seems very kind. What about people who are very fat because of a hormone imbalance, or simply because they have tried and tried to lose weight and find it really difficult? What about people who are just naturally really thin? I know it's tempting just to add flippantly "Well, we hate them, so who cares?" But Olli has to eat more or less constantly or the weight just falls off, and this can be a real problem. Apparently. Grrrrr.

But a per-kilo-per-mile system would seem fairer than the current system, where you see someone absolutely huge who doesn't have to pay for excess baggage - - and then someone who weighs ten stone less than they do, having to pay extra.

It's that people's weight is a very sensitive issue, I suppose. I'm always trying to lose weight - - excess weight is particularly bad for diabetics and the flab of diabetics tends to stow itself round the middle, which is where mine is. But I know that the best way for me to do it is to change my eating habits, and when I think about how I used to eat, I have made a lot of changes - - I've still some way to go, though. I have increased the amount that I exercise, too.

It's easy for thin people - - their advice to fat people is often a bewildered "Eat less, then." But of course, it isn't that simple. Actually, Olli knows that and doesn't think this system would be fair on overweight people.

But the current system seems grossly unfair to me, too. And, if I were very obese, I wouldn't want to think that the people behind me in the check-in queue were all pointing at me and going "Hey, it's not fair!"

So perhaps there's some argument for a curtained, private cubicle where you could be weighed along with your luggage without anyone looking. But I know that a large number of people will disagree.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Walking to Work

I walked to Chapel Allerton Hospital to my work on Wednesday, through Gledhow Woods. I love the countryside at this time of year, when there are lots of Spring flowers and the trees are just getting their leaves. The walk is through a steep valley - which had grown mysteriously steeper when I walked back at the end of the day! - and although the sun was shining it hadn't reached into the valley yet.

I took these photos before eight o'clock in the morning:

Bluebells, just coming into flower, and wood anemones:

More of the woodland:

Looking up into the sunlight:

and back along the path:

Usually, because I work from home, my walk to work consists of coming down the stairs. I'm glad I walked to the hospital on Wednesday. These woods are just a couple of hundred yards from our house, and I have enjoyed walking through them for almost all of my life.

Views like this probably wouldn't be most people's first thought when they think of the city of Leeds, or even of the Leeds suburbs, where I live. But one of Leeds's plus points is that it has plenty of woods and parks. We once saw a roe deer in these woods on a summer's evening, and there are always plenty of foxes about. I like that.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Seeing in the Dark

An actor, new to the agency, was watching me type last week.

"Don't you ever look at the keyboard?" he asked. I thought about it, and then looked at the keyboard, and realised that there are lots of keys that I don't understand and a whole number pad on the right that I've never ever used. But I learned to touch type years ago, and the answer is no, I don't ever look at the keyboard. In fact, with a keyboard I'm used to, like this one, I'm not really aware of its existence - I just seem to think what I want to write and it appears on the screen.

I was reading a magazine article this week about a blind actress who has just joined the cast of Emmerdale. Actually, I was struggling to read it rather as I'd been hanging around waiting a lot, reading a lot of small print, and my eyes were now refusing to focus properly. So I was peering at this article about the actress and her blindness and then read the chilling phrase "and I went blind in five months, because of my diabetes."

I'm diabetic, of course, and my eyesight's always been rather rubbish, though it's not too bad with glasses. But I dread losing my sight, primarily because I'd hate not to be able to see my family, my friends, the countryside, the sea and some favourite photographs and paintings. So I'm hoping that blindness won't happen to me.

However, I wrote recently about how, in everyday life, I just tend to see what I expect to see, and not what's actually there.

Today I had a rather surprising proof of this.

In the middle of the interesting meeting I was attending at Leeds University today, there was a power cut. This didn't matter to us - the room had windows and all it meant were that the lights in the ceiling went out and the room got a little bit darker.

The power cut continued until we finished out meeting and set off to go home. Andrea and I decided to go to the Ladies on the way out of the building. But, of course, when we peered in the lights were off and the only light was the daylight coming in where we'd opened the door.

"Oh, I'll go to the ones downstairs," said Andrea, but I was leaving the building a different way and thought I'd just use the ones where we were.

So I went in, went to the loo, hanging my bags on the hook on the door - you may remember that one of my pet hates is when women put their handbag on the toilet floor and then a few minutes later put it on the restaurant table. Then I flushed the loo, came out, washed my hands, dried them, and came out - - - all in the pitch dark, with no problem at all. I just seemed to know where everything was, because I've been in those loos many times.

I do wonder if I go through all the everyday stuff of life in touch-typing mode - - seeing things, but not noticing them. Perhaps that's why, when I see a stunning view in the countryside, I like it so much. I'm wondering - - is it just me? Or do other people have ways of not seeing, too?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

St George's Day Hurrah

I'm English through and through. Well, apart from the quarter that's Hungarian, and the other quarter that's Lithuanian - both those quarters are Jewish too. But the other half is from Barrow in Furness, surnames Bleasdale and Parkinson, very English.

So today I've been singing the English national song to myself all day, of course. Actually, I haven't, because there doesn't seem to be one.

Yellow Swordfish commented on his blog to say that some people think it should be William Blake's Jerusalem. And did those feet in ancient times - - etc. Now I'm quite fond of it and have been known to sing along enthusiastically to the Last Night of the Proms but really, I think it doesn't quite fit the bill for an English National Song.

I'd like a song that just somehow commemorated all the good things about England. I'm sure there must be some. (You see - very English - putting England down all the time, that's what we do).

So, what are they? Well, those qualities that are often thought of as "English" often seem to barely exist any more. Modesty. Manners. Make do and mend.

To me, the only thing I know about, and love, that really can be held to be specific to England is the countryside. Yes, other countries have glorious countryside too, including the rest of Great Britain. But in England there are many different kinds of stunningly beautiful scenery in a comparatively small area - Silverback has just written about one of my favourite parts of Yorkshire, the area around Sutton Bank, and illustrated his post with some glorious photographs.

I love so many regions of the English countryside and they are so different - everything from the mountains of the Lake District to the flat lands of East Anglia. So if someone can write a really good song about the English countryside, with a great tune, I'll be singing it next St George's Day.

Meanwhile - and again, thanks to Yellow Swordfish's link to the Archbishop of York, for reminding me of this - I think that this song from the 1960s by the splendid Flanders and Swann - now they were very English! - is the best that we have.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Chapel Allerton Hospital

I was working at Chapel Allerton Hospital, Leeds, today, on an exam for student doctors.

It's a small hospital, with a cottage-hospital feel to it, and it has only been there a few years. Before that, it was a few hundred yards away and one day, when I wasn't looking, they moved it to a spanking new building, which they seemed to have built without me noticing. I often don't notice things, as I've mentioned before.

The old Chapel Allerton Hospital is still there in my head, though, in great detail. This is because in 1984, it saved my life.

Much of the old hospital dated from the time of the First World War and in fact it had a specialist unit making false legs for soldiers who had carelessly left one of theirs on a battlefield somewhere.

There was a big old mansion house - still there, though falling down - and some prefabricated, ancient wards of the kind known as Nightingale wards, after the famous Florence.

They were very long wards, with long rows of beds on either side. Faded, washed-out curtains round the bed. That strange colour of hospital pale green on the walls. A brick tunnel from the ward to the rest of the hospital.

I was there because - - and I'll tell you this really quickly, I promise - my first baby, born prematurely, had died, and because of lots of neglect at his birth I had lost a lot of blood, and wasn't able to regain the iron, and became more and more and more anaemic - - I was told that the haemoglobin level should be thirteen. Mine was four. If you're that anaemic you just can't eat, and I couldn't. And I became very thin - - only time ever! - - and turned green.

Lots of doctors were called to our house, looked at me in puzzlement and said things like "oh dear, she's turned green" but didn't really do much about it, except give me iron tablets, which just made me sick.

Finally my family realised that if something wasn't done I was about to turn DEAD. So they took me to a specialist, privately, who looked at my greenness and thinness and unable-to-walkness and told me to go straight to hospital without calling anywhere else first, or collecting anything - - just GO. (I went home first and washed my hair, obviously).

And this specialist specialised in chronic things, and I ended up on his ward, Ward 9, a long old Nightingale ward.

I was twenty-eight. The nearest person in age to me on the ward was seventy-four. A few weeks earlier I had been in a maternity ward, and hence this ward took a bit of getting used to.

They gave me a massive blood transfusion, and I came back to life, but rather slowly.

Kath, the seventy-four-year-old, was lovely - I visited her regularly for several years, until she died - and in the next bed to me. We spent quite a bit of time marvelling at Brenda, who spent all her time putting on rather garish make-up and then removing it. And across the ward was Elsie, who thought everyone else was stealing her stuff, all the time. And there was Ethel, in the next bed to her, who knew she was dying but wasn't going to do it until after her grand-daughter's birthday the following weekend.

"So I'm planning my death for Monday," she said, "because I've had enough." We were all rather admiring of her when, just before the morning ward round, the curtains went round the bed, and she had succeeded.

Once they had pumped several pints of blood into me, suddenly I was hungry. Ravenous. Starving. Because, indeed, having not really eaten anything since mid-October - and it was now mid-December - I really was starving.

The hospital kitchen got wind of this. They were lovely too.

"What would you like?" they asked. "Roast chicken, please," I said.

It came with roast potatoes and peas and it was perhaps the nicest meal I've ever eaten.

I started to look forward to Christmas. Not to presents and such, oh no. It had been a terrible few months, the worst of my life. I didn't care about presents.

What I was looking forward to was Christmas dinner. I knew that, when I ate that, I would enjoy it, and I would get better. And the getting-better bit took a while, but, eventually, I did.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Very Happy Birthday

Here's my mother yesterday, on her eighty-fifth birthday.

She has never been pleased by the fact that she shares a birthday with Adolf Hitler. He would have been a hundred and twenty yesterday, but I'm glad he wasn't.

As you can see, my mother is very fit and, I'm pleased to say, looking extremely well.

The cake was very kindly provided by Silverback, who seems to be following a little-known rule that the birthday cake should be the same size as its recipient, who loved it. In fact we all loved it.

We had a meal and a chat afterwards, several of us, and my mother enjoyed every moment - so did I.

She's had a tough couple of years, with the Communist's illness and death. She doesn't find illness easy to cope with. I do - I have often thought I might have become a pretty decent nurse. My mother would have hated that. "Oh no, you don't want to be with all those ill people."

My mother and I are very different. She's quite an intellectual - there was only one scholarship to university for the North-West and she got it. She still likes reading what I'd call "difficult" novels, and I just don't.

She was always a bit of a sporting star in her youth - she was being coached for the Olympics in swimming until Adolf Hitler dropped a bomb on Barrow-in-Furness's swimming baths (he probably resented sharing his birthday with her). She captained the University of Leeds hockey team. Now I love swimming too - we do have that in common - but playing any kind of team sports was always veering from boredom to torment for me.

But perhaps the greatest difference between my mother and myself is that she's a great extrovert, and I'm just not. She likes nothing better than a party or a dance, and, in general, I would shy away from both. "It was a party!" she says about any gathering that she particularly enjoys. It's her highest commendation.

She's never been able to understand that I don't like big parties and much of my childhood was spent being taken to them, protesting all the way, with my mother's cry of "You'll enjoy it when you get there!" ringing in my ears.

I have always felt in her shadow, for no real reason except her ability to mingle and mix and enjoy all company, which I just can't do. She's in the middle leading the dancing: I'm sitting in a corner wishing I was somewhere else.

She had a stroke when she was sixty-eight and has made an amazing recovery - but it has left her worried about many things, and it upsets me when she does that, because she never used to. "You're going to Manchester? Oh no!"

I want to say "You're not my mother!" because she always used to be positive about all new experiences. Now they worry her.

But, in her comfort zone, gardening or swimming, she is truly magnificent: she must be one of the fittest eighty-five-year-olds in the country.

And I'm delighted that she had a very happy birthday. Many thanks to all who helped.

From the Glamorous World of Showbiz

I don't often tell you tales from the Glamorous World of Showbiz where I work. For one thing, it isn't usually glamorous.

Last week one of our actresses went for an audition for a television commercial. All the actresses had been told to come in jeans and a T-shirt. So far so good. It's really important to get the right "look" for a commercial casting so off to a Northern City she went, wearing T-shirt and jeans.

However, the actresses who were auditioning had been given slightly wrong instructions. They had to wear jeans and a WHITE T-shirt.

So important was this that at the casting session someone was sent out, albeit with a very small budget, to buy white T-shirts so that everyone could wear one.

She bought three. Small, medium and large.

So each actress in turn had to wear the same T-shirt. And it was a hot day. And they were all nervous, of course.

Our actress was tenth in line for the T-shirt. She didn't enjoy the experience. She didn't get the commercial either. She thinks that her face being puckered into a permanent "ewwwwwww" probably didn't help.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The First Christmas Dinner of 2009

Ah yes, the traditional Christmas turkey, all ready to be roasted. Though I must say the sun's never been streaming in through the windows before when I've got up early to put it in the oven.

We decided to have Christmas dinner yesterday. Why? Well, Silverback was in Florida last Christmas, suffering blue skies, sunshine, palm trees and temperatures in the eighties and nineties. Not a proper Christmas with grey British drizzle at all.

We all like Christmas dinner and I suggested to Silverback that we could have another one when he came back to Leeds. I don't know whether he took me seriously at the time, but verily 'tis the case that when I come up with some Cunning Plan or other, I generally carry it through.

We had a little Christmas tree, of course, and raided our ancient Christmas Decorations box for tinsel and suchlike, and had some tiny presents.

A few chocolate Easter bunnies snuck into the picture, but at least they're red and gold which are Christmassy kind of colours.

There were eight of us in total - Stephen and me, Silverback of course, my mother, our friend David, Olli and Gareth and their friend Joanne.

It was great fun. After the meal, we watched a video, made in 2004 but only now come to light, of our family on holiday in Tenby. There was the Communist, dancing with my mother in the hotel ballroom, as they had done every year since 1965.

It seemed so everyday - and, indeed, for years and years, it was. It made me cry, of course - and yet it was great to see it, and to see him, a sprightly young thing of eighty, before he became ill in 2006.

It was a lovely day - many thanks to all who took part in it.

As for the weather - - always unpredictable, the sun shone throughout. Though there was some snow on the old pear tree at the bottom of the garden.

Happy Boxing Day, everyone.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Daphne's Stunning Bird Photos

Here are two stunning bird photographs that I took in the park today, some time after Christmas Dinner.

(Yes, you did read that last bit right - - we had it a bit late. Or early, depending upon your point of view). More about that soon. Back to the Stunning Bird Photographs.

Here's the first one:

It's the rare Yorkshire Triangle Bird. It doesn't have a beak. Or a head, come to that. It just floats around in the water absorbing food through its large black feet, which may be glimpsed at either side of its body. It has evolved the white camouflage so that, when seen from a distance in the park, it may be mistaken for an ice-cream cone.

And secondly, here's a photo which is a strong contender for Bird Photo of the Year.

Wow! The composition! The background interest! The foreground interest! The light!

I shall call it "Two Crows Facing in Opposite Directions". I know that most people have to persevere before they get stunning bird photos like this one so I expect I was just lucky - that's what I'll say at the awards ceremony anyway.

Don't give me all that "they could be rooks instead" stuff. I can hear you thinking that old proverb now - "A crow in a crowd is a rook". Yes, well, these two may be in a kind of very small crowd but then they flew off in opposite directions, rather than flocking together like rooks. So they're crows.

I hope that you appreciate the educational content of this blog, as well as the stunning photography.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Boy With Twelve Fingers

Channel 5 documentary, anyone? Ooh, yes please, I love them, though I'm slightly ashamed of my addiction. They're always called something like The Boy with Twelve Fingers.

They always tell you everything lots of times, and they usually have titles like The Boy with Twelve Fingers.

The narrator always repeats everything several times, especially the title. "Parents Kevin and Michelle are taking young Shane, the boy with twelve fingers, to Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool to meet finger specialist Alvin Greenberg from Philadelphia. Professor Greenberg is going to count Shane's fingers to see if there really are twelve."

I love these documentaries, which are generally shown on Channel 5. They are made for people with the attention span of a gnat, and are therefore great for accompanying tasks such as ironing.

"And it's good news for Kevin and Michelle, parents of Shane, the boy with twelve fingers. Professor Alvin Greenberg from Philadelphia has counted his fingers and there really are twelve of them. Kevin and Michelle, Shane's parents, have defied all the experts and were right all along."

Yesterday there was an article in The Times which suggested that these kinds of programmes, which repeat everything lots of times and are fast-paced for short attention spans, are stopping our nation's youth from being able to concentrate.

Our nation's youth are no longer able to concentrate, apparently, because of television programmes which are made for short attention spans. They don't want to learn unless it's interesting.

Which is all very well up to a point - - yes, when I was a teacher I did try to make my lessons interesting.

But some things that are good to know just aren't interesting. Times tables, for example. Dull as hell but my ability, dating from the eleven-plus days, to go seven eights? Fifty-six! has been useful all my life.

And tucked away in the article was the terrifying phrase "The Government intends to raise the school-leaving age to eighteen by 2013."

WHAT? Whole great herds of disaffected teenagers with two-second attention spans stuck at school for two more years? Do you think they're going to provide enough resources to give an education which will really seem relevant to them? - - No, I don't either.

What is the educational theory behind this impressive idea?

Is it:

a) Teachers are cheaper than policemen


b) It keeps them out of the dole queues


c) Both, really.

Right, I've done now. I'm off to watch The Woman With Three Wombs.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Transparent Joy

Our house is high. Well, high for Leeds. Probably not high for the Himalayas or even for the Pennines. But we're up on a hill, and nearby is a steep wooded valley known - with slight exaggeration, I suspect, though I've never been to the original - as Little Switzerland. It's for this reason that, although I worry about many things, flooding is not one of them - by the time the flood got to us, the whole of Leeds would have to be underwater.

And our house itself is high. Steps at the front, steps at the back. So if you go outside and stand facing the house, you wouldn't be able to see in unless you were very, very tall.

All this is good from a not-being-burgled point of view. Our nearest brush with this came years ago, when we were sitting in one room downstairs on a summer's evening, when the windows were slightly open, and a burglar climbed into the other room. We heard the noise and went to look and he climbed straight out again but he'd clearly had a chance to see that there wasn't much worth nicking because he never came back. Mind you, we look very scary so I don't blame him.

Anyway, my point is this - - and I'm getting to it now - eventually! - - the windows are high.

To reach the bottom ones you need a stepladder. To reach the top ones you need a Saturn V Rocket. (I've seen one of those you know, at the Kennedy Space Center, when I was in America recently. Just mentioning it in passing.)

In the Olden Days when I was a child, we had an Irish window-cleaner. He came every few weeks for decades and decades. He was small, wiry, and came from the Hollywood Book of Stock Irish Characters. He said things like "Top 'o the morning to you" and probably kept leprechauns in his pockets. I expect that after a long day's window-cleaning he went home and played Irish fiddle music all evening. That kind of thing.

Anyway, he'd turn up carrying a bucket and an impossibly long ladder, prop it against the house so the top was hidden in the clouds, and clean the windows, very efficiently and with no apparent fear either of plunging to his death or of having his head removed by low-flying planes.

But finally, aged about 134, he retired and suddenly we had no window cleaner.

After a horrible pause in which a thick fog coated all the windows, a commercial window-cleaning company knocked on the door and they cleaned them from time to time for a couple of years. They were rather expensive and didn't do a very good job.

Since then, nothing.

Now actually, I wouldn't mind cleaning them myself, if only I had a very very long ladder, because I don't mind heights - I rather like them, in fact. Let's face it, to digress again for a moment, I spent a week in Barcelona last autumn going on the cable car and the cathedral roof and high up the tower of the Sagrada Familia cathedral. So no, I don't mind heights, as long as I'm not falling off them.

But I'm very, very busy and in my leisure time, cleaning windows is not my first priority. Or my second, or third, or - - - well, you know. So the windows have gradually been covered in a kind of grey mist. Sitting in the office we could see the garden only in our mind's eye - - the reality had become a blurry memory.

Then, today, a young Polish couple came up the path and knocked on the front door. "Would you like us to clean your windows?"

I had their bucket under my hot tap before they could say another word. "And when you've done this house, could you do my mother's house as well?"

They did a grand job. It took them all afternoon, and lots of hot water, and they worked incredibly hard. At one point I went out to offer them a cup of tea, only to find that my mother had already made them tea, plied them with biscuits and was now deep in conversation with them as they worked their way round her windows. I expect she'll be going to stay with them in Poland soon.

Then off they went, promising to come back in a few weeks, and I looked out of the windows and - I am proud to report - this house now has an outside as well as an inside. There are trees, and lawns, and flowers and everything. The windows sparkle. Brilliant.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Let Me Eat Cake

Here are some cakes that I found in a shop window in Paris last year:

Oh all right, they may be more French patisserie than cakes, perhaps, but still - - YUM.

Here are some more Parisian patisserie:

More pies and flans than cakes, I suppose. I know I'd absolutely love these. They look like just my kind of thing.

For about a week now I've been craving CAKE. I saw a television programme, The Secret Millionaire, which showed the kitchen of a Good Woman who baked cakes for charity.

It reminded my of Cousin Nancy's kitchen in Barrow. Nancy, who had worked as a cook, was always baking. Her kitchen was a mass of dough and cake mix and cake tins and pastry and butter icing and Royal icing and cakes cooling on racks, and the smell was wonderful.

Now her daughter Dorothy, who made Olli and Gareth's wedding cake last year, makes and sells very elaborate, beautifully decorated cakes. For the opening of Barrow-in-Furness's new lifeboat station she made a perfect scale model of it, in cake.

But it's not posh cake that I crave - it's ordinary cake. Madeira cake. The kind that the French call Quatre quarts. Butterfly buns with buttercream. Victoria sponge. My grandma's fruit buns with a bit of spice in. Home-made chocolate cake of the kind that even I used to make. Bring out the cake.

Of course, though, I've been diabetic for a few years now. Can't eat cake. Damn it.

Most of the time I've adjusted to it and most of the time I don't care. But today I want some CAKE.

Okay, that's it, moan over. Back to the raw carrots. Sighhhhhh.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Sight Unseen

"Look at that cat!" said Stephen as we walked along.

"What cat?" I replied.

"The black one. "


"On the roof."

Once I looked a bit, I could see it perfectly well. But I would never have noticed it if he hadn't pointed it out.

I often wonder whether we all see the same things. Especially colours. I wonder whether that's why some people decide to paint their walls a strange shade of mauve, for example. Perhaps they see them differently.

Once, years ago, playing Trivial Pursuit (a fine game) with a friend, I realised that she simply could not tell the difference between orange, brown, pink and red. Her brother was colour blind and knew it - - but she didn't seem to have ever realised that she was too.

I read somewhere that there's a "window" of time when we're little when we learn to see things.

I think I missed that window. Until I got my glasses, when I was four, I really couldn't see anything much in the distance at all - but, of course, I didn't know, until suddenly I put my glasses on and the ground came up to hit me, and the green blurry bits on trees turned out to be separate leaves.

Now I can see all that, with my glasses on of course - - but I think the "noticing" part of my brain has never caught up.

"So what do you see then?" asked Stephen.

I suppose the answer is - - exactly what I expect to see!

And what is it that I don't see? - - Well, of course, I've no idea.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Time Capsule

When I was eight - to misquote a song lyric - it was a very good year.

On Christmas Day my friend Jo and I went out of our house, out of the garden and round the block - - all by ourselves!

"So this is what it's like to be grown up," I thought. I know that many eight-year olds went a lot further on their own than I had ever done - - but I was the fairly-late-arriving much-wanted first child of, therefore, over-protective parents. My mother had several miscarriages before I was born and then some more before my brother was born - - and his birth happened when I was nine.

Yesterday, sorting junk in what used to be my parent's bedroom, I came across a box labelled "Daphne" and in the box, amongst many other things, was the school diary that I kept from 1964 to 1965. There isn't an entry every day - - but every few days, certainly.

If only they'd invented the internet I could have written a blog! But instead we had this.

A school notebook, cut in half. I've got the other half, too, which had spellings in it for the class spelling tests - - all - coughs modestly - far too easy for me, because, as I've said before, one of the very few certainties that I've always had in my life is that I can spell. So in my spelling book there are words like "bread" and in my diary there are words like "convalescent." Hah!

I was in Mr Allen's class at the time, where, in a very un-PC way, we sat for every month in the rank order from the feared Monthly Tests that we'd had the previous month. But I liked Mr Allen - he was the school music teacher and a superb musician. I played the recorder and sang in the choir, and he ran both these groups.

Yes, a very Sixties middle-class childhood - - except, of course, that my Dad was a Communist. He was also a pharmacist, and that's how the diary starts, with a mention of his shop in Acomb, York (where Olli and Gareth now live, coincidentally).

I was a very precise little girl, it's evident from this diary. For ever date, I put an apostrophe before the year so every date goes 11.9.'64. And I know it, because I've turned into the pedantic old thing that I am now. I'd like to think that I had a good sense of humour but there's not much evidence of it here - - but still, I was writing it for school. My school image was of the bespectacled swot, but I had plenty of friends and it didn't bother me. I knew there was another Daphne, one who liked building dens and swimming and spending a lot of time out of doors - - but my teachers never really knew about that one, unless they read between the lines in this diary.

All the entries are very short and there's a lot of unconscious humour. Here's the beginning of it, with the original spelling and punctuation (again, pretty good, just the occasional missed apostrophe).

On Wednesday it was Daddys half-day. He took us to York. Mrs Brwwn, Daddy's assistant in his shop, has two children. We searched the cabbages and found lots of caterpillars.

14.9.'64 (My father's forty-first birthday, though I make no mention of this)
Yesterday we went to Bridlington to see Grandad. Grandad is in a convalescent home after an operation. We dug lots of channels and lakes Down to the sea. Later it was windy and we went to the harbour and saw the boats coming in for safety.

Yesterday I invented a new Kind of swing. I swung as high as I could standing up and then I tried to sit down. It was very hard.

Yesterday I made a sort of dolls house out of grass and twigs and flowers. It looked like a grassy mound.

Yesterday I recieved a letter from the Wildlife people because I have joined the Panda Club.

Yesterday Linda and Susan came round and we played horses with a rope.

(Linda and Susan were twins who lived nearby. They had considerably more freedom than I did. I met them when they wandered into the garden and took my doll's pram for a walk, then brought it back! Their family still runs a garage just round the corner).

Yesterday morning we went to the woods and found lots of acorns and beech nuts and autumn leaves. We couldn't find any conkers because the boys had taken them all.

Yesterday I went round to Josephine's house and we played at not letting Paul Breakwell see us.

I think that "not letting Paul Breakwell see us" was an early, primitive form of what would later be known as "flirting". Oh yes, it was a good year, 1964.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

My Exciting New Career in Fraud

Because the post is so rubbish and I only seem to receive about one letter in three, the credit card bill had not arrived and I had missed paying it. Let that be a lesson to me. I have written the date that it should be paid for next month on the calendar now.

So a man from Delhi, sitting inside a washing machine in a busy kitchen on an oil rig in a storm (or so it appeared from the background noise) rang Stephen and asked for his date of birth.

Stephen declined to give out this interesting information, to the man's astonishment.

"But I've got it in front of me here - - all I need you to do is to confirm it."

Stephen declined, wondering aloud how he, Stephen, was supposed to know that was true, since there didn't seem to be a video link to accompany the phone call. Then he said an affectionate goodbye and hung up.

Delhi Man moved onto a building site with a few steam hammers and road drills, chose the part of it where a thousand people were simultaneously talking and crumpling bits of paper, and rang back. This time I answered.

I explained that I knew what the problem was and that I was going to sort it today. (And I have done).

No, this wouldn't do, he needed to explain it to me. Could I confirm my password for the account?

"No," I explained, "because I don't give out personal information over the phone. And it's you who is keen to talk to me. I'm a bit busy at the moment and I don't really want to talk to you."

Well, then, could I give him my mother's maiden name?

"No," I explained, "because I don't give out personal information over the phone."

"But," he asked, "how does it matter if the man from the credit card company in Delhi knows your mother's maiden name?"

"It's the principle of the thing," I explained, "because I don't think it's a good idea to get used to giving out personal information over the phone, in case somebody rings up pretending to be from a call centre in Delhi sited at the top of a mountain in a howling gale, when really they're a fraudster from Bradford."

This confused him a bit. I had a dining-room to dust. I made my excuses and left.

But clearly most people are happy to give out their information to anyone who asks. And Gareth just pointed out to me that I sound really respectable.

I feel a new career coming on.

I will just ring random numbers from the phone book.

"Hello, I'm from Bank Fraud and Burglary UK and I'm just ringing to check your credit card details. Could you give me the long number across the front please? I've got it in front of me here, of course, but I just need to check it's correct. - - Fine, and the name on the card, and the expiry date? Thank you. And the three digit security number on the back? Lovely.

Now I just need to check your address, and your holiday dates. - - Great, so you'll be away then? Fantastic. And just in case we're not available the first two weeks in July, is there a window that you usually leave open when you're at home that would be big enough for a burglar to climb through? - - And that's round the back, is it? Excellent.

Finally, I just need a description of your car - - it's red, isn't it? - - Oh, sorry, a blue BMW. I was looking at the wrong line. And the registration number? - - Great, thank you. I need to check the security device on the keys too so could you just post them to this box number? Wonderful."

If you don't hear from me for a couple of weeks, you'll find me somewhere with palm trees, counting my money.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Good Friday

I don't generally like it when days have a lot of expectation of enjoyment or of being somehow special upon them. Everything seems somehow too important and the very expectation seems to make it less enjoyable.

Good Friday doesn't have real religious significance for me but nevertheless it's often a rather different day, since I'm not working. I remember one very pleasant Good Friday - probably at least ten years ago now - when Stephen and I went to Lotherton Hall with our friend David and it rained a lot, but it was nevertheless very enjoyable. I remember looking out of the windows of the stately home and thinking how those who lived there must have stared out at the Yorkshire rain too.

Today started badly with the realisation that the email was working very, very sloooooowly. Fortunately Stephen the Supergeek was at home, of course, and managed to get it all working again with the cunning use of - - - oh look, I don't know, he just did whatever he does to badly behaved computers and it jumped back into line. Phew.

In the afternoon I did some gardening with my mother - - it was very damp but the plants liked this and we didn't mind at all since it wasn't cold. She likes planting things and indeed I like to see the results of this - - but actually I prefer weeding. Very cathartic. Down with the dandelions! Though even dandelions are fine in their place - - it's just that their place isn't in the middle of the flowerbed.

This evening Silverback came round bringing a choice of films. We had a Chinese takeaway first, and then we all watched National Treasure which is a fun, suspend-your-disbelief kind of action film and it was absolutely ideal for a relaxing evening. (I know you've probably seen it, but I hadn't. I haven't seen many films, even though when I do, I love them. I'm trying to remedy this and Silverback is helping me!)

An ordinary day, perhaps, but special and memorable too and I have enjoyed it very much indeed.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Lost Letters

Stephen got a birthday card yesterday. Lovely. And it was posted on March 27th, just in time for his birthday on March 28th. It arrived on April 8th.

Okay, just an isolated incident, one swallow doesn't make a summer, etc. But it seems to be happening lots and lots and lots.

My second cousin Robert, who died from cancer a year ago, was a postman and I've always rather fought the postmen's corner. But just recently there seems to have been a real increase in post going to the wrong place.

I looked after my friend's post recently whilst he was away for several months, checking the post two or three times a week. Not one week went by without him receiving post that should have gone to someone else. Some was for next door, some for the same house number but a different street - - and some was for a different name, different number and different street.

At the house where I live it's the same. We're forever getting post for other people. I put it back in the post box marked "Delivered to the Wrong Address" but it makes me wonder if a lot of my post - - - such as the tax refund I'm expecting, and have been told I'm going to get! - is going somewhere else.

A couple of days ago a parcel arrived marked "Special Delivery" - it was a package from Amazon. One of our actors signed for it without looking too closely.

Well, the house number was correct but it was the wrong name and the wrong street. Having realised this, the actor took it to the post office just along the road.

He handed it to the man behind the counter, who looked at it in surprise. "Oh!" said Post Office Man, "It's for me!"

What are the chances of that happening, eh?

When I was a child the post came first thing in the morning, so you could check if you had any Valentines cards before going off to school. Then, later, they introduced a second post, and that was fine too.

Now they seem to have replaced both of these with something I'd tend to call a third post, because it arrives later than either the first post or the second post - - sometimes it's not till about two o'clock in the afternoon.

And, in amongst all the letters addressed to Mrs Boggins of 39 Acacia Avenue, there's occasionally one for me.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009


At the university today, I was talking to someone who has diabetes too. Hers is more advanced than mine, and she's on insulin, although she's a Type 2 diabetic, like me.

I was telling her how Metformin makes me feel queasy so I'm on a lower dose than I used to be, and how I've added Gliclazide to it, and that makes me want to eat everything in sight - - it boosts the insulin and that makes me more or less permanently hungry, with an added interesting twist that occasionally my blood sugar crashes really low really quickly and I have to be careful always to have something like a sweet to hand, just in case.

She didn't cheer me up.

"Oh yes," she said, "I used to feel terrible all the time when I was on Metformin. And I put on three stone when I went onto Gliclazide."

Hmmm - - yes, well, I've lost a stone over the past year and I'm sure as hell not putting it back. So I'm being really careful what I eat at the moment.

Then she said something that I really didn't like.

"And I'm sure that diabetes has really damaged my memory. I asked one of the doctors, and he said it can do that."

WHAT?!!! Noooooooooooooooo! Now, I know that diabetes coats your innards with excess sugar (that's a bit of a simplified explanation, but more or less true) and that basically wrecks it all slowly, and takes an average of fifteen years off your life. Though I've always thought that oh, no, I'm not having that apply to me, I'll make jolly sure that it doesn't, by eating carefully and exercising and taking my medication.

But damage to my memory? That really scares me.

I have a very good memory in general, and I know I tend to rely on it overmuch. I often feel it's one of the (few) things I'm good at, remembering stuff. I can remember lots and lots from my childhood and in my adult life, I've only to "think" myself into a certain time and I get all the memories flooding back.

At school and university it came in useful, too, for passing exams. Whatever they say about how exams aren't just a memory test, I found that remembering things can get you a very long way with exams.

I do, of course, realise that a good memory isn't everything. Being able to work things out is really important too (and no, that's not one of my strengths). Being able to think "outside the box" is good (no, I can't do that either usually).

What I'm good at is as follows. Someone else has a bright idea. I remember what it was that they suggested and I doggedly put it into practice and carry it through with pedantic thoroughness.

And if I have an appointment or something, I write it on the calendar as a safety net - - but only after I've learned it.

Memory is so much a part of who I think I am - - and I dread losing it. Short-term memory would be bad enough - I could start writing things down more I suppose - - but I love being able to plunge into my long-term memory. Another term for this is "not concentrating and daydreaming." I did a lot of that when I was in boring lessons at school, and I still do if I'm in a meeting that isn't very interesting.

So, I do hope that my diabetes won't affect my memory. If I've already written a post that's very similar to this one, please don't tell me.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Still Life

Here's a Still Life. I am calling it The Communist: Still Life.

Ironic, of course - - because if there was still life, my mother wouldn't have given me all of these to look after/sort out/throw away.

The French for Still Life, if you didn't know, is Nature Morte.

Passport, driving licence, Metro card, blood transfusion card, disabled parking notice, poll card - - that kind of thing. And lots of diaries. The Communist wrote everything that he planned to do in his diary, which he always carried with him. Things like "We are going to Dorothy's for two hours". Dorothy was his sister - - seven years younger than the Communist, but she died a couple of years before he did. He kept going because of determination and being thran, to borrow a word from Silverback.

My mother had thrown the diaries in the bin. I fished them out again, because I'm astonished that never again will I tell him something ("I've booked the theatre tickets for Thursday") and watch him write it in his diary.

There's no point in keeping any of this stuff. It's not the Communist, after all - - it's just the paraphernalia.

I'm keeping the lot.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Daphne the Ballerina

When I was little, I wanted to be a ballerina. Nobody told me the grim truth, which is that all ballerinas have long arms and long legs, and I just didn't. And still don't. Short, I am. Little short arms. The sleeves of this jumper I'm wearing are turned back about three inches to make it fit me. When I buy any kind of trouser-type garment the length I'm looking for is SHORT, damn it. If I drive anyone else's car I have to move the driver's seat forwards about four feet.

Russian peasant stock, you see. Good at lifting things. Lots of stamina. Tall and willowy? - - not a chance.

But when I was four, I didn't know.

My parents had taken me to see ballet at the Grand Theatre in Leeds, several times - - I particularly liked La Fille Mal Gardee, about a country girl who finds herself a bloke and there's a great trick where all the chorus hide the man in some corn, and I could never work out how it was done.

I had seen Swan Lake, too. I overheard someone talking in the interval.
"Aren't the tutus beautiful?" I loved this strange new word, tutu, and I had no idea what it meant. I remember saying it to myself over and over, in the hope I'd work out the meaning, because I sure as hell wasn't going to show myself up by asking - - I was four, for goodness' sake, not a baby any more!

Anyway, finally I found out somehow, and I wanted to be a ballet dancer and wear a tutu. Pink, for preference.

So I started at Miss Carr's Ballet School, which was above the Clock Cinema, in Oakwood in Leeds. I remember buying my first pair of ballet shoes from a shop across the road - - pink, they were, with pink ribbons to tie them on. Paradise.

We did a lot of Spring Points to start with, jumping with one foot pointed out forwards, then the other foot. We did a lot of stretching exercises too: we sat down, knees bent outwards, and tried to put our knees flat to the floor.

It was at this moment, I think, that I realised this ballet lark wasn't going to be as easy as I had hoped. Some girls' knees just went flat to the floor with no problem at all. Some girls could just do the splits. My knees didn't, and I couldn't.

But after a lot of all this Spring Points we started rehearsing, for we were going to take part in a performance at the Civic Theatre, which is now Leeds City Museum.

Sadly, there were no tutus involved. It was a sailor dance and I can still remember most of it. We pulled on imaginary ropes and did little salutes and skipped round in circles.

When the time came to make our grand entrance on stage, we all danced on sideways in a long line. I was the leader, because Miss Carr had worked out that what I lacked in dance ability I made up for - to some extent at least - in memory. I could be relied on to come on at the correct moment, and to do the right steps in the right places.

I remember the moment when the hornpipe music started, and I proudly led the long line of four-year-olds dancing sideways onto the stage.

To my absolute astonishment we were met by loud gales of laughter. I had absolutely no idea why, none at all.

We finished our dance to loud applause but I was not happy. Why a whole row of tiny girls, all dancing sideways onto the stage, should be funny I just could not understand.

We did a few more performances, but my heart wasn't in it. I knew I was never going to be the Prima Ballerina in the pink tutu. I gave up ballet, and started swimming instead, and have never knowingly worn pink since. These early traumas take some getting over, you know.

Here's the photographic evidence, in a sailor suit. Forty-something years ago. Four-year-old Daphne.

I'm standing in the garden under the kitchen window. The apple tree behind me died of old age about ten years ago - - and here's the exact same view, this afternoon. The greenhouse hadn't even been built then, and now it's gone and there'll soon be a shed there. The lawn was bigger in those days.

Anyway, that photograph shows the beginning, and the end, of Daphne the Ballerina.

Of course, I got over it. I moved on. Oh yes. Honest.

Sunday, April 05, 2009


It's a beautiful sunny day today, though I haven't seen much of it as it's been the agency's four-weekly meeting today, when all the actors who are available gather to discuss things that are important for the running of the agency.

The meetings are always useful but for some reason often coincide with whatever sunny Sundays there are. I've been working for the agency since 1993 and I think it must be possible to predict weather patterns from our meeting dates, annoyingly. If it's a Sunday when there's the meeting - - then it's going to be sunny. Or, occasionally, in the winter, it waits until everyone's got here - they come from all over the country - and then snows, so they don't know if they'll be able to get home.

Still, Spring flowers in the sunshine are most definitely a Good Thing and here are two of my favourites, on a grassy bank by the cafe in Roundhay Park yesterday:

Daffodils and celandines. Here's a close-up of some more celandines, growing on Jackson Avenue: this is how they were this morning:

Daffodils are my favourite flowers, heralding the Spring. Probably my second favourite are foxgloves, as to me they are the essence of Summer.

Ahh - - of course the foxgloves diverted me, and I knew I'd taken a photo of some in some woodland in Headingley, Leeds - - and it turned out to be in June 2006, and here they are.

Anyway, back to the celandines. They are cheery little flowers, and when I see them, I know it's Spring. At last. Hurrah.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Great Flood of Leeds

Okay, there never was a Great Flood of Leeds, not that I know of, anyway: though the rain that washed out Children's Day the year that I was supposed to dance round the maypole when I was little was pretty bad. (Not that I'm bitter, or disappointed, or anything - sometimes nearly a whole week goes by and I don't think about it).

In the Eighties, Leeds City Council decided to remodel Waterloo Lake in Roundhay Park, just in case the Great Flood should ever happen.

At one end of the lake a stream comes in: at the other, there was a steep waterfall, which led down to the open-air swimming pool (oh yes, they got rid of that too, much to my fury).

Anyway, I think someone on Leeds City Council must have lived in a posh house on Wetherby Road, because suddenly they decided that Waterloo Lake had to be redesigned just in case there should be the kind of flood that only happens every hundred years or so. And Wetherby Road would be just where the water from the lake would end up. The rest of us didn't really care, but the council suddenly decided that this was crucial.

So they spent much of the eighties faffing about doing all this, and the lake was half-empty for years and looked a Right Mess, as they say round here.

At the time of Band Aid, I was moved to write to the local paper and suggest that what was needed round here was Pond Aid - - everyone in Leeds should take a bottle of water and empty it into the lake - - yes, they published it and lots of serious people gave Very Serious replies to it.

Anyway, eventually the waterfall was gone and instead there's a big man-made overspill-type thing at one end of the lake, and the Wetherby Road Poshos are safe from drowning, at a cost of several squillion pounds no doubt.

Nobody considered the ducks though. Many a time I've seen a whole troop of baby ducklings merrily swimming about when suddenly - - whoosh! - - over the end they all go. Luckily, they don't seem to suffer any serious damage from their twenty-foot drop - or whatever it is - into the stream at the bottom, and I've seen the mother duck trudge the long way round to collect them and bring them back.

Here's today's duck. Today's duck was asleep.

Yes, yes, I know, it's a really rubbish photo but the light was in the wrong place. Or I was. And the duck certainly was. If you look closely, you can see a pied wagtail right at the edge of the waterfall, at the bottom of the photo.

We reckoned that the duck had dozed off some time earlier, at the far end of the lake where the stream comes in:

And then, as it slept, it drifted slowly along the lake on the slight current caused by the stream - - and, if we pull back a bit from the first shot, you can see that the large dot is the sleeping duck, drifting slowly towards Duck Niagara.

After another ten minutes or so, that duck was in for a big shock. I didn't stick around to watch. I like ducks.

Friday, April 03, 2009

The Damned United

In the 1970s Leeds United were world famous - I remember being at a campsite in France once and a French lad asked where I came from, and I said Leeds. "Ah! Leeds United! Leeds United" he shouted and a little crowd gathered to ask me about what it was like to come from this iconic Footy City.

In the 1970s, too, when Leeds United's manager Don Revie left to become England manager (and that didn't work out too well) Brian Clough, the self-titled "Old Big 'Ead" became manager of Leeds and spent forty-four days here before getting sacked.

Much more recently, David Peace wrote a book about it which has now been filmed: here's the trailer:

One of the actors I work with, John Savage, has a small role as very tall Scottish footballer Gordon McQueen in the film.

I wanted to see the film as I remember that era so vividly - I could name just about all the Leeds players in those days - let's face it, just about everyone in Leeds could - and I remembered Brian Clough arriving and then departing again remarkably quickly. Luckily I had a good excuse because of John being in it!!

I don't know much about football, but I know a man who does: and Silverback kindly agreed to come with me to see the film. I have to say that it's a while since I saw a film in a cinema - why? I really don't know, I love films! - and it was great to sit there looking at the big screen and eating popcorn.

I enjoyed it tremendously, and I think Silverback did too. It captures perfectly the Leeds of the seventies - rather drab and always raining! (Of course, Leeds these days is very gentrified - Harvey Nichols and all - and the sun never stops shining. Honestly).

Michael Sheen is superb as Brian Clough and Timothy Spall is excellent too (mind you, have you ever read a review that said "Timothy Spall was terrible in this?" - - Me neither).

You don't need to be a football fan to enjoy this film - - it's a good story, well told. It may not be the best film I've seen this year, but it's in the top one.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

At Last, The Banisters

Regular readers may remember that I've mentioned before that in 1965, when I was but a wee bairn, my father had the Victorian banisters boarded in because they were very wide apart and might have been dangerous for my brother, who was then a baby.

Even at the time, I hated this. I always loved the banisters. I had an idea that they had been removed when the boarding was put in and I was very upset about it.

When we bought this house from my parents in 1999, the boarding was still there and there was a glorious 1977 carpet to give added glamour.

It took us a while to get round to doing anything about it, and until last autumn it all looked like this:

Our friend John was round here, refitting the office, and I asked him about the banisters. He poked a screwdriver through the boarding and hit one of the spindles. Hurrah! So we knew that some, at least, were still there.

John came back and removed the boarding, and found that some of the spindles were still there, and some were missing and had been replaced by great chunks of wood: this is at the top of the main flight where there's another small flight.

(Our cat Froggie is a very willing photographic model and tends to feature quite a lot).

John restored the staircase and replaced the missing spindles: here he is in the middle of doing it:

Then Gerald Goodall, the painter and decorator who lives at the top of our road, came and painted it all white - - because we like white and I thought that the combination of the old banisters and the fresh white paint would look good. And oh, yes, it did.

And finally, we chose a new carpet. Dave Cataroche is the brother of one of the actors' girlfriends (!! - the office in the house is an actors' agency for anyone who doesn't know) and he had done a fine job of supplying and fitting the carpet for our refitted office - - so we asked him back to do the carpet. This was a really big job as the carpet covers hall, stairs, landing, downstairs loo and back passage (ooh er).

Dave Cataroche (Homestyle Floorings 0113 2531314) spent a long time working on our uneven floorboards to make the carpet fit better, and finally it was all finished.

We still haven't got round to putting up all the pictures - or getting rid of the phone wires - but here is the result.

And, looking toward the front door:

To me, it has transformed the whole house. I had hated the hall since 1965, and that's a long time. Every time I went through it, or up the stairs, I hated it.

Now I love it. It looks twice as big, and far better proportioned, and light and open. John took the Sixties hardboard off the Victorian doors and they look so much better with their own panels.

It's taken a long time, and a lot of money, but it's been so well worth it. We're really grateful to John, Gerald and Dave who've made it look so good. Hurrah!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

World Saved - - Possibly

Okay, I've been watching the television news and there's a summit meeting going on in London with lots of world leaders.

Gordon Brown gave a beaming smile. That's really weird, for a start. Anyone ever seen him do that before? Thought not. President Obama patted him on the back and said they'd been talking with Gordon Brown's children about dinosaurs. Within a few hours, said Gordon, they'd be arriving at a proper agreement at this summit, and the world will be saved.

President and Mrs Obama towered over our Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, who asked them if they had jetlag. Barack and Michelle smiled indulgently at these two quaint British oldies, trying to bend low enough to see more than the tops of their heads. Michelle Obama, six feet nine, towered over our Queen, four feet two. The Queen looked mightily impressed and smiled. Breaking all royal protocol, Mrs President gave the Queen a hug. President Obama, seven feet three, towered over the Duke of Edinburgh who was too overawed even to make a tactless comment about his suntan.

Then President Obama met the Prime Minister of Russia who said in Russian that Barack was a jolly good chap and he liked him and everything was going to be fine and the world will be saved.

All in all it was very strange. It's not April the First or anything, is it?

Superior Minstrels of Old

In 1968, though not yet a teenager, I was just beginning to discover that there was more to music than my parents' collection, which, as I've mentioned before, ran to Rolf Harris, Val Doonican, a lot of classical music and - - er - - that's it, really.

And suddenly, music was great. But I didn't have my own radio, or record player, or any means of listening to it. So I just heard odd snatches at friends' houses and never knew much about it really. The Communist was deeply disapproving of what he always called "pop music". He was born in 1923 so might have been held to be young enough to notice the likes of, say, Elvis Presley - - but he didn't.

It wasn't that he liked classical music and that other people liked "pop music". It was simply that "pop music" didn't enter his frame of reference - it simply wasn't music: it didn't exist in his world.

Which made it quite hard for me ever, ever to listen to it in the house because the Communist would come in and say "What's this rubbish on the radio?" and switch it off, not out of any vindictiveness or unpleasantness, just because he knew that nobody could possibly want to listen to it.

Well, I came across this list of the top 100 hits of 1968. And, oh, wow, no wonder I wanted to listen to them. There are lots of songs in there that I still love today.

Of course, to the Communist, this lot were the Devils Incarnate - - whenever he remembered who they were - -

There are many songs in that list that have stood the test of time.

But here's a song from the same year that really hasn't - -

Great suit, Cliff. Ah - - poor old Cliff. He's an easy target and I'm not going to mock him very much, because I loved him when I was five and saw him in Summer Holiday. (And thanks to The Other Side of Paris, the blog where I first found this video).

I wonder, out of the "pop music" of today, is there so much that will still be played in forty years' time? Was the late Sixties the golden era that I remember it as being? Or was the music of that time only golden to me because I had so little access to it that it was forbidden fruit, and therefore more tempting?

Perhaps mature people (she said carefully) have always thought this. They were probably saying it in mediaeval times. "Those modern minstrels - they're nowhere near as good as the ones we had when I was young."