Sunday, May 31, 2009

Strange Bird

Our garden's full of birds, lots of different kinds. But here's a strange creature that I saw on the bird table today:

Yes, a four-legged one. A rat, in fact.

The old saying is that you're never more than a few feet away from a rat - - I can't remember how far it's supposed to be but ten feet sticks in my mind. And on this evidence, it's probably true.

Of course, there's always lots of bird food about in the garden so I don't think Ratty can be blamed for taking advantage of it and I shan't be trying to poison him unless he sets foot in the house, in which case he'll have me to reckon with.

Rats don't get a very good press. They are considered to be dirty, of course - and of course, many of them are, especially the ones that live in sewers. I think as well that there's something about their long, naked tails that people really don't like, though it's hard to pin down exactly what it is.

But I think they're quite interesting creatures really - more intelligent than many animals. They just provoke that knee-jerk "ewwwwwwwww" reaction in a lot of people.

Strange that I should see him today, in a way. On Friday I saw and enjoyed the animated film Ratatouille (very good fun and I did like the animated Paris - just like the real thing!) I haven't seen a real rat for years, and then suddenly, there he was.

I took the first photo through the closed kitchen window and when I opened the window to get a better look, Ratty made his excuses and left, though with no great haste, I must say.

I do like all the wildlife that pops up in the garden - - hedgehogs, foxes - - and I don't mind Ratty either, just as long as he stays outside.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

On a Clear Day

After a most enjoyable evening yesterday, I woke up surprisingly early and full of worry.

So the obvious thing to do was to get up, get dressed, set off in the car and travel 35 miles to find this path:

It's the path from the Sutton Bank Visitor Centre, along the Cleveland Way, and it's one of the best paths in the whole world.

You can walk along it for miles. The path itself is not difficult at all: the views are magnificent.

Do please click on the photo to make it bigger, because on a clear day you can see forever, and this was a clear day.

There are woods, fields, hills and cliffs:

It all goes on for miles and miles in utter gorgeousness:

We set off from the visitor centre at half past nine and met very few walkers - once you get a couple of hundred yards from the centre, it's just never crowded.

There are plenty of my favourite dry stone walls - but even the old fences managed to look picturesque today:

Stephen had his camera too and tried to take a photograph of Lake Gormire, but unfortunately some woman in a silly hat got in the way. Perhaps someone out there might be able to identify her.

Of course, unlike the woman above, I managed to look both classy and sophisticated the whole time, and didn't get sunburned to a ridiculous shade of red at all.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Thoughts in a Spring Garden

Here are the flowers at the bottom of my Mum's garden. The Communist always used to call it "the jungle" and I always think of that phrase, in his voice, when I'm there.

It used to be an orchard with several apple and pear trees and grass growing underneath. Now most of the old trees have died, except for the big old pear tree: and these are actually rather exuberant flower beds - some of the flowers are wild, some cultivated, but they are all there on purpose and my Mum knows the position of every one of them.

I like rather wild gardens like this. I used to love the orchard too - for many years it had an old tyre hanging from one of the trees which I used as a swing when I was a child. It was big enough to seem really wild to me when I was little - - in fact, when I was a very small child I was pretty convinced that a bear lived there somewhere and I would never go down there by myself.

I love the sense of history in the garden. When we moved into the house in 1959, it hadn't been cultivated recently: we dug much of it over and there was Victorian pottery in every spadeful.

I feel protective towards it. Many of the plants, or their ancestors, have been there for decades, and the garden's full of little flocks of sparrows that we've been feeding for years, plus many other birds too.

Mind you, I'm like that with people too - I always want to protect those I care about. I want to save them from all harm and all unpleasantness and to bring about things that they'll like. I am always full of naive optimism that I'll be able to do it, and I'm at my happiest when I feel I've succeeded, in no matter how small a way.

In spite of the things that happen in life, and that have happened to me, it never seems to change, that feeling of "You'll be all right because I'll make SURE of it." Because it's so much my default setting, I have to try to stop myself overdoing it. If I had to sleep next to Attila the Hun I'd probably wake up with a protective arm around him.

I've always felt like that, as long as I can remember. I wonder if I'll ever stop. If I did, I don't think I'd be me any more.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Stuffed in Sheffield

I had to get up at half-past five this morning as I've been working in Sheffield, which is forty miles away, all day, helping with the assessments of qualified doctors who want to train to be General Practitioners - - better known as GPs or the family doctor! It's a three-year training and it takes a doctor with particularly good communication skills to do it - - or it should do - - hence these assessments.

I've grumbled before about places where the doctors get one meal and the actors (otherwise known as simulated patients, patient simulators or roleplayers) get another one which is far inferior.

Not so in Sheffield. I'd worked there before and advised the others from Leeds, who hadn't, that the food would be great. And it was.

We were greeted with towering mounds of bacon sandwiches, sausage sandwiches and veggie sandwiches, plus some croissants and Danish pastries and a big bowl of fruit.

I'd had my usual vast vat of porridge, with frozen raspberries thrown into it, before leaving the house. So with tremendous forbearance, I thought, I resisted the bacon sandwiches and had a Healthy Apple instead. I am still waiting for someone to give me some kind of award for this incredible display of willpower.

Anyway, this fought off starvation until the coffee break, when I weakened and had two ginger biscuits.

On to lunch and masses of quality sandwiches appeared - - lots of different kinds - - here's a photo I managed to snatch of just a few of them, as they were being unwrapped. There were lots of things that you might actually want to eat - - - egg - - - chicken - - beef - - cheese - - that kind of thing, all very nicely done and not the usual mayonnaise-between-two-slices-of-bread at all. There were also samosas and onion bhajis and such.

I had to snatch the photo before the marauding army of doctors and actors descended (now look, I wouldn't call myself an actor, I'm a roleplayer, but most of them were actors, and it's quicker to write than "simulated patients" though admittedly this explanation is rather longer).

Afterwards there was cake, of course. No, I didn't eat it, because sadly I'm still diabetic. When my hand reaches out for such things I have to give myself a stern talking-to. "Are you still diabetic, Daphne? Well put it down, then."

We staggered on until the afternoon tea break when any cravings we might have had for scones with cream were suddenly fulfilled.

Just time to eat a bit more fruit, and a few biscuits before the final session at the end of the day. It was a long day: I arrived before eight in the morning and didn't leave Sheffield until six o'clock, so I haven't been home for very long.

I did pretty well at resisting all the things that are bad for me, apart from the ginger biscuits and half a scone. The day was hard work, but the people I was working with were lovely.

There's something about food that either really helps, or really doesn't. When I've done jobs where we've worked hard all morning and then been presented with a few curling sandwiches, suddenly everyone's grumbling and wanting it all to be over.

Today everyone was good-humoured and ready to work hard, because we felt that we were treated with respect, and our work was appreciated, because we were very well fed.

There's a lot of truth in that old saying that we're only three missing meals away from a revolution - - when you're hungry, that's all you can think about, and you'd do just about anything to get food. I think that the food that we eat, or that we're given, is really important - - and the people running today understood that. Thank you, Sheffield. I won't be having much tea tonight.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Saving the Planet

When you get to my age you start saying things like "When you get to my age". And you frequently follow them up with "Has the whole world gone mad?"

It's not my fault. The whole world has gone mad.

Here, as one tiny example, is Standard Life's attempt to save the planet.

It's a leaflet that they sent to me, pointing out that I can save the planet if I - - er - - go paperless.

Yes, since you ask, they posted it to me. And, yes, that's a piece of paper.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Terrorists and the Car Park

You will probably remember that, a while ago, a couple of idiots decided to drive their car into an airport with the aim of blowing it up.

Thanks to the considerate actions of these two, we can no longer drop people off at Leeds Bradford International Airport (I always give the title in full because I find the "International" part amusing - -yes, of course it does fly to other countries, it just seems to me to be a title that's blowing its own trumpet a bit too much.)

Instead, we have to drive into the car park, taking a ticket from the machine on the way. Then we drop off the person to catch their plane, and drive out from the exit of the car park, putting the ticket in the machine to raise the barrier.

So far so good, though rather annoying.

Anyway, the Car-Park-Improving People spent much of the winter doing stuff to the car park in order to improve it, though I'm not quite sure what they did, because, firstly, I'm unobservant and secondly - - er, there is no secondly, I'm just unobservant. But it resulted in the the car park being closed, mostly, and you had to park hundreds of yards away, all because of the two idiots who tried to drive their car into an airport.

Last week when I took my mother to the airport the new car park had opened. But you still had to get your ticket from the machine and then put it in the machine at the other end of the car park to get out.

But there was a crucial difference. Some total fool with the brainpower of a packet of crisps had decided to only allow five minutes for dropping off your friends and relatives and then getting to the other end of the car park and getting out again. If you went over this time then you had to go into the airport and pay and the cheapest time you could pay for is £2.50, which gives you up to a magnificent 15 minutes, the robbing greedy evil bastards.

So I did what everyone else was doing - - grab the ticket, storm through the entrance, screech to a halt, open the passenger door, give my mother a hefty shove onto the pavement, rush round to the boot, hurl all the luggage in the general direction of my mother, ignore her feeble cries, jump back in the car and speed to the gate.

But, of course, when I arrived at the gate, I found that the man at the front of the queue had been dropping off the Nursing Mothers With Pushchairs Orchestra from his minibus. Yes, all fifteen of them plus their babies, pushchairs and all their instruments. He'd hoped to do it in under five minutes by setting up a sort of relay where the babies were thrown through the air from one person to the next - - but sadly, because of the double bass and the drum kit, it took five minutes and thirty-four seconds and hence the machine wouldn't let him out.

Of course, by the time he'd realised this, there was a queue of twenty-two cars behind him - - and by the time he'd made his way to the airport terminal to pay his £2.50, and come back again, the time had expired on the tickets of the twenty-two cars behind him, and nobody could get out, ever.

I may have exaggerated, just a teensy little bit, but this was the essence of what went on. And it all had to be sorted out by World-Weary Airport Ticket Man.

I wondered what to ask him when, after a couple of days, he got to my car in the line. I thought the question "Do you enjoy your job?" might just result in my death, so instead I asked him if this now happened all the time.

"Yes, every moment of every day," he said wearily.

A few days later, when I returned to the airport to collect my mother (she'd been to Amsterdam to see my brother and his family) a small yet significant change had occurred.

Using the latest, high-tech sellotape, a small piece of paper had been stuck to the entrance barrier machine. It told us, without enthusiasm, that the time we could stay without paying had now been doubled to ten minutes.

Silverback told me later that the Yorkshire Evening Post, our magnificent local rag, was claiming credit for this after they wrote an article about it. The airport asked a few people what they thought, listened to the ensuing abuse, dodged a few flying suitcases and swiftly changed their minds, saying:

Following this constructive feedback we have decided to revert back to the 10 minutes free drop off/pick up period.

Now then, dear reader, I ask you: firstly, do you have a degree, or indeed any kind of qualification at all, in Airport Parking?

No, I thought not. And yet you knew, instinctively, didn't you, that a five-minute drop-off period would not be long enough, even if you're not a member of the Nursing Mothers with Pushchairs Orchestra?

So: How come then, that somebody whose job title is something like Head of Airport Parking didn't know? And why haven't they sacked him or her? Or, failing that, put him/her in some nice old-fashioned stocks - just for an hour or so, I wouldn't want to be cruel or anything - and we could all pelt him/her with uneaten airline food.

On occasions like this, I realise that if I'm ever put in charge of Everything, there are going to be a few changes around here.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Walls Again

I know they've featured on this blog before and oh look, here they are again, I can't resist them. No dry stone wall is safe from my lingering gaze or my camera lens. Look at this one, near Boot in Eskdale, Cumbria. Gorgeous!

Why do I love them so much? Perhaps because they are such a crucial feature of some of my favourite countryside in the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District, often used to keep sheep out. Or in.

Amy, 85, who lives in Barrow-in-Furness and who has done a fair amount of dry-stone-wall building and repairing in her time, says that when you're building them, you must always just pick up the next stone you come to and make it fit. You must never put it down again and look for a better one, or that's all you'll do all day.

That makes sense to me - I can see that otherwise you'd just be searching for the perfect stone to fill this particular gap. And I think you can see, looking at the wall above, how they've done just that. The overall effect of all these stones at jaunty angles is, to me, delightful.

Here's another one, in Yorkshire this time.

It is by the Church of St Michael and St Lawrence, Fewston, North Yorkshire. The parish is called Fewston with Blubberhouses - - great name, eh? There's been a church on the site for hundreds of years and I think this nearby wall has been here for a long while too, though the stones are a bit neater than in the Lake District wall.

Wherever you find dry stone walls, you'll find great scenery around them. And - unlike many man-made objects - I don't think that they detract from the scenery at all - they fit in well and become part of it.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Diagonal Crows

On the day when the semi-finals of Britain's Got Talent begin, I thought I'd show you a photo of my amazing animal act - the Diagonal Crows.

Here's a demonstration we gave in Roundhay Park this morning. It's taken months but at last we have the three crows trained to fly down to a perfect diagonal, bisecting the photograph with amazing accuracy.

Perhaps I'll enter them next year. Remember, you saw them here first.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Crying on Cue

One of our actors has an audition for a television role coming up.

"I'll send the sides over," said the casting director. ("Sides" is casting-director-speak for "bits of script we want the actor to read at the audition".)

"In one of the scenes she has to get very upset and cry a lot - do you think she'll be okay with that?" said the casting director.

"Oh yes," I said. And I wanted to say - in the famous words of Yosser Hughes in the 1982 television drama The Boys from the Black Stuff - "Gissa job. I could do that."

My emotions are always - er - readily accessible. In other words, I laugh very easily and I do cry easily too.

A lot of the medical roleplay work I do requires me to cry. There's no point in just crying in a roleplay because you CAN, but often it's useful as a teaching aid, because many healthcare professionals find it difficult to deal with a crying patient. Often they won't tackle the tricky topic that is bothering the patient, because "I didn't want to upset her". Well, d'you know what, she's upset already, and sometimes she might want to talk about it - - and if she doesn't, that will become obvious too.

Often the tears are genuine and this is hard to explain. A couple of days ago I was playing a patient with postnatal depression and the student midwife who was talking to me was brilliant. I was playing a woman who had split from her partner and who was living with her mother and her mother's boyfriend and it was all much less than ideal.

This student midwife was so kind and caring that my eyes filled with tears. As I said, it's hard to explain - - Daphne wasn't upset. Daphne was thinking "Wow, this girl's brilliant". Julie, the character I was playing, was in tears. And I know before you say so that this sounds as though it's pretentious crap, but honestly, that's how it works - it kind of works on two levels at once. The situation is fictional, but the emotions are real.

Sometimes, however, my brief is to get very upset but I'm working with a student who is just keeping well clear of any emotions - and yet I need to give them that challenge to deal with. So I have to find a "trigger" that will make me cry and here I will shamelessly plunder anything that does it.

At the moment I'm using the Communist's singing. Not that his singing was so bad that made me cry, you understand - he had a fantastic baritone voice of operatic quality and still sang at any opportunity right until he died last December.

I can still hear his singing voice in my head: but I know I won't ever hear it again. That makes me cry. So when I need to cry I just think about that and it works every time. It's making me cry now, writing about it. I think he'd be pleased about that.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mighty Hunters

I could write about the MPs' expenses scandal but everyone else already has. That old slogan "Don't vote - it only encourages them" seems more true by the day.

Anyway, here's a photo of Wendy the Teenage Kitten in the cat bed instead. Don't go telling me this blog isn't cutting edge.

Of course, the only reason Wendy's in the cat bed is because it's not hers. It belongs to our cat Froggie, who won't sleep in it, of course. Cats are like that.

Wendy spends every waking moment trying to hunt things. I've often seen her right at the top of the old pear tree, having an argument with the magpies who are nesting up there. She has no fear.

Years ago we had a black cat called Archie. His parents were pedigrees and he wasn't very bright. He liked hunting things, too. It was most entertaining to watch him stalking birds in the snow, in the pathetic belief that he couldn't be seen.

However, he once pulled off quite a triumph in the hunting stakes.

We heard a strange banging noise and, upon closer inspection, it turned out to be Archie trying to bring something in through the cat flap.

It was a roast leg of lamb, still nice and warm. We never did find out where it came from.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


On the way back from Hull yesterday I stopped in a Little Chef for something to eat (cheese omelette, chips and salad, since you ask, and it was jolly nice). On the wall there was a radiator, and there was this:

Yes, it's a tough old world, folks. Radiators may become hot. Fridges may be cold on the inside. Rivers may be full of fast-moving water. Polar bears may eat you. Trees may fall on you.

It's going to be tricky, sending people all round Africa to print DANGEROUS BEAST on the side of every lion, but that's the direction in which we're heading.

When Silverback and I were in the glorious Lake District last week, by beautiful Tarn Hows, a school party stood here and looked at this view:

One of them suddenly lay down and rolled down the hill, and all the others quickly followed, without giving it a thought. The party leader watched all this, moved a little way down the hill and then stood still till they had all finished.

Then he gathered them all round him.

"Was that fun?" he asked.

"Yes!" they all chorused.

"And had you checked that it was safe before you did it?" he asked.

No, they admitted, they hadn't.

"Well," said the leader, "on that hill there was just one large, sharp stone which would have seriously injured anyone who banged their head on it. So I went and stood by it to stop this happening. But was it my job to check, or was it yours?"

They looked a bit guilty.

Their leader went on to explain that the Lake District is not a theme park: it's fun to roll down a slope but a good idea to check before you do it that you're not going to bang your head, or roll into the lake. Some things that are fun can also be dangerous and sometimes you'll take a risk - - but when you're out on your own it's down to you to check it first, and if you don't, well, it's your responsibility.

Fine, and I totally agree. But I think that all these radiators-are-hot notices are not helping. People expect the dangers to be pre-labelled and pointed out to them. They think that if the Amazon is not labelled DANGER: VERY WIDE RIVER FULL OF THINGS THAT WILL EAT YOU, then it's going to be safe to go for a swim.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

From the Far East

I am blogging from my Blackberry, for I have risen at five o'clock and travelled across the wide flat lands to the Far East.
Yes, I am in Hull. I am working on an exam for medical students. Hull is often referred to as a bit of a joke city but I rather like it - miles from just about everywhere and proud of itself. Hull York Medical School is only a few years old but seems to be doing an excellent job.
So I got up at five and had driven over sixty miles by eight - this may be normal to others but it's not for me! An early start, a busy morning, a good lunch of steak pie -- let's hope I can stay awake for this afternoon's session!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Tales from the Hospital

Gareth seems to have his sights set on completing a Medical Tour of Yorkshire. Since having his appendix out in York slightly over a week ago, he's paid a fleeting visit to the emergency doctor ("no, we can't treat that infected wound here, you'll have to go to A and E").

Then, of course, Leeds General Infirmary A and E where they re-dressed the wound and sent him home again.

Finally, and most excitingly, St James's Hospital, Leeds, at 3am on Sunday morning, just to add a bit of drama and style to everything, because the wound was really - - well, I won't tell you in detail in case you're eating when you read this.

And there he remains, in Jimmy's as it's known, on an antibiotic drip, but now, thankfully, feeling rather better.

At Accident and Emergency in the middle of the night, the receptionist was less than awake and, Gareth and Stephen feared, less than the sharpest tack in the box even at her best. Stephen suggested that she might, at some point previously, have had an intellectomy.

They watched with interest as a procession of injured people turned up at the desk with bits of their bodies hanging off or sticking out at odd angles.

The receptionist greeted them warmly.


Okay, perhaps not very warmly.

Many of them appeared to find this rather tricky, what with it being the middle of the night, and them having bits of their bodies hanging off or sticking out at odd angles.

Eventually they'd stumble through some kind of answer to "NAME?" so she'd make the next one harder.


This one generally took some time to answer and occasionally an arm or leg detached itself and landed on the floor with a blood-stained thump as they attempted it. However, most of them got there eventually.

So she followed it up with the killer question:


I am proud to say that most people answered this with my old roleplay standby: "Like 'ow d'you mean?" A few went for my other standby: "Yerwha'?"

(One of our actors insists that you can do any kind of medical roleplay by just repeating these two phrases in whatever order you like. It's not quite true, but he does have a point).

However, one admirable person answered "ETHNIC GROUP?" with a resounding "NO!" which I thought was a particularly sound response.

And once Gareth had been admitted to a ward, a doctor finally appeared, clutching a file. He looked at the file. He looked at Gareth. He looked at the file. He looked at Gareth. He left the room without saying a word and only then did Gareth hear him shout down the corridor,

"Will somebody please explain to me why this gentleman has been referred to Gynaecology?"

Saturday, May 16, 2009

It's Not Our Time (but we did come fifth)

Ahhh yes, the Eurovision Song Contest. In previous recent years, all those countries that end in the letter A have all voted for each other and nobody voted for the United Kingdom. They didn't like us, and what's more our songs were crap, and they thought we weren't taking it seriously, which, of course, was TRUE.

So this year we brought in the Big Guns in the form of Andrew Lloyd Webber who has written a hit show or two. And we found a singer, Jade Ewen, via a reality TV show but nevertheless the girl can sing, has an engaging personality and a bit of human interest because her father is totally blind, her mother is partially blind, and they all come from the East End of London which isn't known for its riches.

The song is called It's My Time and, to be honest, Andrew, it's not one of your best, is it? I have a feeling that the whole population of Europe was thinking "Who's that funny-looking bloke on the piano?"

However, Jade sang her little heart out: here you go, have a listen.

It was definitely better than most of our recent offerings, and for a glorious few minutes near the beginning of the voting the United Kingdom was even in second place: Graham Norton, who was doing the commentary, urged us to take a commemorative photo of the scoreboard.

As for the rest, I did feel that they were somewhat better than in previous years: fewer gimmicks, more singing. I liked the girl from Iceland who was in the top three. There was an interesting "popera"-type song from Sweden sung by a girl whose voice soared up to the Moon somewhere. I had a bit of a soft spot for Portugal's folky-type song. Turkey did very well but I did feel that a contributary factor was some girls clad in pink, and not very much pink. They also had a bloke in green who just didn't seem to match, but probably not many people were looking at him anyway.

The whole show came from Moscow who had spent about a squillion pounds on it, and it did look very spectacular. There was a jolly little broadcast from two of the Russian cosmonauts on the Space Station near the beginning, which I thought was rather amazing.

The song that won was from Norway - a country that for years was mostly famous for getting Nul Points. It was extremely catchy and was sung - yes, rather well - by a 23-year old who has clearly been practising How To Look Cute And Work An Audience since about the age of three. He also has what I can only describe as very Slavonic cheekbones.

Go on, have a listen to him, too.

Of course, if you're in Europe and you care about any of this, you'll have seen it. If you did, please tell me what you thought. If you didn't, and you don't care, this is Daphne reporting back on the Eurovision Song Contest 2009, and I have told you all you need to know. In fact probably slightly more than you hoped for.

Perhaps next year we should send 'em Susan Boyle.

Calling the Ambulance

I'm a big supporter of the National Health Service, for all its flaws - if you are ill you should be looked after, whatever your age or income, and that's what it tries to do.

However, any system can fall down if it employs an idiot to answer the phone.

When Gareth first got terrible stomach pains he rang NHS Direct which gives telephone advice as to what to do next. It should have been pretty obvious that he was in a lot of pain because of the way he said "AAAAAARGH" every three seconds or so.

"I've got - - AAAAAAAAAARGH - - terrible pain in my - - AAAAAAAAAAARGH - - stomach."

That kind of thing.

Telephone Idiot listened to Gareth's account of his symptoms and suggested he could travel to the emergency doctor.

"How can I - - - AAAAAAAAAAAAARGH - - get there? I can't move off - - AAAAAAAAARGH - - this sofa."

"Well, have you got a car? You could drive there."

"But I can't - - - AAAAAAAAAARGH - - move off this - - AAAAAAAAAAAAARGH - - sofa."

"Well, have you thought of getting the bus?"


"Well, I suppose you could call an ambulance, if you must - - "

"Yes, well - - - AAAAAAAAAAARGH -- I think that's what I'm going to do. Thank you for your advice. Goodbye."

Gareth rang 999 and described his symptoms. He was in incredible pain, centred on the lower right of his abdomen, and had been sick twice, and this pain had been going on for about twelve hours, and indigestion remedies hadn't helped at all.

They marked it "non-life-threatening" and instead of sending an ambulance, they sent a man with a car.

The man with the car looked at Gareth, and poked him a bit, and listened to his cries of agony, and suggested that he really wouldn't be able to get into a car. "You need an ambulance, mate."

Finally the ambulance came and took Gareth to hospital. His appendix had burst and when they operated they had to remove two litres of pus from his stomach (sorry if you were having your lunch when you read this). A bit longer and he'd have been dead.

One of the things that we try to teach healthcare professionals in Communication Skills is how to listen, and how to work out if something is important and/or urgent.

It's clear that we've still got a fair way to go.

Friday, May 15, 2009


Gareth was in hospital and Olli was at home alone, which doesn't happen very often.

It was late, it was dark and there was a very strange smell in the house.

Olli rang me. "Mum, there's a horrible smell of death and decay."

"Are you sure that's what it is?"

"Oh yes, I'm doing an archaeology degree and I'm used to it. But I don't like it in the house. Stay on the phone while I try to find where it's coming from. I think it's under the bed."

I stayed on the phone whilst Olli tried to track it down.

"I think it's under this side of the bed. I'm looking."

Olli looked. Quite a few things are kept under the bed, as their house is very small.

"I'm taking them all out one by one. No, nothing here. I'll try the other side."

There was the sound of objects being moved for a while and then a sharp cry.

"Ewwwww! Ewwwww! Feathers!"

The source of the smell had been discovered and it was a dead starling.

How did it get there? Well, it doesn't need too many powers of deduction to narrow it down to the likeliest - - and let's face it, the only - - suspect. Wendy the Teenage Kitten.

Olli did not enjoy removing it and I didn't much enjoy the graphic moment-by-moment account of it.

"I'm getting a carrier bag. Okay, I'm reaching out to it - - - oooh, oooh, I nearly touched it, ewwwwwwwwwww horrible!"

Finally the starling was put in the bin outside. Wendy the Teenage Kitten has not apologised in any way.

Just to put the whole thing in context, though, let us consider what Olli is doing today.

In an old church near Fewston in North Yorkshire, Olli is taking part in a "rescue dig" to excavate the churchyard prior to some new building. Today Olli's job is to excavate a whole skeleton - according to the regulations, you can't just dig up half of it and leave it when it's time to go home.

So I left Olli there at eight o'clock this morning in the pouring rain to get on with this fun job. Olli seemed to rather be looking forward to it.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Up in the Lakes

Although Silverback and I were staying with my lovely relative Amy in Barrow, we spent quite a bit of time in the nearby Lake District.

And it was, as always, glorious. Spring greens at Tarn Hows:

The restored steam yacht Gondola on Coniston Water:

High fells:

Scraggy sheep:

Wonderful walls:

Simple and delicious food in pubs and cafes:

And my favourite spot on the River Esk: it's been my favourite spot since childhood, when we used to swim in the pools, which are much deeper than they look.

The Lake District is stunning: and with good weather - which we had, generally - it's even better. It's been a really splendid four days, and many thanks to Silverback for his most congenial company, to Amy, wonderful Amy. for her tremendous hospitality, as always, and to all my relatives in Barrow for being such Very Good Things.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Coniston and Tarn Hows

Silverback, Amy and I headed off to beautiful Coniston Water today and had a cruise round the lake on the restored steam yacht Gondola. Very windy but glorious sunshine and glorious scenery too. Then to Tarn Hows - a lovely tarn surrounded by woodland.Silverback and I walked right round - it's a mile and three quarters - but Amy just walked part of the way and then waited for us in the car. She was not pleased with having to do this but she is 85 and she is recovering from a chest infection!
It's been a Grand Day Out all right and we've all enjoyed it. Some photos will no doubt follow but this is just a quick post from my Blackberry to say hello to you all.
Many thanks to Silverback for doing all the driving - the alternative would of course have been to be driven by me down the winding Lake District lanes. Hmmm.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Gherkin and the Galleon

Okay, so what's this then?

If you're at all familiar with the London skyscape you will recognise the building in the distance as the Gherkin which is more properly, and less interestingly, known as 30 St Mary Axe. I like it!

In front of it is a galleon. Well, a replica galleon anyway - Sir Francis Drake's The Golden Hinde, in which he discovered the bits of America that Christopher Columbus missed - - you know, the bits on the left hand side, California, the Golden Gate Bridge, that kind of thing.

Oh all right then, perhaps not, but this replica has been right round the world, it's got 140,000 miles on the clock which is no doubt more than the original ever did. It's quite small and really I'd be a little bit concerned about crossing the English Channel in it, never mind the Atlantic. Beautiful, though.

Talking of beautiful, I'm off to Barrow in Furness today.

Yes, yes, I know, most people don't connect the words "beautiful" and "Barrow" - it's a small industrial town on the edge of the Lake District, population about 50,000, near to - - well, nowhere really.

But it does have beautiful beaches, the lovely Furness peninsula on its doorstep ("Furness" means "far peninsula" - very educational, this blog eh?) and the Lake District relatively nearby.

My mother's from Barrow and some of my very favourite relatives live there. Stephen's on a course this week (Windows Servers, sounds exciting) and Silverback and I are off to Barrow for a few days to stay with the delightful Amy (85), see some more of my relatives and - we hope - see some lovely scenery. Hurrah for Spring!

Silverback has put a slideshow of his great photos of our London trip on his blog so do have a look - - watch out for the woman in the blue hoodie who seemed determined to get into lots of his photos. I've no idea who she is.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Rather Too Much Excitement

Olli and my son-in-law Gareth have not had the best couple of weeks.

Events started quietly yet assertively with the boiler in Gareth and Olli's house making the noise of a sad and dying boiler. It proved non-reparable and had to be replaced.

To add extra poignancy, Gareth's pay didn't go into his bank account thus enabling the benevolent well-wishers at Nat West Bank to charge him three hundred quid for not bouncing all Gareth and Olli's direct debits. Banks eh? How we love 'em.

Then Wendy the Teenage Kitten went missing for nearly twenty-four hours, just long enough to get everyone really worried about her, before returning, looking - - well, cute. Which is how she always looks.

Gareth and Olli were planning to travel to London yesterday by car to be in the audience for the recording of the excellent quiz QI, taking three others with them. So it was only fitting that on Friday the starter motor of the car packed up and they had to spend the day getting it mended.

Then on Friday night Gareth got a stomach ache. He waited for it to get better, but it didn't and eventually they realised that he simply was not going to be able to drive to London. So Olli got a lift with friends. Meanwhile, Gareth's stomach ache, which he'd originally thought was due to something he'd eaten, was beginning to seem really not a good thing at all.

Having asked him for a description of his symptoms, and having perhaps done one medical roleplay too many over the years, I arrived at a preliminary diagnosis of appendicitis. Gareth rang NHS Direct who suggested he should call an ambulance.

Stephen and I went to see him in hospital in York, where he was in terrible pain but seemed remarkably cheerful.

By yesterday evening he was an appendix-free zone. It had gangrene and had burst. Ewwwww.

Olli, of course, was in London (and yes, QI was excellent).

I hope that next week will prove less exciting for them both.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

The Gorgeousness of St Paul's

Some places just don't live up to expectations. Canterbury, especially. I went there once, perhaps ten or eleven years ago, and I expected it to be all wattle and daub buildings and peopled with jolly mediaeval characters straight out of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. (Yes, yes, I know it's possible to have too many links to Wikipedia in one post and I'm running that risk already, but please bear with me).

Anyway, instead of any of this, Canterbury turned out to be, mostly, a large and ugly shopping precinct with a magnificent cathedral next to it. The cathedral - damn, I snuck in another Wikipedia link there - was stunning. The rest of it really wasn't.

St Paul's Cathedral in London, which I saw yesterday for the first time, on the other hand, was not a disappointment. It was wonderful. Here's a photo of it and the Millennium Bridge. Yes, yes, another link, but all you need to know is it's a footbridge across the Thames, built for the Millennium, known as the "blade of light" - - but, in true British manner, it wobbled as soon as people started walking across it and had to be closed for a bit and adapted.

As you may remember, I went to London with Silverback and it was his - excellent - idea to visit St Paul's - he'd been there a few times but I never had. I don't really know why not really - I haven't been to London that often: St Paul's was - - well, always there, I could always see it next time - - so, even though I love churches in spite of not being religious, I'd never been there.

The Millennium Bridge gives a great view of the dome as you cross the river towards it, but I'd never seen even a photo of the front entrance, with its huge columns, before. You go through one of those revolving doors which stops every few seconds as someone tries to push it, even though there are signs saying not to. So all that's a bit crowded and takes a while.

And then we went in and it was just gorgeous. Fantastic. It made me stare up in a kind of open-mouthed fish way. Fortunately Silverback is used to that expression from me as I wore it all the time we were in Florida.

There was a sign saying NO PHOTOGRAPHY. Okay, lots of signs. And some very officious attendants telling everyone this.

Well, no FLASH photography I can understand, both from the perspective of it being annoying and from the perspective of it damaging the colours of paint etc. But no photography? To me, there's no logical reason for that and who decided upon this rule anyway? So a sign that says NO PHOTOGRAPHY is just Red Rag to a Daphne, but because of the officious officials my photo's a bit wonky.

Still, if you're in London, I'd strongly recommend a visit and many thanks to Silverback for suggesting it. We had a lovely time in London and oh, yes, I'll be telling you more. Possibly with fewer Wikipedia links.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Interesting Times

My mother rang from Tenby, where she's spending a few days by herself - - and yet she's not really by herself, because she's staying in the hotel where we've stayed every year since I was nine. It's been owned by the same family since then and I know they'll all look after her really well.

"I haven't been in the sea yet," she said. She had, however, been in the open-air pool, twice. The first time she swam twenty lengths but since that went well she did forty the next time. On this doubling ratio she could be across the Atlantic if she stayed a couple of weeks.

Olli and Gareth are having an interesting evening tonight: at midnight they are going to see the new Star Trek film at the Imax Cinema in at the National Media Museum in Bradford. They're also planning an interesting Saturday: they are going to London to a recording of the television quiz QI, (Quite Interesting, if you don't know it - - it's really - - oh, the clue's in the title) with the magnificent Stephen Fry.

Poor Stephen is being left for a couple of days with only Froggie the cat for company, because tomorrow Silverback and I are going to London to see the delightful Helen Kennedy in the comedy News Revue at the Canal Cafe Theatre (9.30pm tomorrow - - every Thursday - Saturday until May 24). Silverback has written about our planned trip on his blog . I really enjoyed our last trip to London and I hope this one will be just as good.

Interesting times, indeed. Perhaps it's Spring at last.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Geriatric Globetrotting

A friend of ours, Adrian Metcalfe, is touring in The Odd Couple and it's coming to the De Valence Pavilion in Tenby, South Wales this week.

The De Valence Pavilion is just what you'd expect from the name, really - a cavernous, atmosphere-free 60s building. But the play will be good. And Tenby, of course, is delightful.

My mother decided to go to see it, and to stay at our favourite hotel in Tenby for a few days - she jaunted off there by herself last November and had a great time so, even though we're all going there in July, she thought she'd do it again.

One of the (few) good things about the British trains is that they have a service called Assisted Travel for those who are old or infirm.

My mother is old, but she isn't infirm. Here she is, striding off in Leeds Station this morning - she's the tiny one with the rucksack and the big case, with her back to the camera. By the time I'd got my camera out for a sneaky shot she was yards away as you can see.

She's taken a walking stick with her just in case she goes for any cliff walks - she doesn't really need it but I'm glad she's taken it. She was delighted that the hotel's open-air pool is ready. I did ask her not to swim in the sea - very cold at this time of year - but there was no way she was going to promise - she loves swimming in the sea. She promised she'd only go in if there were other people in.

However, she's very deaf - a tendency to not wear her hearing aids doesn't help this. "They make everything too loud" she says. After a while, apparently, the wearer's brain gets used to everything being too loud and filters out the stuff that isn't needed - - but in Mum's case, she never wears them for long enough for this to happen.

So she certainly can't hear train announcements, and really, although she can pull that case, she shouldn't be trying to lift it. She doesn't have a mobile, because, since her stroke when she was 68, she can't reliably dial numbers, and also I think she'd find the menus impossible to understand. And there are two changes of train on the way to Tenby, with only a few minutes between them.

But Assisted Travel are great - you tell them where the person travelling will be sitting and they meet them and take them through each change and see them to their seat.

Of course, this being the British railway system, it all went pear-shaped very quickly as one of Mum's trains was cancelled. I couldn't answer my mobile today as I was doing some training, and when I was able to look at it there was a phone message.

"My train was gone," said Mum, who finds talking on the phone a bit tricky since her stroke, "so I'm on a different one. But Noel is looking after me. He's Welsh."

Then Noel took over. "You're Mum's safe and well," he said in a strong, friendly Welsh accent straight from the Wales Tourist Board Accents School, "but one train was cancelled so she's had to come to Cardiff, not Swansea. I'm not sure whether she'll have to change at Carmarthen or Whitland but I'll make sure that we sort it out for her, so please don't worry."

My mother was having problems saying exactly what she wanted, but she sounded very happy. She should be nearly there by now and I think she'll ring me when she arrives. She's very sociable and she loves meeting new people. By now she and Noel will be firm friends: she'll know all about his entire family. The long journey would have been a nightmare to most people. I bet my mother has loved every moment.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Ten Thousand Today I Hope

Today, I hope, I will have the ten thousandth visitor to this blog - - well, at least since Silverback kindly put the counter on it for me last August.

When I began it in 2006 I didn't know whether anyone would read it - I just had a few things to say and wanted to say them. Actually, as it turned out, I had quite a lot to say and I must say I've really been enjoying saying it. I'm very grateful to all those who read it regularly.

Sometimes I get a comment from someone I don't know, and it's clear from what's said that they've read my blog before. I love getting comments: do please leave a comment even if you disagree with something I've written - it's often interesting when you do disagree with me! It makes me think - - and I may even change my mind!

My blog has brought me nothing but good, in all sorts of ways. I love writing it.

Thank you all, and May the Fourth be with you.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

It Could Have Been Me

I once had a poodle called Fluffy
He was white and was often quite scruffy
This verse is all right
Though you could say it's trite
Like the poems of Carol Ann Duffy

May Day Weekend in Studentland

As I drove away from David's house in Headingley yesterday, I suddenly noticed that everyone everywhere was in fancy dress.

Of course, it was the one occasion that I hadn't brought my camera - - but anyway, I was driving along a main road out of Leeds centre, there was lots of traffic and it would have been hard to stop.

As the traffic moved slowly along, I had plenty of time to observe the crowds on either side of the road as they passed me by on their way to the City Centre.

Headingley is the main student area of Leeds. There are two universities: the University of Leeds and the Poly. Well, it used to be the Polytechnic. Then it became Leeds Metropolitan University. Now I think it's gone all cool and is known as Leeds Met. Anyway, two universities - - lots of students. I presume that they were all headed for some kind of May celebrations.

There were many recurring themes in the fancy dress. A lot of doctors and nurses. Quite a few Thunderbirds. A large number of Britney Spears-type schoolgirls. A really rather excessive number of zombies. A number of people who looked quite normal to me - - but then I realised that they were dressed as students from the Seventies - - and I was a student then! That's how students looked in those days.

Then there were quite a few that I just wanted to stop and ask "What have you come as?" What was the orange wig, the bare chest and the bare feet all about?

There did seem to be a number of girls who were dressed as for a Tarts and Vicars party but I didn't see any vicars so you'll have to draw your own conclusions.

Someone, somewhere, is probably even now writing a PhD thesis on "The current obsessions of the late teens/early twenties age group as reflected in the choice of clothing for a Fancy Dress Party."

I didn't see a single astronaut, which makes me rather sad.

Further up Headingley Lane, past the Skyrack and the other pubs, most of the fancy-dressed students were on the left hand side of the road. The right hand side there is all big old Victorian houses and driveways leading up to them.

I looked to the left - - a big crowd of merrymaking students.

I looked to the right - - and, to my surprise, as in a sudden snapshot, I saw a fox. A large dog fox with a blood-covered rabbit in his mouth.

I looked at the fox: he looked at me. He looked at the students. I'm pretty sure he shook his head.

Then he went on his way, and so did I.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

This'll Sort It

This is what we need.

What d'you mean, "What on earth is it?"

It's a panel for controlling the weather, and I found it in the garden centre. Look:

Isn't that comforting? WIND - - OFF! RAIN - - OFF! There should be another one: SUNSHINE - - ON!

I'm going to get one of these! I'll have it on a timer. From, say, April to September I'll just leave Sunshine set to ON. I'll have RAIN set to come on every fourth night, say. That will do nicely. I'm going to set WIND to OFF and stick it that way with an Elastoplast. I don't like wind.

I'll do the occasional request, if people ask me nicely: a bit of snow to look picturesque for Christmas, that kind of thing.

I'm going to have a temperature setting too, of course - - generally eighty-something in Fahrenheit for summer - you can see from the machine above that it's too old to think in Centigrade (like me). If I'm doing a bit of walking or gardening I'll turn it down a bit.

So, you'll be glad to hear that the British weather will be improving very shortly, at least in the Leeds area. Good news, eh?

Friday, May 01, 2009

The Communist Memorial Shed

Once upon a time there was an old greenhouse.

The Communist had for many years enjoyed pottering about in it, and growing tomatoes in it, and starting off his bedding plants in it.

But the greenhouse was now very old, and a bit battered. Since our office looks out onto the garden, I noticed its batteredness every time I glanced through the window.

We didn't need a greenhouse now the Communist is dead.
What we needed was a big brown shed.

(Notice the poetry that has crept in here? Eat your heart out Carol Ann Duffy. How they passed me over for Poet Laureate I just don't know).

For readers who missed the earlier gripping instalments:

Previously on The Communist Memorial Shed:

John came and took the old greenhouse away to a good home, and then put concrete down as the base for the shed:

John is an artist and film-maker and writer and television games designer, but can also do such things as building sheds. His animated plane films, for a start, should be seen and they are here.

Then we ordered a shed. It arrived. And yesterday, John built it.

And finally, here is the finished version.

It looks more like a Proper Shed than any shed has ever looked ever. It smells splendidly woody. Thank you, John.

The Communist would have loved it, and I will always imagine him loving it.

It is the Communist Memorial Shed. He'd have loved that, too.