Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ancient Romes Greatest Hits

Many thanks to Malc for his comment on my previous post where he offered to ship some apostrophes out to this strange Roman keyboard.

I still havent got any though and again am typing fast as Im using up the remains of someone elses hours internet!

Another fantastic day in Rome and we spent most of it in the Colisseum. Wonderful and much better preserved than I was expecting.

We also saw the Trevi Fountain and nearly jumped in as it was so hot! Silverback ended up taking photos for most of the tourists who were there as they saw his camera and reckoned, correctly, that he must know how to take a decent photo.

The police also were queuing up to have their photo taken by him in their uniforms which look more like costumes!

Anyway, another great day and tomorrow we collect our hire car and head North. If I dont post for a while its because they havent invented the internet up there! Tuscany here we come I hope!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Hello from Rome

Just a very quick post as I am using the last of someone elses free internet useage in the hotel and it may run out at any moment!

We have spent all of today in the Vatican and climbed the 320 steps to the Dome of St Peters Basilica in ninety degree heat but it was well worth it for the fantastic views from the top. The Sistine Chapel was worth all the hype too!

Silverback, Stephen and I have taken hundreds of photos between us and Ill post a few of the best ones when I get back.

One more day in Rome and then we head North into Tuscany. What a gorgeous country and thanks to both Silverback and Stephen for being such great company today! And Im sorry that Rome is entirely lacking in apostrophes but I dont have time to check out how to do them on this strange foreign keyboard!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Foreign Parts

Stephen's just come back from a company Do, which was held Somewhere in Scandinavia. There was a meeting in the afternoon and then they had to cook their own Scandinavian tea, and then they were all supposed to run round in the woods looking for clues, in some kind of jolly team-building exercise.

As it was by now pitch dark, they were supposed to wear little torches on bands on their heads.

The little torches were wrapped in plastic and needed scissors to open them and this took some time as they had no scissors.

When the torches were finally opened, they proved to have no batteries and so didn't work.

This cheered me mightily. We in Britain assume that we're a bit rubbish at most things, but that the rest of Europe are good at everything. I expected Scandinavians to be gloomily efficient in a kind of pessimistic Ibsen-type way.

Tomorrow we're off to Italy for two weeks and we'll see what the Italians are like. I remember them as loud, warm and friendly and all ruffling my then-blonde hair and shouting "Bella bambina!" And there were about eighteen hundred lire to the pound or something.

I suspect that things may have changed. We'll see. I'll let you know, when I can. And thanks to all of you for your helpful suggestions about places for us to visit.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Sting

I wasn't really ever going to get round to doing anything about the wasps' nest in the eaves.

Live and let live, I thought, and anyway a wasps' nest is rather beautiful, a little round papery work of art.

Then, you may recall, a few days ago one of the wasps got into the lounge and stung me on my finger. It could have been much worse, as it actually landed on my eyelid and it was only when I put my hand up to find out what was on my eye that it stung me on my hand. But what if it had stung me on my eye, I thought?

And then Olli and Gareth's friend David sent me a message on Facebook pointing out that he's a qualified wasp-wrangler and would come and kill them all for me.

And suddenly, in two days, I'd gone from Live and Let Live to Kill The Little Bastards.

So here's a sight fit to frighten any wasp:

And here's David, up in the eaves, squirting his Very Very Poisonous Powder everywhere.

So now I know what I am. A pacifist and nature-lover.

Well, that's what I am right until the moment when something annoys me and then I'm the North Leeds equivalent of Vlad the Impaler. Goodbye, wasps.

Monday, August 24, 2009

To Italy on Thursday

It seems a long time since we booked the flights, back in April - - and at that time it seemed that it was a long way in the future.

But now the time's getting very near.

On Thursday we're flying to Rome - - that's Silverback, Stephen and me - and we have three days in Rome and will then hire a car to tour round the North of Italy.

I won't be driving, the Italians will be pleased to know. They drive on the wrong side of the road there, and I'd be fine with that right until we got to a roundabout. At which point I just wouldn't have a clue. It tangles my head just thinking about it.

So after Thursday I may not be able to blog for a while - - which will be strange. But then everything will be strange. In a good way, I hope!

The last time I was in Italy I was just eight. Blonde curly hair. Everyone made a huge fuss of me. It probably won't be like that this time.

But there are a many things I remember - - sand too hot to walk on: the view of Florence from the hills above it: climbing up the Leaning Tower of Pisa: everyone trying to give me Tutti Frutti ice-cream, thinking I must like it, when I preferred vanilla: my parents trying to make me speak a bit of Italian to everyone I met, and how embarrassed I was by this: Michelangelo's David: fireflies in the dusk: floating in the warm Mediterranean sea: palm trees.

I'm looking forward to going back.

If you know Italy, and there's a place you think we shouldn't miss, please let us know. We can't guarantee to go there of course, but it would be great to be told about it.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Serious Picnics

Eating outdoors from a picnic hamper, what could be nicer?

Well, eating indoors, actually, if you ask me. I prefer my food not to blow away and my drink not to have flies in it and I prefer to be able to eat without being attacked by wasps.

But many people don't feel like I do about this al fresco eating lark. Many people love it.

Here's the audience for Illyria's excellent production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which I saw last night at Nostell Priory.

There were hundreds of them. And they had all brought picnics of varying degrees of complexity:

Here's a table adjacent to us: they had a white cloth, wine glasses, the lot. In the background you can see Alastair Chisholm, one of the actors in the agency I work for. He was selling programmes before the play started, as was Robert Took. Illyria's actors work incredibly hard - five actors between them played every role in the play, and there are lots of roles in this one!

Here are more happy picnickers, with the stage area in the background:

Some of these picnicking groups had brought candles to accompany their white wine and their little salads. One candle burned so fiercely that the character of Helena added a new Shakespearean line, "Do we need a fire extinguisher?"

Everyone had to bring their own chairs or rugs and I think that the whole shebang showed that the British Wartime Spirit is alive and well. If only it had rained! Then we could have shown what we were made of and stayed to the end in spite of being soaked and frozen.

Me? I had a packet of crisps from the National Trust stall. All National Trust produce is classy and expensive and these were special Posh Crisps hand-grown in Yorkshire from specially selected Yorkshire potatoes, lightly sprinkled with sea salt and made with lots of loving care.

I didn't like them much. I prefer Walker's crisps. And I don't like picnics, especially not posh ones. You can take the woman out of Leeds, but you can't take Leeds out of the woman.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Time Flies

I bought this clock in 1982, from a catalogue one of my teaching colleagues had brought to school. I'd always wanted a clock like this - I've always liked big, plain, railway-clock type clocks. It cost £15 and it has been great - it has never given me any trouble, other than needing its battery to be replaced occasionally.

It has hung on the wall above the television ever since we moved back into this house in 1999. It just shows the time, very accurately. That's all I ask of it. It doesn't do anything else.

And then, last night, quite suddenly, it did.

It was quite late and Stephen had gone to bed so I was alone in the house and just catching up on some Coronation Street before going to bed.

As the end credits began, the clock flew off the wall and landed on its front on the floor. The battery came out and landed next to it.

When I came down from the ceiling, I went over to look at it. The glass hadn't broken and it seemed fine - apart from the battery having come out.

I put the battery back and the clock started going again and has been working fine ever since.

Then I started to try to puzzle out what could possibly have caused it.

The clock was hanging on one of those V-shaped hooks, and the hook hadn't broken.

On the back of the clock is a metal loop to hang a hook, and that hadn't broken either.

So, in order for the clock to come off the hook, it would have had to move upwards and outwards. And it's a heavy clock, made of solid wood and metal.

Now then, okay, my best (and only!) rational explanation is that the battery somehow came out of its casing with a springing action that catapulted the clock upwards and outwards at just the right angle.

And, as Sherlock Holmes once remarked, once you've eliminated all other lines of enquiry, then the remaining solution, no matter how strange, must be the correct one.

Of course, it could have been the Communist, trying to contact me from the Other Side. He never liked Coronation Street and heartily disapproved of me watching it, even though he once played the magistrate who sent a young Steve McDonald to jail.

But if it was him, he'll be mightily annoyed, since he never believed in any kind of Other Side. And I don't think I do either.

But was I spooked? You bet I was.

Happy Saturday from Daphne here at Poltergeist Towers. And thanks to Silverback for giving me the title for this post.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Death to the Nazi Invader

"Miss! MISS! There's a lion in the classroom! MISS!"

Actually, it wasn't a lion, it was a wasp. But judging from the reaction I got from the teenagers whom I used to teach, it might just have well have been a lion. Lots of panic. Lots of flapping about, all designed to create the maximum possible disruption to the lesson.

But me, I'm generally calm with wasps. I either catch them and put them out of the window, or I attack them viciously with a rolled-up magazine, shouting "Death to the Nazi Invader!" This is what the Communist used to shout: I'm not sure why, but it's very cathartic.

Last night, standing in the lounge, I felt something land on my eye. I had no idea what, or where it had come from, but instinctively I immediately reached up to find out what it was. I couldn't work it out - - something furry - - -

Then it stung me, right on the end of my middle finger. Actually, this was a good thing - I had crushed the wasp against my finger, which is why it stung me - but I could equally well have squashed it against my eye, in which case it would have stung my eyelid - -- nooooooo!

It hurt. A LOT. Olli said I missed a glorious opportunity to have a good loud scream, but I think I gasped instead. It hurt so much that for a few moments I couldn't work out what I needed to do about it. Then I remembered that there was some antihistamine cream upstairs (I'm a pharmacist's daughter, of course) and also some antihistamine tablets - - though in my new pain-filled world I found myself wondering whether the ones which don't cause drowsiness would work or not. Stephen meanwhile was looking on t'interclacker for remedies.

I put the cream on and swallowed the tablet. Because I'd been stung right on the end of my finger, all the poison was concentrated and my finger swelled up hugely and impressively. I was intrigued by the fact that the ends of both fingers next to it were hurting too - - clearly they weren't affected, but I think it's just that my brain couldn't work out exactly where the pain was coming from.

I just wandered round saying "OWWWWWWWWW!" for the next few hours until it got a bit better.

I know I have a high pain threshold - I was often told this when I was in hospital. But it really did hurt. It's nearly twenty years since I was last stung by a wasp, and I think I'd forgotten how bad it can be.

I feel lucky though, in a way. If it had stung me on the eye it could have been so very much worse.

Olli and Gareth's friend David is coming on Tuesday to remove the wasps' nest that's in the eaves of our house.

Thus perish all my enemies.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

In the Spermarket

If you type "Supermarket" wrongly, as I just did in the title of this post, you create a new and interesting word with whole possibilities of meaning.

But that's not important right now.

There I was today, in the supermarket known forever to us as Smelly Aisle. Our local Sainsbury's was extensively refurbished a couple of years back and one of the aisles, for several weeks, had the sickening stench of death and decay about it. Nobody ever explained why but I think one of the builders was never seen again.

Today it was Screaming Children Day in Sainsbury's and any parents with children who wanted to scream non-stop whilst running round aimlessly had been invited to bring them to Sainsbury's for the afternoon.

Well, so it seemed, anyway. As I piled my shopping onto the belt and then packed it, two boys aged about six and eight were doing a particularly good job of Aimless Running coupled with Piercing Screaming, with a bit of Bumping Into Customers added for good measure. I feel I should mention, in passing, that they were both wearing Manchester United shirts.

Their parents seemed totally oblivious to all this screaming and running and were just getting on with sorting out their own shopping.

I was almost finished packing, and just getting to the point of letting my Inner Schoolmarm emerge and say something to the parents, when my attention was diverted by my mobile ringing. It was Overly Friendly Cold-Calling Saleswoman. Lovely!

"Hello, Daphne, and may I ask how you are this afternoon?"

"And may I ask why you're calling me?"

"Because you've been specially selected for a make-over and pampering session at - - -"

"Why? What's wrong with me?"


"You think I need a make-over, so something must be wrong with me."

"Errrrr - - "

"Actually, the thought of a session like that fills me with more horror than I believe you can begin to imagine. Goodbye."

(It's true. I can't bear the thought. I may indeed need a makeover but I sure as hell am never going to have one.)

By now the Screaming Boys had gone, so at least the phone call diverted me from them.

This is just advance warning really, that when I'm In Charge all cold-calling will be banned, and anyone caught doing it will be cold-called by jolly salespeople, every hour, on the hour, day and night for a month. And any parents who permit their children to scream in supermarkets will be locked in a room with the sound of this screaming, piped at maximum volume, for as long as I see fit.

Thank you for listening. I feel a bit better now.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

In the Sunshine

After my grumbles of yesterday the sun finally shone today. So my mother, who is eighty-five, had a little snooze in the sunshine.

She decided to sit by the shed to wait for the man to arrive.

What man?

Well, she didn't know. A man had rung, apparently, and said he was coming round today for some purpose. She couldn't hear a word he said so had given him my mobile number but he didn't ring it.

Anyway, he never did arrive so the Strange Man and his Strange Purpose remain a mystery.

Most eighty-five-year-olds wouldn't sit on the ground like that but my mother's quite happy that way. She only slept for about twenty minutes and then was back to her usual business, working in the garden.

Her deafness is becoming a real problem - it isolates her, and she's very sociable. She's astonishingly fit, physically - - but she just can't hear. Part of the problem is that she won't wear her hearing aids very often - she always talks as though the hearing-aid designer did it just to annoy her. "They make everything too loud."

Of course, the idea is that if you wear them for long enough, your brain screens out the extraneous noise - - but my mother's having none of it. She puts them in for five minutes or so and then I have to go back to yelling.

I find it exhausting, especially when I just can't find her in the house or garden and I have to go round everywhere shouting my head off.

" - - - Ah, there you are. I've been looking for you for twenty minutes."

"Oh, did you call? I didn't hear you."

"No, Mum, but then you wouldn't, would you?"


We have endless conversations like this. My mother doesn't like being eighty-five, and I don't blame her. It is, of course, better than the alternative, which is being dead - - but her preferred alternative is to be twenty-five again. Again, I don't blame her. But it can be hard to deal with sometimes.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Winter Light

It's not been much of a summer. Sometimes it's hard to remember it's summer at all. There's been the occasional sunnyish day, but - apart from a few days in June - no prolonged period of days when you wake up knowing that it will be gloriously sunny for what seems like ever and ever.

I remember one of those days, years ago, when I woke to a clear blue sky and the sound of a baby dragon flying across it, with heavy breathing - - pshhhh - - pshhhh. I looked up and there was a striped hot-air balloon gliding gently across a blue, translucent sky. I knew that it would be one of those long, sunny days that seem to last forever.

But it is summer - even though, when I finally got round to trying to buy some summer clothes this week, the shops all seem to think it's autumn.

And it's hard to imagine that our front garden ever looked like this:

And it's even harder to imagine the winter light. Here's my favourite sunrise of last winter: January 14th, at Walton Hall near Wakefield:

And here, again at Walton Hall, is a gardener in the early-morning light:

I love that winter light - - but I prefer the summer light. When we get it.
I do hope we have some more of it, before winter comes again.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Lost in Translation

The first time we went on holiday to Italy, which was when I was five-nearly-six, I was curious about whether Italian children had story books too. This was a subject dear to my heart as I loved stories.

"Oh yes, they do," said my mother.

I wondered whether I would be able to read their story books.

"So are the stories written down just like ours?" I asked.

"Yes, they're written down in just the same way that ours are," said my mother.

She thought I was asking if they used the same alphabet. I wasn't. I was asking if I would be able to read them. I assumed that, although their funny language might sound different, all would be calm and safety once it was written down, because I would then be able to understand it.

It was a big disappointment when I discovered that the selfish Italians chose to write their children's books in Italian.

So, that was in early July 1962, and I know, because we were there for my sixth birthday, in Laigueglia.

And now I'll jump forward in time to yesterday evening.

"How will you find your way round in Italy?" asked my mother.

"We've got a map, of course, and we're taking a satnav," I said "with the Italian maps in it. So when we're in the car, it will give us directions, just like it does here."

My mother looked puzzled.

"But will you be able to translate it fast enough?"


"Well, if you're in Italy, won't the satnav come out in Italian?"

And d'you know what, for a moment there I found myself wondering about it.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Miss Scary, Miss Evil, and a Lost World of Embroidery

I don't do sewing these days. It's not that I can't, you understand - it's just that I don't. I can take up the hems of trousers to make them shorter, if the occasion demands. I can sew on a button, properly, so that it doesn't come off again.

But I'd never sew for pleasure, and I'm sure that a lot of that is due to how we were taught sewing at school.

There were two Domestic Science teachers at the Girls' Grammar School that I went to and they were called Miss Scary and Miss Evil.

In a sort of minor twist on getting the criminal to build his own scaffold, the first thing that Miss Scary got us to make was our cookery apron, to be used in the Terrifying Cookery Classes run by Miss Evil.

The apron was made of cotton, large and white with lots of straps and loops and it had to have a front facing in House Colours all neatly sewn on. The Houses were Stuart, Tudor, Plantagenet and Windsor. I was in Stuart, which was yellow. So a yellow gingham facing. Our summer dresses were gingham too, in house colours. Strangely, I retain a sneaking affection for gingham to this day, which slightly worries me.

Once you'd got to grips with the treadle sewing machine, and spent weeks doing hems on all the straps and loops, and sewn on the facing crooked and taken it off again and sewn it on again straight, then you had to use it for the subsequent cookery lessons with Miss Evil.

You had to turn up with it, neatly washed and ironed, every week and woe betide you if you ever forgot the blasted thing. Detention, lines, and if you were really considered criminal, an Order Mark.

I don't know what happened if you amassed enough Order Marks - - ritual humiliation in front of the whole school, I expect, because that was the kind of thing they went in for.

I never found out. I never got an Order Mark and I never forgot my cookery apron. Firstly, because I have a good memory and I had enough sense to use it for self-preservation, and secondly, because even in those days I had learned to generate a spurious air of Respectability and a good front of appearing to be doing whatever I was supposed to be doing, whilst reading Jackie - beloved teen mag - under the desk.

In those days it was expected that everyone could sew. For P.E. (ie Physical Education), we had to wear a polo shirt in our House Colours - yes, yellow, in my case - with your name embroidered on the front in chain stitch. It was just expected that you would turn up with this done - - because it was expected that you'd have a nice middle-class mummy at home who would embroider your PE kit, and who would wash and iron your Important Cookery Apron.

In my case, I was fine with all this nonsense - didn't agree with it, but I could cope with it. I found school annoying in many ways, and even in those days I disliked many aspects of it: but on the surface, which was what mattered on a day-to-day basis, I fitted in with it fine as I was a natural grammar-school swot from a reasonably well-off family, and I lived just a ten-minute walk away.

And, of course, the sense of order was comforting. This was how things were done at this Girls' Grammar School. This was how they had always been done, and how they always would be done. It was all carried out with supreme confidence by a staff of Educated Ladies.

But now to my darker point. This was not a private fee-paying school - it was a state grammar school. To get in there, all you had to do was apply and then pass your eleven-plus examination. So, theoretically, any girl could go there if they did just that.

But, in practice, things didn't quite work that way. I remember Brenda Johnson. Johnson was not her real name - though I remember that too - but her name was indeed Brenda.

She was there in my first year at the school, when we were eleven. She came from a big family in working-class Harehills: the rest of us lived in more middle-class parts of the city. Her parents had sent her to the school - - but didn't have enough money or resources to provide many of the uniform items. She lived in a house that lacked a washing machine and an iron.

So she didn't have a polo shirt in House colours with her name embroidered on the front.

Rather than wondering why this should be, and then making further enquiries, and perhaps even - heaven forbid! trying to help - the staff just gave her hell about it, week after week. Why did she not have the correct PE kit? Detention! Lines! Order Mark! Firing Squad!

Eventually, Brenda could stand it no more and, in a most cack-handed bid to solve the problem, she stole someone else's polo shirt from the changing rooms.

It was the right colour - - but, of course, it had someone else's name on the front.

What could be done? In desperation, Brenda tried to take out the embroidery with a pair of nail scissors.

Of course, she was caught. Who knows what her punishment was? Detention for the rest of the term, probably.

She left at the end of that first year. I never found out what became of her, though I have never forgotten her and the unjustness of how she was treated.

Ahh, the old grammar-school system. Many mourn its passing. How well it worked. What an excellent education. What glorious opportunities it gave.

In the case of the one I went to, though, there was one proviso. You had to be middle-class.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

North by Northwest in the Food Cupboard

Thanks to Silverback, I am catching up fast with my film viewing.

I've got up to a mere fifty years ago now. Last night we watched Hitchcock's North By Northwest (1959) and a splendid film it was too, with a witty script and excellent acting.

Cary Grant! Eva Marie Saint! James Mason! I knew that James Mason was British - from our very own Yorkshire in fact - but I didn't know that Cary Grant was British too - from Bristol.

I was also surprised to find out how old the two leading actors were. Eva Marie Saint, playing the twenty-six-year-old Eve Kendall, was thirty-five. Cary Grant, playing the suave leading man, was a very well-preserved fifty-five.

To me, one of the delights of it was all the Fifties decor and clothes. That's what I remember from when I was a very small child (VERY small, I tell you!) Many things in Britain then still had a wartime drabness but the new buildings and new decor - such as were featured in this film - filled me with that late-Fifties war's-over hope- for-the-future feeling which I remember from the atmosphere of the time.

At one point the heroine was wearing a lovely red dress with what I used to call a "sticky-out skirt". As a small child I longed to be old enough to wear one. Of course, by the time I was, they were out of fashion and had been replaced by straight, short Sixties mini-skirts. Shame!

Our house is Victorian, built in 1896. The year we moved in here, however, was 1959, the year of North by Northwest. Sadly my parents, in that looking-to-the-future late-fifties way, took out all the original Victorian features and replaced them with Fifties fittings.

Most are now gone and replaced with - - well, I'm not quite sure what. White walls, mostly, which I like.

But a couple of days ago I cleaned out the kitchen food cupboard. Took absolutely everything out and washed all the shelves and everything.

And there, on the floor of the cupboard, remains one last little blast from 1959.

The linoleum, or "lino" as we called it - always synonymous with the Fifties in my memory. The whole kitchen floor used to be covered in it but now there's just this bit left. One tiny little bit remaining of the lost land of 1959. It's old, it's worn - - but I'm keeping it.

Friday, August 14, 2009

What the Romans Did Wrong

The Romans gave me a lot of hard work all through secondary school. We did a lot of Latin under the ferocious instruction of Miss Rose, and I learned it well, because it was that or wither under Miss Rose's Steely Glare. I did my fair share of daydreaming and staring out of the window, granted, but in the end there was no avoiding it, you had to get Latin into your head.

So if you ever need someone to tell you the first person, (present tense), present infinitive, perfect and supine tenses of the verb amare, to love, then I am your woman.
Amo, amare, amavi, amatum. Since you ask.

Most people don't ask. But in those far-off days we all had to do Latin because you needed Latin O-level to get into university. Though, admittedly, they abolished this requirement soon after I'd done it.

Anyway, now I'm trying to turn my long-ago Latin into modern Italian and I'm finding out where the Romans went wrong.

A lot of it's like Latin, of course. But some words are just there to trip you up.

Chiamare, to call. Chiamo, I call.

Partire, to leave. Parto, I leave.

Andare, to go. So, what should I go be? Ando, yes, you're right. And is it? Is it heckers like, as they say round here. No! It's Vado. And you go is Va. And he, she or it goes is also Va.

So what's all this Vado and Va stuff? What's that about?

Well, of course, it comes from the same root as the word INVADE.

In their little wine-sozzled Roman heads, going and invading were actually much the same thing. "Let's go to England on holiday, shall we, Claudius?" turned into "Let's invade England, shall we, Claudius?"

And there we have it. That's the whole Roman Empire explained in one short blog post.

If the first person, present tense of the word "to go" in Latin instead came from a word that meant "go and do a bit of exploring, be friendly to the natives and buy a couple of T-shirts, some local honey and a pottery Britannia from the tourist shops" then the whole course of history would have been different.

I expect we'd still be covered in woad and we wouldn't have underfloor heating, but I think that's a price we'd have been prepared to pay.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Get Off My Feet

From time to time some friend of a friend looms out of the darkness and offers to do things to my feet.

"I'm a reflexologist. Would you like me to work on your feet?"

"No, thank you."

I don't actually mean "No, thank you."

I actually mean "If you come anywhere near my feet, I may kill you."

The idea of someone messing about with my feet fills me with - - well, it's hard to explain what. Except the desire to kill them, swiftly.

Other women seem to pay their feet more attention than I do to mine. They attack them with pumice stones or Vim or suchlike. They varnish their toe nails. They wear strappy sandals that show off these elegantly painted toe nails. They wear expensive high heeled shoes to draw attention to their feet and to make themselves look tall and elegant.

I have an arrangement with my feet. I don't bother them, and they don't bother me. I keep them clean and that's it. I have never in my life varnished my toe nails and I won't be starting any time soon. My feet get hidden in trainers, mostly, and sometimes in walking boots, and very occasionally in a pair of smart shoes if I'm going to a smart-shoes kind of occasion. I wore some very nice smart shoes for Olli and Gareth's wedding. Haven't worn them since, mind.

Not that there is anything wrong with my feet - their untroubled life means that they are pretty well unblemished. They are a size 6, which is on the large side, but that is because my father's feet were size elevens. I have mentioned before that when he worked as a coal miner during the War, he had the biggest pair of boots on the Yorkshire coalfield. Luckily, my Mum's tiny size two-and-a-halfs evened my feet out so they are fairly large, but not too large.

Because I've never squashed my feet into stilettos or such, they don't have bunions and they aren't a strange shape like some people's feet. Sometimes I see women of my age and their feet are shoe-shaped because of having been squashed up for years.

It's not that I'm proud of all this, really. I would quite like to have the ability to look good in high heels - - but I'd just look as if I was about to fall over. Which would, indeed, be the case.

Because I'm diabetic, I have to keep a special eye on my feet. Diabetes coats every bit of you in too much sugar - - and it can get deposited in your feet, and never get out, and the circulation to your feet can get very poor, and you can get ulcers which don't heal, and this can lead to you having your leg amputated. As did, indeed, happen to the Communist.

But keeping an eye on them is as far as it goes. I'm not going to start mollycoddling them now, they're not used to it. Every year I have them checked to see if the pulses in them are good, and touch wood they always have been, so that means that my circulation is working well.

Ironically, my inability to wear fashionable shoes has probably done me good in the long-term. I don't know why I don't like my feet, really. I should be nicer to them as I find them very useful, and I do tend to take them for granted.

But I still don't like them: I feel that they're a long way from the rest of me, and not quite part of me.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Too Much Excitement In Italy

My friend is in Italy and his debit card is broken. Thee is a problem with its magnetic strip.

He doesn't have a credit card or any other means of getting money out.

He has plenty of money in his account - - he just can't get at it.

He rang me to tell me this interesting problem.

So I rang the NatWest and explained. A perfectly pleasant girl said that what they can do is - - well - - nothing at all. I explained that he is in Italy for another week and is the proud possessor of twenty euros. Oh dear, that's a real shame, was the reply.

You would think that they might have a reciprocal arrangement with an Italian bank, but no such luck - - we must never forget that banks are there to help banks, not customers.

So I tried to send him some money via Western Union. This is a service where - - for a fat fee - - you can transfer money to any Western Union branch and the person can collect it by quoting a code number and showing their passport.

I tried to use my Co-operative Bank credit card and it was declined. I knew that all was in order with it and that there was nothing at all owing on it, so I couldn't understand this. I used my Halifax card and it was accepted.

The Western Union is entirely staffed by jolly Irish ladies and I spoke to three of them. They gave me two Western Union branches situated only ten or eleven miles from The Middle Of Nowhere, Northern Italy, where my friend is currently marooned.

Then the Co-operative Bank rang me, wanting to speak to my husband, because banks think it's still about the year 1903.

"Aha! Good," I said, "actually I want to speak to YOU! Why did you decline my card on the one occasion that I was trying to use it for something really important? Explain this to me, please!"

"I'm sorry, Dave, I can't do that," said Co-op Woman. "Computer says no".

Actually she explained that she couldn't tell me why because the card is in my husband's name, even though I have a card on the account, and I shouldn't worry my little head about such things and should go back to the hoovering.

Well, not exactly that. But could he ring her, please?

He did. Apparently there has been a lot of fraud going on with Western Union today in particular, and hence the Co-op Bank had blocked all payments to them. Sorry for the inconvenience, and all that. Shame it was the one day in your whole life that you'd ever tried to use Western Union.

My friend, who, don't forget, has very little money, travelled the ten miles to the first Western Union branch that they had suggested. I had looked it up on the very handy Google Maps and given him directions, as fast as I could because of course phone calls cost a fortune - - and also the electricity is not working in the cottage where he's staying, so there isn't much charge left on his phone.

When he got to the Western Union branch, it was closed. Not closed as in closed for lunch, but closed as in closed down.

Someone gave him directions to the other branch. They told him it wasn't far - - but assumed he was in a car. He wasn't. He doesn't drive.

So he arrived triumphantly at the other branch two minutes after it had closed for the day, and then had to travel the ten miles back to the electricity-free cottage.

He will try again tomorrow.

It's easy to travel abroad these days, with all the modern technology. Until it goes wrong. Then you're stuffed.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Upside-Down Fish

I have looked after many creatures in my time, from George, the crow who had lost his tail, to tortoises - - terrapins - - a budgerigar - - Chinese Pekin Robins - - a poodle - - catfish - - cats - - squillions of tadpoles - - - lots and lots of other animals. At the moment I have custody of Olli and Gareth's gecko, plus the crickets and waxworms that it eats, plus the five Giant African Land Snails which were a wedding present to Olli and Gareth (yes, I know, most people get a tea set and some towels). And there's our cat Froggie, and sometimes Olli and Gareth's cat Wendy. And at the moment I'm looking after my friend Jo's two little rabbits.

Throughout my life I've acquired lots of animals to look after. The strangest, perhaps, were the upside-down goldfish.

They were fantail goldfish, which I acquired in the late 1960s from Amy's daughter Lynda, who then worked in Biology at Leeds University.

"Could you look after some spare goldfish?" she asked. "And, by the way, they're upside down."

They were indeed. They'd been overbred to have too many frilly bits on their fins. They had something wrong with their swim bladders, I think, and had turned upside down and stayed that way.

They stayed that way for months. Years. They were a talking point. I was the only Daphne in the school, and certainly the only Daphne with upside-down goldfish.

I quite enjoyed showing them to people, and watching the people's reactions.

The golfish didn't seem to be suffering. They swam around cheerily in their tank, doing everything that fish do, only upside down.

I've heard that goldfish only have a memory for the past two seconds and this has always worried me slightly in case they spend their entire lives thinking "Now what was I - - ? - - - Now what was I - - ? - - - Now what was I - - ?"

So it is a slight concern to me that these upside-down ones may have spent their lives thinking "Am I the wrong way - - ? Am I the wrong way - - ? Am I the wrong way - - ?"

When it's your own childhood, you don't think it's strange, do you? So I took the upside-down fish for granted. Actually, I suspect that large chunks of my life are pretty strange these days, too, by other people's standards. Only I don't notice, because I'm used to it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

At the Airport Ticket Barrier

I mentioned a few weeks ago how Leeds-Bradford International Airport had put into place a new parking system, where you only got five minutes to drop off your passengers before the airport started charging you for the privilege.

So you had to speed in through the barrier (taking a ticket as you revved the engine) screech up to the drop-off point, open the car door, push your eighty-five year old mother out onto the tarmac, throw her case after her and zoom off to the barrier, weaving in and out of any slower cars on the way, to get there at about four minutes fifty seconds, giving you just time to stick your ticket in the machine so it would let you out without charging.

After a week or two of squashed suitcases, crushed cars and mangled corpses they graciously extended the time to ten minutes and I for one admire their thoughtfulness and generosity.

They haven't changed the barrier on the way out though.

Now, I admit it, I am short. Five feet four. Little short legs. Crucially, little short arms.

On the way out of many car parks, there is a machine that you have to put your ticket into, in order to raise the barrier.

Now then. Because I am short, when I am sitting in the car, I can never reach it.

The machine at Leeds-Bradford International Airport is higher than most. In fact, the top of it is usually hidden by clouds. Eagles circle round it. The maintenance engineers who come to mend it need to use oxygen.

So I can't reach it from the car, okay?

I drew up to the barrier today, having dropped my brother off for his trip back to Amsterdam, and I couldn't reach it. So I tried to open the car door to get out, but the lane is too narrow for such things. So I stretched up as high as I possibly could, nearly climbing out of the window, and just managed to put the ticket in the slot.

Then a gust of wind caught the ticket, and it blew away.

So I signalled to all the cars behind me to move back, and then I backed out carefully and with incredible slowness - - the kind of slowness that only a woman driver with years of practice in Incredibly Annoying Slow Manoeuvring can accomplish - - and I parked the car nearby and started looking for my ticket.

And I found it in some nearby undergrowth! It had to be mine, since you can't get out without a ticket. So I joined the queue of cars, and when they'd all got through the barrier I got into the line again, and I left my car just a little bit back from the barrier so I could get out and walk to the machine, and I put my ticket in the slot and it said - - that'll be £96 please.

So I realised that this was not in fact my ticket - - it was some other vertically-challenged person's blown-away ticket. So I repeated the whole telling-the-queue-behind-me-to-back thing, and parked the car nearby, and watched in shame as the driver behind me - who had not understood my Don't Use This Barrier frantic waving - tried to get out of the car park, and found that it was asking him for £96, and called the Machine Man, who was mystified but let him out.

And then I found my ticket on the ground - - and this time surely it HAD to be mine! - - so I tried this ticket - - and it asked me for £96, please, AGAIN, because lo! it was not my ticket.

So I signalled to all the cars behind me to move back - - and I backed out carefully and with incredible slowness - - - oh, look, I think you've got the picture - - . And then I looked a bit more carefully and found four more blown-away tickets in the nearby undergrowth. And this time, the driver behind me had more sense and used the other barrier. And now Leeds-Bradford International Airport only had one working barrier, and a queue was building up nicely.

So then I drove up to the first barrier, and called Machine Man over.

"My ticket has blown away," I explained dramatically, "because I am too short to reach your machine! So I cannot leave the car park. I have found a ticket, but it is the wrong one, and your very high machine is trying to charge me £96, which I do not plan to pay."

He looked at me blankly.

"Well, you need to go up to the terminal building - - "

"Perhaps," I said sweetly, "but if I do then my ten minutes will have expired and they will try to charge me, and it is not my fault, because the ticket machine is too high. Look, a Jumbo Jet has just swerved to miss the top of it."

He looked at me blankly.

"And, further," I said, "I have four more tickets and one of them might just be mine. Shall I try them, one after the other?"

He opened the barrier and let me out.

On the plus side, if the CCTV footage ever makes it onto Youtube I expect that many people will find it most entertaining.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Piel de Sapo

I've never found a melon that I don't like. Honeydew melons, watermelons, Galia melons - - I like them all. I'd find it a tricky choice to choose a favourite. Delicious and full of vitamins.

But recently a new kind of melon has graced the fruit shops of Leeds. Okay, it's not new at all - - but it's new to me.

A Piel de Sapo melon. This one actually didn't come from a fruit shop: it came from Costco when Silverback kindly took me there t'other day. It was oval - - like a green, blotchy and rough rugby ball.

Here's how it looked once we'd cut it open:

It was absolutely delicious: one of the best melons I've ever eaten and I'll certainly buy them again. I don't remember seeing these in the local shops here prior to this summer. I like just about all fruit so I think I would have spotted it - - I wonder why they haven't been here before?

Piel de Sapo - - ah, it has a romantic Spanish sound to it - - - hot summer days - - beaches - -

It means Toad Skin.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Who are the Beatles?

It was forty years ago today that the famous album cover for the Beatles' last album Abbey Road was shot.

There's a link to a BBC article about it here.

There wasn't even any writing on the cover to say it was by the Beatles - - in those days they were so famous that there didn't need to be, though there was that story about the magistrate who famously asked "Who are the Beatles?" in a trial - - though I'm not sure if it's a true story or one of those granny-in-the-boot urban myths.

Even the Communist had heard of them, though he didn't like their music, even though he hadn't heard it, because he didn't like any pop music, on principal really.

But the times could be a-changing. Yesterday a casting breakdown came into our office for a play about the Beatles. (A casting breakdown tells you the roles for which a director needs to find actors, so that an agent can suggest suitable actors).

On the breakdown it lists various people including the following:

Paul McCartney - a member of the Beatles

George Harrison - a member of the Beatles

John Lennon - a member of the Beatles

Ringo Starr - a member of the Beatles

Have you ever, ever seen their names listed with an explanation before?

No, I haven't either. I feel old suddenly.

Hanging Around at the Back

A couple of days ago I wrote on this blog about a verse which I dreamed, and then wrote down as soon as I woke up, before it drifted away from me for ever.

I mentioned then that this has happened to me quite a few times. I've written about it before, back in May 2006, but since some of you (thank you!) seemed intrigued by my dream verses, I thought I'd mention again the longest verse that I've ever dreamed - - or at least, the longest one I have remembered after waking up.

I dreamed that I was in a cinema and woke up with this in my head:

Always I had the feeling
Of hanging around at the back
Of standing behind the others
Always I felt the lack
Now I am moving forwards
Sidling down the side
The aisle is rather narrow
And I am rather wide
But what will I do in the morning
When I finally reach the front?
A realisation is dawning
I don't really know, to be blunt.

It's probably twenty years since this dream verse came to me and it's been in my head ever since. I have to say that it perfectly encapsulates the feeling I've always had that I'm somehow missing something, somehow less streetwise than others, somehow awkward, somehow failing in some unspecified way.

But the verse is quite positive in some ways - - there I am, moving forward - - "sidling down the side". As a matter of fact, I rather like that line - - I wish I'd written it! Of course, in a way, I did. I've tried from time to time to see if I've unconsciously copied it from anywhere. I've just Googled it again and can only find three hits - one of which is when I first posted it to my blog.

Of course, having found the original blog post with this verse, I read a few of the other posts from that time, with their jolly reminiscences of the Communist's idiosyncratic driving "THERE'S A CAR ON MY TAIL! THERE'S A CAR ON MY TAIL!"

I'm glad I wrote about them, whilst they were still so fresh in my mind, and before he became really ill. I think I was generally rather chirpier in those days than I am now. I'm so glad that I started this blog back in 2006, and I'm always very grateful to those who have helped me during the tough times of the last couple of years.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Thespian Tendencies

I've never wanted to act in a play. I don't like being on show in that way and learning lines makes me nervous. I have found myself on stage on many occasions, however, often wondering how I got into this.

I do a lot of roleplay to help to train and to assess doctors, nurses etc, which is acting a role, though improvised, and I'm totally in my comfort zone with that - I can improvise easily as I've had a lot of practice and - - er - - I'm never at a loss for words! (That's politespeak for Never Shuts Up). But I can improvise in character, and stay that way, I know that. I was asked today if I'd ever come out of character. I'm not confident about many things but to this I could answer, with confidence, no, never.

Being on a stage, however, saying lines that you've learned - - no, that doesn't appeal to me at all, apart from being able to time a line to make it funny - I enjoy doing that.

This evening I was at a showcase run by one of Leeds' best amateur theatre groups. They were trying out some new amateur directors.

The evening was a huge success. It was packed, and the standard of acting and directing was very high. I was there because I'd gone to see a young actress who has applied to the agency I work for. Normally I'd tell professionals to avoid working with amateurs as casting directors ignore any amateur work totally.

However, this girl was excellent and had worked out that this piece would demonstrate her skills very well, and it did.

All the company knew each other, of course, and they were a friendly bunch, all working together and willing their actors to do well.

I was very involved with an amateur drama workshop group for a number of years, and I loved it. I wrote several of their Christmas children's shows and enjoyed that too. One year I wrote a very complicated song for one character, with very tricky words. The woman who was playing the role got flu and I had to do it - - it served me right, perhaps!

But I was always happiest working backstage, stage managing, making the tea, sweeping the stage, working a follow spot and generally doing anything that needed doing. Seeing the drama group today reminded me of those times.

I didn't want to go back to those days, though. It made me realise that my areas of interest have changed slightly. These days I enjoy trying to get auditions and jobs for the actors I work with, and I also enjoy doing the medical roleplay. I enjoy watching plays, but I don't really want to get involved in putting them on. And even with watching plays - - well, I've seen so many that I'm very choosy.

In many ways, I don't think I have changed much over the years. But in this, I think I have.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Dreaming Again

I think I've said before that sometimes I dream little verses, and wake up with them fully formed in my head.

I don't know why my subconscious mind puts things in verse. Why can't it put them in great poetry, or sublime oil paintings? I am a bit embarrassed about the whole thing really.

But I woke up this morning at half past six with this:

When I am old, and you are dead
I shall not care what things are said
I shall not care what things are done
I shall not care for anyone.

I wasn't thinking of any person in particular, or any particular event: I just had a rather gloomy feeling about the passage of time.

Oh well, at least it was only one short verse. If they get any longer, or more frequent, I think I'll just be keeping quiet about it in case the men in white coats come calling.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Full Circle

In July 1962 we were waiting at Nice Airport in the South of France for a connecting flight to Italy.

Three cups of coffee, for The Communist, my mother and me, cost an astonishing ten shillings (that's fifty pence for any youngsters who don't understand proper money.) I don't think The Communist ever got over it.

But, for the first time in my life, I was allowed to choose a book from the bookshop.

I had learned to read early - my choice! - and at five-about-to-be-six, I loved reading.

The book I chose was The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

I read it over and over. Antoine de Saint-Exupery was a French pilot during the war - eventually he went missing in action. But The Little Prince is based on an experience he had when he crashed in the Sahara Desert and nearly died from dehydration. In the book, a pilot crashes in the desert and is visited by a little prince, who lives on an asteroid but happens to be visiting Earth.

The little prince tells the pilot all about his home asteroid, and about other planets he has visited.

It's a simply told and beautifully illustrated children's story - - - which is also an allegory about human nature. Funny, too, and sad.

I think it kindled my interest in space, my love of sunsets and my desire to ask a lot of questions.

"Then where's my sunset?" asked the little prince, who never let go of a question once he had asked it.

I was told, often, as a child, that I was like that. And - - erm - - I probably still am.

Some years later, I was studying French for A-level, and one of the books we were given to study was The Little Prince in its original French.

Well, I knew every word of it in the English translation, of course, which helped mightily with reading it in French, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I went to Italy three times as a child - three fortnights - and I had my sixth birthday, my seventh birthday and my eighth birthday there.

I haven't been back since - - but as I may have mentioned no more than a couple of dozen times on this blog, we're going there in just over three weeks, and I've been re-learning Italian. (I did a year at university, and loved it, and have never been to Italy since - absolutely bonkers!)

I still have my old copy of The Little Prince, though it's very battered now. I bought a new one a few years ago - it's so well-loved that it's always in print and crops up all over the place, such as the reference in this comic strip.

For my birthday a few weeks ago, Olli bought me a copy of The Little Prince - - in Italian, for me to practise my Italian. Il Piccolo Principe.

So, in a few weeks, I'll be taking The Little Prince to Italy. Again.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Twenty Years Ago - The Arrival

Twenty years ago today, on 3rd August 1989, something arrived that we had been expecting.

It was a huge parcel, and inside were two bedside cabinets that we'd ordered by mail order from a catalogue. They were woven wickerwork and weren't very expensive, because we suspected we wouldn't have much money for a while. But we thought they'd do until we could afford better ones.

Of course, we never did get more expensive ones and are still using them today: here's mine:

Stephen unpacked them all, because I was the size of Mars at that time and couldn't move about easily.

And then he put them each side of the bed, and went downstairs.

So I thought I'd put some books and things on them, and bent down to put them in the cupboard at the bottom.

And then my waters broke.

"Er - - Stephen - - could you come here a minute?"

Stephen came and looked at the now very wet bedroom, and started rushing round collecting things together.

I was strangely calm.

I rang the hospital.

"I'm pregnant and my waters have just broken."

"Right," she said, "and can you get to the hospital yourself? Are you full term? Has it been a straightforward pregnancy?"

"Well - - no. My previous baby was born at twenty-six weeks and died, because I have a condition called incompetent cervix, and so this baby's been sewn in with a Shirodkar suture. So I've spent a lot of time in hospital. Oh, and I've had a deep-vein thrombosis in the past, after my last pregnancy, and then a pulmonary embolism. And I don't feel proper labour pains because there's something wrong with my womb because my mother was given a drug called Stilboestrol when she was pregnant with me. Oh yes, and the baby's lying sideways. Because of all this, I've been told I'll probably need a Caesarian section."

I could her her voice beginning to falter.

"Sideways? Are you sure?"

"Yes, because I have a broad back, and they told me the baby's sideways because of that. There's a lot of room."

There was a very, very long pause.

"We'll send an ambulance straight away."

I had an emergency Caesarian section.

Happy Birthday, Olli.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Platts' Doorbell

Many people are snobby about soaps. "Oh, I never watch soaps," they say in the tones of "Oh I never do that terribly inferior thing, you low-class person".

Actors in soaps aren't always given a lot of status either. If you play Hamlet or Macbeth, and do it well, everyone admires you and you might get a BAFTA and, after some time, a knighthood.

On the other hand, if you're in a soap, until fairly recently (with the advent of the British Soap Awards) you were given no plaudits whatever.

It's true that some actors in soaps - particularly in the Seventies - were cast to type - in other words, to play someone very similar to how they are in real life. But even that's not easy to do when there are lines to remember and you have to remember what props to use when and where to walk to, and you're filming many scenes a day.

Many soap actors - especially those in major roles - are cast, these days, as actors who can play a role very different from themselves. We Corrie (that's Coronation Street) fans all loved John Savident as Fred Elliott in Coronation Street and it was hard, for those who hadn't seen him previously, to imagine him without the strong Lancashire accent and the tendency to repeat everything, I say it was hard to imagine him without the strong Lancashire accent and the tendency to repeat everything. But he's an experienced actor with a cut-glass Standard English accent and an incredibly long cv in both screen and theatre - and that, of course, was why he was so good!

Some soap scripts are terrific. They have a pool of writers, of course, and when you get a good one, such as Jonathan Harvey , sometimes the scripts are so well-written and witty that I look to see who the writer is.

Sometimes, however, there's a pedestrian, limp script from a writer who's having an off-day and then it's up to soap actors to save it and bring it to life - and I really admire them when they do.

So I've never thought it fair that an actor with the Royal Shakespeare Company, playing a character written by Shakespeare - who really did know how to write!! - with five weeks' rehearsal and a top director, gets all the awards, when a soap actor, filming many scenes in a day and then going home to learn the scripts for the next day, doesn't.

Yes, the "regulars" in soaps are well-paid - - and yes, it's not eight hours at the coal face and in general they enjoy their work - but even so, it is hard work and I find it hard to understand people who think that it's not - they have never tried it, of course!

In Britain there are three big soaps - Coronation Street, EastEnders and Emmerdale.

Coronation Street, set Up North in the fictional Weatherfield near Manchester, is the best, (yes, I know, that's just my opinion but it's my blog!) because it has a lot of great comedy and can also do the dramatic scenes, and it has some superb actors (and one or two duff ones, as with all soaps!). Actors know this and they all want to get into Coronation Street - even one of Britain's greats, Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings films) was in Coronation Street for a while a year or too back - simply because he wanted to be.

I used to love EastEnders - set in the East End of London - when it first started in 1985, but I stopped watching when it increased the number of episodes and became progressively more gloomy at the same time. I haven't watched it for years but I know many people love it.

Emmerdale is a strange half-way house - set in the Yorkshire Dales, it used to be called Emmerdale Farm and to be all about farming and the countryside. Now it's hardly about farming at all - just occasionally they bring in a sheep to try to be true to its roots. Sometimes it tries to do comedy, too, but never, in my opinion, succeeds as well as Coronation Street.

All soaps happen at too fast a rate for me to watch them, so I record them all and then catch up in a big Soap Session. This weekend I've been catching up on Coronation Street. You get drawn into Soap World and you forget what else is going on.

Now then. In Coronation Street the Platt family have the same doorbell that we do. And in the episodes that I've been watching, there have been a lot of visitors.

So there I am, watching away, happily lost in Soap World - - and then the doorbell goes, and suddenly I'm back to reality, out in the hall, trying to answer the front door - - and then I realise that the ding-dong was coming from the television.

So I settle back down - - and ten minutes later, it happens again - - and I fall for it again, I'm out in the hall, bewildered.

The Platts have had that doorbell for at least ten years, probably longer. We have had ours for about forty years, so responding to that sound is really ingrained in me.

If there's ever a plotline when the Platts' doorbell breaks, I shall be very grateful indeed.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Broad Shoulders

Stephen and Olli are Thin People.

"I have to eat almost constantly," said Olli, plunging into another bowl of cereal, "or I lose weight".

And this is true.

Stephen is the living proof that all that stuff they tell you about exercise is true. If you cycle twelve miles a day, as he does, you will lose weight. And he wasn't exactly podgy to start with. "Turn him sideways and you can't see him," said Amy's husband Frank when Stephen and I first met, years ago, and he was very nearly right. Six feet one, eight stone, he was then. Sighhh.

He weighs a bit more than that now, but I am constantly trying to make him eat more - healthy - things to make sure he doesn't get thinner. Oh, okay, and more chocolate too, just because he likes it.

I am not a Thin Person.

When I was a small child, someone should, perhaps, have said to me "Ah, no, don't go swimming! Your shoulders are broad enough already!"

Now, look, I'm forever reading about overweight people who say it's because they have a big build and they can't help it and you just know it's rubbish. And then there are other people who look massive and then they lose loads of weight and inside them is a beautiful size 10 waiting to get out. (I think that's a size 8, if you're in the USA!)

That's not true in my case, oh no. There's no size 10 inside me, or even a size 12. With me it's my back. It's just broad. Jewish peasant ancestry, I put it down to. My back is the width of Russia.

And I have proof! Once upon a time, in 1984, when I was very ill, I lost lots and lots and lots of weight because I couldn't eat for two months. I was stick thin. I was astonished to see my twig-like arms and legs. I have to say, it wasn't a good look, especially when accompanied by a green complexion - - and, most annoyingly of all, I was still a size 14 (that's American size 12).

Now I'm a British size 18 - - but heading downwards. Since I came off the hideous Gliclazide tablets in early July - they raise your insulin levels so make you want to eat all the time - I've been losing weight slowly, but steadily.

But, sadly, I'm never going to find a size 10 underneath. If I can find a size 16, I'll be pleased and if I can find a size 14 - a healthier-looking one than in 1984 - I'll be thrilled, though I suspect that's unlikely. Size zero? If I die, (notice the "if" because I live in hopes) and some archaeologist digs up my skeleton, they'll say "Blimey! She was never a size zero, was she?"

Does it bother me? Yes, of course, it always has done.
Can I do anything about it? Well, not really, though I could lose some more weight, which would help a bit.
Should I count my blessings and stop complaining? Yes, I jolly well should.
Oh, okay then, I'll stop grumbling now. For the moment.

And if you have troubles, you can tell them to me, for I have broad shoulders.

The Bobs' Good Advice and My Lack of Cool

Two lines from songs that I should pay attention to:

Don't worry about a thing, for every little thing's going to be all right.


Don't worry. Be happy.

Yes, thank you, Bob Marley and Bobby McFerrin, you're probably right. I'm trying to listen to you, but it goes against the grain rather.

I do worry about a thing - - about lots of things, actually. But my tendency to worry leads me to do stuff, and that can be a Good Thing. I tend to get work done that needs doing, and I remember things like paying my tax.

Some people don't - to me - seem to worry enough - - they just bumble their way cheerily through life thinking "Something will turn up" and hey, often it does. And sometimes, when it does, I think hey, that's not fair, they didn't make any effort and now something's turned up. It seems to be cheating, somehow.

Yes, I think I have too much Work Ethic and I expect I got it from spending my formative years at the kind of school where everyone went round going "I got 86%, what did you get?"

My worrying does, however, lead me to Be Prepared. In my handbag there is everything you might need for - - - well, every situation really. Many people laugh at me because of this. Oh, all right then, everyone laughs at me because of this. They say, "Daphne, have you by any chance got - -" and then they laugh when I produce it. This, I have to say, does not bother me: I'm just pleased that when someone needs to cross the River Kwai, I just happen to have an inflatable bridge in my bag.

I have to tell you, therefore, and I'm not proud of it, that the Daphne version of the lyric would go something like:

Don't worry about a thing, for every little thing's going to be all right. Provided you think about it in advance. And even then something will probably go wrong. But if you've thought about it enough, then you'll probably get away with it and find some kind of workable solution.

It's just not, well, cool, is it?

As for the other song, well I have to confess that my default setting is the Worry and not the Be Happy. Well, it would be Worry if I let it. I know that I'm really fortunate compared to many, many people. But when I'm not with family or friends I too easily default to WORRY. Then I think, for goodness' sake, you stupid woman, count your blessings and just flaming well stop it.

And it's strange, really, because in many ways I am the eternal optimist. I have an unshakeable belief that, if I care enough, every little thing's going to be all right because I will work hard, think of everything, cover all the bases, and just jolly well MAKE IT SO. "It'll be fine" I say, and it usually is.

And still I worry too much. I think I need to practice chilling, and then eventually I might get to be - well - cool.