Saturday, January 31, 2009

Sex and the Kitty

I was working in Wigan this morning, at a doctors' surgery seventy miles away, and this necessitated getting up at half past five and driving across the M62 in the dark.

Actually, that's entirely irrelevant to this blog post - I just threw it in in the hope that someone, somewhere will go "Oh, poor you, I am so very admiring of your courage and inner strength, you are up there in the bravery stakes with Silverback who has, of course, been valiantly struggling with his Man Flu." (Okay, his post about it was a couple of days ago, but Man Flu is very persistent, you know, and hard to shake off, and it requires a lot of fortitude. As does the M62. Glad we've got that sorted.)

Anyway, I returned from Wigan to find Wendy the kitten behaving as though she'd spent the morning smoking pot.

Which was somewhat strange, since I was pretty sure she hadn't.

I rang Olli in hopes of an explanation.

"Olli, have you been giving the kitten drugs? She's gone even more insane than usual."

"What's she doing?"

"Well, she's rolling about the floor and miaowing all the time. Flirting with my handbag - - there's no other way to describe it. Not letting go of my feet. Rolling over and over. That kind of thing. And if you pick her up, instead of doing what she'd normally do which is biting your hand and trying to sit on your head, she just goes all floppy and looks at you with a stupid expression."

"Oh yes, " said Olli, "she was doing that yesterday. She's hit puberty. She's in season."

She's very pretty, as you can see, and I think could attract the attention of every tom cat in Yorkshire. Fortunately she won't be let out until she's been spayed, which will be next week.

Meanwhile, she has the vacuous yet come-hither expression of a number of minor female celebrities. I was going to mention Paris Hilton here but I once promised never to mention her on my blog again, so I shan't.

But just click on the photo to make it bigger and then look at that cat's expression. I think you will understand what I mean.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Slebs

I'm not much interested in meeting celebrities generally. What if it was someone you'd admired for decades and they were either horribly rude or very dull?

I have met one or two though. Here's the extent of my name-dropping.

I've met Sir Ian McKellen a few times as he was really kind to me when I was a stage-struck teenager and used to send me postcards when he was on tour. He is a Really Good Thing as well as a great actor.

Bob Hoskins once stood behind me in a queue for tickets at The West Yorkshire Playhouse. I didn't speak to him, just marvelled at how small he was, for such a big presence.

Again at The West Yorkshire Playhouse, I met Una Stubbs and she was delightful. I had to tell her how much I'd loved the film Summer Holiday when I was younger (I didn't point out that it was the first film that I ever saw). She was very gracious about it and I liked her.

At the Grand Theatre, Leeds, once I met actor and director Jonathan Miller. He was lovely.

And - er - I think that's it. If you're a celebrity, and I've met you and forgotten, I do apologise. All the above are to do with theatre, I notice. I've met lots of actors of course, but most of them wouldn't fit into the "celebrity" bracket.

In general, I have no real desire to meet the people I admire, in case, as I've explained, all my illusions are shattered.

Except, I think, for one. There's just one celebrity whom I'd like to meet.

I used to know his nephew Michael slightly years ago - the son of this celebrity's equally famous brother Richard - and I used to turn green with envy when he told me he was going to visit Uncle David at the weekend.

Yes, Sir David Attenborough. When I first started watching wildlife programmes on television they mostly consisted of Look, presented by Sir Peter Scott (son of Scott of the Antarctic) - - and hey, I've just remembered to tell you that I met Peter Scott once, too! I used to belong to the Panda Club of the World Wildlife Fund and he came to talk to us in the early Sixties, and he was wearing bright red socks, and drew our attention to this risque attire.

So David Attenborough was the new kid on the block to me, along with Gerald Durrell, who also went to exotic places to find wildlife. I loved Gerald Durrell's books, which are very funny. I loved David Attenborough's television programmes, and have done ever since.

I heard him talking on Radio Two today and thought yes, I'd like to meet him, because I know that he'd be just as I expect. He's one of my heroes, and I think he'd be fascinating too.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I Don't Like It Round Here

I'm forever saying it, apparently. So I'm told.

"I don't like it round here."

Usually I say it when we're driving through some kind of urban wasteland. There are some parts of Leeds that I really like. Others that I really don't. Badly-built Sixties blocks. Delapidated Victorian ones. Boarded-up nondescript old shops. Litter everywhere. I don't like it. In my first years working for the actors' agency, I spent about seven years working in a windowless office in one of the nastiest bits of Leeds and I only stuck it because I enjoyed the work.

Okay, so what places do I like then?

I looked through the many thousands of photographs that I took last year and came up with just a few - and they're not even the best photos, perhaps, but they're all evocative of places that I really loved and of happy days that I spent there.

You can click on them if you wish, to make them larger.

Tenby, South Wales, in February:

Waterwynch Bay, near Tenby, February:

Earnse Bay, Barrow-in-Furness, summer (what there was of summer last year)

The River Seine, Paris:

Scarborough, North Yorkshire:

The Olympic Port, Barcelona:

Buttonwood Bay, Sebring, Florida:

Sunset, Florida:

Yes, all these photos have water in them somewhere, I know. I love the seaside and lakes and rivers. I like lots of other places too: but basically, if it's the sea or a lake or a river, I'll be getting my camera out, fast.

Of course, I should be contrasting all this with today's photo of a wintry, dark Leeds in the fog. But for once, I didn't take a photo. I'm fed up of it all. I'm waiting for Spring.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I Promised Myself that I Wouldn't

I promised myself that I wouldn't blog about this.

Don't go there, I thought, it's not fair, you haven't got an answer, so keep your big mouth shut.

But oh look, after thinking about it all day, now I am.

When we were at the pantomime in Bradford last night (excellent, get yourself to see if it you can, you've got till Sunday) we were sitting in the Stalls, fairly far back and they were really good seats.

However, the Alhambra doesn't have a centre aisle so each row of seats is very long. We were near the far end, and when we went round to take our seats the way into our row was blocked by a woman in a wheelchair.

"You'll have to go right round," said the usher.

Going right round and then squeezing right along the row would have taken forever, as there were lots of people still trying to take their seats. So I smiled sweetly, ignored him and we all said "excuse me" and squeezed past the wheelchair into our seats (including my mother, who may be very fit, but she's still 84, even though she doesn't look it, and she's tiny, and I didn't think she would enjoy doing the squeezing through all the people and then along the row).

They were a party of wheelchair users - adults with learning difficulties. The wheelchairs had been positioned right at the end of every row for about six rows.

Of course the Alhambra was built in the nineteenth century, with no thought of wheelchair users and no provision for them.

A child started crying in the row in front of us at one point and the mother decided to take the child out. She was sitting about three-quarters of the way along the row, near the wheelchair-users' end, and made her way to the end with the baby, before realising that there was no way she could get out of the row, so she made her way back to her seat, with the child still crying.

The people who were with the wheelchair users didn't make any kind of move to get the wheelchair out of the way: I felt that their attitude was "These are wheelchair users and they take priority."

In the interval, again we had to squeeze past the wheelchairs to get out, and then again to get back - - including my mother, who is, luckily, remarkably agile. If we'd tried to go along the row it would have taken till the end of the interval because the row was full and everyone had lots of coats and programmes and all sorts in the way.

And then I found myself thinking: what if there was a fire during the performance?

Nobody sitting in our half of the row, and in the other rows that were blocked at the ends with wheelchairs, would have been able to get out at all: certainly not with any speed. One wheelchair would have been fine - it was the fact that there were so many of them. In the event of a fire, if they'd tried to get the wheelchairs through the fire exits first - because the wheelchairs were in between the rest of the audience and the fire exits - it would have been too late for the rest of us.

If there had been a fire, I'm certain that a large number of people from those rows would have been burned to a crisp, and then there would, in the fullness of time, have been an enquiry into the Bradford Alhambra Conflagration, and eventually it would have concluded that the escape routes were blocked by wheelchairs, because there was nowhere else to put the wheelchairs during the performance.

I have been at many events where people haven't been allowed to sit in the aisles etc because of this very danger. But where were Health and Safety here?

One wheelchair would have been fine - it was the fact that there were so many of them. In the event of a fire, if they'd tried to get the wheelchairs through the fire exits first - because they were the nearest to them - it would have have taken a long time to do.

Perhaps the only proper answer would be for the theatre to remove some seats permanently on either the back row or the front row, but I don't know how feasible that would be.

Until they have sorted this out - and I think they should, if at all possible - I think that the theatre should be able to say that there is only room for one wheelchair. I don't know if they can't say that legally, because of disability legislation, or if they just don't want to because they feel it puts them in a bad light.

My feeling is that national headlines along the lines of Two Hundred Dead - Escape Routes Blocked in Bradford Alhambra Conflagration would put the the theatre management in a rather worse light.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Slipper Fits in Bradford

One more pantomime to see this season and it was Cinderella at the Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, because one of the Ugly Sisters, Jay Worthy, is a friend of mine. So off we went to see it tonight.

Of the pantos I've seen this winter, this was the one that had had the most money spent on it, with a large cast, many elaborate sets, 3D special effects (and very good they were, too) spectacular costumes and no fewer than three horses involved.

What they hadn't done was spend the money on - thankfully - some Celebrity who couldn't do the job.

Carrying the show as Buttons was Billy Pearce, a Yorkshire comedian straight from the old tradition of Variety, in the best sense of the word. A terrific rapport with the audience throughout and an energy level that started at 100% and if anything went up slightly as the show progressed. I liked his gag early on, when we weren't perhaps shouting as loudly as we did later on:

"Is this your first time as an audience?"

For all its modern effects, this was really a very traditonal panto performed by a superb cast who REALLY knew what they were doing.

The Ugly Sisters were not only ugly but Really Mean - the scene where they force Cinderella to tear up her own ticket for the ball was a horrible illustration of bullies' tactics everywhere. They were called Trinny and Susannah and they were vile - but we enjoyed booing them: they were superb. And they were both terrific song-and-dance men - - sorry, laydees.

Even the slapstick scene was funny and slick and I very often hate slapstick. I liked the music, the dancing, the jokes, the special effects, the attention to detail - - and, above all, the strong cast who knew just how to play it.

It's hard to compare different Christmas shows - I haven't seen a bad one this year - though believe me, I have in the past! I have seen a few which make me wince at the very memory, mostly of the worthy-but-dull type from some Bright Young Director trying to be different without understanding what makes theatre work in the first place.

"Hey, let's set it in a sewage works and in the end the kindness of the main character will turn all the sewage into corn to feed the hungry" - - oh well, not quite, but you see what I mean. I can't quote the real thing because it wouldn't be fair on some poor actors who were in these shows working their socks off to try to save a terrible script.

Meanwhile, if you want to see a perfect example of a big-budget, well staged, well-acted, wonderfully enjoyable British pantomime, you have until Sunday to get yourself to Bradford. And I strongly recommend that you do. You don't need to take a child with you - the youngest in our party was nineteen and the oldest was eighty-four - though if you happen to have a child to hand, they would love it.

This being Bradford with its large Asian population, you could have a great curry afterwards as well. Pantomime and curry! Two of the great British experiences in one day. Brilliant.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Dessicated Students

In the Olden Days, when I was a student, we went to University and went to a lecture or two and then we had lunch and had a drink with it. Then in the afternoon we had some more lectures, and perhaps had a tea break, and another drink. Then we went home.

It's not like that for students these days, it seems.

Oh, no. Walking across a campus somewhere in England the other day, I noticed that almost every student is carrying a bottle of water or Coke or something. In amongst their conversations they take the occasional swig, in case they dehydrate completely before their next lecture. and in case their dessicated bodies are found the next morning on the ground.

Yes, yes, I know, we're all supposed to drink lots of water. But this isn't the Sahara - it's Britain, for goodness' sake. In January. Oh, God, Carruthers! The heat! The heat! - - Not.

For some reason, I find this constant drinking (and I don't mean alcohol!) vaguely disturbing - they all seem to have those sports bottles which make them look like giant babies sucking at the teat.

But, hey, live and let live, and perhaps they would think that the embroidered flares that I used to wear were a bit strange.

Then, last week, there was one medical student who was constantly sucking at her bottle of some soft drink or other, all the way through a teaching session. Sluuuuuuuurp. Sluuuuuuurp.

I was in role playing a patient so couldn't do a thing about it, and the lecturer in charge of the session just ignored it.

Sarcastic comments were springing to my lips and being quelled before I said them, all the way through the session. I think the combination of a strong desire to pour it over her head and the realisation that, because I was in role, I couldn't do ANYTHING AT ALL, brought out the Old Schoolmarm in me and I think my blood pressure went up by about ten points.

If I had been in charge of this group of students, I would have asked her politely but firmly to put the bottle away, the first time it made its appearance. And then I would have pointed out, jovially but with just a hint of incipient psychopath, that any further comestibles that appeared would be held to belong to me, okay?

And then, if necessary, the next route would have been along the lines of "This is really quite a tricky course, to train as a doctor. So if you don't think that you have the concentration for it, could you please leave now?"

Of course, students like this are in the minority - and it's the lecturer who sets the tone anyway, and who should be giving out the message that Up with This We Will Not Put. Though some don't ever need to do that, because their classes are so inspiring - and thank goodness, there are plenty of those where I work.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Unimaginable

Can you think of a significant event in your life that happened between April 1984 and April 2008?

I keep thinking of Olli's first day at school, for some reason - - but of course, in that twenty-four year period there were lots of significant events, and I expect there have been in your life too.

During all the time that these significant events happened, Elisabeth Fritzl, of Amstetten, Austria, was a prisoner of her father and living in the cellar under their house. For twenty-four years.

I have just been reading the book Monster by the journalist Allan Hall, about these horrifying events.

Josef Fritzl had been sexually abusing his daughter Elisabeth from when she was eleven, and, knowing that, at eighteen, she was about to flee his home for good, he took her into the cellar of the house where he had spent some time building a dungeon in which to keep her. He was an expert in the use of concrete and the dungeon was behind a number of remote-controlled doors, and totally soundproof.

She lived there for twenty-four years, seeing nobody but him initially. From numerous rapes she bore him seven children - totally unaided, of course, but he did helpfully bring her some medical books. One child died as a baby.

Her father Josef explained her disappearance by saying that she had gone off to join a cult. He took three of the children upstairs, out of the cellar, to live with his wife and other children. He explained this away by saying that the children had suddenly been left on the doorstep. Nobody in the authorities enquired further - even though Josef Fritzl had a previous conviction and prison sentence for rape.

The other three children remained in the cellar with their mother. The oldest, Kerstin, was nineteen when they finally escaped, and had spent her whole life in the cellar.

Towards the end of the time the air in the cellar was so bad that they had to spend most of the time lolling around on their beds as there was so little oxygen. There were three connected rooms, each three metres square: two rooms for sleeping and one with a toilet, a washing area and a kitchen. Yes, the toilet and the kitchen together in one three-metres-square room.

Elisabeth taught the children to read and they learned as much as possible from watching television - though she always told them that the outside world shown on the television was "not for them" as she believed that they would never escape.

Finally, in April last year, Kerstin became so ill that Elisabeth persuaded her father to take her to hospital - and then, miraculously, persuaded him to let her visit the hospital.

And then she managed to tell her story. Many of Elisabeth's teeth had fallen out - they were never brought fresh food, only frozen, and apparently she spent many years suffering with agonising toothache. Her hair was white. She was forty-two.

Now Josef Fritzl is awaiting trial and the whole of the rest of his family - including his poor crushed wife, Rosemarie, who, it seems certain, knew nothing of the family in the cellar - are living together and trying to reclaim some kind of life. His trial will begin in March this year. What will happen to him? I would guess he'll have to spend his time in prison in solitary confinement, in a neat mirroring of what he did to his daughter - but it won't give her the last twenty-four years back again, whatever they do.

I often try to think myself into other people's situations but I cannot, simply cannot imagine living in that cellar as she did, and bringing up her children there.

And where did all this horror come from? Apparently Josef Fritzl, who is seventy-three now, was a great admirer of the Nazis - he saw them march into Amstetten when he was a very small child. And - perhaps because of its Nazi past - apparently there is a great cultural tradition in Austria of not looking into things that may seem not to be your business. So lots of the neighbours, and Fritzl's friends, are now saying - - yes, well - - he did seem to be working a lot in the cellar - - and his behaviour was a bit strange - - and there were clues - - but we didn't like to interfere.

This story, to me, is best summed up by the phrase "unimaginable horror". I think there are lessons we can all learn, though. Here in Britain too, we're reluctant to stick our heads above the parapet and say "Hey, there's something not quite right here." Could such a thing happen in Britain? I wouldn't be able to say with certainty "Oh, no, never."

Sometimes, if we are suspicious, it can be good to interfere.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Cereal Killer

I apologise if you came across this blog today - as people sometimes do - by searching for the word "Communist".

You'll be expecting some hardcore political discussion with a left-wing bias and I promise you I could do that, having had a whole childhood of bright red politics.

However, today I'm choosing not to. Today I'm giving you photos of a kitten in a cupboard. Hope you don't mind.

So I opened the cereal cupboard to get the porridge out and Wendy jumped in. She did at least have the good grace to look a bit guilty:

Only for a moment, though, before diving into the All-Bran: (pretty markings on her sides, I think you'll agree: you can click to make the photos larger if you wish to see her markings or, alternatively, criticise the untidiness of the cupboard. I've been busy, okay?)

So, having thoroughly investigated the All-Bran she wondered what to do next:

and decided to go for the jump.

Yes, another stunning photograph of Where Wendy Used to Be But Isn't Now. I have lots of those.

Sorry about the pun in the title. My excuse is that it's winter and I've got a cold and Stephen tried to buy me some Lemsip - the only possible thing that makes having a cold bearable in any way - and the pharmacist said NO. Daphne can't have Lemsip, for Daphne is diabetic and it clashes with her medication.

So I'm going to wallow in self-pity instead.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Town in West Yorkshire

Olli was born in 1989 and was a smallish, beautiful baby and of course by far the best in the whole hospital.

In the next bed to me was a young woman who had just given birth to twin girls. She was a pleasant woman and was married to an equally likeable young man who was, perhaps, not at the front of the queue when they were giving out the brains.

She was always grumbling about him - he had brought her the wrong nightdress, the wrong towel, the wrong cosmetics. The rest of us in the ward registered him as being well-meaning but somewhat incompetent.

One day she sent him off to register the babies' births.

When he came to visit her later that day, there was a bit of muffled yelling followed by what can only be described as an Atmosphere.

After he'd gone, she came over to explain to the rest of us who were waiting excitedly for the gossip.

"You'll never guess what he's done!" she said. "He's called her a town in West Yorkshire!"

We couldn't quite follow this and it took a bit of explaining before we could understand.

They had wanted to call the twins Hayley and Kayleigh. Yes, I can hear what you're thinking, it wouldn't have been my first choice either, but that was what they wanted.

But he wasn't too hot on spelling. He had registered their names as Hayley and Keighley.

Keighley is a little industrial town in West Yorkshire, best known for being the starting place of the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway. Oh, and I went to a good Chinese restaurant there a few times.

Hayley and Keighley, eh? They'll be nineteen now. I wonder where they are, and what they're doing.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Twenty Miles Away

I got up at quarter past six today, which is too early for me. But I was going to Huddersfield Royal Infirmary to work and I knew it would be a tricky journey, so I set off really early.

It's twenty miles or so and involved lots of dark and rain and a close encounter with Ainley Top Roundabout which, in spite of its rather atmospheric and evocative name, is one of the nastiest roundabouts in Yorkshire. Lots of lanes and always lots of traffic trying to cross them.

Anyway, I got to the hospital early, at half past eight. The session started at nine and actually I knew I wasn't needed until half past nine, so I had plenty of time.

I followed the directions to the car park for the Learning Centre where I was working. It had its own car park so I'd assumed I would be able to park there.

When I saw the car park, though, I realised it was not just full but packed - cars squeezed into every nook and cranny, in every direction.

So I went back to the main car park for patients. That was also completely full, with a couple of dozen cars driving round and round. Once I'd decided I would never manage to park there, it took me a good ten minutes to escape.

I asked a Car Park Man where I could park.

"Oh, you won't get anywhere at this time. It's all full by now," he said helpfully.

"Can I go in the staff cark park? I am actually working here today."

"Have you got a permit? No? You can't then."

"But there are spaces in there and everywhere else is full."

"Yes, but you can't park there."

"So could you suggest where I might park?"

"Well, you could try the side streets."

As I drove past the Learning Centre again in the direction of the side streets, I saw one of my colleagues and explained that I was trying to find somewhere to park. She had obviously been there before: she had travelled by bus and taxi.

Now it was nine o'clock but that was okay because I still had half an hour and they knew I was there. And they know I'm reliable, and that I would get there.

I tried every side street, all round the hospital. Every single one was "Permit Holders Only". I can see why the residents want this, or they'd never be able to park their cars.

I drove back into the hospital grounds and found Car Park Man Number 2. Twenty past nine.

"Can you suggest anywhere else that I could park?"

"You want to try the Mill. But it's a long walk, of course."

"Could you tell me where the Mill is?"

"You know, the Mill. The old Mill. Or failing that, the doctor's surgery car park."

I had to explain, carefully, that I am not from Huddersfield.

There are lots of old mills in Huddersfield but he gave me directions to this one. "You can park in the alley on the way in."

I couldn't. It was totally full. So was the doctor's surgery car park. And so was everywhere else. Cars on corners, cars on double yellow lines, cars parked on the sides of roads in the hospital grounds, making them almost too narrow to drive down.

By now it was half past nine. I went back to the hospital car park in case anyone had moved their car. They hadn't. There were still lots of cars driving round and round and getting stuck.

While stuck, I rang my colleagues - of course their phones were switched off because the session had started. So I left messages.

Then I found I was really upset - I hate being late and I hate letting people down and there wasn't a blasted thing I could do about it.

I gave up and drove home. When I got back I had been driving for slightly more than three hours and had done fifty miles. I was still shaking with powerless rage and frustration.

My colleagues were all lovely about it later. Until they got my messages, they thought that something terrible must have happened to me, because they knew I was there and yet I just didn't turn up for the session.

If I'm ever working there again, I'll try the train. "Aha! you should have done that in the first place!" I hear you cry.

But I live on the outskirts of Leeds, and the station's in the middle, and Huddersfield station's in the middle, and the hospital's on the outskirts of Huddersfield, and I really didn't want this morning job to take all day, so I went by car. Only twenty miles, after all.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Puzzled

Years ago, on ITV at seven o'clock, there was The Krypton Factor.

Four people competed in several rounds of what can best be described as Horrid Things That Are Found in IQ Tests. What they refer to as "mental agility". Add up the number in the red triangle and subtract the number in the blue square and multiply it with the number in the yellow octagon. Put all these shapes in the grid so that there's a square, a circle, a triangle, a star and a rhombus in every direction. That kind of thing. The sort of thing that people who belong to Mensa like to do twelve of before breakfast.

Then there was an assault course, a proper Army one. And a general knowledge round. And some three-dimensional puzzles.

Whoever won each heat then went into the semi-final and then into the final and was the Krypton Factor Winner. Hurrah.

Apart from the general knowledge, at which I'm generally pretty good, I hate the idea of doing any of it. Three-dimensional puzzles are my particular target of loathing. No, no, no and no.

But I used to love watching other people try. And now they've brought back the programme, I'm loving it again. I watch with amazed fascination as the contestants are presented with a hideously complicated puzzle. Instead of doing the obvious thing, which is to jump up and down on it and cry, they just beaver away at it until it's done.

They suffer their way along the assault course and then say how fantastic they feel when they've done it. I wouldn't. I'd just feel a failure. Though I quite fancy having a go on the rope slide.

Of course, most people who enter are blokes because more men than women love geeky puzzles and assault courses.

I wish they'd invent a quiz programme for me. The only one I know I'd be good at would be where you just have to spell words. In fact, there was one a few years ago and I was shouting along enthusiastically and the only word I got wrong in the whole thing was "minuscule" which I had never seen written down so assumed was "miniscule." I know better now.

Some people can do puzzles: I can't. I can't do crosswords - my brain just doesn't work in that way. I certainly can't do anagrams - if you write the word "rotcar" and tell me it's a pointy orange vegetable I'll still have to think about it and if you give me no clue I will see it as "rotcar" for ever.

But I can do spelling. If I see a word once, I've generally got it for ever. I can't be proud of this because it's not something I've ever had to work at.

So the ideal TV quiz for me to take part in would be Who Wants to Become a Millionaire By Spelling Lots of Words.

Yes! Yes! I do!

Okay, now I've told you all that I'd better check there aren't any spelling mistakes in this post. I'll cover myself by saying that if you do find one, it's probably delibarate.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Best T-Shirt

During the television coverage I saw a row of T-shirts in a shop. The best one was a black T-shirt with the message:

Obama is the New Black


Glorious!

Anyway, there is a crucial difference between President Obama and the other presidents there've been in recent chunks of my lifetime. And it's got nothing to do with his colour.

It's that he passes the Green Sofa Test.

Now I am very fond of the green leather sofa in our living-room and I'm choosy about whom I invite to sit on it. I haven't invited any other Presidents of the United States round at all. I did think about inviting Bill Clinton, but he spoiled his chances with all that stuff about dry-cleaning and Monica Lewinsky.

With most of them, you just take one look and think "But can't everyone SEE? Complete crook!"

It's different with Barack, as I feel I can now call him, since I'm about to invite him round for coffee. Or tea, if he prefers to try something a bit more British.

I thinkl he would be interesting to talk to, and have a sense of humour, and that you could have a proper conversation with him. I liked it when he stumbled nervously as he was sworn in. I hate people who have too much slickness about them - you just can't trust them.

So, there we are, President Obama - my invitation's on the table. Along with the custard creams. Not the Jaffa cakes though: Silverback will be back from America before too long so I'm saving those for him.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Heidi told by Goats in Greenwich

I went to Greenwich yesterday to see the last performance of Northern Broadsides' adaptation of Johanna Spyri's children's novel Heidi.

The show was a matinee at Greenwich Theatre.

Rebekah Hughes, who is one of the actors represented by the agency that I work for, played Mether, one of the goats, and also composed the music, which was all unaccompanied singing and was lovely.

The premise for the show was this:

Four rather badly-behaved goats were tended by a young girl, who was reading the novel Heidi. Unfortunately, the novel wasn't in very good condition and the pages fell out. The goats were locked in their stable for a couple of days over Christmas, and ate all the pages of the novel.

Rather to their surprise, the story found its way out of their mouths - instead of just bleating, as they'd been doing up till now, they started telling the story of Heidi, and playing all the different characters in the story. The girl who was in charge of the goats played Heidi herself. All the props for the story were improvised from things lying round the stable.

There were some delightful variations on this because we now had actors performing a goat's impression of, for example, a strict German housekeeper. One goat had been watching too much television through the farmhouse window and kept lapsing into famous lines from films and trying to work them into the story.

It was the essence of good theatre - you couldn't believe how you got yourself into this strange world but nevertheless you bought into it completely. It was both funny and remarkably moving in places, such as when poor Heidi is living in the city but desperately wants to go home to the mountains.

The five actors were fantastic, brilliantly versatile - but they needed to be as they were all playing lots of different characters whilst being, in the case of four of them, in costume as a goat.

There was much cheering from the audience at the end and some great comments in the theatre's visitors book too.

I loved the novel as a child and read it lots of times. This version brought back to me all the pleasure I used to get from the novel and was a tremendously imaginative and enjoyable piece of theatre. Hurrah!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Not Travelling on the DLR

I've been to London for the day - more specifically, Greenwich - and I'll tell you more about that later.

But, of course, this being Britain, and it being a Sunday, and there being a Y in the day, it was hard to get there as the Docklands Light Railway (or the DLR as we seasoned London-travellers call it) wasn't running.

They helpfully told me this when I had travelled from King's Cross to the Underground station called Bank. I was optimistically hoping to then take the DLR to the station called Cutty Sark, which is near where the famous ship of that name is to be found. Or isn't, currently. More of that later too.

A man in a yellow coat rushed up to me.

"You don't want to get the special bus from here, it'll be too crowded. Get the Jubilee line to London Bridge and then" - - - oh, who knows. But I followed his instructions, got to Canary Wharf and then got a bus to Island Gardens and then the tube to Cutty Sark. Good job I'd left plenty of time to get to the play.

Coming back, I got the special bus from Island Gardens again and it did an interesting tour of most of East London before stopping completely. At no point did the driver think to tell anyone where we were so there were lots of muttered questions going on amidst the confused travellers. I had checked that we were supposed to stop at Bank, but I wasn't certain that this was Bank, of course: it just appeared to be a bit of London street.

"Excuse me," I asked the bus driver, "where are we?"

He looked at me as though I had asked him which way was up.

"Bank, of course," he said.

"Well, I can't see it," I said. "Where is it?"

"Up there all the way to the traffic lights and turn left, of course," he said, in tones of one talking to a complete imbecile.

He could have added "and then walk so far down the road that you're convinced you're completely lost, and there it is."

But I suppose he's paid to drive the bus, and not to tell people where he's driving it to.

Although I didn't have to wait at all for the replacement bus, it nevertheless took me nearly two hours from Cutty Sark to Kings Cross. Again, it was a good job I'd booked a later train back.

There did seem to be a lot of foreign tourists in London. Perhaps they just go round and round and can never leave.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

An Ordinary Day

This blog isn't a day-to-day diary in any way at all, as you'll know if you've read a few entries.

But today was a bit different.

We got up at half past seven to go to Oakwood Farmers' Market, and bought bread, burgers, a cabbage, marmalade, lemon curd, soup, chocolate and cheese. Don't start asking awkward questions about the history of chocolate farming in Leeds.

The sun was shining as much as it ever does at the moment.

We went and bought me a new mobile phone and then went home to find that Wendy the Teenage Kitten had arrived, delivered by Olli and Gareth for her customary weekend visit.

Froggie, our cat, who is probably about ten now, is very tiny herself, but looks big compared to Wendy on the right. It's very rare that Wendy stays still enough to have her photo taken but here they both are, on the kitchen window-sill.

Wendy follows Froggie around, staring at her and from time to time prodding her with a paw. Froggie is unimpressed.

So Wendy goes back to hurtling round the house at the speed of a Higgs Boson escaping the clutches of the Large Hadron Collider, until she finds Froggie again and decides to stare at her a bit more.

Our friend David came round and did his tax online. We had some of the soup for lunch - it was delicious - and then, since we were in tax mode, I sent my tax form back to the accountant and sent a cheque for my tax to the Inland Revenue. And then I gave David a lift home.

When I got back I found that my mother had dug over an entire border in our garden - and indeed, was still doing it, in the almost-dark - and she had planted some primulas and we had a chat about another garden that we're working on, too.

Nothing unusual really - just an ordinary Saturday.

Except that I have found that I've rather enjoyed it.

It's the first Saturday that I have enjoyed since the Communist died on December 8th. That's why it's different. I always used to visit the Communist in his nursing-home on Saturdays - and on other days too, of course, but always on a Saturday.

Things are moving on. A new normal is coming into being. It's strange.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Third Way (I Hope)

There are two ways that you can write about dreams.

The most usual way is that you tell the whole story as though it actually happened, along the lines of "This morning I noticed that there was something strange in my garage - - " and you tell the whole story about the alien spaceship and then end triumphantly "And then I woke up and it was all a dream."

"HAH!" you think, "that's clever, nobody will have thought of doing it that way. How very clever and original I am."

But of course, so many people have written about dreams that way that you've lost all readers by the third sentence, because they have realised what you're up to, and they know that, mostly, other people's dreams are just - - well - - dull.

The second way is to begin, "I had a very interesting dream last night - - " and you've lost your readers at that very moment, because other people's dreams just aren't interesting, mostly.

I'm hoping I have found a third way, which is to tell you the little - and TRUE - story that the recurring dream comes from. STAY WITH ME PLEASE NOW!

When I was small, I was on my way home from school with my mother, who was a teacher there (it's the school across the road from the house where I live now. We lived here then, too!)

We had reached the corner of our side road and we met a lady who had a child at the school, and she knew my mother. She had the child, a girl, who was even younger than I was, with her.

"And how's your hamster?" asked my mother, for the girl had recently been given a hamster as a present.

"Oh, it died," said the girl.

"Ah well," said the girl's mother, "we forgot to feed it."

I don't think my mother knew what to say to this but I expect that I gasped in horror.

"Yes," said the girl's mother, "it was running up and down the cage looking for food but we just didn't take any notice. So it died. We might get another one."

When you're only about eight, as I was, you don't know how to say things like "DIE, YOU BITCH! HOW DARE YOU HAVE AN ANIMAL AND NOT LOOK AFTER IT? HOW CAN YOU BE SO CASUAL ABOUT IT? DID YOU EVER WORK FOR HITLER BY ANY CHANCE?" so I don't expect that I said anything at all.

But I couldn't bear the story, simply could not bear it. And it has given me a lifetime of dreams where I'm in charge of some creature and I have forgotten to feed it. Goats (last night), dogs, cats, elephants, geckos, rabbits, sheep, chicks - - all have, in my dreams, been neglected by me, and died horrible deaths.

On the plus side, if you ask me to look after your pet whilst you go on holiday, it will almost certainly be fine. It certainly won't go hungry.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

My Mother Joins Something

"I want to join something," said my mother. "Something with dance in it."

She's very sociable and she loves any kind of dancing, and has always been very good at it.

I suggested that she might join Heydays, which happens every Wednesday for over-55s at The West Yorkshire Playhouse.

Then our friend David sent her the leaflet about it, and she decided to start, yesterday.

She got there at nine o'clock and straight away found a dance class - show dance of the kind that you find in musicals. She loved it and did it for the hour until ten o'clock. She said the teacher was excellent and I'm sure she picked it up at top speed.

After that she did some play-reading for the next session of the day. She thought the plays weren't very good but enjoyed it nevertheless. Plays are something she knows about. She used to run play-reading classes, for goodness' sake.

Then she had lunch and went to a T'ai Chi class, though she didn't think much of it ("bit wishy-washy, no rhythm to it, not as good as yoga").

Afterwards, she decided to get the bus home, so walked the three-quarters-of-a-mile or so to the bus stop.

When she got home, she said, she felt really invigorated by the day. "So I spent the rest of the afternoon gardening, until it got dark."

She was still bouncing about full of energy when I went over to see her as usual at about eleven o'clock at night.

"I'm back to normal!" she said. And it's true, she's been below par for weeks, ever since she got the virus, the one that the Communist died from.

She was delighted with Heydays: everyone was very friendly and she's going back next week. I shall look about for other things that she might join.

I didn't tell her, but yesterday would have been her sixtieth wedding anniversary. Both my mother and the Communist were terrible at remembering and I'd have to remind them every year, so they could each sneak out and buy something for the other one.

They did know that their anniversary was January 14th: they just never knew what the date was on any particular day, because they didn't need to. But, at the age of eighty-four-and-a-half, on her nearly-diamond-wedding anniversary, I'm glad that my mother had a good day.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Frost and Sunshine

I was working at Walton Hall again today (please see yesterday's post). It's in a valley and as I drove over the top of the small hill, the sun had not long risen:

Luckily there was a little lay-by next to the narrow lane where I could stop and take a photo of Walton Hall in frost and sunshine:

As I walked across the bridge to the island to start work, the sun was still shining and the fountain sprayed a long, thin column of water:

The gardener had started work, too, wheeling his barrow across the still-frosty grass:

After all the grey, gloomy weather that we've had recently, it was wonderful to see a bit of Winter beauty at last.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Daphne Makes a Discovery

It was still dark when I got to Wakefield, South Yorkshire, this morning, heading to a place I'd never been to or even heard of - and only twenty miles from my house.

It was Walton Hall. It's on an island in the middle of rather a large lake, with a modern bridge:

I was working there and, as we crossed the bridge, we were discussing who might have built it.

Obviously someone rich, we decided - someone who didn't have to give a moment's thought to the fact that everything for the house would always have to be carried over the bridge.

"Probably someone who travelled a lot, and just came here occasionally," said my colleague, "because it's in the middle of nowhere, even now."

Then I found a blue plaque, and learned that the house was built in the eighteenth century, by Charles Waterton.

I've never heard of him, I admit - - though it turns out that he was indeed a traveller and naturalist who created the world's first nature reserve in the grounds of this very house. Amazing!

Now the house is a hotel and the grounds are a golf course. It was all very civilised and a most enjoyable place to work.

England is, of course, full of these old stately homes, so I suppose it wasn't surprising that I've never heard of this one. Or perhaps it's just my ignorance.

Anyway, I'm back there tomorrow, again working with lots of young doctors. If anyone falls ill in that house tomorrow, I'm certain that they'll be safer than they were in the eighteenth century. "Is there a doctor in the house?" - - Well, about thirty of them, actually.

It all made me think of Noel Coward, singing about the Stately Homes of England, years ago. Very witty words and worth another listen, I think.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Kicketty Koo

I hadn't heard the name Carl Wayne for years, until the other day, when Silverback reminded me of his name, which I couldn't recall. Carl Wayne was the lead singer in The Move, whose single Flowers in the Rain was the first record played on Radio One. Or maybe wasn't, if you want to be picky about it, which I don't, and I don't care: I just like Flowers in the Rain.

Now, as anyone who knows me well will tell you, I'm not good at hearing the words of songs, and Olli is always saying "but you must know the words!" to various things, and I so don't, because I just don't hear them properly.

Also, to be fair, in our house in those days there was no pop music: the Communist simply didn't believe in it and it would have been too much like hard work to try to listen to any of it on the radio with him grumbling along about "What's that rubbish?" all the time.

I just heard things in passing, on friends' radios, or friends' record players, at their houses. There was of course no internet in those days so I never learned much about what I was listening to. I never really caught up.

So it was only fairly recently - perhaps five years ago - that I worked out that some of The Move, with pianist Jeff Lynne, evolved into The Electric Light Orchestra, or ELO, which was another favourite of mine, and still is.

And it was at about the same time that I worked out that Carl Wayne was not singing what I'd always thought he was singing.

Here he is, singing it.



So what comes after "Feel the power of the rain" then? I could never hear it and always thought it was some Sixties flower-powery too-much-dope inspired line "Kicketty Koo."

Then, years and years later, I heard it again. A moment of revelation.

He's singing "Keeping me cool."

And so it remained until a brief moment of panic when I googled the lyrics tonight and found that someone else thinks he's singing "Keeping me good."

But they're wrong! Surely they're wrong! Then I found that another site had "Keeping me cool" too. Phew.

Sadly, Carl Wayne - whom I always rather fancied with his Sixties hair and that moustache - is dead now. But you know how it is on Youtube. Once you start with Flowers in the Rain you're on to Blackberry Way and then off onto ELO and then it's two hours later.

One thing I know is, I still like that music. It's music to be happy to. Kicketty Koo.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Well Remembered

The Communist was, as many of you know, a pharmacist who owned a chemist's shop in Acomb, York. He treated the staff in his shop well and they have always kept in touch with him since he retired.

This morning my mother got a phone call from one of them. This lady had not received a Christmas card from the Communist this year, and she was worried because he always sent her a card. Was he okay?

Indeed, it was the Communist who always sent all the cards and we weren't sure where to find some of the addresses in time for this Christmas, so we didn't manage to let her know.

My mother explained that he has died and the lady who rang said she was very sorry, and they had a good chat.

The Communist retired, age 62, in 1986.

That's twenty-three years ago. How great that his staff still remember, after all this time.

The Noble Art of Procrastination

"Never put off till tomorrow what you can safely leave until a week on Thursday."

That's what my deepest inner feelings claim, anyway. Mostly I try to overcome this desire and usually I succeed.

But then there's the tax.

I'm self-employed: I have five or six different employers and hence my tax form's very complicated. I compile all the information and then send it to the accountant who sends it off to the Inland Revenue.

Then they ask me for ten pints of blood and the clothes off my back, and I pay them, and they go away for a bit.

Of course, I hate the whole thing. There are two deadlines - September for Goody-Goodies and the end of January for Procrastinators. Guess which I am?

So this weekend, I'm doing my tax.

Of course, this makes every other job that I might do instead seem really interesting and very crucial.

So the first thing I did yesterday was to clean out the baby Giant African Land Snails. Regular readers will remember that these were a wedding present to Olli and Gareth almost a year ago. They are well-travelled snails and spend some time in York with their owners and some here with me.

They're not babies any more of course - I think they're teenagers, because they're still growing, and because they keep asking if they can go clubbing. Here they are, anyway, whilst I was cleaning them out, with bits of paper (which they eat) and lettuce (which they also eat) stuck to their shells.

The fork and teaspoon are just to give an idea of their size. I'm not planning to eat them - though, to be fair, they are most definitely edible and I'm keeping them in reserve in case the economy gets worse.

Anyway, then I started the tax, and put some washing on, and resisted the impulse to clean the whole cellar and then the oven, and did some more tax, and fed the birds.

I've always been like this with jobs I don't fancy doing, though because I am stuffed full of Work Ethic I always get them done.

When I was a teenager it was my homework: I can't watch Star Trek to this day without a feeling that I should be doing some Maths or Latin instead.

When I was fifteen and getting ready for my O-Level exams, I even wrote a poem about my tendency to procrastinate, which is now mercifully lost. (Though it won't really be lost. It'll be in this house somewhere, like everything else).

Here are the only fragments of this work of, er, near-genius that I can remember: I was sitting out on the lawn when I wrote it, supposed to be revising deeply dull Victorian political history:

I stare at the ground. I stare at the sky.
I count all the cars as I hear them pass by.

and, the final couplet

I look for the tortoise, who's wandered away:
I'll finish my homework. But just not today.

Many years ago. But I haven't really changed. Oh, okay, perhaps I look a little bit older. But I feel the same.

I'm going back to the tax now. But I had to get this done first, obviously. This blog doesn't write itself, you know.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Looking Forward

Sometimes the frost makes everything look really pretty: but sometimes, as today, it all just looks a bit - well - - grey and dead.

There are just a few green leaves - these are strawberry leaves, defying the frost:

But hey, rather to my amazement - looking up into an old climbing rose bush, there are some roses - admittedly a bit tired looking, but it is January after all.

And there are narcissi in flower, if only on the window sill:

But no, let's face facts, it's the middle of winter and here's a corner of my mother's garden looking very dead indeed.

I'll pull back and show you a bit more of my mother's garden, shall I?

Oh look, it's the same corner but I seem to have fast-forwarded to June.

Ahhh. THAT's better.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Sweet and Low

The trouble is that I don't think of myself as a person with an illness.

I have Type 2 diabetes but I don't let it get into every bit of my life - I just take my medication and am, in general, careful with my diet - I eat lots of fruit and quite a lot of vegetables too.

But I don't always think about it at times when I really need to. This is not always good.

As I said yesterday, the doctor agreed that I should increase the dose of metformin that I'm taking, as my blood sugar was still too high. So I took an extra tablet in the evening and then forgot about the whole thing.

Then it was lunchtime yesterday and I was a bit late because it was busy in our office. I wondered what to have for lunch and decided that, while thinking about it, I'd have some raw white cabbage.

Now you may think that's weird, but I love raw cabbage - look, it's only coleslaw without the carrot and mayonnaise, isn't it? And it's a good, healthy thing to eat. So I got the cabbage out of the fridge and chopped off a piece and cut it up, ready to eat.

Then the phone rang and it was quite a long phone call. When it finally finished, the phone rang again and it was my brother, and I realised that it was now half-past one, and that really I couldn't follow what my brother was saying, because I was feeling a bit woozy.

"I'm sorry, I'll ring you back," I said, "because I need to eat something."

Yes, even I had finally worked out that my blood sugar was getting low - - I feel firstly grumpy, then woozy - - and light-headed - - anyway, off I went to the kitchen and there was my cabbage.

So I ate the cabbage and did that help? No. Is cabbage what you want when your blood sugar's low? No.

So, really not thinking very clearly at all, I looked round for something handy and quick and thought, aha! Banana on toast.

Now you'll either be thinking "oh yes, delicious, I'll go and make some now this instant, now you've put the idea into my head" OR you'll be thinking "Ewwwwwwwwww disgusting, how could she eat such a thing?" People might not care who's Prime Minister, but they have strong views about banana on toast.

So, two slices of wholemeal toast and a banana. Very nice it was too. And, okay, bananas are quite sweet - - but they still take a while to get their sugar into your blood.

So I still felt terrible. And then, without any apparent decision on my part, I looked in the cupboard, found a packet of chocolate digestive biscuits, ripped it open and ate four of them like the winner of the All-England Chocolate Digestive Speed-Eating Contest.

And then I felt a lot better.

Metformin lowers the blood sugar. That's what it's for. I must pay more attention to lunch in future.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

At the Doctor's

"So, are you a flu jab person? And have you had one?" asked the doctor.

I was there because they sent me a letter asking me to book an appointment to discuss my diabetes medication, because they need to keep checking that I'm on the right amount.

And I'm not - - my blood sugar is still too high, I know, and I showed the doctor my latest readings from when I test it, and he agreed it's too high, and we agreed I'll take one more tablet per day because I'm not up to the maximum dose yet.

Anyway, he knew jolly well that I am a flu jab person, because diabetics are more prone to the complications from flu, which include being killed to death by things like double pneumonia.

He also suspected - correctly - that really the flu jab hadn't been top of my agenda, what with the Communist dying in the middle of December. You'd think that the fact that the Communist died from double pneumonia would focus my mind a bit, wouldn't you? - - but hey, it didn't.

So the doctor bounced off to the Big Cave Full of Flu Jabs and brought me one back.

I wasn't paying much attention to what he was doing as we were deep in a discussion about the Communist. By chance, although there are several doctors in the practice, this one had been the one who visited the Communist in the nursing home and sent him into hospital.

Although the Communist didn't seem incredibly ill, he wasn't talking much sense at that time. And last time I saw this doctor, I had told him that the Communist still had all his marbles and wasn't confused at all. The doctor had remembered that I had said this, and then worked out, from the Communist's conversation, that the Communist must be more ill than perhaps he appeared.

This, of course, is what a good GP should do - and this is the sort of thing that makes me keep returning to this one. That and the fact that he offered me the flu jab there and then, rather than making me book an appointment with the nurse and come back again.

But because we were talking about the Communist, he only thought to say "oh yes, sharp scratch" as he stuck the needle in and I had one of those cartoon-like delayed reactions where I suddenly went "OW!" about two seconds later.

Because, in spite of what they tell you, if you stick a needle in yourself, it hurts. I do it most days when I check my blood sugar. It's a very thin needle. I stick it in my finger. It only takes one drop of blood. And it HURTS. Though not for long, granted.

Traditionally, though, the medical profession have always said things like "It won't hurt a bit". I think it's better to know that it will hurt, but it won't last long. Once, years ago, when I was having a blood transfusion, it hurt like hell, and I was really worried because I'd been told it wouldn't hurt.

Then a nurse came in and I told her it was hurting a lot and she said it was simply because they were trying to do it quickly. Then I was fine and I didn't mind it hurting.

The truth hurts sometimes. But half-truths and lies can hurt more. And needles always hurt. But not for long.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Baubles, Bangles and Beads

Every year there's a discussion about what's suitable for student doctors to wear whilst dealing with patients - or indeed, with simulated patients, because they need to practise their dress code as well as their other skills.

Every year, in the medical school, which is located somewhere in Great Britain, the problems vary because of what's in fashion. My perception of last year's students was that some of the blokes looked as though their clothes had been slept in - which was probably true. One or two of the young women seemed determined to reveal as much as possible of their breasts and thighs to what they clearly considered to be an eagerly waiting world. In the consultation I would rather too often find myself thinking "My goodness! Those must be a 38F at least!"

Does it matter? Well, only if it gets in the way of communicating with the patient, is my view of it - - and I think that extremes of dress, hair, make-up etc can do just that. Of course, when it comes to dress worn because of religion, that's a whole tricky minefield. I feel that sometimes we can be too sensitive to people's religious or cultural sensibilities - and, okay, perhaps I would say that because I'm not religious. But I feel that it's fine for the doctor to believe whatever they like - - as long as it doesn't put up a barrier between doctor and patient.

Then there's the jewellery thing.

Every year the student doctors have a session on how to wash their hands.

It sounds obvious - but, of course, they have to learn to make sure that their hands are sterile and hence have to learn how to do it in a special way so as to avoid passing on infection to the patients.

Really the students have to have their entire forearms sterile, and in previous years, there's always been a lot of complaining about this.

"But this bracelet was given to me by Great Aunt Gladys just before she died. I promised her I'd never take it off."

"But I've been wearing this piece of string round my wrist since Glastonbury 2004!"

"But my boyfriend gave me this strip of material as a token of our love. I've been wearing it ever since."

"But I wear this woven grass chain as a symbol of my love for the Earth, and that's my religion, I'm an Earthist, and I can't possibly remove it."

Now then. As you will no doubt know, there has been a tremendous amount of news about hospital-based infections recently. So this year the leader of the hand-washing session decided to put her foot down, and turned up with a pair of scissors.

"The only thing you can wear on your hands or forearms," she said, "is a wedding ring. Anything else needs to be removed. Here are some scissors to help you. I don't care if your jewellery is there because of sentiment or because of creed: it can still spread infection, and you're going to remove it, okay? Otherwise, there's the door, and you can leave, because you cannot become a doctor."

Yay! And, furthermore, woohoo! Hurrah for common sense!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Water Like a Stone

In his blog post yesterday, Silverback mentioned that I'd said to him that I'd removed the ice from the bird bath, and that several days later the chunk of ice was still on the lawn.

Silverback also happened - quite by accident, I'm sure - to show us a photo of his temperature guage outside the house in Florida, which I noticed was showing 115 degrees Fahrenheit in the sunshine.

It's not so warm in Blighty. Here's the very birdbath that he mentioned, this morning, with the piece of ice still next to it.


The birdbath is steaming in the photo as I was trying to thaw it by pouring on boiling water. It took two kettlefulls to do it.

It was great to see all the sparrows clustered round their new hot tub clutching their little towels, though.

I'm fed up of all this cold. Is it Spring yet?

Monday, January 05, 2009

Things I Liked About America No. 6 - Notices

I like reading notices everywhere, especially when away from home as they give the "feel" of the place.

So here are a few I saw in Florida.

Here's a poster warning of some venomous snakes. There are lots of little rhymes about them, to bring comfort or panic if one bites you. Coral snakes, where the red is next to the yellow, are dangerous:

"Red on yellow - kills a fellow".

But there are lots of copycat snakes, which try to frighten you, but which haven't quite the same stripes, so you have to remember:

"Red touching black is fine for Jack".

Never mind Jack - - what about me? I know perfectly well that if I'd been bitten I'd have been in such a state of panic I would have forgotten all rhymes or mixed them up.

Is it "Red and black - - alas alack"?

Or

"Black and yellow - - kills a fellow" - - - Nooooooooooo! It reminded me of a dim memory of some old British black and white film with the actor Will Hay in it, where they are all trapped on the railway track and they're trying to work out what time the train will come - - but the clocks have just gone back - - or forward - - they can't remember which - - -

Moving on - - - a bit of road law - look, it's not perhaps the most exciting photo in the world but it does have a palm tree in it if you look closely, which, as you know, significantly improves any photograph:

Here's a road sign that filled me with real excitement, because of the Kennedy Space Centre: I'd always wanted to go there and it was as fascinating as I thought it would be:

A bird on the beach:

and - - er - - this - - -

and outside the Hard Rock Cafe in Miami:

I loved the Hard Rock Cafe. I wish it was nearer, as I loved the food there too. I know that there used to be one in Leeds, but it closed: perhaps because "Hard Rock Cafe Leeds" doesn't have quite the same glamour.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

I Could Do That

I'm always on the lookout for what job I might do when I grow up. If I ever do, that is, which seems, on the face of it, unlikely.

At the moment I have two jobs - one working for an actors' agency, and one helping to teach communication skills to healthcare professionals of all types. I enjoy them both.

But I'm forever assessing other jobs. Remember Yosser Hughes from Alan Bleasdale's eighties television drama The Boys from the Blackstuff ? (oh dear, I've just found out it was way back in 1982 - I must be older than I thought I was). Anyway, Yosser, splendidly played by Bernard Hill, was unemployed and forever going up to anyone who might be able to provide him with work, saying "Gissa job! I could do that!"

And that's how I am: - always weighing up any new job I come across, to see if I could do it, should everything go pear-shaped.

Yesterday we passsed a car wash, one of those hand car washes that's done by lots of people, and I decided that's on my list of jobs I'm NOT going to do. Fine in the summer, perhaps, all that throwing water about - - but yesterday, in the freezing cold - - oh no, I don't think so.

Then I found a job I liked the look of.

It was in a documentary about people with phobias. Yes, I love anything like that. Any documentary with a title that starts "The Man Who - - " and I'm on to it at once, to find out what it's all about.

Anyway, this was about several people. There was a girl who had a phobia of knees: a woman who had a phobia of frogs: a boy who had a phobia of bananas: a woman who had a phobia of tall buildings standing on their own in fields: and, most strangely to me, a woman who had a phobia of peas ("I won't look at them in the supermarket. I think they're ganging up on me.")

There was a man, inventively called the Phobia Man - I don't think we ever got his name, it was that kind of a programme - who travelled round to visit these people, and helped to cure them.

Now then, how to do it isn't rocket science - you gradually give them more and more exposure to the thing they're frightened of - - firstly photos - - then the real thing - - whilst keeping their panic at a manageable level until finally they find they're not in a state of panic any more.

If you're thinking "All very well, but what if the phobia is about grizzly bears?" then I think we're not talking phobias, we're talking well-grounded fear. I think a phobia is when you're scared stiff of something that's not really scary. Like peas. For, even if they did gang up on you, you could easily sort the little bastards out with a pan of boiling water and a fork, couldn't you?

And that's when I thought hey! I could do that! Gissa job! Because, firstly, I think I've got the communication skills to do it, and the understanding of how people are feeling. And, secondly, I'm not scared of many of the things that people have phobias about - - spiders, snakes, heights, frogs, bananas, - - no, they hold no fears for me. Lots of things do, but these just don't. And I laugh in the face of the Green Pea Army.

I'm not making fun of anyone with a phobia, truly, because I know that fear is fear no matter what causes it. But I'd be interested to know what qualifications the Phobia Man has, and how you get to be one. Meanwhile, I think I'll stick to my present two jobs. But I'm keeping it in reserve.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Oh Yes I Did - - at 10.30 This Morning!

"Experience Wakefield" says the sign next to the Theatre Royal. Well, today I had a whole new experience- seeing a pantomime at 10.30am!

There are three shows today: 10.30am, 2pm and 7pm - a lot of hard work for the cast in a very physical show.

We had gone to see Beauty and the Beast because Jill Myers, who's in the actors' agency that I work for, is playing Modestine, one of Beauty's two wicked sisters. I liked the description in the programme: "Jill is delighted to be returning to Theatre Royal Wakefield for a third festive season of wickedness after previously enjoying being particularly evil in Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella."

The pantomimes at Wakefield are always good - sadly I missed Cinderella last year because of the Communist's illness, but Jill was a fantastic Bad Fairy in Sleeping Beauty the year before and she was absolutely terrific in today's show - I thought the two wicked sisters' double-act was the best thing in it, even though I know I'm biased!

I'm slightly relieved that Jill won't be at tomorrow's agency meeting, however - she has two more shows tomorrow - as I'm getting slightly concerned by how swiftly and naturally she becomes the embodiment of evil, even though it does seem to involve a lot of comedy, singing and dancing.

This wasn't quite a traditional panto, unlike the also-excellent Aladdin which I saw in Middlesbrough a couple of weeks back - it was halfway between a panto and a musical play and one or two romantic numbers lost the attention of the tinies in the audience - though, of course, at 10.30am there were many, many little ones as they're the only ones really awake at that time on a Saturday!

Again, like the Middlesbrough panto, it looked fantastic with lovely bright colours and lush costumes and plenty of costume changes for the Dame. My favourite line in it was that every time the Wicked Sisters were about to do something really nasty, someone would say "No way!" to them and they would always reply with "Yes way!"

At the end - - and I'm so sorry if this spoils the plot for you, like the review I read yesterday of the new film The Reader where the reviewer gave away every inch of the plot, damn him - the Wicked Sisters end up working in the kitchens. "No way!" they say. "Yes way!" they are told. I like a bit of justice in the world, and there so rarely is any.

I plan one more Proper Panto this Christmas and that's Cinderella at the Bradford Alhambra - another traditional theatre, where a friend of mine, Jay Worthy, is an Ugly Sister. And then the panto season will be - - er - - behind me.

Britain in winter, eh? The weather's rubbish. But the pantomimes are great.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Until the Pips Squeak

So, the New Year came, and with it an Orange mobile bill for £317.54.

As a matter of fact, horrendous though this bill is, it was not unexpected. When I was in America for two weeks, I rang the Communist for a short chat every day for the first week and a half, until he got ill and was taken into hospital. Then Olli got ill with the same thing - and I thought Olli might end up in hospital too, so bad was the coughing - and then my mother got it and was more ill than she's been for thirty years or so - but, because she's very fit for an eighty-four-year-old, she recovered in a couple of weeks. Her illness got rather neglected, I'm afraid, because of the Communist's death.

So, because of all this, I had made - and received - a lot of phone calls from America and I knew that the bill would be huge. I don't regret making any of the calls, particularly the ones to the Communist - and my last proper conversation with him was at the Kennedy Space Centre, which he would have loved, so I'm really glad that I rang him then.

But what concerned me that there was no breakdown of charges at all on the bill - just "Total charges for this invoice" and the amount: and it's paid by direct debit.

So I thought I'd query it.

No phone number to ring on the bill itself, oh no, far too easy!

So I looked on their website which is www.orange.co.uk and I looked at Help and Support and finally I found a phone number and, from my mobile, it is 150.

I tried to ring them. They made me press lots of buttons and then asked me to type in my password.

Since I have no idea what the password is, I tried DIE YOU BASTARDS. It didn't work.

The thing is, because you can't have a mobile phone account in joint names - or couldn't when we set it up - it's in Stephen's name. But that's just because they happened to say MR AND MRS and MR comes first so that's the name it's in.

Of course, part of the bill above is Stephen's calls: it wasn't just me, oh no. Since I know you're anxious to find out, the call charges for the same period on his phone are 27p. Clearly there's more than a little truth in Olli's introductory line to friends "This is my dad. He never speaks. Don't worry about it."

Anyway, if there ever WAS a password, Stephen will have set it and I don't know it and I wasn't going to ring him at work because I know he's really busy today.

So I thought I'd email Orange with my query.

All went well until I got to this:

To keep your account details secure, we aren't able to answer account-specific questions by email.

I sent them an email anyway, along the lines of "if, by any chance, I happened to have an account with Orange, though I'm not saying that I have, obviously, in case that's too account-specific for you, why might you have sent me a non-itemised bill after several years of itemised bills?"

I have as yet only received a standard reply saying we'll deal with it but only if it's non-specific.

Then I tried to ring them again.

This time I rang them from a landline - the Customer Services number, in case it interests you, is 07973100150 - and when it asked for the password, I didn't even try to enter one - I just pressed the hash key a few times and it got me a ringing phone! Wooohooo! And then I just had to listen to Noddy Holder singing Merry Christmas Everybody for about twenty minutes and finally someone answered.

I asked her why they had suddenly sent a non-itemised bill. She asked whose name the phone is in and I said it was in my husband's name. She said she couldn't really discuss it with me in that case, because of security: and I said that since I'd just bypassed Orange's top-secret password security by the simple means of pressing the hash key a few times, I didn't think it would do any harm, and I had the bill in front of me, and could she please have a look to see what was going on?

She pressed a few buttons and then said,

"Well, it looks as though the system has done a sweep and decided to send you non-itemised bills from now on."

Aha! I knew where I was now - - in Customer Services Roleplay Territory, like the kind they use for training purposes: and Mark, who is an actor who used to be in the agency I work for, once told me that you can do any customer services roleplay by just saying "Like how d'you mean?" in response to everything.

"Like how d'you mean?"

"Well, it's because it's an old contract."

"Like how d'you mean?"

"Because you've had it longer than a couple of years the system has done a sweep and decided to send you non-itemised bills from now on."

Time for the other Customer Services Roleplay Question. "Why?"

"Well, that's just what it does. I don't know why. But I'll send you an itemised bill for December and ask it to put you back on itemised billing. And it'll show a charge of £3 but I'll take that charge off as well so it will show MINUS £3 at the bottom."

I couldn't be bothered to ask WHY to that one.

Un-non-itemise my bill.
Unbreak my heart, Orange.