Friday, April 30, 2010

The Telephones of Olden Days

It didn't fit in your pocket, you couldn't send text messages with it, you couldn't take photos with it and it most certainly didn't have any apps.

You may not recognise it if you're what is technically known as Young.

But this, dear reader, was a telephone.

One that was very like it stood on our hall table when I was a child. The one in the photo's slightly older than ours - I took the photo at Bletchley Park so I expect it's a wartime phone.

In those days you picked up the phone and spoke to the operator, and they put you through - - that's if they could find anyone else who actually owned a phone that they could put you through to.

Ours, being more modern, had a dial on the front. In those days there were letters as well as numbers.

So as a child I would ring York - 0Y04 78796 and the Communist would answer.

"Blass and Fisher Chemist's, Acomb."

"Mum says could you bring us some soap and shampoo, please?"

"Okay, that's fine. Got to go, I've got a queue of customers."

(Mr Fisher was the Communist's business partner but died when I was quite young. His ghost hung around for years. Whenever a sales rep tried to get the Communist to stock something that he didn't fancy, he would always say he couldn't possibly stock it as Mr Fisher wouldn't approve.)

In those days, talking on the telephone always had a slight air of importance and mystery. Calling anyone at all was quite something and calling long-distance was a big thing. To some of my older relatives, it still is.

In 1983 we stayed in Ireland and the call box's phone number was Allihies 5. Now that's a proper phone number. I rang my parents to say we'd arrived safely and it was still rather amazing talking to them from so far away.

In December 2008, the last proper conversation that I had with the Communist was from the Kennedy Space Centre, a place he had always longed to visit. He was in a nursing home. I was ringing him every day from America, even though he wasn't ill at that time, because you never knew, did you? I stepped out of one of the exhibitions and just thought "My Dad would love this!" and rang him to tell him about it, and he loved hearing about it.

The next day he got the virus that turned to pneumonia. So I'm so glad I rang him that day.

I love being able to get emails on my Blackberry now, and I'm certainly not one of those people that thinks it was better before we had mobiles.

But young people these days - ohhhh! I sound about a hundred and three! - will never experience the sense of occasion that used to come from picking up the telephone and dialling the number.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Something Fishy

Every time I go swimming I write a little S on the calendar and every time I go swimming I swim a mile. Well, slightly over a mile, actually - I do 66 lengths instead of 64, in case I've counted wrong.

So I thought I'd count up how many miles I've swum this year and it is 56.

Fifty-six miles! I guessed it would be about sixty since last November, when I started swimming in the early mornings, but it's clearly more than that if it's fifty-six since January 1st.

Fifty-six!!! (Yes, I know, I just keep right on mentioning it). It's a bit hard to believe really. I keep checking my toes to see if they're becoming a trifle webbed.

Sadly it hasn't given me a figure like Cheryl Cole's, though I know I have got a bit thinner.

But my blood pressure is good and low - a hundred and twenty over sixty-four when last checked. And I've been working so flat out lately that I think I must have got fitter - otherwise I don't think I could have done it.

I'm no athlete. I'm short and stocky. A Russian peasant build, constructed for carrying sacks of anything heavy. Broad shoulders (getting ever broader no doubt with all this swimming) and broad back.

The Communist was short but amazingly strong. When I was a child it was my proud boast that my Dad could lift anything. And I am his female equivalent. Sadly women aren't supposed to be good at lifting heavy things - they are supposed to be all willowy grace, and I'm not.

So I can't run, and I can't jump. I can walk for a long time, though never elegantly.

In the water though, I can move. I feel free. I am not a fast swimmer but I am fast enough to negotiate other swimmers. For the first ten lengths I feel I'm just getting going and they're slightly hard work - - but when I get to forty lengths or so, I feel I could keep going for ever. When the pool's not too crowded I look at the clear water ahead of me and pretend it's the sea in Florida, with pelicans diving nearby!

And when I think back to how I felt before I started swimming so much - - yes, I do feel better now. There's something in this exercise lark and I'm delighted to say that I think I've found it. By about nine o'clock tomorrow I'll have done fifty-seven miles. I love it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


I hate it when I have to lie.

And I do have to lie - it's part of my job. Seriously. Sometimes actors are offered auditions or work that they now can't get to - - or simply don't want to, because they don't want to do the job and they think they're just about to be offered something better and want to take a chance on that happening. Perhaps they misread the casting breakdown when they asked to be submitted for the role, and hence simply can't get to the right city in time. Or perhaps they've booked a holiday that clashes with the shoot dates and the job's just not good enough to cancel the holiday for.

But in general, these kind of reasons aren't good enough to please whoever's casting the play or the film. Some agents are happy to go down the route of "blame the actor" - but we don't do that. If an actor is a real problem then we'd deal with it ourselves, even going so far as to ask them to leave the agency. But, more often than not, it simply isn't the actor's fault.

So I have a series of plausible reasons that I use and my reassuring girls'-grammar-school voice always seems to work. I've had to do it twice in the past two days.

Today, halfway through the afternoon I suddenly felt exhausted. As often, I stupidly hadn't had a lunch break, just eaten a sandwich at my desk. So I went in the room that we call, in a rather Sixties way, the "lounge" and fell asleep on the sofa for exactly twenty minutes. It's not unusual for me to dream in short verses - who knows why, a psychologist would have a field day with me!! - and I woke up with this:

I hate things when they're not the truth
Like I thought they would be in my youth
And when some lie to me
And I suddenly see
Then it hurts worse than pulling a tooth

Well, yes, perhaps not the greatest poetry in the world! Of course, to me there's a big difference between a white lie and a cruel lie. If the bride says "How do I look?" then that is not the moment to say "The other dress would have looked far better." Truth is a funny thing.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

From Distant Lands

Here's a photo that Stephen took in Helsinki last week:

A rather jolly red boat - - and what's it surrounded by? Water - - and yes, ice. Helsinki harbour is still partly frozen.

Many people in the South of England think that Leeds is Up North. Helsinki, capital of Finland, really is Up North.

And here's a little island, seen from the overnight ferry between Helsinki and Stockholm.

I love islands! Immediately I want to visit it!

Although Stephen's journey home was very long - two and a half days - some parts of it, like this one, were really interesting.

The future is a funny thing: it doesn't half play tricks on you. If asked, a month ago, why Stephen might be travelling by boat from Helsinki to Stockholm, "because of a volcano erupting in Iceland" would not have been my first guess.

In other Traveller News (ahhh, seamless link there Daphne!) it is lovely to see Silverback again: he has returned from his six-month winter sojourn in Florida. I was pleased by today's sunshine: he has a great suntan and I hope that Britain will provide enough sunshine to keep the tan topped up this summer!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Stark Naked in Finland

Ahhhh yes, they're a liberated lot in the Far North. All that sitting around starkers in saunas. Here's Stephen's bathroom in the Hotel Torni, Helsinki, Finland.

And what do we notice about it?

Yes, clear glass doors to the shower and the loo.

Would you get that anywhere in Britain? I'd be willing to bet my whole herd of reindeer that nowhere in Britain is a hotel with clear glass doors on its ensuite bathroom. We Brits are just - - well -- shy. There were a few comments about it in the visitors' book in the room:

In case you can't read this one, it says:

"Cool! Wanna have the same shower cabin at home. Nothing wrong about showing off a bit."

Nothing wrong with it of course. Oh no. Everyone I know probably has a bit of nudity if they look under their clothes. But would I be comfortable staying in that room? No, I wouldn't. Why not? Because I'm a buttoned-up Brit, I suppose. Would you?

Anyway, Stephen has now been snatched away from all this, by means of a two and a half day journey - - ferry to Stockholm, train to Copenhagen, train to Koln, train to Brussels, Eurostar to London, train to Leeds. Back to Britain, where we disapprove of all nakedness and where we're sewn into our vests from October to March, and quite right too.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Watching and Taking It In

Sometimes I think that people think I'm a bit thick.

They don't think that I'm thick in an academic, book-learing way - well I don't think that they do - : I am good at Remembering Things and have lots of bits of paper to prove it.

No, thick in a not-noticing-things green-as-grass kind of a way.

When I was ten, a film was made of a school trip to the Dales. There was a thirty-second clip of me in it, apparently staring round with a faraway expression.

"And here's Daphne, looking for fairies as usual," went the commentary.

Oh, yes, har flaming har. As a matter of fact, I had a camera in my hand, as was customary even in those distant days, and was looking for the best place to take one of the twelve precious photographs that I had to last me the week. For in those days - I know you'll find it hard to believe - photos were taken on something called film, and they came in rolls of twelve, twenty-four and thirty-six. And, being a child, I only had twelve, and actually I was lucky because most children didn't have cameras.

And, yes, I did daydream a lot in school, but that wasn't my fault: they should have made the lessons more interesting.

Now then. When you're known for daydreaming, everyone thinks that's always what you're doing. And sometimes you're not. Sometimes you're watching, and taking it all in. And that's what I'm often doing.

Let us fast-forward a few years. A couple of weeks ago someone I know told me something about someone else I know, and was rather surprised to find that I already knew it, and had chosen to do nothing about it, for reasons which I had considered carefully. The person who told me was most surprised.

When I was a teacher, I was totally silent in all the breaks - you may find this hard to believe but 'twas true - because I would get on with the vast amount of marking that I had to do, and thus have less to do in the evenings. And after a while, everyone carried on their conversations as though I wasn't there. Pretty soon, I knew about every scandal in the school: and there were plenty: and I kept them quiet.

One of the senior teachers - now a well-known television presenter, oh yes! - was having an affair with a young female teacher. His then wife rang just about every young female teacher in the school and accused them of being the one. She didn't ring me - I was most offended that she thought it couldn't possibly be me! But I knew who it was. I'd heard a few things, whilst getting on with my marking.

Also, in the work I do I need to know quite a lot about what's known as "body language". I wouldn't claim to be anywhere near a Derren Brown-type expert. But I have picked up quite a bit of knowledge along the way. And often that tells far more than the words that are spoken.

Sometimes, when it's clear that people think I'm green as grass, I still feel rather offended. But, as they say in these parts, I'm not as green as I'm cabbage-looking.

Friday, April 23, 2010

That Sounds Bad To Me

"Royaume-Uni: Nul Points". Yes, I can see into the future, all the way to the Eurovision Song Contest. We are offering, to our eagerly expectant fellow Europeans, this:

It's one of those "this is my moment" soaring-chorus songs that just scream "manufactured pop". I'm surprised there isn't a key change in the middle. The singer has had a personality bypass and even the dancers have the insight to look rather uncomfortable with their rather ugly choreography.

So, I tell you now, all the countries whose names end in the letters ia - Latvia, Romania, that kind of thing - will all vote for each other and we'll come nowhere. Actually this happens every year anyway but I do feel we should at least make an effort.

Like we used to do, back in the glory days of 1967, when Sandie Shaw won it for us with Puppet on a String.

Yes, back in those days of post-war austerity when the United Kingdom couldn't even afford shoes for her, or enough material to make her a proper frock, Sandie did it for us.

And it's a little-known fact that some clever British scientists saw the programme and later used the diagram on the wall behind her to map the human genome. Oh yes, Britain was great in those days.


I'm typing this on a rather elderly computer in the room that we call the "dining-room". Occasionally we even dine in it, but more usually it's used as an office for the roleplay work that I do.

In the agency's office, in another room in the house, are two spanking new computers. On Wednesday, late afternoon, they both must have got wind of the fact that Stephen was in Helsinki and also that he had been transformed from Geek King to Reindeerman in under two weeks.

One of the computers informed me that it would be closing itself down in fifty seconds, and did, as I stared at it helplessly: and then the other one did too. They are refusing to be coaxed back to life until the Stephen Presence re-enters the house. It's a very odd fault and I am convinced it's simply that they know he's not here.

Please don't tell this computer - the one I'm typing on now - that Stephen is currently on a ship travelling from Helsinki to Stockholm. I am lying to this computer. I keep calling "Stephen!" and pretending to talk to him in the hope that it will think he's just in another room.

Now I could try to get at the agency's inbox on this one - - but it's old and dodgy and I know jolly well that if I try to log off it will never log back on again. It's usually logged on to my personal account and I just daren't risk having no computer at all!

So the agency's inbox is currently a mystery to me. One of our actors has managed to get at some of the casting breakdowns (details of the actors that plays/films/television are seeking) from home (thanks Keir) but for once in my life, I can't see any of it.

It has made me realise how much my life is governed by trying to deal with all the various items that come into the inbox. Trying to clear the inbox, whilst dealing with everything rather than just filing it away, is what I do for a large part of every day.

Without it things are very strange. I have done a few jobs that I can do without the computer - - but then I was at a loss.

It's a strangely liberating feeling. Part of me is really worried about what I will find when Reindeerman returns, changes back into Geek King and mends the computers - - - and part of me is going "Wheeeeee!!! Freedom!!!" And then I feel really guilty for thinking that!

Still, I'm going to see our actor Jem Dobbs in Raspberry, a play about Ian Dury, tomorrow evening in Manchester, so that's a kind of work, as it's part of my job, though I'm sure I'll enjoy it.

And I find myself looking at all the housework that needs doing, and that I don't usually have time to do.

I'm not sure whether it's the school I went to, which gave us masses of homework every night, that gave me so much guilt if I'm not working: or whether I was just like that anyway. I think it's probably the latter.

I'm going to try to enjoy the freedom until the computers are up and running again, and I'm going to try not to worry about it. There. That sounds like a plan.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Homeward Bound

Stephen was booked on a plane today from Helsinki. He went there on Monday last week for a four-day business trip and, because of the volcano erupting in Iceland, has been there ever since.

But today's plane was cancelled and now his company have booked him a different way home.

Tomorrow he will catch an overnight ferry to Stockholm and then a train from there (and it will be tricky to get from the port to the station as they don't use euros in Sweden, they use krone and he hasn't got any).

So a train from Stockholm to Koln, and then an overnight train from Koln to Brussels, and then the Eurostar from Brussels to London, and then a train from London to Leeds, and he will get home on Sunday.

It's a big place, Europe. We tend to think it's a small world these days - - but it's not. (And, Silverback, I could have nicked that Disney tune from your blog and put it in here, but I haven't, because I want to get it out of my brain eventually.)

Although Stephen's been very fed up, he has managed to do some work from the company's Helsinki office, and the company that he works for has paid for everything he's needed. So for Stephen, so far, it's been annoying and inconvenient. I know that for others it has been an absolute nightmare and I feel very sorry for them.

I hope that Stephen's Grand Tour of Northern Europe on his way home will go smoothly!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


It was my mother's birthday yesterday and she is eighty-six. I felt sad as the Communist never reached that age - he died age eighty-five.

A new pharmacist's shop has opened in Oakwood, Leeds. The Communist, when a very young apprentice pharmacist, used to work at Timothy Whites and Taylor's, the pharmacist's on the other side of the road, which closed some years ago.

Since then, there hasn't been one at Oakwood. When I drove past the new one today, my first thought was "Oh, I must tell the Communist, he'll be interested." And then I remembered he's dead - it was a real shock and, not for the first time, I found myself having to stop the car because I couldn't see for the tears.

I was working yesterday, of course, but took Mum swimming first. She comes with me most days when I go, which is several days a week. I suppose not many people are in the swimming pool at eight o'clock on their eighty-sixth birthday.

Then I took her to have her hair cut, which pleased her - - but after that I was back to work. Still, she had several visitors, so that was good, and I know she enjoyed her day.

Since she fell and broke her shoulder - and, more to the point, I suspect, banged her head - she's been increasingly forgetful and it worries me. And sometimes she just can't seem to understand things that once she would have found simple.

We were at the garden centre the other day. There were tomato plants for sale. £3.49 for six or 99p each.

"£3.49 for a tomato plant? That's really expensive!" said my mother.

"No, it's £3.49 for six," I said.

"But I don't want six. I only want one."

"Yes, well you can just buy one. For 99p."

"But it says £3.49."

"Yes, but that's for six."

"But I don't want six. I only want one."

"Yes, well, look, it says 99p each. 99p for just one. £3.49 for six."

"But I don't want six - - "

It took a while to sort out. Of course, growing the plant now she's got it will be no problem at all. She still spends almost all of the day in the garden, and her fitness level puts many people half her age to shame.

She's endlessly kind, and endlessly wanting to help. She didn't like the limitations of being eighty-five. She won't like being eighty-six. But it's better than the alternative. I hope that she will have more, happy, birthdays.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Latest from Distant Finland

Just a very short post this evening as I have to get up at five o'clock in the morning to go and work in Bolton. Stephen, aka Reindeerman, is still stranded in Finland and found this on one of the news sites:

"Iceland go bankrupt, then manage to set their island on fire. Insurance scam written all over it."

Monday, April 19, 2010

Under a Bit of a Cloud

Stephen is still in Finland. He knows a lot about forests and reindeer now.

He is booked to come back to Britain on a plane on Thursday, which may or may not fly.

If it doesn't, he will try the boat-and-train route on Friday. And a glance at this reminds us just how fast planes are.

To get back this way could involve an overnight ferry to Stockholm in Sweden and then a train to Copenhagen in Denmark. Then an overnight train to Koln, then a train to Brussels, then Eurostar to London and then a train to Leeds.

Well, I know Stephen would like to travel more but I don't think that this was the kind of thing that he had in mind.

You can learn more about the volcano from this blog: The Iceland Weather Report (that's not actually all it's about!) and there are some great photos too.

Meanwhile, here in Blighty, I have had a very interesting afternoon with a group of delightful and very hard-working Malaysian medical students. We tried to explain the word "malaise" to them and suddenly realised that they thought it must be something to do with their country!

And this evening I am far more tired than I would have expected to be so I think everything must be catching up with me. I'm not sure exactly what "everything" is but it feels like there's quite a lot of it!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Volcano's Revenge

Of course, this was the week where lots of people I know had gone abroad. And now the relevant word seems to be not "visiting" but "emigrated".

Gareth's father Les is still in Romania, having gone there last week, supposedly for one day, to do some work. I expect by now he is putting "u" on the end of every word.

My friend Sonia is supposed to be rehearsing a play about Edith Piaf - - called, unsurprisingly, Piaf - but she went to Paris for a week to do her other job, which is as a European tour guide, and ended up stranded in Brussels.

My husband Stephen is still in Helsinki. He was booked on a flight for tomorrow, but it's been cancelled. He was supposed to come home last Thursday and is beginning to wonder about setting off overland on the back of a reindeer. He is denying all knowledge of the word "sauna" and insists that no nubile Finnish maidens have been beating him with birch twigs: or that, if they have, he hasn't enjoyed it.

Of course, of all those I know, my greatest pity is reserved for Julian. Having just completed a long theatre tour, he splashed out on a holiday to Jamaica, with his fiancee. And they are now stuck there, in a beach resort, and have been told that they can't get home until the end of the month.

"I'm bearing up bravely, Daphne," he said, in an email. "Might have to go for another dip in the sea."

Dunkirk Spirit, and all that. Ahhhh, it makes me proud to be British.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Grit and Glamour: Knife Edge at the Lowry

When I've seen Jill Myers on stage, she is usually wearing a very glamorous frock and is often playing the trumpet. There's usually at least one child in the audience who's wondering whether to cry.

This has nothing to do with the posh frock or the trumpet and everything to do with the fact that Jill is the absolute Queen of Glamorous Panto Baddies.

Sleeping Beauty never reaches sixteen without Jill turning up to sing a power-ballad solo and then put everyone to sleep for a hundred years. Cinderella's path to the ball is often thwarted by Jill making her stay at home to do the cleaning and telling her to "Build a bridge. Get over it." That kind of thing.

Last night was a bit different, because it was Jill's opening night in Knife Edge, which is a very gritty Northern play about a teenager who has been stabbed and killed.

The opening night was in The Lowry, which may be Northern but is anything but gritty - it's a huge and glamorous arts centre with no less than three theatres in the very-gentrified Salford Quays, Greater Manchester. Yesterday, with the sunshine glinting on all the buildings and the water round the building, it looked stunning.

Mind you, the Lowry is ten years old and I bet that's the first time it's ever been bathed in sunshine. Sunshine and Manchester are not frequent companions.

The play was short and powerful. The story is that the father of the boy who's been stabbed and killed has challenged him to turn up and fight him in a duel to the death.

He's neglected to inform the boy's mother of this fact - - and she turns up and, not surprisingly, is not happy about it. So we had Jill playing the mother, a feisty and furious Northern redhead in jeans and not a posh frock anywhere.

The cast - all four of them - were terrific. Oh, how I love to see good actors acting! (and oh boy, having seen a lot of theatre, these days I just can't stand to watch bad ones). They played it with wit and style - so it was funny in places and not all doom and gloom, which it could so easily have been.

There was a photo-montage of the boy's life - and actually, I'd have liked a bit more in the script here about what might have happened if he had not died. I'd have liked it if the father in the play - a printer who knew how to use Photoshop - had created a few photos of his son's missing future to torment the killer with.

Because when you lose a child it's not just their past that you lose - - it's their whole future, and yours with it.

It was great to see Jill in a different role. And I hope to see her in full glam mode again, next Christmas. If you'd like to see Knife Edge, its tour dates are on the website here.

Wearing What You've Always Worn

I was seeing a play this evening and in front of me were three women.

They were - as was obvious from their conversation - a mother and her two daughters.

They all had long brown hair so, seeing them from behind, it was at first not easy to tell which was which.

From their voices I worked out which was the mother and actually she had a slightly different-coloured hairpiece attached to the rest of her hair which was elaborately styled to look naturally curly - - though clearly wasn't.

The two daughters had long, sleek brown hair and both were demurely dressed in grey tops and trousers.

Then the mother stood up and turned round.

She was wearing bare feet with bright red toenails and high-heeled shoes with black, very thin straps over slightly pudgy ankles.

She wore slim black trousers, which had slits about six inches up the sides and came down to slightly below knee level, with bare legs below.

She wore a slightly see-through sleeveless black top with a plunging neckline, and on top of this a sparkly silver evening-cardigan-type-thing.

On her hands as well as her feet she wore red nail polish and a large quantity of heavy and sparkly jewellery.

A slightly faded tan completed the look.

She looked like a teenager on a night out. Except that she was probably nearly sixty and was both slightly overweight and very wrinkled.

Now then, to me, she looked absolutely hideous. Perhaps it's because I don't like that look to start with, even on a young person. Perhaps it's sour grapes because I could never, ever in a million years have pulled off that look, even age nineteen or whatever. I can't even do bits of it. No varnish has ever been near my toenails and I intend to keep it that way.

But I suspect that, to her, she looked absolutely gorgeous. It was her "night out" look that she'd been wearing since she was about sixteen, and she couldn't see what had changed.

Of course she has a perfect right to dress that way.

And, of course, what right do I have to criticise?

What did I wear when I was a teenager? Some variant on jeans and a T-shirt, that's what. Occasionally a long skirt and a top.

What do I wear now? Some variant on jeans and a T-shirt, that's what. Occasionally a long skirt and a top.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Stranded with the Reindeer

Stephen texted me from Helsinki, Finland this morning.

"Plane cancelled because of volcano. Should know more later."

As reasons for cancelled planes go, I must say it was amongst the most interesting I've heard. And unexpected. Before he went, I never thought to say "Hope your plane's not delayed by a volcano erupting or anything."

Stephen was trying to get home after a few days of meetings in Helsinki. But then the volcano under a glacier in the Eyjafjallajoekull (try saying that after a few beers - - or indeed at all!) region of Iceland decided to erupt.

The skies of Northern Europe are now filled with ash and almost every flight to or from the United Kingdom has been cancelled.

I expect this is how it started with the dinosaurs. "Damn it! No planes!" followed soon after by "Damn it! No sun!"

So - - no planes until at least 7am tomorrow - - but I'd be surprised if there were any then.

Stephen is therefore stranded. Finland is a land of forests, mainly, and the Suomi (formerly known as Lapps) herding reindeer in the North. So it seems a straight choice: stay put in Helsinki for a few days or try a reindeer sleigh to the Eurostar terminal, which is probably a tiny bit impractical.

Of course, there have been the usual nutters complaining that there aren't any planes and saying what's a bit of ash, anyway? But since ash tends to cause jet engines to fail, I think it was a wise decision to cancel the flights. You can read more about it all over the BBC news.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Hearing and Understanding

"Of course," said my mother, "some people smoke and never seem to have any ill effects, like me."

Well perhaps not. Apart from the massive stroke that nearly killed her, that is.

Both my parents smoked - as nearly everyone did in those days - until my mother was pregnant with me, and then they both stopped.

My mother had a life as a Secret Smoker in her fifties and sixties, though, and like all secret smokers, she thought we didn't know. But we did, because all secret smokers smell of smoke. We just didn't let on that we knew, in the hope that she would smoke less if she was doing it secretly.

Then she had the stroke, when she was sixty-eight, and never smoked again, but still hasn't quite grasped that smoking is a major cause of strokes. Her father had a stroke too, so it does run in the family - - but then again, he too smoked, because everybody - - or very nearly everybody - did.

Fast-forwarding a number of years, my mother went to the doctor and explained that she couldn't hear very well.

After a lot of faffing about and a few appointments, they gave her some sparkling new digital hearing aids and fiddled about with the settings until they thought that they were the best possible settings for her hearing.

The bit that everyone seemed to miss in all this, was that it's not just a hearing problem. Although you can't tell from looking at her, or even from listening to her, she often just doesn't process the information fast enough to take it in - and that's because of the stroke.

Partly because she was Superfit Superwoman at the time, she made a fantastic recovery from the stroke, and as a result people can't tell - unless they've read her notes more carefully than they ever seem to - that she ever had a stroke.

So the hearing aids didn't help as much as she hoped they would. Also, she never left them in long enough for her brain to get used to them. As soon as a car went past and it made a loud noise, she would whip our her hearing aids in a fury, because she didn't want that kind of noise.

When she was in hospital with the broken shoulder, one of her hearing aids got cleared up with the rubbish. Hospitals, infuriatingly, just don't seem to have any facilities for keeping track of small, easily lost and vital objects for elderly patients who might not be terribly good at keeping track of them themselves.

The other hearing aid, sensing its days were numbered, dropped to bits soon afterwards.

That was, of course, in November. And now, in April, she's finally got an appointment at the Audiology clinic to get some new ones.

I have a feeling that it will be the same problem all over again. They won't be able to adjust them well enough. The batteries will always be flat. The hearing aids will make the wrong things too loud, and she still won't be able to hear speech very well.

I think, sadly, the problem is that wonderfully clever modern digital hearing aids, when matched up with many very elderly people, are not a good mix. An old-fashioned ear trumpet would probably do just as well.

Mum is going to the hospital on her own tomorrow. I was planning to go with her, but she insists she'll be fine - she knows I have masses of work to do, and is feeling rather independent, and this is probably a good thing. And at least if she's on her own, they will have to talk to her and not to me, and they may perhaps - though I doubt it - begin to realise that it's not simply a hearing problem.

Next week my mother will be eighty-six and she's truly amazing for her age. But - and here's the thing that she doesn't want to hear - being eighty-six is just terrible, in many ways. Though, of course, far better than the alternative.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Strange Goings-On in the Football Stadium

I was playing a wife who was a victim of domestic violence today, on a training course for doctors about Safeguarding Children.

Even listening to the introduction I found out some horrific facts about the last few weeks of the life of the eight-year-old Victoria Climbie, and I'm not going to repeat them here: the link I've given is to the Government Report about the case.

If the mother is being abused, then the children might well be being abused too. Even if they're not actually being hit, then they will certainly be living in a climate of fear.

I find these demanding and emotionally-charged roleplays very interesting and challenging to do and I think the afternoon went well: I was certainly impressed with the doctors' skills.

These courses need a venue with a big meeting room and some smaller rooms for group work: and thus it was that we found ourselves at a Football Stadium. There is always a directors' meeting room and some corporate boxes.

I've worked at a few of these and I love it. There's something strangely surreal about doing a very tense, tricky roleplay in a roomful of doctors - - - and then looking out of the window at a huge football pitch, and imagining how it will be with a match in progress and a crowd watching.

I love trying to put across a believable picture of the life of the woman I'm playing, and making the roleplay seem as real as possible.

And then, when it's over, I like looking back at the pitch, and then going into the directors' meeting room and having a cup of tea and a chat with the other roleplayers.

And today I even liked driving the forty miles or so home through the Spring countryside on a sunny evening.

Satisfying work? You bet.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Whilst I was Sleeping

Generally, dreams aren't very interesting and they only stay a moment. Sometimes I wake up thinking - - ahhhh yes, a whole, long story there and it was about- - - now, what was it about? - - - But already it's gone.

The scariest dream of my childhood was of meeting an old, witch-like woman on a woodland path.
"Who are you?" I asked.
"The Dead of the Dead," she replied, in a phrase which I'd never heard before and which was enough to terrify me for years (yes, yes, all right, at vulnerable moments it probably still does).

There was a recurring dream which happened many times: the Communist and I were floating quite contentedly down from the top of a cliff on a large sofa and my mother floated past us, waving happily. I would ask him why she didn't need a sofa and he said she was absolutely fine as she was. I would wake up reassured.

Of course, a lot of people have dreams about flying or floating and I know there's some scientific explanation for it - - though I can't remember what it is.

I don't tend to have those "naked in a public place"-type dreams that I know are very common. But what I do have are dreams that are - to me at least - absolutely transparent psychologically. If dreams are there to try to make sense of what happens during the day, then I find myself saying "Oh, come on, I already knew that about myself," to my dreams as I wake.

So - - a couple of nights ago, I dreamed that I was driving along a road in which there were huge potholes. Yes, there are huge potholes in Leeds roads at the moment. Yes, okay, I know, it's a kind of dream metaphor for all the difficult things that have happened recently. Enough! I thought as I woke up. I knew that. You don't need to tell me, dreaming brain!

But recently - and I know this is going to sound melodramatic - I am getting really, really upset by constant dreams about the cries of lost children. Their shouting wakes me up. "Mummy, Mummy! It's Luke!" was last night's: plaintive and distant.

I don't know any children called Luke but I still woke up in a cold horror.

Yes, I do know what it's all about, and if you know anything about my past then you will too. And no, I haven't got over it, I freely admit it. But I really don't need my brain to keep pointing it out to me night after night after night. I know what it means. I understand. Stop it now. Please.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

So Why The Long Face?

I only have about three favourite jokes and they're all bad but this is one of them.

A horse goes into a pub and orders a steak pie, a packet of crisps and a beer.

After a while the landlord goes over to the horse and asks if everything is all right.

"Yes, fine, thank you," says the horse.

"Errr - - - are you sure?" asks the landlord.

"Yes, certain," says the horse.

"Pie okay?"


"Crisps okay?"


"Beer okay?"


The landlord pauses a moment and looks at the horse.

"So why the long face?"

There were a few long faces (ohh, seamless link, Daphne!) at the Grand National today.

Some of them, no doubt, were to be seen on anyone concerned with the horse St John's Castle. It took one look at all the horses waiting to start and thought - - "Hey, wait a moment, this looks really scary and would be far easier without a rider."

It took a while, therefore, for the jockey to get on its back but the horse had made up its mind. The other horses all galloped off at top speed but St John's Castle lived up to its name and stood firm and solid.

Several other horses fell over. They always do in the Grand National and this is because there are lots of horses all crowded together: they have to jump thirty jumps: and the jumps are huge. The side they land on (to use a technical term) can be a lot lower than the side they jump from so they are taking a huge great leap into the unknown.

So why do they do it? Well, I think most horses don't think too carefully about things. They don't often pause to think "Actually, you know, I'd rather be back in my field."

Also, they do seem to like running and jumping in a herd - - it's what horses do. When they lose their riders, they still keep right on doing it.

Is it cruel? Every year there are those who try to get the Grand National banned because of its cruelty. The jumps are too high: the jockeys hit the horses too hard.

I'm really not sure. If the Grand National is cruel, then I expect other races are too - - perhaps the jumps aren't so high, perhaps not so many horses fall, and perhaps they don't tend to get killed so often.

But of all the cruelty to animals in the world, this doesn't seem to be that bad. I don't know a thing about horse racing and my only venture into gambling was once winning £7.50 on the office sweep on the Derby so "informed opinion" is not something you're getting from me! Unlike with every other opinion I've ever put forward, obviously.

Friday, April 09, 2010

In the Dark

I was reading in bed. Farewell to the East End, by Jennifer Worth: it's the third book in an excellent trilogy about her work as a midwife in the Poplar district of London in the 1950s. Absolutely fascinating.

Anyway, it was late and I was tired and I was just about to put my book down and lie down - - when suddenly it was pitch dark.

I checked to see if the world had ended and it didn't seem to have done so. I was initially a bit worried that an asteroid had hit us as I'd earlier been watching the excellent Wonders of the Solar System on television earlier and Professor Brian Cox had put this idea into my head. Squillions of asteroids out there, all waiting to be diverted by Jupiter's gravitational pull and fired in the direction of the Earth, like little rocky snooker balls.

It really was very, very dark. However, since I still seemed to be breathing I decided a power cut, rather than an asteroid, was the likeliest cause of all this darkness.

I went over to the window and looked out. Quite strange: I couldn't see any lights anywhere.

I thought I'd check out of the back windows so I went into the little bedroom at the top of the stairs and looked across the garden. DARK.

I wandered round the rest of the house to see what was going on. And what was going on was - - well - - DARK. What I thought I could do about it I don't know. I just thought I'd look.

Of course, I couldn't see very well, what with it being pitch dark. I'd wandered downstairs and got as far as the kitchen before I spooked myself by thinking - - hey, it's really very dark, isn't it? What if there are some really scary things lurking in all this dark?

So I went back into the bedroom, and realised that I really hadn't had much of a problem finding my way round in the dark. Stephen has always claimed that there's a sort of "window" in childhood where you learn to see - - and since, at the time, I was very short-sighted and nobody knew, he thinks I missed my window rather.

I can see better than most people in very low light, I know, once I'm used to it. What I'm not good at is seeing in very bright light - I am easily dazzled. So I wear sunglasses, obviously? - - Well, no, I don't. I have never owned any. Why not? Good question. Well, I've always hated those clip-on ones that fit over your glasses, and I've never liked glasses that go dark automatically and give you no choice. To me, sunshine is such a rare thing that I like to marvel at its brightness, even if that does mean squinting.

So I could see just a tiny bit, and could find my way around with ease. Didn't even trip over the cats.

Finally, having worked out that yes, this DARK extended to every room in the house - no, really?!! - I decided to go back to bed, since sleeping seemed to be a way of making good use of it.

But, of course, I couldn't sleep. What if nobody but me in the whole world knew about the power cut and it never got mended? What about my mother next door? If I went over to check, would it wake her up? Or would it make her jump out of her skin?

Finally I decided to hope that Mum would be asleep. (This morning it turned out that she wasn't: but she was coping perfectly well, amassing a whole array of candles and returning to Wartime Spirit).

So I lay there, in the dark, waiting for it not to be dark any more. And after about an hour, there was a beep and the phone came back on. Hurrah!

Things are a bit strange at the moment and have been all winter. I feel I've been in the dark of worry for some considerable time. Roll on the light of Spring.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Not Standing and Staring Enough

Somebody said to me today that he thinks I'm currently doing the work of three people.

He had just watched me do a very long and busy day in the office (he was very busy too!) and has a pretty good grasp of what it's like to do all the other stuff I do too - - the roleplay and the teaching, for example.

He didn't say it as a joke, he said it as a considered opinion. So I considered it a bit too and said actually it's probably only the work of about two people.

And then I thought - - so you think that's all right then, do you, Daphne?

And of course, if it were anyone else, I'd be saying you should do less, for goodness' sake, what on earth do you think you're doing?

Well, it's partly that I don't have a regular salary - it's totally dependent upon firstly, the amount of work that the actors get, and secondly, the amount of roleplay/teaching work that I do on top of this.

And when I'm offered work, I do find it hard to say no - - though believe me, I have turned down lots this winter. I tend to think, when offered any job - - - oh yes, that'd be fun!

I always feel I'm fortunate to be offered it, and I'm also fortunate in that I love all the work that I do. I know many - perhaps most - people don't feel like that.

But really, surely there has to be a happy medium. What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare? goes the poem. Nobody lying on their deathbed ever wished they'd spent more time in the office, goes the saying.

I tend to define myself by my work, I know. I suppose at the bottom of it all may lurk the fact that without it I just feel rather lost and useless. I wouldn't apply that to anyone else though, so why do I apply it to myself?

I know that, when things are difficult - and they have been, this past couple of years, quite often - I throw myself into my work as a kind of refuge. It's a self-contained world which can take all my attention and concentration: and I believe that the work that I do is worthwhile, too, and that pleases me.

But I wish I could do less of it, and still feel a sense of achievement and purpose. I need to do a bit more standing and staring.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Pace Egg Play and Morris Men

"Hapus Pasg" it said on the card, which is "Happy Easter" in Welsh.

I'm interested in this Easter-beginning-with-P thing because in French of course, it's Paques.

One of the many interesting but not terribly useful things I learned at university was that the word Easter comes from the Old English Eostre so we don't have that Easter-beginning-with-P thing because we got the word Easter from the German root.

If you're still awake, I will get round to what I wanted to tell you about, which was a Pace Egg Play. And of course "Pace" in this context means "Easter".

Years and years ago, when mylovely cousin Lynda was still alive and I was nobbut a teenager, we went with all my favourite Barrow-in-Furness relatives to see a Pace Egg Play on Easter Monday on the Furness Peninsula in the Lake District.

They are still performed today - they are a strange mixture of ancient fertility plays to do with the coming of Spring, with a bit of Christianity and a bit of the Crusades thrown in. There are stock characters - - St George, patron saint of England, of course, and the Doctor, and the Black Prince, and the King of Egypt. The scripts are very old and generally in rhyming verse. One of the characters will generally kiss some female members of the audience, and they may well have babies the following year.

The actors all have their faces blacked - - or they did when I saw it. There was a bit of a fuss in recent years as some people thought that "blacking up" might be racist - - well, of course, it's not at all, it's a ancient tradition and I think it's because you're not supposed to recognise, say, the local shoemaker because he is now playing the King of Egypt.

When I saw it, those taking part took a perverse delight in kissing any young attractive female members of the audience, and smudging as much black onto them as possible.

And, as with all these ancient Mummers' plays and Morris dances, it was performed several timed during the day, and always - with a strong lack of coincidence - outside a different pub.

So a large quantity of beer was generally consumed during the course of it all and by the end of the day the kissing was distinctly more affectionate and the lines of the play distinctly more approximate.

It was great fun and very entertaining, and a distinctly enjoyable, if wildly inaccurate, rendition of some of the greater moments of English history.

Oh, let's finish with some Morris dancing now, shall we?

I love this kind of thing. It's been going on for hundreds and hundreds of years and perfectly captures the glorious eccentricity of the British character. And yes, it's still perfectly legal.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Grumpy Old Bat

Why are actors' agents renowned for being grumpy old bats?

Well, the usual explanation is that it's caused by years of dealing with actors.

But actually, I don't find that this is the case.

Just occasionally, true, there is an actor booked for a day's work somewhere who doesn't write it down, or who writes it down on the wrong date, and it all goes pear-shaped and causes chaos and a deep hole and sometimes I have the job of digging us out of it and I don't enjoy it. It is on such occasions that my "I went to girls' grammar school" voice comes into play - for some reason, I seem able to sound reassuring on the phone. Phew.

I remember once a "wannabe" actor - - without many credits on their cv (ie roles that they have played for well-known companies) or any training - applied to an agent for representation. The agent replied thus:

"I have neither the time nor the enthusiasm to kick-start your career". And that was all she said.

It was, I am sure, the truth - but it was rude and unnecessary.

What would I have said? Well, I don't believe in giving false hope such as "please reapply in the future" if you know perfectly well that you are NEVER going to be interested in this person.

I would have said something along the lines of how we wouldn't be able to represent you successfully because of your lack of training and cv - - but I would put it politely, at least.

Actors in general, though, are perceived as being unreliable - - and believe me, the ones who are doing it for a living are anything but.

I've had video companies say to me "But what will happen if the actor doesn't turn up on the day?" And my answer is along the lines of "When you go to the theatre to see Hamlet, you're not worrying all the way there in case Polonius or Gertrude haven't turned up, are you?"

Some people in "ordinary" jobs can get away with doing it at half-measure for years and years. Actors never can. If they are unreliable, or late, or difficult to work with, or badly prepared, word will get round at top speed.

I could, if asked, list a good number of actors in Yorkshire, and quite a few further afield, whom I wouldn't touch with a barge pole because I keep hearing bad things about them from lots of different sources.

But compared with the numbers of actors, there are really very few of these. So actually, what makes me mad is the people who mess actors about. And there are SO many of them!

Say a client wants to advertise, for example, a new kind of hair spray. Let us call it Lovely Locks. The client employs a casting director and issues, say, a casting breakdown for a television commercial. They want actresses with natually blonde, curly hair. Dozens of actresses attend a casting in London: some travel hundreds of miles to get to it. Then the client changes their mind. Now they want actresses with ginger hair instead.

So all the ones with blonde hair have had a wasted trip. Wouldn't it be good if the client ever apologised to them? But they never, ever do.

Then - - oh, don't get me started - - there are all the unpaid, or low paid jobs. "But it will be great for his cv, and for his showreel". Would you say that to, say, a garage mechanic? "You can tell everyone that you mended my car for free, and tell them what a good job you did."

And then they only want an actor for half a day, so can they just pay them half a day's fee? Well, a tricky one, this - sometimes we will agree to it if it's part of a big block of work. But in general, the actor can never get any other work for the other half of the day, so in effect it halves their pay. And the person doing the booking never, ever, thinks of this - - because they are on a salary where they get paid at the end of every month.

And that's the thing that many people find really hard to grasp. They think that somehow an actor must have a regular wage to fall back on - - that they're working as an actor as a kind of hobby.

They don't. It's their job. The hardest part of an actor's job is not the acting part - - it's trying to get the next job. Because otherwise, when the work stops, so does the money. And people who employ actors, and who mess them around, or take ages to pay, annoy me more than just about anything.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Glorious Food

I like many different kinds of food. I like lots of healthy food - - - almost all fruit and vegetables, wholegrain pasta, brown rice, lentils - - - all that kind of thing. I love, for example, raw cauliflower and raw carrots and any salad that doesn't have gloops of mayonnaise all over it.

So it's a bit of a shame that I also like almost any kind of pie - savoury or sweet, and cheese, and chips, and curry, and any Chinese dish that ends "fried rice".

At the moment I am a bit thinner than I've been for some years. Not a lot, mind, because although I've been doing quite a lot of exercise recently, I am prepared to make any sacrifice in my attempt to lose weight - - other than actually eating less.

Some people don't eat the pastry crust on their pie and this astonishes me. Are they insane? If I was being extra virtuous, I wouldn't have the pie in the first place. But once it's in front of me - - well, I'm having the lot, no question.

Today I've been to the garden centre, and then to the splendid Wellington pub, (thank you Silverback for introducing us to this magnificent eatery: we hope to visit it again soon, with you!) For Easter they have a special offer of the carvery plus dessert for £5 which has to be the best value in Leeds.

Roast turkey, roast potatoes, carrots, swede, peas, sweetcorn, cauliflower is what I had and then apple pie and custard, which I wouldn't normally eat since I'm diabetic but it's Easter: and anyway, everyone knows that food eaten outside the house doesn't count, and especially so on a Bank Holiday weekend.

That's my kind of meal. And then we went for a walk in the Spring sunshine to work it off. Excellent.

The only kind of food that, in general, I don't like, is when I can't tell what it is. And hence, I greatly enjoyed this letter of complaint to Richard Branson about the food on a Virgin flight from Mumbai to Heathrow.

"Award-winning food" it may have been (that's what Virgin said in their defence) but it's simply impossible to tell what it is. And I just hate that. I think it's arrogance on the part of whoever introduced this menu to assume that everyone who was about to eat it would know what they were eating.

I like food that's simple, and fresh, and well-cooked. I like to be able to tell what's in it. I don't like it when some posey chef has combined duck, raspberry jam and chocolate into some very small but extremely expensive starter. Bring on the steak pie, and make it with top-quality steak and light pastry, and I'll be in heaven. Though a bit on the plump side.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Tenby Incident

Of course, I didn't touch it. I just rang the police and the coastguard on my mobile and then waited until some men in white coats arrived in an unmarked van to take it away for scientific analysis.

I was on the beach early and there was nobody else around. I probably shouldn't have taken a photograph and I could be in a lot of trouble for writing about it on my blog, so please keep it to yourself.

I was glad it was obviously dead, as it was over a metre long and could, no doubt, have been extremely dangerous. Some kind of crustacean, I would guess, and obviously not of this planet. A kind of Space Lobster.

I expect that they will analyse its DNA but since all the publicity surrounding the Roswell Incident, I know that all Governments tends to keep the results of such things secret.

The only thing that they did tell me was that it's not the first time that this kind of thing has happened. Apparently several of them have been discovered in late March previously. Perhaps that's when their mother ship sends visitors to this planet. In any event, it's just possible that you may have seen reports of similar incidents, usually around the very beginning of April.