Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Travelling Woman

Just to let you know where I am - - - tomorrow I'm going to London to work with some doctors, which should be interesting - I'm back on Friday. Then on Saturday our family are off on our annual trip to Tenby for a week.

I plan to do a lot of swimming. That'll make a change. Not.

But I'll be blogging whilst I'm there, of course. Hurrah for summer, and for beaches. I'm so hoping that the good weather continues.

Nails in Marbella

I watched in fascinated horror as Piers Morgan interviewed an expat woman living in Marbella.

What horrified me? Well, firstly, she was the kind of woman I just can't identify with in any way.

She was probably about my age but it was hard to tell because she was a curious mixture of permatan and Botox. She had very blonde fluffy hair and a fluffy feathery frock of the kind that nobody looks good in once their age goes into double figures.

Of course, there was lots of ostentatiously-expensive gold jewellery too. And a heavy, harsh, citified Yorkshire accent. Ooh I sound SUCH a snob!

Okay, so people have every right to dress like that if they wish and in some ways I kind of wish that I could - - I couldn't even wear a gold chain without feeling slightly bad about it, for some reason, and I certainly couldn't wear any kind of jewellery that shouted LOOK HOW RICH I AM! It just feels wrong.

I suppose she's at one end of a clothes and appearance spectrum of which I am at the other. I don't think it reflects well on me, necessarily, though - everything about her shouts I AM RICH AND I WANT YOU TO KNOW IT and, thinking about it, everything about me yells I DON'T APPROVE OF SHOWING OFF YOUR MONEY, OKAY?

It's also a question of confidence. I have no confidence that I could even begin to carry off that look - - or really any look at all! Hence I never wear show-off type clothes and have a rather puritanical no-make-up-no-jewellery approach. And hence my self-righteous "Hah! Mutton dressed as lamb!" attitude is undoubtedly a cover for my own insecurities.

But having said all that - - there were her fingernails.

They were about two inches long, curved, varnished white. They looked like claws. They were hideous. They made me feel total revulsion. Ewwwww NOOOOO!

Not only did they look vile, they would mean that she could do almost nothing. They were a self-disabling gesture. That, I suppose, was the point. LOOK HOW RICH I AM. SO RICH THAT I DON'T NEED TO DO ANYTHING AT ALL.

I could not bear to have those fingernails for half an hour. No way.

I think she's at the top of a slippery slope. I suppose the next logical step would be to have her arms and legs cut off. Perhaps she's considering it.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Happy Birthday Antoine

Antoine Jean-Baptiste Marie Roger de Saint-Exupery is a hundred and ten today - or would be, if he was still alive - and if you look at Google, you will find one of his most famous drawings, that of the Little Prince.

As is, perhaps just slightly hinted at in his name, he came from an old, noble French family.

He became a pilot and crashed in the Sahara Desert - the story of the Little Prince was probably inspired by this crash.

Eventually he disappeared in July 1944 whilst flying on a wartime mission: you can read more of the story here.

Le Petit Prince, or The Little Prince, is his most famous book. It has simple, cartoon-like pictures, drawn by the author.

The book has been with me since shortly after I learned to read. On the way to a holiday in Italy, when I was five, we had a stopover at Nice Airport and I spotted it in the airport bookshop - in English, of course! - and my parents bought it for me.

Instantly I loved it - it's the story of how an airman, crashed in the desert, meets a little prince who has come to Earth from another planet. He tells the airman about his adventures: a rose he grew, a fox he tamed, people he met on other planets.

All through my childhood I read it again and again. It's quirky, moving and strangely uplifting.

When I began to study French for A-level at school, there it was again - one of the set books, in French this time.

Since I knew every word of it in English, and since it's written in very simple language, I had no problems with the French! We were finding the metaphors in the story and I liked that kind of thing - - - and I'd been thinking about the possible meanings of the story anyway, ever since I'd first read it.

I still read it from time to time: it's like an old, familiar friend of the best kind. Happy hundred and tenth birthday, Monsieur Saint-Exupery!

If you've never read The Little Prince, do get hold of a copy - - it's a book for childhood that lasts the whole of your life.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Frustrating Day

For the past seven or eight months, I have been doing the agency's monthly accounts, since our accounts person left.

It's not rocket science but it does need a lot of accuracy and the ability to do Sums - - and both of these are skills that I have - coughs modestly - got.

The accounts have always been done on paper, with a pencil, but that had gradually come to seem a bit Dickensian so for the past three months I've been doing them on a spreadsheet.

So far so good. All working well. Until today when I opened the document and found that it only went up to 14 June.

It took me a while to work this out - - for a while I thought "how can I have forgotten to enter this Emmerdale payment?" or whatever. But finally I worked out that all accounting life stopped at 14 June, and that it is now 27 June, and that I have done a lot of accounts since then.

Of course the first thing I did was to ask Stephen what could have happened - - and he looked for the document in the backup file and it wasn't there. Mysteriously absent. And this system is run by Stephen, who is Top Geek and knows about running computer systems.


Of course, I can redo the accounts, just about, from the invoices and the bank statements but the tediousness of this is - - - well, just unbelievably tedious. But I'm going on holiday (to Tenby, hurrah!) next Saturday and I wanted to get the accounts all shiny and completely updated before I go.

And, until Stephen works out why it's happened - which I hope will be tomorrow evening - I don't know that it won't happen again so I'm not going to spend all tomorrow typing it up again in case it vanishes!

In other news, as they say, I rang my mother, currently staying with her friend Amy in Barrow-in-Furness, and reminded her that she needs to catch the 3.25 train back to Leeds tomorrow.

She had no clue that she is supposed to be coming back tomorrow. She thought she was coming back on Wednesday. Surely her appointment for her hearing aids is on Thursday?

"No, Mum, you wanted to move it to Thursday but they couldn't move it. They said if you didn't come on Tuesday it would be another six weeks."

"So I've got to come back on Tuesday?"

"No. You've got to come back tomorrow."

"Tomorrow? But I thought it was Wednesday that I'm coming back! I don't want to come back yet!"

I felt like the cruellest woman in the world. She's been swimming in the sea, of course, and was hoping to do exactly that again tomorrow. But on the other hand, she's setting great store by these new hearing aids and I know she wants to get them as soon as possible.

It's been a frustrating day in many ways. Think I'll go to bed now.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Cruel Punishment for Men

I bravely went shopping in town this morning. I didn't enjoy it. However, my friend and colleague Kate was wearing a really great top a couple of weeks ago, and told me where she got it. So I went to the same bit of the same shop and found three great tops - very different from hers but I liked - and bought - them all so she is My Heroine.

I'll be wearing one of them to Olli's graduation in July. I think I may already own a suitable black skirt to accompany it. If I don't, it'll be my jeans with a label pinned on them saying "Surely you can't expect me to go to town TWICE?"

But, because I am brave, and kind, I did all this shopping lark entirely on my own and without forcing anyone to accompany me. I have never, ever, taken anyone with me when I go shopping for clothes. Nobody deserves that much suffering. - - Oh, okay, I can think of a few who do, but Russell Brand, for example, has never offered to go clothes shopping with me.

I am ashamed to say that other women are not like this. They insists that their husbands or partners accompany them. Perhaps it's some kind of foreplay ritual before divorce.

So outside the changing room on a busy Saturday you get a long queue of women and a small gaggle of men, standing there looking uneasy and clutching hangers laden with plunging tops in different sizes.

Out comes Wife of a Certain Age and asks Bored-Looking Partner if she looks good in the leopardskin mini-skirt with gold top slashed to the waist.

"I thought I'd wear it with the hair clip with flowers on that we all wore that day at the Ocean Bar in Marbella," she says.

"Yeah, great," he mutters, shuffling his feet.

And that, of course, is Man-Speak for "I don't care. When does the next match start?"

So, ladies, I promise you that you won't get an honest answer. Next time, go on your own. Surely you can't dislike him THAT much?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Losing It

My mother really doesn't like being eighty-six, even though it's better than the alternative.

She doesn't really notice all the things that she can still do, such as swim, and walk, and garden - - all she notices are the things that she's lost.

And one of the things she's lost is her ability not to lose things.

She got some new glasses a few weeks ago and within about two days they had disappeared into the misty blue yonder, never to be seen again.

Yesterday she was wearing a pair that simply don't fit. Which glasses were those? "Oh, I've no idea. They none of them work, anyway."

And this is true - her eyesight is much poorer than - luckily - she realises. The new ones might, perhaps, have helped a bit, but they just didn't last long enough before their sudden disappearance.

This morning, Mum was off to Barrow-in-Furness for the weekend to stay with her lovely friend Amy, who has been her best friend since they were at school together - - and luckily, she married Mum's favourite cousin and became officially part of the family.

I helped Mum buy her train tickets. The ticket seller had realised the same thing as me - that the best train for Mum was the one that changes at Carnforth. Now then, Carnforth Station is where they filmed that classic British film Brief Encounter, with Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson. If you have tears, prepare to shed them now. Wonderful film, script by Noel Coward.

And Carnforth Station is easy - - there are only two platforms. Whereas the alternative, Manchester Piccadilly, is big and bustling and would be totally confusing to my mother.

So I handed the two tickets to my mother and watched as she instantly lost them in the depths of her handbag.

"You'll need the outward ticket to get through the barrier and to show on the train."

Prolonged rummaging ensued but I guessed that they were in the zip of her purse, and so it proved.

We got to the barrier. It's one like they have on the Tube, where you have to put in the ticket, it goes through, you retrieve it and then two perspex panels open to let you out.

"I'll deal with the ticket, Mum, you just walk through."

The perspex panels opened but she didn't go through, just stood there.

"You need to go forward, Mum."



A small queue built up behind us.

"No, I'm not going through yet."

"Er - - why not?"

"I'm holding them open for you."

Awwwww! "No, I've got my own ticket. I need to do it myself."


By now they were jammed. A man with a twiddling device and a resigned expression came to release them.

We got to the platform. "Can you see that notice-board, Mum? Yours is the next train."

"What notice-board?"

The station is very noisy. Mum is very deaf. It's quite tiring, yelling your head off all the time.

"Have you brought your glasses, Mum?"

After a bit more rummaging in her bag, she produced the case where the glasses weren't.

"They're not in the case. Do you know where they are?"

She patted her breast pocket and triumphantly produced a pink-rimmed pair of glasses that I swear to you I had never seen in my life before.

"Where did you get those from?"

"I don't know. They don't work, though."

She put them on. She still couldn't read the notice-board.

"Do you know where your train tickets are?"


She found them. Eventually. She caught the train. She changed at Carnforth. She arrived in Barrow and Amy's son Frank met her at the station and she rang me later.

"The journey was fine."

She has to come back on Monday as she's getting new hearing aids on Tuesday. I could cut out a lot of time and hassle by simply collecting them for her and then hurling them from the top of a bus, thus losing them quickly and effectively rather than slowly and worryingly.

Now she's in Barrow. She'll be swimming in the sea this weekend. It will be freezing cold. She won't care. She'll be in her element. That's one thing that she hasn't lost. Not bad for eighty-six.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Party Food of Long Ago

I was doing a roleplay to train some healthcare professionals in counselling skills. They see me over a period of several weeks, for an hour a week, as with real counselling.

As with real counsellors, they are aiming to get me to talk a lot about my problems. So although - as with all the roleplay that I do - I am working from a detailed brief about the character I'm playing - because so much talking in role is required, I end up inventing a lot of information which I then have to remember for the future - such things as "and the baby had ginger hair" because if I said the following week that the baby had brown hair they would notice!

This week I was talking - in role, as the character, whom I'll call Mary - about passing my eleven-plus exam. I said that my parents had organised a party for me, and my brother and sister, and a few of my friends - the crux of this was that it was after passing the eleven-plus that everything started to go wrong for Mary.

I found myself describing the party - - and instantly, in my mind, I was back there in a childhood party, 1967, Summer of Love - - - eleven-plus year for me too!

The party food seemed so real to me that I could nearly eat it!

On the table was an embroidered tablecloth, done by my grandmother, and floral crockery, a gift from Nancy, delightful cousin of my mother's who always gave us lavish gifts in spite of what I now realise must have been a very low income - she saved all year.

On the table were some bridge rolls sliced in two with chopped egg on them, and others with potted meat. There were what Olli used to call - many years later - "things on poles" - which in the Sixties were the height of sophistication. Cheese and pineapple on cocktail sticks. Cocktail sausages on sticks. Sausage rolls. A bit of salad - just lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber, that was what salad was in the Sixties, with perhaps a few spring onions from the garden. There were crisps too - usually just plain, of course, but perhaps with the addition of some of the exciting new cheese and onion flavour.

And after that there'd be home-made buns in paper cases. (You may, if you come from the South of Britain, call such things "fairy cakes" but they will always be buns to me). Chocolate buns and what we called Spicy buns - - with fruit and a bit of spice - - my favourites. Butterfly buns with buttercream and jam. Sighhhhh.

And, of course, there would be jelly and a long, rectangular brick of Walls ice-cream, often accompanied by tinned mandarin oranges and Instant Whip or Dream Topping. It would be served in those waxed, fluted little paper dishes, usually with a brightly-coloured Sixties pattern on them.

That's probably the downfall of many a child of the Fifties and Sixties. In the fight between Real Cream and Dream Topping I'm afraid Dream Topping - - or anything full of flavourings and e-numbers - - wins hands down every time.

Food has changed. I'm writing this whilst eating a stir-fry. Cabbage, beansprouts, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, carrots, onions, green peppers, red peppers, nuts, a bit of soy sauce. I like it, a lot.

But that's everyday food, for keeping me healthy. Party food of the Sixties is daydream food. Paradise food. Something in me still craves it.

It's strange how roleplay can take you - in your head - to different places. Bring out the bridge rolls, say I, and, whilst you're about it, put the Tremeloes or the Monkees on the Dansette record player. Here's one of my very favourite songs. When was it recorded? Oh yes, 1967.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Very Annoying Indeed

Some things are just Very Annoying Indeed and this is one of them.

I work for various different universities. I generally have to fill in a form to claim the fee: and on top of this I claim travel expenses.

And that's exactly what they are. Expenses. What it's cost me to do a journey that I wouldn't otherwise be doing.

They pay different mileage rates and they're generally not very high - sometimes as low as 23p per mile. In the business world, mileage rates are higher - usually 40p per mile at least. It is to cover the cost of petrol, plus wear and tear on the car.

But hey, this is for education, and there isn't a lot of money about, so I'm prepared to accept the low mileage rate.

But then - - and this is the Very Very Annoying bit - - they TAX me on my EXPENSES! Money which I've had to pay out! Money which I've earned and already paid tax on once! Grrrrrr!

From time to time I've gone so far as to ring the Finances department and ask them "Why do you take tax off my expenses?" And the answer is a puzzled "That's what we do."

But finally I have found the answer and it is this - - deep breath now - -

"When lecture fees are taxable as employment income, any reimbursed travelling and subsistence expenses would normally be treated in the same way unless paid in respect of travel undertaken in the performance of the lecturer's duties. The term "in the performance of" means that the expenses must be incurred in actually carrying out the duties of employment. It is not sufficient that an expense is simply relevant to, or incurred in connection with, the duties of employment, or if the expense is to put the employee in a position to perform his or her duties. So, if a university reimburses an employed lecturer for the costs of travelling from home to the university the payment is chargeable to tax. This is because the journey is not in the actual performance of the lecturer's duties. Tax and National Insurance will be deducted from all fee payments and from the associated payments for travel and subsistence."

All clear now?

So if I'm booked to do a job in, say, the University of Normanton - and choose to do it, and have to travel there to do it, then they are jolly well going to tax me on my travelling expenses. Because they can.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

All in My Head

Back in the safety and comfort of my local swimming pool this morning, after my rather scary swim in the lake yesterday, I found myself wondering what it was that made swimming in the lake feel so very different.

Some things are obvious: I was wearing the wetsuit for the first time and it will definitely take some getting used to. It makes you more buoyant so you're swimming at a different angle in the water and that feels strange.

Also, it was a pretty windy day and I was swimming back against the wind, which made progress feel very slow and that does feel scary.

My friend David was telling me last night about a time when he was near Dubrovnik, in his early twenties, and decided to swim to an island which looked near.

It wasn't - it was two miles away and he arrived there, very tired, and knowing he would have to swim back again. On the way back he found a pine cone in the water and kept throwing it ahead of him and swimming to it and throwing it again, and that made him know that even though his progress was slow, he was making progress and finally got back. Now that's a scary story!

But there are things that happen all the time in the pool which seem so much scarier in the open water.

For example, I swim breast stroke with my face down in the water in between each stroke, and occasionally I may swallow a bit of water and splutter a bit. In the pool this doesn't bother me. In the lake, if that happened I thought "I'VE SWALLOWED SOME WATER! OH NO I'M GOING TO DROWN!"

When I'm swimming in the pool, I don't stop at the ends for a rest - I just turn and keep going. But I could stop if I needed to - and that, in the middle of the lake, is the scary thing - you can't stop. So there's always that feeling of "I CAN'T STOP IF I NEED TO - OH NO I'M GOING TO DROWN!" And, of course, I couldn't see the bottom either - but I knew it was dark and deep, which is frightening. One thing that didn't worry me was fear of any of the creatures which live in the lake - I know there wasn't anything that could actually hurt me.

Finally, there was a feeling of breathlessness - - of not quite being able to get enough breath. I noticed this morning something that I've never noticed before - and it's that I'm slightly out of breath all the time I'm swimming in the pool. But I don't notice - because it doesn't matter. One of the other swimmers in the lake yesterday commented on this feeling of breathlessness and I think, again, it's that you're right out in the middle of the lake and thinking "I CAN'T GET MY BREATH - OH NO I'M GOING TO DROWN!"

I don't have any of this stuff going on in my head when I'm swimming in the sea, and I think it's because I've always swum in the sea, and I don't go too far out, and I know to watch out for big waves, and I'm used to it.

So I need more practice in open water, so I get used to swimming in lakes too. Swimming in open water can be dangerous, of course - but I need to get rid of all those fears that are in my head and not real, so that I can concentrate on looking out for any real dangers that there might be - - and also, to concentrate on enjoying it.

When I first started swimming a mile (64 lengths) in the pool, back in November, I was slightly nervous about that, because I'd always swum a kilometre (42 lengths) before.

Now sixty-four lengths seems a breeze. This morning I did seventy, and that was no problem either. So I'm going to start swimming slightly longer distances, to give myself confidence.

My friend Ruth did a tandem parachute jump yesterday and raised a lot of money for charity in the process. Jumping out of a plane? Now that, to me, would be frightening.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Swimming in the Open Water

In the Olden Days we didn't call it "open-water swimming". We just swam. If there was water, and it didn't look too dangerous, we'd be in it.

Mum and I would be in the river at Eskdale in the Lake District, in the big pools, stark naked, whilst the Communist was nervously standing guard.

"There's somebody coming!" he would shout.

"They're miles away!" my mother would yell back, and we would carry on.

Or, wearing swimsuits this time, we'd be in the sea at Barrow-in Furness, or Tenby, or anywhere that there was sea and it was safe to swim. It was never warm. Sometimes it was sunny and often there'd be a bit of a howling gale. But in we went anyway. Why? Because we could. And because, in the old saying, "it's lovely once you're in". And it always was.

But now "open-water swimming" has become a Proper Thing and suddenly it's in fashion.

So, in practice for the Great North Swim, and nervously clutching my new wetsuit, I went with my friends Jo and Deb to Pugneys Country Park this morning to swim in the lake with the Triathlon Club. It was freezing cold and there was a bit of a howling gale but I thought - - oh well, I'm here now, I'm going to do it.

It was all very well-organised. You get changed in the warm and sparkling clean changing rooms, which are lovely. They make you fill in a form if you're new to it (so they know where to return the body, I thought, accurately).

"Are there any medical conditions we should know about?" - - Ohh heck. I wrote "Type 2 diabetes". I didn't put that I'd had a deep-vein thrombosis in case they didn't let me swim.

If you're a novice you wear a blue hat and everyone else wears a yellow hat. One minute you're in the clean, warm changing rooms and two minutes later you're on a landing stage which is covered in duck poo, at the edge of the lake.

I was wearing my wetsuit and put on my blue hat and goggles and am VERY pleased that no photographs exist of the combined outfit. Everyone else was younger than me - - oh, let's face it, most people were about half my age - - and they all looked very slim and fit. Only Deb was about my age - she's four years younger - but she's slim and fit too. Jo - also an excellent swimmer - wasn't swimming today: she took her Golden Retriever for a walk round the lake instead.

Deb jumped in and off she swam, calling back to me "It's okay!" meaning it wasn't too cold.

The only way in was to jump off the landing stage. Or, in my case, slither with supreme lack of elegance. I didn't know how deep the water was but it was deeper than I'm tall so I was immediately underwater.

Up I came, in only a bit of a panic, and I started to swim to the first buoy round the marked course.

It was strange swimming in the wetsuit. It made me higher in the water. And - rather to my surprise - the water didn't seem cold at all.

All the slim, fit people were swimming front crawl and so had hurtled off into the distance and I was completely on my own.

Even though I was wearing my prescription goggles, I couldn't really see where I was going and was pleased when I got past the first yellow buoy and headed off right across the lake to the pink one. This was a long, straight stretch on my own and I felt - to my surprise - a rising sense of panic. I seemed far more breathless than usual but I said to myself that this was just caused by the feeling of being alone in the lake, and the newness of it all.

I gave myself a stern talking-to. "DAPHNE! YOU KNOW HOW TO SWIM! GET ON WITH IT!" I got on with it. I knew there was a rescue boat in the middle. I kept on swimming.

I realised that I was actually too hot. I'm used to swimming in cold water and I'm not used to swimming in a wetsuit. I don't know what to do about that, except I was told later to try to pull it open at the neck a bit to let more cold water in.

There was a strong headwind and I seemed to be going very, very slowly. My arms, not used to the wetsuit, were finding it all rather tiring.

The landing stage appeared as a distant brown stripe in the distance. I kept on swimming and after a while I found I was about to touch it.

"How did it go? Did you enjoy it?" said the friendly man in charge of it all.

"It was great," I said, realising that it was.

In the changing room afterwards, a woman about ten years younger than I am was saying how the first time she did it she felt alone, and breathless, and rather scared, and how this wears off after a couple of times. She said everyone feels like that. She said a friend of hers was planning to do the Great North Swim without ever having had any practice in open water - - and she thought her friend was mad, because it is SO different from swimming in a pool.

It was different. Actually, it was the scariest thing I've ever done. Being on your own, with deep water beneath you and a long way to the edge, is, for some reason, just scary.

We're going to do it again next weekend. I hope I'll be less scared. I can't wait.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Thinking on my Feet

I think my ability to think on my feet was born from a kind of desperation caused by several years of supply teaching, in which I was asked to teach, at no notice, everything from woodwork to physics to Latin.

It was never easy. But after a while I learned how to make a good start with any new class.

My strategy was always the same: firstly, I would stand at the front of the class and say "Right!" in a voice which suggested I was in command of about twenty thousand troops and was about to give individual instructions to every one of them.

Then, having asked the class to get their exercise books out, I would wander idly round the back of the class, apparently doing very little but actually reading, and making a mental note of, a few names from the covers of exercise books.

Then, back to the front, and address the noisiest member whose name I now knew.

"Jonathan! Could you turn to page 32, please?"

Jonathan now looks bewildered.

"How do you know my name, Miss?"

I would assume a matter-of-fact expression.

"I think you'll find that I know everything. Now turn to page 32, please."

They never did work out how I did it because teenagers are always too preoccupied with their own affairs to notice anything that adults do. HA!

But all those years of practising dealing with anything that happened and anything that was said to me has come in jolly useful, I must say, in the medical roleplay work that I do these days. I'm just - well - - never lost for words. There are some who probably wish that I would be, now and again.

And the other thing is - well, my emotions are always readily accessible. I laugh easily, I cry easily, I've had my fair share of grief and I can usually find the emotions needed for any particular roleplay. I hope so, anyway.

Tomorrow I'm working at a hospice, in a Communication Skills training session for the staff. I haven't been told what I'll be doing yet, except that the scenarios will be improvised on the day. I think it will be challenging because, of course, these are roleplays for training staff who work with terminally ill people.

I know it will be interesting and I'm looking forward to the challenge. I'm a bit nervous - I'm always a bit nervous - but fingers crossed that I'll be able to find the right words on the day.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Wetsuit Woman

I wasn't sure how to set about buying a wetsuit, really. I'd looked online at lots of places and I could tell that the wetsuits were all made for people who were six feet six inches tall and very, very narrow.

So I thought it would be a good idea to head for a sports shop and at least ask for some advice, even if it was going to be "Hahahahahaha you'll never get one to fit in a million years!"

I knew how it was likely to go, from past experience trying to buy a Formal Frock. My shoulders are wider than my hips and they just don't make women's clothes like that.

The way I used to buy a Formal Frock was this: turn up at shop, find a couple of dresses that were supposed to be my size, try them on, find that they fitted everywhere else but wouldn't go round my shoulders, try another shop, same thing, get upset, go home, pull out of Formal Occasion on flimsy excuse.

I have solved this problem recently by not going to any occasions which may require a Formal Frock. However - - - coming soon - - Olli's Graduation. PANIC!!!! Can you go to a graduation in jeans and a T-shirt, I wonder?

Anyway - - - I didn't want to have to pull out of the Great North Swim so I was determined to find a wetsuit.

It didn't start well. Here was the row of women's wetsuits:

(I expect this blog has now been found by avid readers of Rubber Weekly. Enjoy, folks, I'm not here to spoil your fun).

All these wetsuits varied in size from small to tiny. One was so small it should have come with its own magnifying glass just so you could find it in your wardrobe.

I found a Helpful Assistant. She looked thoughtful and produced a man's wetsuit.

It didn't fit, but it wasn't that far off. She produced another.

I tried it on. To my utter amazement, it fitted. True, the arms and legs were a little bit long but I could fold them back.

Eighty quid, which really isn't bad for a wetsuit. HURRAH!

On Saturday morning I plan to try it out at a country park and watersports centre. People swim in the lake there as part of a triathlon.

My friend Deb and I are going to miss out the cycling and the running bits and just swim, in our wetsuits, in the lake, to see what it's like. Ooh er.

Monday, June 14, 2010


A crying baby has a certain jarring sound to it that I find impossible to ignore.

Of course, that's the purpose of it. It's so penetrating, and so constant, that parents can't ignore it and will do just about anything to find out what the baby needs.

That's how I feel when I hear a crying baby. My heart goes out to it. I would do anything to help it to feel better, and to stop it crying.

Unless it's in the supermarket. Then I just want to smother it, swiftly followed by its parents.

An old line of Jack Dee's: "Why do people take their children to the supermarket to hit them?"

Yesterday, Sainsbury's was absolutely jam-packed with yelling children.

"WAAAAH! WAAAAH!" was round every corner. The tiny ones were crying. The bigger ones were wailing.

The one that got to me most was a child of about three who was being made to sit in the trolley, probably because he'd been misbehaving.

"I want to walk," he yelled. "I WANT TO WALK! I WANT TO WALK! I WANT TO WALK! I WANT TO WALK!"

His mother was one of those who thought that Polite Reason was the best way of dealing with it.

"Well, we've had that conversation," she said, "and you're going to sit in the trolley."

This method wasn't very effective.


He kept it up for hours. Decades. Millennia. Wherever I was in the supermarket I could hear him and I varied between, firstly, feeling very sorry for him and, secondly, wanting to kill him first and his mother second.


To me, a supermarket is like a theatre. If your child is annoying the hell out of everyone else present, you should remove the child from the situation for everyone's sake. Or accept that irate shoppers might loom round the corners with the intention of beating you to death with a cucumber.


So, what would you have done to solve the problem, Daphne, and what right have you to pass comment?

Well, you know what, I just don't think when you're in a supermarket with a toddler you can just carry on shopping as though the child's not there. I always found that the whole thing had to become some sort of Thrilling Supermarket Game.

"And now we need - - - BANANAS! Can you see the bananas? - - Oh yes, THERE they are!"

Sometimes I'd go down the "Once upon a Time" route and do a jolly story all the way round. Certainly, the mother of I WANT TO WALK should have done something to distract him and I'm sure he would have cheered up in an instant and stopped driving all the other shoppers nuts.

And it's very tiring and it's hard to do and that's why being with toddlers is so exhausting. But if you are going to have a toddler in the first place, and then take the child to the supermarket, then I'm afraid that, as far as I'm concerned, that's what you have to do. Ignoring the child isn't fair on the child and yesterday it wasn't fair on ME. Grrrrrr.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Daphne In Her Wetsuit

Hundreds of you have been clamouring to see a photo of me in my wetsuit so here's one better: a photograph of Silverback taking a photo of me wearing it.

I hope that you are all happy now.

In the Cold, Cold Water

My friend Deb wanted to try out her new wetsuit (it is size Extra Small, I hate her). She's a really really good swimmer, Deb, but only four feet eight inches tall. This is why, at a really rather short five feet four, I've always felt a bit on the tall side - it comes from a childhood spent with Deb and her sister Jo who's a gigantic four feet ten.

So off we went to Ilkley Lido where, as mentioned yesterday, I spent a lot of time as a child and loved it.

It's a delight. Since the time when I used to go there, they have built a new heated indoor pool next to the outdoor 1935 Lido. You put your clothes into a plastic box and give them to the attendant - it's all very relaxed and a bit like a trip back to the Sixties - always a good thing if you ask me.

Around the pool is a lovely grassy area, great for picnics, and there's a cafe too.

But at ten o'clock this morning the only swimmers in the Lido were the hardy outdoor types.

You can't take photos there - shame! So here's one that I took:

I didn't take it illegally - I talked to the manager and sounded Respectable (not always easy to do when wearing a swimsuit and goggles, but I clearly managed it).

The pool is almost round: on the right-hand side of the photo is the shallow side with the fountain that we used to play in. On the left, in the area that's separated off by a rope, is a long swimming area - considerably longer than a normal pool.

Deb was delighted with her wetsuit and said it kept her really warm. Jo decided that the water was just too cold to swim - it was about fourteen degrees Centigrade - but she enjoyed sitting in the sunshine.

I was a bit worried about the cold before I got in, mostly in case I got cramp in my bad leg. "I don't know why I'm worrying," I said to the attendant, "if I was at the seaside I'd just go in without thinking about it."

"Yes, well, it's probably colder than the sea," said the attendant cheerily.

However, I decided to give it a go and went straight down the ladder into the deep water.

My feet were cold - - my hands were cold - - but it really didn't seem too bad so I just started swimming. After a length or two this coldness wore off and I felt as though I was glowing all over. After a few more lengths the glowing feeling went away and I just felt - - well - - fine.

It was wonderful, swimming in the open air, with birdsong and sunshine. I swam for about forty minutes and then Deb got out so I did too - I didn't want to get too cold.

All my life, of course, I've been swimming at every opportunity in the sea around the coast of Britain, and it's never been exactly warm. But I thought I might find it a lot harder to swim in the Lido than I actually did.

So I've learned something today. I may be short, and broad and very shy in many social situations, so only really at ease when working, generally, and not in my first flush of youth - - - but I can swim very easily in water that's too cold for most people.

And, as with all swimming, I loved it. I'll be going back there as soon as I can.

But, for the Great North Swim, I need a wetsuit, because you have to wear one if the water's cold - and it almost certainly will be, in Windermere. And buying a wetsuit that fitted was my next task.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Ilkley Lido

In the1960s, when I was a child, summers were, of course, made up of of endless sunny days.

On some of these, with our friends Ruth and Syd and their children Jo and Deb, we went to Ilkley Lido.

I don't think we ever called it a lido. We called it an open-air pool. Sometimes we went to the one in Leeds (at Roundhay Park - but sadly now closed, filled in and made into a car park. Grrrr!) and sometimes we went to the one in Ilkley.

Ilkley Lido is rather stylish - it was built in 1935 when there was a vogue for such things, and it's the shape of a mushroom cut in half, with a fountain in the middle.

There is a lot of shallow water and I remember playing in it for hours on hot days, and then eating massive picnics whilst sitting on rugs on the grass.

Of course, Jo, Deb and I still swim together and Deb and I are going to do the Great Swims this summer - I am doing the Great North Swim in Windermere and Deb is going to do one of the Southern ones - I'm not sure which.

Deb has just acquired a wetsuit and wants to try it out.

So tomorrow morning Deb and I are going back to the Ilkley Lido, so she can try out her wetsuit. I don't know why, but I haven't been there for years and years. Probably for well over thirty years. Perhaps the long hot summers of childhood stopped being so long and hot.

The Lido isn't heated. "Won't it be too cold for you?" asked Deb. "Oh, no, I'll be fine, I'm used to cold water," I said blithely.

If you can hear the sound of distant screaming at about half-past ten tomorrow, you will know that I'm not as hardy as I think.

So meanwhile, I'm trying to get a wetsuit, because, for Health and Safety, the Great Swims insist that you wear one.. And it is not proving easy. As wetsuit manufacters know, everyone who swims, and who might need a wetsuit, has one of two builds: tall and thin or very VERY tall and thin.

I am neither. I am short and broad. A bit overweight - not too much, and all this swimming means I'm quite fit at the moment for a Woman of My Age. But I have a broad back, and this means that I'm well - - far too broad for any standard wetsuit.

I have emailed the company who hire out wetsuits for the Great North Swim to point out that in order to find one that fits, I will apparently have to grow to about six feet six inches tall before early September. I'll let you know what they reply.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Summer Breeze - and Diabetes

I heard on the news today that Marvin Isley, the bassist in the Isley Brothers, has died age 56.

Now that's older than me - - but it's not very old, is it?

They were being a bit cagey about the cause of death - "diabetes-related complications" they said.


Being diabetic myself, I - selfishly, I know! - never like to hear about people who die young from diabetes.

So I did a bit of investigation on t'interclacker - let's face it, it didn't take long - and found out that he had spent decades ignoring the disease.

And because of it he'd had high blood pressure, a stroke, had both legs amputated and had lost the use of his left hand.

That's the trouble with the Type 2 kind of diabetes - the kind that I've got. You can ignore it for quite some time - - you just feel a bit tired, and always thirsty, and you pee a lot because you're always thirsty, and you tend to put on weight.

But, over the years, it can lead to cardiovascular disease - - high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes - and other complications such as kidney damage and loss of eyesight. Bad circulation can lead to limb amputations. Too much sugar sloshing around in the blood all the time instead of giving fuel to the muscles does a heck of a lot of long-term damage.

It may still get me in the end, but I'm fending it off for as long as possible. I've never smoked, I don't drink alcohol except very occasionally, and I'm doing a lot of swimming and some walking too.

My diet could be better, I know - although I have lots and lots of fruit and vegetables, I still eat too much fat and I'm still somewhat overweight - though losing it very gradually. My blood pressure is low and I'm not on any medication for it. The pulses in my feet - one thing they always check for - are always very good.

I'm not getting it perfect by any means but I'm making quite a lot of effort. I was reared on a diet where every meal ended with something sweet and it's hard to leave all that behind.

What I'd like to say to anyone with the tiredness and thirstiness symptoms mentioned above is - - get it checked out! There's a lot - a LOT! - of undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes about, and it's important to find out and get it treated. The hideous long-term complications aren't usually mentioned because - quite frankly - they are so very unglamorous.

Here are the Isley Brothers with Summer Breeze, which I've always liked, and it's the season for it. I'm sorry about Marvin's death and I hope it wasn't too horrible for him. But I suspect that it was.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Fish and Chips

If you've never had proper British fish and chips then I feel sorry for you.

The fish should be either cod or haddock, in golden batter, with chunky chips and I'm partial to some mushy peas with them too.

Even if you're not particularly hungry, just passing a fish and chip shop will always tempt you with its comforting aroma!

Fish and chip shops do tend to have odd names sometimes, like hairdressers. I never pay much attention to the names of the ones round here though, and therefore I just don't notice when they change.

I think the fish and chip shop at the top of our road is called The Port O'Call, because it was called that, once. It isn't any longer, it's called Atlantis, apparently. But I've simply never noticed this and I did wonder why people look a bit blank when I mention the Port O'Call.

There's one fairly nearby with a big round window. It probably has a name but if so I've never noticed - it's just "that one with the porthole". Another favourite is The Talk Of The Town which was our local chippie when we lived just down the road - we still go there sometimes as it is a good one.

The most famous ones in Leeds are Bryan's and the - now very famous indeed - Harry Ramsden's. Not very exciting names - - but then a fish and chip shop doesn't need an exciting name, it just needs a good fish-and-chip smell.

However, Silverback and I both liked this one which we found in the Gower Peninsula last week:

I like the name: I like the clean look of it all and I like the blue sky. Perfect! Pass the vinegar!

Sunday, June 06, 2010


Okay, what's the difference between a stoat and a weasel?

A weasel is weasily identified but a stoat is stoatally different.

Yes, I know, and I'm sorry but not VERY sorry.

If you don't know how to tell the difference there is more information here. But basically, it's that the stoat is bigger with a stouter (that's stouter not stoater) build, and it has a black tip to its tail.

I saw a stoat in the woods near Golden Acre Park in Leeds, some years ago and I knew about the black tip and it obligingly turned round and showed it to me. But I had never seen a weasel and I had always wanted to see one.

And then, last Wednesday, as Silverback and I were driving along one of the lovely country lanes in the Gower Peninsula, a weasel ran across the road in front of the car. It was carrying something in its mouth - perhaps something that it had killed, perhaps one of its babies as I know that weasels do move them around. But I could see at once what it was - it was so much smaller and lighter than a stoat and I loved its running action. "Like a stretched mouse" said Silverback, accurately.

It was gone into the verge in seconds, but I'll always remember that moment. There's something about seeing wildlife in its natural habitat that I really love.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Worm's Head

Every summer for years and years I have looked out to sea from the beach at Tenby.

On a clear day, right on the horizon, you can see some strangely shaped rocks in the water. I wondered about them for years and finally discovered that they were Worm's Head on the Gower Peninsula.

I wished that I could see them close up. I wished it for years. On Wednesday this week, a mere forty-four years after I first noticed them, I finally went there.

It was worth the wait.

On a stunning day weather-wise, Silverback and I left his car in the car park (£3 for the day, good value) and walked along the beautiful clifftop path: and here was the view.

Off to the right is the stunning Rhossili Bay, which I wrote about yesterday (okay, Silverback, there is only one l in Rhossili, you were right, I admit it but I may sulk).

Because the tide was high we couldn't get across to Worm's Head itself, but at low tide you can walk across. If you get cut off by the tide though, it's impossible to swim back: the currents are too strong.

The "worm" bit means "serpent" from the Old English "wyrm". The only reason I know that is because of the folk song The Lambton Worm. It's from the North-East of England and written in the Geordie dialect, and I first heard it over twenty years ago. Basically, Lambton finds a little "worm" and can't be bothered to carry it home, because he wants to go off to fight in foreign wars, so he drops it down a well. It grows into a huge serpent with "great big goggly eyes" and eats everything in sight.

So Lambton hears of this and comes back from his foreign wars and "cuts it in three halves, and that soon stopped it eating bairns and sheep and lambs and calves". Here's the song, with occasional subtitles for those not from the North East!

Our Worm's Head was very well-behaved and didn't eat anything at all. We, on the other hand, ate ice-creams in the sunshine and it was absolutely delightful.

Back from the Glorious Gower Peninsula

I'm back! And this is where I went:

Yes, Swansea - Abertawe in Welsh - Welsh poet Dylan Thomas's "ugly, lovely town". I went to see our actress Sonia Beck playing the title role in the play Piaf at the Grand Theatre there.

Swansea is in South Wales and probably people think of it as being an industrial city - - bombed nearly flat in the Second World War - and not the most scenic place.

Actually, I found it friendly, atmospheric and - in places at least - it has been mightily spruced up these days.

Silverback kindly accompanied me and was excellent company as always, and did all the driving - it's a round trip of over 500 miles. I was very grateful that he drove (and, actually, I think he probably was too).

Sonia was superb as Edith Piaf in the faded-grandeur Grand, and I was really pleased that I'd managed to see her, having missed her playing Shirley Valentine at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham last autumn. I simply couldn't get there because of my mother's broken shoulder.

But for the two nights we were down there we didn't stay in Swansea. Because Swansea has a secret, and it's not very well-known to the rest of Britain, so please don't tell.

And that secret is the Gower Peninsula. Just a very few miles to the west of Swansea is the Gower - not very big, nowhere seemed more than ten miles from anywhere else. But all of it is beautiful.

We stayed at the North Gower Hotel, Llanridian, in the - - er - - north of Gower (the clue's in the title, as Silverback remarked). It was an interesting mixture of nineteen-seventies and modern, decor-wise - it looks as though it has been designed by a committee, each with different ideas. But the staff were really friendly and the food was great - I had the best steak-and-ale pie that I've ever eaten.

To the North of the peninsula is a very scenic estuary and the rest of the peninsula is surrounded by beautiful beaches and coves. I used my little camera to take a few short videos and they are full of me exclaiming "Gorgeous - - beautiful - - gorgeous" in awestruck tones.

So - - not much over ten miles from Swansea and we have this:

Rhossilli Bay - a beautiful long stretch of sand, framed by hills and cliffs and popular with surfers. Oh yes, and the skies were blue and the sun shone. Glorious, wonderful Wales! I'll tell you more tomorrow.