Saturday, July 31, 2010

Various Titbits

Titbits was a magazine read regularly by my grandparents, the Communist's parents. It contained short features, like a kind of magazine-style tabloid newspaper.

Those were innocent times and I don't think you'd get a magazine called Titbits now. Or if you did, it would be about something else entirely.

Anyway, this blog post is going to be comprised of a few titbits of information and here they are:

Last Wednesday I wrote about the dressing-up clothes on the toyshop called the Early Learning Centre's website and said how old-fashionedly sexist the accompanying text was: this is what it said:

"For the little princess in the family we have great feminine outfits like Butterfly Fairy, Sleeping Beauty, Ballerina and Nurse’s uniform. Why not add a medical case for that extra touch of authenticity.

The boys are catered for too, with great Doctor, Policeman & Fireman uniforms, not to mention fantastic Pirate and Knight costumes. All these can be combined with a range of accessories so your child will really look the part."

I emailed the Early Learning Centre - and I've a feeling that quite a few others did too as I found the original link on Facebook - and the Early Learning Centre sent me a rather panicky-sounding reply saying they would forward my comments to Head Office.

And if you look at the site now, then hurrah! They have changed it, and this is how it reads now:

"Children's Dressing Up Outfits

The whole world is a stage and we have an incredible line-up of classic children’s dressing up outfits that your little ones will love. ELC stock a great range of activity toys for babies including sensory ball pits, play mats, baby gyms and baby ride on toys to ensure your child can learn to move, play and develop in a safe and happy environment.

Our children’s costumes and outfits are perfect for fancy dress parties or for that all-important performance, be it at home or in the school play.Dressing up encourages your child to express themselves in a fun and educational way, serving to increase their long-term confidence."

Hurrah! A shame that they needed to have it pointed out to them but at least they've had the decency to change it.

Now to the Great Swimsuit Problem.

I emailed Marks and Spencer to complain that they didn't seem to stock any sports swimsuits at all, let alone any in a size 20. And a lady called Luise replied to say that, tucked in amongst the many frilly lazing-around-a-pool offerings (my description not hers!) there actually were two that had cross-over backs and so were sports swimsuits in all but name, and they came in size 20 amongst other sizes. She sent me the link! I have ordered one! And if it fits - and I think it will - then I will order another pronto.

But I emailed them back to thank her and say that these swimsuits were very hard to find as you couldn't see the back until you clicked on them - and from the front they looked as though they had ordinary straps. A search for "sports swimwear" on their site had produced no results. Again I got a reply to say they'd pass my comments on to Head Office - - so we'll see.

Thanks to those of you who left comments on my blog with useful suggestions about this - I'll be following those up too.

Finally, I went swimming again in Ilkley Lido this morning and found out how many lengths is a mile: it is 36 lengths. In a normal pool it's 64, but this pool is nearly twice as long. So this morning I swam a mile, in my wetsuit, so it seems as though I'm finally getting used to it. My blood sugar got really low in the last few lengths though and Stephen had to feed me mints as I swam - - so I know now that I need to eat more before I swim. A bowl of porridge and a slice of toast still wasn't enough!

I came out ravenous and ate just about everything in the cafe.

On Wednesday Silverback, Stephen and I are off to Le Continong, as the Communist used to call it. Bruges, Amsterdam, and then France, for over two weeks. Hurrah!

And here endeth my titbits for now!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

No Swimming Over a Size 16

Okay, I'm furious. Let me tell you why.

This morning I picked up one of my three sports swimsuits to put it on. Although I bought it only last November, it's had a lot of use and it simply fell to bits - the material has perished because of so much exposure to chlorine in the water.

I swim so much that I really need three swimsuits - and what if they all fell to bits, eh? So I thought I'd buy another one.

The ones I have are all the same style - they are a Scoop Sports Swimsuit from BHS, or British Home Stores as they used to be called.

And now they're all sold out in my size.

So I tried everywhere else. Everywhere else I could think of. M and S (shame on you), Debenhams (shame on you) various sports shops (shame on you) Speedo (yes, well obviously everyone who wants to swim is really skinny - shame on you, you idiots). And so on and so forth.

Anywhere that does sell them, has sold out (amazing! Does that tell them anything?) But most places don't sell swimsuits that will fit me at all.

Because I am a size 18 round the hips and a size 20 on the top. Not even the euphemism "curvy" that the shops use to describe "women with massive knockers". I'm just broad, with average-sized breasts - or, to use a technical term, according to swimsuit manufacturers - "curves". I have broad shoulders. Partly caused by - - you guessed it - - swimming!

We "larger ladies" (as we're called) do not, apparently, actually swim. We sunbathe. We lounge around on a beach in so-called "swimsuits" whose main feature is "tummy control" (a phrase that makes me so angry I want to find whoever invented it and punch them).

Swimming is really good exercise for everyone, and especially for people who are overweight - wouldn't you think that swimsuit manufacturers would have got that into their thick skulls?

This morning I swam seventy-four lengths (a mile and then ten extra lengths) in sixty-two minutes. Just because I'm large, doesn't mean I'm unfit. And hey, I'm not THAT large - - there are thousands of women who are much larger than me.

And, if they could find a proper swimsuit that fits, to swim in, it might just help them to get smaller. It would certainly help them to get healthier.

If you happen to find a source of a women's sports swimsuit - I stress, a sports swimsuit, with cross-over straps or similar, because otherwise they slip off my shoulders - in a size 20, do please let me know.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Eaten by Dragons - Coconice

I enjoy the television programme Dragon's Den. Inventors bring their inventions in front of a panel of very rich entrepeneurs and ask them for money to help with their businesses in return for a share of the profits.

Some of the products from past programmes have done very well. Most, however, are clearly not a good idea.

A few weeks ago a twenty-four-year-old Northern girl invited the Dragons to try a frozen dessert she'd invented. Her little son suffered from food intolerances and hence she'd come up with this to create a kind of ice-cream substitute that he might like.

She produced a pot of it and invited the Dragons to try it. They were all a bit sceptical - they always are. But, after tasting it, I noticed that they carried right on eating it.

Which I thought was interesting. Because most "free-from" foods that I've come across are a poor substitute for the real thing.

And this is low-fat, free from dairy products, added sugar, nuts, artificial flavours and cholesterol. The ingredients are fruit extracts, carob extracts, brown rice flour, coconut oil and some sticky vegetable gum to stick it all together.

The girl said she'd got a supermarket interested in it. The Dragons continued to look a bit sceptical about this. "Which one?" they asked.

"Tescos" she said nervously.

They pricked up their ears at that and, having established that she was genuine, all fell over themselves to lend her money.

This is the company's very basic website: they are called Worthenshaw's.

After swimming in Ilkley Lido last Saturday, we called in at the posh Booth's Supermarket on the way home and came across some tubs of this Coconice, as it's called, so thought we'd give them a try.

We tried a vanilla one and a strawberry one last night. Olli and Gareth kindly agreed to help. They're good like that.

Suspiciously, we tried one and then the other. Then we tried a bit more. Then we all fought over the last of the strawberry one and it was only our tremendous self-restraint that stopped us from polishing off the vanilla one too.

It's delicious - - not quite like ice-cream, a slight flavour of coconut, easy to get out of the pot - - it's just YUM.

I'll be swimming in Ilkley Lido again at the weekend and calling in on the way back to try the chocolate one. And get more strawberry and vanilla. Probably their entire stock. Good luck to the girl who invented it: I hope it goes global.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What You Should Be Doing

Let me tell you exactly what you should be doing.

Don't you just hate it when someone says that to you? Well, I do. I think everyone does. Unless it's preceded by the other person asking the question, "Please, please, I beg you, tell me what to do." And even then the reply should be tactfully phrased.

Some people take a long time to grasp this principle. Some people never get it at all.

I notice it in my w9rk with student doctors - - and, indeed, with some qualified doctors, sadly.

"Do you smoke?" I am asked, in a roleplay.

"Yes," I say, "I smoke twenty a day. It used to be forty until two years ago, though."

The ones who have grasped the "people hate to be lectured" principle then say something like:

"I bet it was hard to cut down from forty to twenty: that's a big drop". I know it can be difficult for the doctor to reply without sounding as though he or she is giving a patronising "Well done" pat on the head, but there are those who can just find the right words to say, and the tone in which to say it, so that the patient feels praised for cutting down, and inspired to cut down further, all in one sentence!

The Lecturers, on the other hand, say something like:

"Twenty a day? That's still such a lot! You'll have done a lot of damage to your lungs with forty a day, so you must stop now before you do any more damage. Don't you realise how dangerous smoking can be?"

Now I've never smoked. But when someone talks to me like that, in a roleplay, I immediately want to go out and buy cigarettes and a lighter and START SMOKING.

Shall I tell you about all the other things in life that this principle applies to? - - - No, perhaps I won't.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Lovely B and B

I think "Bed-and-Breakfast Tester" is a job I'd be prepared to take on.

On our way home to Leeds, through the Cotswolds, Silverback and I stayed at Ham Hill Farm.

It was along a pretty country lane, near Cheltenham.

Here's the view:

It was clean, spacious and Annie, who welcomed us, was friendly and clearly knew all about how to run a good bed-and-breakfast.

Talking of breakfast, here it is:

That was the help-yourself part: cereal and lots of fruit ("I grew these greengages myself"). Then you could have a full cooked breakfast or - in my case - porridge.

Grateful thanks to Silverback who found this place! Really lovely and not expensive either. A good bed-and-breakfast place is a wonderful thing.

For a number of years, I had to book about 300 bed-and-breakfasts twice a year for our actors. The actors were often travelling from other venues and hence couldn't arrive until quite late.

And thus it was that I arrived at the following truth.

There are surely not many people in Great Britain who go to bed at nine o'clock every night.
How strange it is, therefore, that all the ones who do go to bed at this time have chosen to run bed-and-breakfasts.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

In My Element

There are many situations where I'm not in my element.

I enjoy most of my work situations: I love my work - though I think it's true that both the work with the actors' agency and the work I do with healthcare professionals are more interesting than many people's work.

I am not, however, comfortable in many social situations, especially those which involve big groups of people. I'm never sure how to behave, or how to dress, and I tend to feel very shy and very self-conscious. Sometimes I flee. Sometimes I don't turn up in the first place.

However, I do enjoy meeting congenial people in small groups, and so it was when Silverback and I met Jay from The Depp Effect and her husband Yellow Swordfish on our way down to Camberley on Thursday. I thought I'd like them - Jay's a big Johnny Depp fan, for goodness' sake - what's not to like? They treated Silverback and me to a delightful lunch in a pub and I left hoping to meet them both again.

Here they are: Yellow Swordfish, then Jay, then Silverback, after our lunch.

This got me thinking. One area where I'm not in my element is in photos of myself, though I must say that Silverback, who is an excellent photographer, has taken some that I actually like, and some he has put on his blog, and I have always been quite happy with that.

But I don't, in general, like photos of myself: I just don't look how I feel inside, and I don't look eighteen any more. This could, I agree, be something to do with recently having had my fifty-fourth birthday - - but anyway, I don't like it.

So there has never been a photo of me on this blog. But today I'm going to change this. And, what's more, there's going to be a video. Of me. In my element.

Which is, of course, water. This morning I was swimming in the open air, at the delightful Ilkley Lido, trying to get used to swimming in my wetsuit. Stephen was my Personal Trainer "Go on, do another couple of lengths, you're getting more relaxed now!" He did a great job in getting me to persevere with it as I was really tense to begin with.

The Lido is unheated but as I've mentioned before, for me, cold water isn't really the problem. For the Great North Swim, which I will be doing in September, you have to wear a wetsuit.

I haven't had much chance to practise in the wetsuit since I bought it, and I hated the wetsuit for ages this morning - - I felt really trapped and claustrophobic, and far too buoyant. But finally the air mostly came out of it, and I began to feel a bit more like I usually feel when I swim, which is relaxed and free.

I'm still not a hundred percent with it, but finally I feel I'm getting there: I think I just need more practice, as the wetsuit means my stroke has to be slightly different from usual. And, since I've been swimming breaststroke for - oh, ye Gods - fifty years! - - it takes a bit of adjusting to doing it slightly differently.

So here I am, in my element, and I do apologise for anyone who found this by searching Youtube for footage of the Loch Ness Monster.

And here I am, when I'd finished swimming, just before I ate everything in the cafe. Yes, swimming makes me very hungry and I was in the Lido for an hour and a quarter!

I'll be back there next weekend to practise some more.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

When I Am King Dilly Dilly

I've just got back from the Cotswolds, and I'll tell you more about that tomorrow. The description I saw in a guide book somewhere, calling the region "impossibly picturesque" is most definitely true.

Silverback and I went to see Helen Kennedy in Waiting for Gateaux in Camberley - - and she was excellent, and so were the rest of the cast. We met two lovely fellow bloggers on the way down too - - more of that later as well!

Then we made our way back via the beautiful Cotswolds. Here's one thing we saw that I particularly loved:

Purple fields.
Around Snowshill, there is a lavender farm.

Not only did it look delightful, but the delicate scent of lavender wafted across the road as we stopped to take photographs. Lovely!

Here's the old rhyme:

Lavender blue, dilly dilly, lavender green, When I am king, dilly dilly, you shall be queen.

I would most definitely call it purple rather than blue - - perhaps, over the centuries, either the lavender has changed, or our concept of the colour "blue". Or perhaps it's just me, and perhaps you all think it's blue. Please let me know if you do!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Early Learning Centre's Ridiculous Sexism

Now then look, I'm not one of those who finds sexism lurking everywhere. I know it still exists big-time but I always found it very tedious when women went round spelling it "wimmin" so it didn't have the word "men" in it oh yawn yawn yawn.

BUT SOMETIMES!!! Arrrgh! And tonight is one of them. Ailbhe put a link on Facebook to the Early Learning Centre's website and their dressing-up clothes and there was this:

"For the little princess in the family we have great feminine outfits like Butterfly Fairy, Sleeping Beauty, Ballerina and Nurse’s uniform. Why not add a medical case for that extra touch of authenticity.

The boys are catered for too, with great Doctor, Policeman & Fireman uniforms, not to mention fantastic Pirate and Knight costumes. All these can be combined with a range of accessories so your child will really look the part."

This is from a shop that isn't any ordinary toyshop, oh no, it's the Early Learning Centre with that self-righteous aura of "make your child more clever than the thicko next door with our thrilling educational toys".

I'm not trying to stop girls dressing up as nurses or boys as firemen - of course not! But, for goodness' sake, why can't dressing-up costumes just be for anyone who wants to wear them, whatever their gender? Why do they have to be quite so gender-specific?

And as for the old, tired idea that the nurse is female and the doctor is male - - well, a glance round any medical school these days will show that a far greater percentage of doctors are female. I'm just pointing out that this sales blurb is the kind of thing that was about when I was a child and how dare an organisation calling itself the Early Learning Centre have this rubbish on their website?

I'd email them to complain - - but I can't find an email address on the site either. Grrrr.

And it's not that I wanted to play with "boys' toys" and wasn't allowed to - - oh no, almost all my play consisted of taking my dolls out to camp in the garden, feeding them and putting them to bed. I would never have become an engineer, oh no.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Mystery Object Found in York

Lots of strange objects have been found in York over the years, many of them of Roman origin.

Here's one that is a bit more modern but nevertheless strange.

You can't tell the scale from this but actually it's quite large: perhaps a couple of yards across.

It's in a communal area outside the Ladies' and Gents' toilets at the Roger Kirk Building, University of York.

So you come out and realise hey, that must be the sink.

It doesn't come with any kind of instructions though. So I watched with interest as everyone came out, gazed at it for a bit, looked for some way to turn it on - - and then the act of waving your arms near it makes it pour out hot water, like a sprinkler fountain.

There are little teats that are supposed to dispense soap, too, but not one person managed to get them to work whilst I was there. Everyone just pulled and tugged and pushed and finally gave up. I'm sure there's a knack to it, but it's not one that is easily discovered.

But if you want - - say - - a drink of cold water, you can forget it. The water comes in just one temperature: Vey Hot. Indeed, the only instructions anywhere on it warn of the hotness of the water.

All very stylish, maybe, but it needs instructions. Oh, and call me old-fashioned if you like - yes, go on, do it, for I just don't care! - I'd prefer a hot tap that you can turn on and off, and a cold tap that you can turn on and off. And some soap that works. Ahhh, technology, eh?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Fun with Bruce

Explorer Bruce Parry and his slightly less strong and slightly less fit mate were setting off on an expedition.

They were - in a television programme that I watched last night, though recorded a while ago - setting off to climb a mountain that nobody had ever climbed, fifteen and a half thousand feet, in a remote part of the middle of nowhere in Papua New Guinea, somewhere to the north of Australia.

To get there, firstly they had to canoe along miles of river, avoiding being swept away or eaten by crocodiles. Then they went into country where there were very remote tribes, suspected of still being cannibals. The local porters didn't want to go with them and just one chap agreed to go. We could hear the others saying "because, Bruce, you're BONKERS" in several different languages.

So, carrying 90lbs each, they set off through the impenetrable jungle. Although Bruce Parry has a good track record of befriending remote tribes, this time he kept meeting people who looked at him sternly, pointed a bow and arrow at him and said "and if you're not out of here by tomorrow, you're DEAD."

Bruce's Slightly Less Fit Mate nearly got washed over a waterfall and got trench foot where all the skin on his feet rotted. He grumbled about the weight of his pack and I didn't blame him in the least. Bruce kept on smiling cheerily as they forded flooded rivers and hacked their way through vegetation and sank into swamps.

They found a friendly tribe and took all their kit off and dressed in the local male dress of - - well, to be frank - - not a lot, just a gourd to cover what used to be known as Wedding Tackle. Bruce's Slightly Less Fit Mate grumbled that Bruce's equipment was so large that they had to get a special gourd to fit - an old, blackened gourd that had been kicking around in the huts for years because it didn't fit anyone. Bruce wore it proudly and smiled a lot.

Bruce's Slightly Less Fit and Much Less Well-Endowed Mate said politely that it wasn't always easy to get on with your friends on an expedition like this.

They ran out of food and some locals hunted them some strange small mammals. "It's really tough" said Bruce, cheerily, crunching on a claw. We didn't hear the reply from Ravenous, Slightly Less Fit and Much Less Well-Endowed Mate.

By now they had both lost squillions of pounds in weight and looked positively skinny. All that was left of Bruce was his smile (and presumably, his huge Wedding Tackle).

Of course it had been incredibly hot and humid but then they got to the mountain and it was really cold. Their ropes were for crossing rivers, not climbing mountains, so they had to climb the huge, vertical face of the mountain with no ropes.

We didn't get much film of the actual mountain climb because they were a bit busy all the time, trying not to fall off. At one point they dropped a pebble and heard it bounce - - and bounce - - and bounce. Finally, however, they struggled to the top.

We didn't hear much from Bruce's Mate, probably because he was too busy gasping in the thin air.

But Bruce, of course, was his usual ebullient self, and what Bruce said, in his usual cheery way, with his usual happy smile, was this:

"I knew it would be an interesting expedition, but I didn't know that I was going to have so much fun on the way!"

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Graduate

Here are a whole mass of graduands at Olli's graduation ceremony in the Central Hall at the University of York yesterday.

The one in the front with the excellent ginger hair is Olli and Gareth's friend Kim. I don't know what the collective noun for "graduands" is. A satisfaction of graduands? An excitement of graduands?

Until the moment you graduate - which is when the Chancellor of the University shakes your hand and said - in Olli's case - "Well done, Oliver" - you are a graduand and then you become a graduate.

If you're getting a first degree you wear a mortar board and if you're getting a doctorate you wear a funny round hat and here they are:

I liked the idea of going to the University of York when I was going to university - - but in those days it was only a few years old and didn't have much of a reputation, so I was advised against it. Shame! I went to the Concrete Jungle of Leeds instead and didn't much enjoy it.

But although it's not a very old university, York is now rated in the top hundred internationally and is renowned for its quality. Hurrah! The archaeology department is one of the best in the country.

Olli has done brilliantly well and we are all very proud of him and grateful to all those who have helped in any way.

So, here's the photo:

Congratulations, Olli, and lots of love from us all.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Following on Olli's splendid result last week - B.A. (Hons) 2:1 University of York, Archaeology - - Gareth also is to be congratulated today.

He is going to train as an HGV driver and today has passed the Theory Test, the Hazard Perception test and the Professional Competence test.

Now all he has to do is learn to drive a truck - - but I think he'll be fine with that!

And now I have an excuse to post one of my all-time favourites from that great show of the early Eighties - - Not the Nine O'Clock News.

Of course, Mel Smith, Rowan Atkinson and Griff Rhys-Jones have all had excellent careers and Pamela Stephenson is now a very well-known psychologist in America and is also married to Billy Connolly.

Not all comedy stands the test of time of course - - but I think this has!

On Friday morning we have Olli's graduation ceremony in York. I'm a bit nervous about it because I happened upon some graduating students at the University of Leeds the other day. All their parents looked frightfully grown-up and important and the mothers were all dressed up to the nines in Posh Frocks and Pearls.

Hey ho! Anyway, many congratulations to Olli and Gareth and I hope this is the start of great times to come for them.

Monday, July 12, 2010

My Mother On the Boat

Here's my mother, who is eighty-six, on a boat trip from Tenby to Caldey Island last week.

As you can see, she was enjoying it, and I really like this photo of her. I only managed to take it because she didn't notice the camera.

The problem is, she doesn't see herself as someone who's doing extremely well for eighty-six. She just sees what she has lost since she was half that age.

So she is horrified by all photos of herself - - she thinks that she looks old. And she does - but she doesn't dye her hair (she thinks that's a rather terrible thing to do, I'm not sure why) and she certainly doesn't look eighty-six.

Physically, she is amazing. She swam with me every morning before breakfast and she walked miles - - one day it was at least seven miles. Usually she swam at least twice every day - and always at least one swim in the sea, sometimes by herself.

Of course, it worries me that she does this and, since she broke her shoulder in Tenby last November, I've found that I am very jumpy whenever she's walking on any uneven surface. But she still goes up and down the high, zig-zagging cliff path at really amazing speed.

But her deafness is really isolating. When there is conversation in a group, she just can't follow it, and I was aware of this on lots of occasions in Tenby last week. I felt bad, but powerless to do anything about it.

She has some new hearing aids but really doesn't know how to work them. Unfortunately, she went to collect them at a time when I couldn't go with her. The doctor who fitted them didn't explain them in any way that made any sense to her. They had an accompanying leaflet. My mother has put it - - well, somewhere.

She's getting very forgetful, and she's getting increasingly frustrated with herself. I find constantly shouting to make myself understood very exhausting, and I get frustrated too.

I don't think it's generally much fun being eighty-six so it was lovely to capture my mother in this moment when she'd forgotten her age, and when I could see the young woman within shining through.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

I Love Pembrokeshire

We've just arrived back from our week in Pembrokeshire, South Wales and I just want to say how much I love it there. (If you click on the photos they will enlarge).

I love the cliffs and the sea:

I love all the wild flowers:

and, come to that, the displays of tame flowers are rather good too, especially with the sea as the backdrop:

You notice there's a palm tree. I love palm trees. In case you didn't know.

I love the light, which is always different from hour to hour and from day to day:

That was North Beach in Tenby: here's the harbour at sunset:

And I always, always love the view of Tenby from the Park Hotel. We have stayed there for a week every year since 1966.

I love travelling to new places, of course. But Pembrokeshire is a very old friend who has never let me down.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Penny-in-the-Slot Machine

In the Olden Days of the 1960s, there was an amusement arcade in Tenby, discreetly hidden behind the walkways up the cliffs of North Beach.

I loved it. My mother disapproved of it, and had no interest in it, but the Communist was often up for an hour's gambling on the Penny Falls, and hang the cost: sometimes we lost as much as half a crown (that's twelve and a half pence to all you youngsters).

I was never interested in the fruit machines because I liked to have at least the idea that you might have a bit of control over the result. And hence I liked the Penny Falls. You rolled a penny - an old penny, much bigger than the tiddly little current ones - down a groove with the aim of position it, upon landing, so that it pushed a whole heap of other pennies over the edge of a small precipice and into your possession.

Oh, the joy of getting it right and watching them fall! And the particular joy of watching someone else who had got a whole pile of them teetering on the edge, and then given up. The second he turned his back I'd be in there at top speed, trying to persuade the lot to hurtle into my greedy grasp. The thrilling sound as - say - tenpence clattered down and became mine!

The other thing I liked there were the old penny-in-the-slot machines, like this:

You put one penny in the slot at the top, then turned the silver knob, bottom left, until a little silver ball came out. Then you used the knob, bottom right, to flick the ball and if you did it right then it would go down one of the "Win" slots and you'd get another go. A penny bought you about six balls and if you were highly skilled - as - (modest cough) - I was! - you could keep it going all afternoon at the total cost of one penny.

Even in the 1960s these machines seemed rather old-fashioned, and hardly anyone except me used to play on them. They lurked in a dark corner of the arcade, well away from those more sophisticated machines where you could drive a car on a track or use a grabby thing to fail to pick up a cuddly toy.

Finally, in the early 1970s when the currency changed, they were taken away. I missed them.

And then this week an identical machine - it may even be one of the ones I remember - popped up again in Tenby! It was great to put my hands on it and my hands immediately remembered just how to turn the dial on the left and just at what speed to flick the one on the right!

Suddenly, it was as though a gap in time - one which encompassed all games from the glorious Pong (electronic table tennis, sadly mocked by modern youth) to Space Invaders to Playstations - had closed, and I was ten again. Woohoo!

Then I remembered where I was, and where the penny-in-the-slot-machine now lives.

We were in the museum. Yes, since you ask, I did feel suddenly rather old.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Bobbing Up and Down Like This

This is how it often is when I go into the sea. This is how it was today.

The sea looks grey and chilly. It's fairly late in the afternoon. Nobody else is in the sea. I think well, perhaps I won't bother - I'll go up to the hotel and go in the outdoor pool, which is heated, and which looks more welcoming.

Then I remember my little mantra, which I thought of many years ago to remind myself on just such occasions of doubt. "It is always worth swimming in the sea."

So, swimsuit and goggles on - no wetsuit today - and straight down, and straight in. Gasp. Cold! Up I come, then instantly down again and start swimming. Cold cold cold - - and then, after a minute or so - - - not cold any more. So I carry on swimming, in amongst the waves, and after a few minutes - - well, I'm warm. Lovely!

Today I stayed in for forty minutes or so. It was bliss. It always is. I just feel free. I swam quite a way along the beach and then back again - - - and did it again and again, interspersed with a bit of floating on my back and jumping amongst the waves.

Yesterday was different, because I was wearing the wetsuit. When I swam in the lake in the wetsuit, it felt too buoyant - I felt too high up in the water. But I coped - and yet it was only half a mile or so.

The sea, of course, is even more buoyant than the lake. I felt like a floating beach ball, barely touching the surface of the water (and anyone who feels like remarking that I must have looked like one too can stop it right there!)

My arms were too high - - but that was nothing compared to my legs, which felt as though they were almost out of the water. I felt that I was curving my spine like a banana. On the "glide" bit of breast stroke, I put my face in the water - - but it was very difficult to get it low enough.

After a while, I came out of the water, took the wetsuit off and enjoyed swimming in just my swimsuit for the rest of the time.

I have been told by others that swimming in a wetsuit makes you more buoyant than usual, but this is ridiculous! I'm wondering - in my usual worried way - if it's because my legs are short. Some people with long legs find it hard to stop their legs sinking. I'm having the opposite problem.

I'll keep on practising to see if I can get used to it. Perhaps the wetsuit will become more flexible after a while, and perhaps I'll get used to the new angle of swimming. I can see why they insist that you wear one for the Great North Swim - the cold could make it really dangerous and I realise that most people mind the cold water more than I do. But meanwhile, it's a bit of a problem.

There was nobody else in the sea when I went in, as I mentioned earlier. But, of course, that was because my mother had just got out of it, after her swim. She's eighty-six, and has she ever worn a wetsuit? Of course not.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Strange Fish

Perhaps it's not the best photo of a fish that's ever been taken, I know. This little fish was in a tank behind glass and they wouldn't let me swim in with the fish, not even in my shiny new wetsuit, so this was the best that I could do.

But I'd be willing to bet that you haven't seen one of these before.

It is just a few inches long, and looks more like something that you'd find in a tropical ocean rather than along the coast of Wales.

In fact, we saw it at the splendid Silent World aquarium in Tenby, and there's an interesting story behind it.

It was found flapping about on the tideline at nearby Manorbier, facing certain death. Then it had a stroke of luck. It was found by a local woman who keeps fish and recognised that it was something out of the ordinary.

She tried to get it to swim back out to sea, but it just kept being stranded, so she put it in a polythene bag with some seawater and took it to Silent World.

It's a rare Boarfish, also known as a Zulu Fish, and it had got very lost. Usually they live miles out to sea and in the very, very deep sea - which is why it has such big eyes.

Now it lives in a tank at Silent World, and seems very happy there, though you would expect that it spends a lot of time saying to the other fish "Very bright today, isn't it?"

How it got from the far ocean depths to the beach at Manorbier I'm not sure and - as yet - the fish has chosen not to tell.

It's been lovely weather here in Tenby today so I've been swimming in the sea and trying out my wetsuit - at the moment I'm finding it far easier without it (and just in my swimsuit, you can stop that right now!) but I'm hoping I'll get used to it.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Holiday Reading

I have always been slightly embarrassed about my choice of holiday reading. For some reason, I don't seem to want to read jolly things on holiday. I've sometimes been lying on the beach and, instead of reading the latest bonkbuster or comic novel, oh no, there I am reading about the Japanese prisoner-of-war camps or such.

So this week I've brought Brendan Behan's Borstal Boy (it's about the time when the writer, best-known as an excellent Irish playwright, was in the IRA, caught in England and sent to Borstal in 1939). I have Gipsy Boy by Mikey Walsh, which several people have recommended to me, and The Great Silence, about the period immediately after the Great War.

It's not that I don't like books that have humour - I do, I love them. Just - - er - - not on holiday, generally. Why? Well, I can't tell you because I don't really know. When I'm feeling more relaxed than usual, I like more serious reading than usual. Something like that.

As a graduation present for Olli I gave him £50 to buy books to read in Tenby (Olli reads very fast and reads a lot). Here's what he bought:

I think he got good value - the Sherlock Holmes book is the complete series of Sherlock Holmes novels. I think you could say it's an interesting mix! ,

So tonight we're in beautiful Tenby, and I've swum in the pool and been for quite a long walk this evening, and it's been a lovely sunny day.

And now, back to poor Brendan in his gloomy jail before I settle down to sleep.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Congratulations to Olli

Many congratulations to Olli, who has just learned that he has a B.A. (Hons) 2:1 in Archaeology from the University of York.

He's been through a lot in these three years and he's done brilliantly to get such a great result in such a difficult course from such a good university. Thanks too of course to Gareth and to everyone who's helped and supported Olli, and to all his good friends.

I am Proud Mother.

Ice-Cream In The Park

I'm just back from London where it was very hot but nevertheless I enjoyed the work with doctors very much!

Yesterday afternoon, after we'd finished, we sat out in Queens Square (we'd been working in nearby Russell Square) and had drinks and chatted for a while.

Of course, I was trying to take sneaky photos of some of the more interesting people in the square. And then I saw this.

A smartly-dressed man with an ice-cream in a cone, accompanied by this strange little dog.

As you can see from the photo, he held out the cone for the dog to lick and it ate a good portion of it.

Then I watched in fascinated horror as the man stood up and ate the rest of it. Yes, dear reader, he ate it! Would you do that? No, me neither!

If you would, do please tell - perhaps it's just me who lives in a world where I would never, ever dream of doing such a thing. I mean - - has he never seen the things that dogs lick?

And on that note of ewwwwwwwwness, I shall go and pack for our trip to Tenby tomorrow.