Thursday, September 30, 2010

At the Bottom of the Garden

When I was little I knew there was a bear at the bottom of the garden. Probably a grizzly. Huge. Scary. Big claws. Big teeth. My mother, oblivious to the peril she was in, would wander about the wilder bits of the garden - it was fairly wild in those days, with the remains of an old air-raid shelter - with apparently no fear of being eaten.

And she never was eaten. The garden, however, was tidied up over the years. I expect the bear moved out, and was replaced by dahlias.

However, yesterday I saw that a little bit of wildness had crept back in and here it is:

Something's been eating it a bit and probably has a stomach-ache by now, if it's what I think it is, which is a fly agaric, because they're poisonous.

Here's another one that's nearby, which has also been nibbled a bit:

They are quite large - several inches across. I can see why they feature so largely in fairy stories - they look slightly unreal, surrounded by all the autumn green and brown. They're like a strange, plastic toy that dates from thousands of years before the days of plastic.

I like a bit of wildness in the garden. Though I'm glad to remember the old poem:

"There are no wolves in England now, nor are there any bears.
You could not meet one after dark upon the nursery stairs."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Lifetime of Sulking

Yesterday I heard a short item on the radio. A listener complained that when she was a child she had, by chance, won both first prize and fourth prize in a raffle.

In a sweeping blow of injustice, she had been told that she couldn't keep both prizes and had been made to give one back: though not -as might have been expected - the fourth prize, but the first prize.

She said that she'd never entered any raffle, or lottery, or any such thing ever since.

"A lifetime of sulking," she commented.

I love that phrase! Sulking is not, in general, something to be admired, of course. When others sulk I find it deeply annoying.

But the slight edge of humour with which the story was told made it enjoyable for me: partly because I strongly identify with its teller.

I hate all injustices. The big ones make me furious. The smaller ones make me sulk.

Age ten, I failed miserably at some children's party game which involved advertising slogans from television. My parents didn't watch ITV and wouldn't let me watch it either, because they didn't believe in adverts. I'm still sulking.

Age eleven, I was told by one teacher to go and eat my packed lunch in the biology lab, and then thrown out furiously by another teacher. I'm still sulking.

Age twelve, I was in a class that balanced a bucket of water on the door so it fell on the teacher's head. I was at the other side of the classroom and knew nothing about it - I was probably absorbed in a book - but I still got put in detention. I'm still sulking.

However - - --

Age very nearly thirteen, I was - along with everyone else - given a day off school so we could watch the Investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales. Of course, my family didn't watch it but I did have a lovely day with no school or homework. The next day I was talking to my best friend all about it in assembly. I was told by a teacher to stop talking but we ignored him completely and carried on gossiping in loud voices all the way through the Headmistress's long and deeply dreary account of the Investiture.

We were summoned to the staffroom at break and given the cruel and unnatural punishment of having to stand outside the staffroom in silence till the bell went.

Am I still sulking about that one? No, of course not. I was in the wrong and knew it and didn't care: I was in my nearly-a-teenager Rebel Mode. It wasn't injustice: it was a fair cop, guv, and I got let off lightly. Whenever I think of it I feel a warm glow of something approaching pride.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Johnny Plays a Doctor

I think that Jay might like this. The reason should become clear.

Where I was working today there are usually two doctors in charge. There is the Friendly Down-to-Earth Yorkshire One and the Enigmatic Russian One. I've worked with them lots of times and I like them a lot.

Today there was a third one. He was Spanish. He wore glasses and had his hair tied back. And if this was a film he would have been played by Johnny Depp.

He didn't look exactly like Johnny Depp looks in real life - - but oh, boy, if Johnny Depp were ever to play a Spanish doctor this is how he would look. I kept looking for the film crew to see if I had stumbled upon a strange Johnny-Depp-does-reality-television experience.

It made it a bit hard to concentrate. "So, there will be two rooms today and the number of candidates is - - " he said in a Spanish accent and I was trying to pay attention but something in my head was going "JOHNNY DEPP! JOHNNY DEPP!"

"So, could you come through into - - " he said and my head said "YOU'RE JOHNNY DEPP AND YOU KNOW YOU ARE! YOU ARE JOHNNY DEPP AND DON'T TELL ME OTHERWISE!"

Of course, I didn't mention this. It would have been entirely unprofessional.

As we went out into the fresh air afterwards, my fellow female roleplayer turned to me.

"That Spanish doctor," she said. "Was he played by Johnny Depp?"

I screamed, just a little bit, and said I'd thought exactly the same thing.

"What?" asked the male roleplayer who was with us. "Are you saying he looked like Johnny Depp? Didn't notice it myself."

"Well, not quite like how Johnny Depp looks in real life," said my female colleague, "but if Johnny Depp ever plays a Spanish doctor, that's exactly how he'll look."

Just in case this is read by any film producers or screenwriters, may I say that Johnny-Depp-plays-Spanish-Doctor could make a very, very successful film. You heard it here first.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Late Spring Cleaning

I was so busy in the Spring that really I never did the Spring cleaning that I usually do - - washing curtains etc. So I'm trying to get it done in the Autumn.

One of the jobs that really needed doing was cleaning the oven so whilst Olli and I were working in the office yesterday, my son-in-law Gareth cleaned the oven.

He found the mask that his Dad gave him came in useful again:

It's supposed to be a self-cleaning oven but looking at the state of it, we thought cleaning itself was too much to ask of it, since it didn't seem capable of wielding brushes and cloths.

Gareth sprayed it with large amounts of evil-smelling chemicals and then he and I wiped it about four squillion times with clean water and finally it gleamed and I roasted a chicken in it, thus starting the whole cycle of oven-grease all over again.

And now - - - clearing junk! Stephen and I went out this morning and bought ten plastic storage boxes. The trouble with doing that kind of thing is it makes you feel nearly as good as actually clearing the junk. It's like buying lots of new cleaning products. "Ahhhhhh! My whole house will be immaculate when I've used all these. But meanwhile, I'll just watch Coronation Street."

Ah! If only! They still haven't mended the Emley Moor Transmitter. No Corrie for me. I'd best get on with the Autumn Cleaning.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Girl Guides, Brownies, God, and the Queen

I was never a Girl Guide or even a Brownie. There were three things wrong with the Girl Guides, in my parents' opinion. One was God, another was the Queen and the third was the uniforms which my parents described - accurately, in those days - as "militaristic" and their memory of the Second World War was still too strong for them to countenance any such thing.

They didn't have anything against all the activities and the camping, but swearing allegiance to God and the Queen ruled it all right out in our house.

This was tricky for me, in an old-fashioned girls' grammar school where God and the Queen were brought into most things anyway, and almost all my friends were always talking about Brown Owl and Tawny Owl and going off to Guide Camp.

The Communist was particularly anti-God. This was perhaps strange, since his way of life followed the Ten Commandments far more closely than many people who would call themselves believers. I'm proud of the fact that he did this from a sense of what was right and not from a fear of what would happen after he died if he did it wrong.

Anyway, there was no way I was ever going to join the Brownies or the Guides, and that was that. My parents would probably have approved of the Woodcraft Folk, which was - and still is - a kind of non-God non-Queen alternative movement, but nobody I knew belonged to it and anyway I thought - and still think - that its name was impossibly twee and this alone would have kept me well away.

I've just been watching a television programme about a hundred years of the Girl Guides and it made me wonder what I missed.

Camping in the countryside? - yes, I would have loved that - - though not in the big groups that Guide Camp consisted of. How about working for badges, and doing big group games, and singing round the camp fire?

Well, sitting round a fire, perhaps, out in the countryside - - but only with a few other people.

That's it, I think. That's the problem. I'm just not, not NOT a joiner-inner.

Of course, my mother is the ultimate joiner-inner and has never been able to understand that I'm not. I know jolly well that if it hadn't been for God and the Queen my mother would have had me join the Brownies the second I was old enough, cheerily saying "You'll enjoy it once you get there" as I protested all the way to the draughty church hall (oh yes, I'm not keen on church halls, generally, either).

Apparently fifty per cent of the women of Britain have been in the Guides or Brownies or both. Watching the programme, I felt a strong sense of regret. But it wasn't regret that I didn't join. It was regret that I don't seem to have that joining-in gene. I'd like to have it. I know it has made me miss out on things that many - perhaps the majority - of people enjoy.

But I don't have it. Big social groups fill me with panic and make me want to flee or to hide. People who know me in other circumstances are often surprised by how much fleeing and hiding I do at big social occasions.

There is, of course, an argument that if I'd only joined the Guides then perhaps I wouldn't feel this way now. But I don't think so. I think it's just how I am: and I wish I wasn't.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Snap, Crackle and Pop - - it's Coronation Street!

Now look, I work a lot. I don't have a lot of time to relax, but when I do, one of the things I like to do is to watch television.

Of recent weeks, however, I have been slightly thwarted in this plan. The reason is Emley Moor Transmitter.

It's a big tall thing out in the Wilds of West Yorkshire and it sends out television all round about. I could of course give you a far more technical explanation but am choosing not to, okay?

Recently, however, there have been problems with it. Some of its nuts and bolts have got loose, or something, and they've been mending it, and it's taken them ages and ages.

Unfortunately, whilst they've been mending it, they've been sending out television at a reduced signal.

Not for BBC programmes, oh no. It's ITV that's suffering. Most particularly, they seem to have the lowest signal at the times when Coronation Street is shown.

If you don't watch it, you'll probably be going down the line of "I've never seen it and I don't want to because all soaps are terribly written and badly acted blah blah".

However, although all soaps go through good and bad periods, the writing is frequently excellent, and the acting is often excellent too. And I enjoy it - - - relaxing, enjoyable television and great after a tiring day.

But gradually, the low signal has totally changed my Corrie experience. First of all there was the odd crackle or squeak. Then after a week or two, there were little jumps in the dialogue, so that when characters said things like "We need to talk" - a favourite expression in soaps - it would come out as "Nee tk".

Then from time to time the characters' faces would dissolve and reform again. Strange ghostly people would appear in the background, and nobody would notice.

At first I found this infuriating - - - and then, gradually, I found that I was getting used to it. I had no problems following the plot at all.

Ken Barlow's son would dissolve and pop up as Deirdre, whilst remarking "Clt Pb Tnt" or something similar and I would know from this that Ken's grandson was moving to Thailand and that Ken had decided to marry a pole-dancer from Luton. I don't understand why Norris and Emily are planning to build a space rocket in their yard but I expect it will become clear to me.

Apparently the work on Emley Moor Transmitter is supposed to be nearly finished. I will continue to enjoy Coronation Street but I think the plots may perhaps become a bit less surreal in the coming months.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Freezing in Strikes Garden Centre

We took my mother (86) and my friend Connie (90) to Strikes Garden Centre for lunch.

As we walked through the doors, a blast of cold air hit us. It was freezing in there. Actually it was pretty chilly outside too but if anything it seemed colder indoors.

We walked round to the cafe, penguins hopping away from us as we went.

The cafe's part of the main garden centre so wasn't any warmer than the rest of it. Diners sat at cafe tables, wearing jumpers, coats, scarves and gloves, which made it tricky to eat their lunch.

"It's freezing in here!" I said to the girl behind the counter. "Why's it so cold?"

"Errr - - yes, it is," she said. She was slightly distracted because of a couple of polar bears which were trying to get into the kitchen.

"So why?" I asked.

"Well, it's because of the plants outside," she said unconvincingly. "It's because of the glass windows."

"Well that's not exactly the case, is it?" I asked. "I've been here in winter and it's been much warmer than this."

She looked embarrassed. "Well, it's because the owners won't turn the heating on until a certain date."

"Aha!" I said. "Now we have it!"

We shivered our way through lunch. The hot tea was lukewarm after about a minute and by the time I'd eaten my cheese omelette ice crystals were beginning to form in the jug of milk.

Then, whilst Mum and Connie were looking at bulbs, I asked the girl on the checkout why it was so cold.

"Ooh yes, I know, freezing in here, isn't it?" she said. She just seemed to accept this as some kind of Act of God.

"So is the manager about?" I asked. "I plan to ask him to turn the heating on."

She seemed baffled by this, but nevertheless explained that he was the tall bloke over there.

"Hello," I said, "Could you tell me why it's so cold in here?"

"Well it's quite a cold day outside," he replied.

"Yes, I know that," I said. "But I know from past experience that this place has heating. Why can't you turn it on?"

"Well it's not that cold," he said defensively.

"Really? Have you a handy thermometer we could look at?" I asked sweetly.

He didn't rise to this one so I tried,

"There's a cafe here and if you have a cafe it needs to be warm. Usually people don't choose to eat their Sunday lunch wearing their coats. I'm here with two elderly ladies and they're both frozen."

"Well it was hot yesterday."

Okay, he was really annoying me now. I think it was mutual.

"Yes, you get that in Britain in autumn. One day hot, the next cold. That's why buildings generally have heating. Why can't you turn it on?"

"Well we don't turn it on until it gets cold."

"It's cold NOW."

"Yes, but we turn it on later in the autumn, when it gets cold."

"It's cold NOW."

He shuffled a bit.

"Ah well, we have to get the engineer in to fire it all up. We can't just switch it on."

Two things. I would guess that Strikes have a money-saving policy of not turning the heating on until October no matter how cold it is. If they haven't such a policy, perhaps they'll tell me.

Secondly, it would be good if they gave their staff a bit of training in customer relations. If he'd have weighed in with "I'm really sorry about that, yes, it's freezing in here," then I might have been a bit less angry.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Random Restaurant in the Smoke

I've been down in London for the past couple of days, working on a course for doctors.

It was fascinating. But sadly I can't tell you anything about it because of confidentiality of course. All I will say is that I loved it and that if I was rich enough to retire (which I'm most certainly not!) I would still want to do work like this because it it was so interesting and worthwhile, and my colleagues who run the course are lovely people too. I know I'm really lucky to be offered work that I enjoy so much.

Last time I worked on this course, back in July, two of my colleagues and I decided to go to find something to eat in the evening.

So we set off to wander randomly in the direction of Covent Garden, just going whichever way looked interesting, each of suggesting ways to turn - - right - - left - - ooh, this looks good - - why not go up here?

We found ourselves outside a Greek restaurant.

"Ah!" exclaimed one of my colleages. "We ate here last time, just by coincidence, and it was really good. How strange that we just found it again by wandering randomly."

I hadn't been down in London for the previous course but I was happy to try the restaurant.

It was delightful. On a sunny July evening, we sat outside at the back, and ate mixed starters and lamb and chips and vegetables and it was a lovely evening in congenial company.

We couldn't remember where the restaurant was but on Thursday evening this week we set off again to look for somewhere to eat. Again, we just wandered - - - right - - left - - left - - - right - - and oh look, this restaurant looks good - - - and strangely familiar - -

Yes, it was the same one. It is called Konaki Greek Restaurant on Coptic Street and I strongly recommend it. We had another lovely meal there.

We took its card this time so we can look for it if we're asked back to work on the course again - which seems likely, hurrah!

Strange though. I think people aren't as random as we think we are.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

From Up High

I love heights. When I was in Barcelona, a couple of years ago, I spent a lot of my trip there going up high. The cathedral roof. The cable car. The Sagrada Familia, where you can get a lift to part of the way up and then climb up inside one of the tall, thin towers which sway in the wind and are only slightly wider than you are. Wonderful. Scary but with terrific views and I loved it!

In Rome I loved the dome of St Peter's. In Siena I loved the Torre (or tower) there. In Bruges, this summer, up the tower we went and I loved it. (actually, for the best views I think Siena or Bruges take the prize). I love the Eiffel Tower. Hell, on a smaller scale, I even love the Blackpool Tower, which has a piece of perspex at the top to walk on, looking at the view below.

However. Here's a man whose job involves climbing up towers and working on the aerials at the top. The video lasts a while but is well worth watching. He can see 55 miles when he gets to the top!

I'm not going to do his job when I grow up, oh no. For various reasons. But watching this made me realise that I love being up high - - as long as you don't introduce the serious possibility of FALLING OFF.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

RSPCA Fundraisers

The front doorbell rang.

Rather reluctantly, I answered it - I could see that there were two people there and this suggests either Strange Religious Cult People or Sales People.

It's generally easy to tell one from the other. Strange Religious Cult People often start by asking you if you've ever thought of the meaning of life. At this stage I generally open my eyes wide, and with as much innocence as I can muster, I say "No!" in tones of bewilderment and then close the door slowly yet assertively.

Sales People, on the other hand, generally start by asking you a question that they hope you will answer "Yes" to, to get you engaged in the conversation.

Now then, these two came over like salespeople. Cheesy Smile Man and Cheesy Smile Man's Serious Mate.

But, interestingly, they were wearing blue jackets with RSPCA all over them. You can see a photo of the type of thing here.

"Hello!" said Cheesy Smile Man, with a kind of false bonhomie. "Is this a convenient time to talk to you?"

"No," I said, "because I'm just having my tea." Which was true.

Instead of taking that as a translation of the words GO AWAY, he persisted.

"In that case, is there anyone else in the house over the age of twenty-five that we could talk to?"

"No, there isn't."

He didn't seem to care but decided to carry on talking to me anyway.

"Don't you just hate cruelty to animals?"

(See - - a question demanding the answer "Yes". How I wish I'd said "No.")


"Now then, the Government has just brought in legislation that means that they can finally prosecute those evil people who are cruel to animals."

I didn't know the correct response to this. Probably "How wonderful. Can I give you all my money?" So instead I said "Uhuh."

"And we're trying to bring this whole local community together in support of this."

He gave me a studied look of warmth and tenderness. I wanted to hit him. He carried on.

"Because here in Britain we really care about animals, don't we?"

(Another saying-yes opportunity! Woohooo!)

"Do we?"

"So if you could just agree to a Direct Debit of just blah blah blah blah blah"

(I'm sorry about the lack of accurate reporting here but I had stopped listening and was considering the going-coldness of my tea).

I finally hit on a good thing to say.

"No." And the crucial thing is, to say it as you are closing the door, so that there is a comforting click by the time you get to the O bit of No.

The point is, that because these men are wearing RSPCA jackets, you could be fooled into thinking they're from the RSPCA. But they're not. They're from a fundraising company, and before it gets any profit from all this door-to-door stuff, the RSPCA has to pay the fundraising company. Read more here (the same link as before with the lovely blue jackets).

A big flaw in it all is that they didn't come over like genuine animal-lovers. They came over like second-hand-car salesmen of the dodgiest type: entirely false and lacking in integrity. As a matter of fact, I am a genuine animal-lover and they made me want to find a puppy and kick it. (Only joking, folks!)

Obviously these tactics have been working for the RSPCA but I don't like this kind of thing, and I don't approve of it, and I'd never set up a direct debit with anyone who came to the door like this. And I wish that nobody else would either, because then the RSPCA might stop doing it.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Completing the Course

My mother banged her leg whilst doing some gardening, and cut it.

Perhaps because she didn't really notice, and perhaps because dirt got in, it got infected. Whilst she was staying with Amy, her best friend from when they were both at school seventy years ago, recently, they went to the hospital because Amy fell over. Whilst there, a doctor looked at Mum's leg and realised it was horribly red and swollen and prescribed some antibiotics.

When Mum got back from Barrow, she showed me the bad leg. She was not happy with it because the cruel doctor in Barrow had said this meant she couldn't go swimming until it healed.

"Are you taking the antibiotics, Mum?"

"Oh yes, four times a day. I've read all the instructions."

"And you know that, with antibiotics, you have to complete the course? Because otherwise the infection can come back worse than before you started."

"Oh yes, I know that."

That was a couple of days ago. This evening the leg is a bit better.

"And you are still taking the antibiotics, Mum?"

"Oh no, I've stopped now because it's getting better."


"Mum, it's getting better because you're on antibiotics."

"Yes, well I've stopped them now. Because it's getting better."

"Mum, with antibiotics it's really important to complete the course. Otherwise the infection can come back just as bad, or even worse."

"Yes, but it says in the leaflet that over-sixties should beware of side effects. I don't think that doctor realised that I'm over sixty."

"I think he probably did, Mum. He will have checked. And once you're taking them, you do need to complete the course. It's really important. Remember what happened with Dad's leg?"

The Communist's leg, of course, got so badly ulcerated that it had to be amputated.

"Oh yes, but that was him. That won't happen to me."

(By this she means "Because he was an old man, and I'm not that old." She's eighty-six and a half and is actually older now than he was when he died, but hasn't taken this in, really - and it would have been cruel to remind her of it.)

"Yes, well we need to make sure that all the infection's gone."

"Yes, but then you have to remember to take them. I don't think I've had any today anyway."

And here, I think, we have one of the problems. She's finding it hard to remember. I'll have to remind her, four times a day, and perhaps get a dosset box for any future tablets.

And this is my mother who was married to a pharmacist for fifty years. The Communist always stressed the importance of completing the course of any antibiotic.

Twenty-one years ago, whilst I was pregnant with Olli, a health promotion video all about antibiotics was filmed in this house, with every room pretending to be a different location. And, guess what, it was all about the importance of completing the course of antibiotics.

I reminded her, gently, about the video.

"Oh yes, I remember. Something about antibiotics."

"Yes, Mum. Something about COMPLETING THE COURSE of antibiotics."

I left her to come back the ten yards home.

"I'll take one of the tablets now, shall I?" she said as I left.

"Yes, Mum, please. It's important."

I stayed calm and patient throughout. But I hate this slippery slope. Just hate it.

Going the Extra Half Mile

Since the Great North Swim was cancelled because of blue-green algae, one thought's been bugging me. Could I have done it? Of course, I certainly should have been able to - I've been swimming a mile several times a week since December.

But things are different out in the lake and I've kept thinking - - what if I didn't complete it? I had a wonderful weekend in the Lake District but even so, I didn't get that feeling of achievement that I was really looking forward to - if I'd completed the swim, that is!

Today when I went swimming the pool was amazingly quiet. I started off - for the first time ever - swimming in the "fast" lane because the middle or "medium" lane where I usually swim was the busiest part.

After a little while in the fast lane, I realised that some people who swim there are there, correctly because they're fast. Others just think they're fast - - and also think they're more important than everyone else so are very likely to plough into you.

Because it's been the actors' agency's monthly meeting this afternoon and I needed to prepare, I didn't want to be too long. But it was lovely in the pool and when I got to sixty-four lengths, which is a mile, I thought - - oh, well, I could just go to eighty-six, which is two lengths longer than I have ever swum before.

I changed back to the middle lane when it cleared a bit and carried on swimming. I felt fine, and when I got to eighty-two lengths I thought - - - well, if I just did another ten, then that would be a mile and a half in total.

So I did! Ninety-two lengths, which is a mile and a half. I was really pleased that I could do it without any problem. It took me an hour and a half, and when I have time I'm going to try for a hundred lengths.

So I'm going to keep telling myself - come on Daphne, you know you could have done the Great North Swim.

I'm hoping that, next summer, I will.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Anti- Burglar Protection

My mother lives next door. Well, at the bottom of the garden, really, in a house that she and the Communist had built in the garden of this Victorian house, slightly over ten years ago.

Because of my close encounter with the Burglar yesterday, I urged Mum to keep her back door locked as she hadn't always done so in the past.

I always go over to see her fairly late in the evening - about eleven o'clock, as neither of us goes to bed early.

Tonight when I went over to see her, I was pleased that her door was locked.

I stayed for about half an hour and then set off back. I tried to lock the door after me as I left, but she wasn't having any of it.

"No, I'm going to see you across to your house. I'm going to watch to make sure you get there. If there's a burglar out there then I don't want you out on your own. I'll lock the door when you're safely in."

There was no point in arguing. She watched until I'd got into our house and locked the door behind me, and only then did she lock her door.

A mother's still a mother, even when she's eighty-six.

Thursday, September 09, 2010


So there I was, sitting at the computer as usual, when I heard the back door open quietly.

There are always lots of people coming and going in this house and at the time - late afternoon - there was Rob working in the office, Stephen, Gareth and Olli as well as me.

Of course, it could have been one of the actors arriving - - or a friend - - and if so, why didn't they call out?

So I shouted "HELLO?" in my sternest Schoolteacher Voice and went towards the back door and met a burglar coming in. He was in disguise of course - - just wearing an ordinary blue T-shirt instead of a stripy one, and he didn't have a bag marked SWAG over his shoulder - - but he was a burglar all right.

He was just turning to flee as I got there and he slammed the door and rushed off. I followed, of course (and what exactly WERE you going to do if you caught him, Daphne?) but by the time I'd got to the gate he'd run off.

Very strange, in broad daylight with five people in the house - not that he knew that, but there were two cars in the drive, which might have suggested that someone was in!

So we'll be keeping the door locked from now on. Wouldn't want any strange people getting in.

Ahhh yes, and here's a photo of Gareth peeling onions for tea - I just wandered into the kitchen and found him like this. The T-shirt says "We'll be safe in this dark and creepy barn."

Okay, here's a warning to any burglar. If you DO get into this house, I will shout at you in my Schoolteacher Voice. And you may also meet Gareth. Be very afraid.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Swimming and Maypole Dancing

So. As I suspected would be the case, they have cancelled the Great North Swim for this year. They did try to reschedule but the blue-green algae are still there, lurking ominously and poisonously in the water. Grrrr.

It's been a learning curve for me about how I handle disappointment and really, it's shown me that I haven't had that much disappointment in my life. As I mentioned before, I've known grief and tragedy - but those are different.

My first - and most major - disappointment happened in 1963.

In Leeds in the fifties and sixties there was a huge event called Children's Day. It was a huge event which was attended by about 50,000 people. There was a parade, and a Queen of Children's Day, and then lots of displays in the large open-air Arena in Roundhay Park, watched by massive crowds sitting on Hill Sixty, where the hillside had thoughtfully been cut into large steps and then grassed over to provide lots of seating for people to watch events in the Arena.

Here's the link to Children's Day in 1957. If you watch for a while, you will see the maypole dancing. Over a thousand primary school children would take part.

Several years later, in July 1963, it was to be my turn.

I don't think I was chosen for my natural aptitude for dance - I didn't have any! - but more for my good memory and hence for my ability to learn the steps and the routines. I remember the Head Teacher coming and taking me, with a few others, out of class to practise, because we had been chosen as Gledhow Primary School's Maypole Dancing Team. Wooohooo! Or, as we would have said in those days, Hurrah!

I was six and just about to be seven, and ready for this responsibility. We all saw it as a great honour.

We practised for weeks, in the school hall, on the shiny wooden parquet floor with the lingering smell of the school dinners. Maypole Dancing requires the dancers, holding ribbons, to weave in and out of each other around the maypole, whilst the ribbons make brightly coloured patterns. Then the whole dance is done again in reverse, to undo the ribbons. I can still hear the crackly gramophone record echoing in the hall, with all the PE equipment hoisted up out of the way.

And if you have - as Leeds had, in 1961 - forty maypoles involved on a huge grassy arena, then the whole thing looks very spectacular. Our school was to provide just one of the forty. And we were the dancers who had been chosen! We knew the true meaning of happiness.

We were to have special costumes, too - the boys in white shirt and shorts (boys always wore shorts in those days) and the girls in white cotton dresses, just like in the link above to the 1957 Pathe News film.

My dress had what I called a "sticky-out" skirt, reminiscent of the big skirts of the 1950s, because this was before the days of the 1960s straight-up-and-down shift dress. It was a brilliant white with a little lacy pattern on it. I had a white ribbon in my hair. I had new sandals. I had sparkling white socks. I felt girly and pretty and, for once, able to forget my new glasses. I was in Clothes Heaven.

Children's Day took a lot of planning. We rehearsed and rehearsed, so we would be step-perfect and not let ourselves, or our school, down. Here's a short clip of some modern-day children doing the kind of thing we did. We used to dance to traditional tunes such as Lillibullero and Pop Goes the Weasel.

I can still remember skipping round like that, and weaving in and out to make the patterns, and how we had to take it in turns to sit cross-legged in the middle to stop the pole from falling over. If you needed me to, with a bit of rehearsal I could do it all again in a couple of days' time.

The day dawned. We put our costumes on and waited to be collected and taken to Roundhay Park.

Then, just before midday, there was a terrific storm. I still remember seeing the darkness of the clouds, and the torrential rain.

Soon afterwards, we got a phone call. Children's Day had been cancelled.

To me - and to thousands and others, no doubt - it seemed like the end of the world. I took off my useless white dress and I hated my new sandals and my new socks and my white hair-ribbon.

There wasn't to be a "next year". There was too much disappointment and too much effort had been wasted.

In Leeds, Children's Day never happened again.

Writing this post, I have come to understand something. That July day in 1963 was the last time I enjoyed dressing up for a special occasion. Ever since, I have hated special clothes, hated dressing up, feared any event with IMPORTANT hanging over it. And now I know why.

But I'm older now - much older! - and I've learned at least one thing along the way, and that's to get up and get on with it. Tomorrow morning, I'll be swimming again.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Comments on my Blog

I have never monitored comments on this blog - I've never needed to.

Recently, however, I've had a few that I have had to delete because I felt they could have been hurtful to some people.

So, listen, folks - many members of my extended family, and many of my friends read my blog. For years I was very, very careful about what I wrote on my blog because of this: recently I have become a bit more open, and I don't criticise my friends or family anyway: they are all very important to me.

But if people leave comments that are intrusive or could be upsetting, then I will think twice about what I write in future. And, for me, this blog is a place where I can say what I think about many things. So once I start thinking twice, then there'll be no point in it any more, and I'll stop blogging, and I really don't want to do that.

So please leave a comment - - but please remember that real people who know me in real life might read it!

Everything But the Swim

Windermere was stunningly beautiful on Saturday morning: Stephen took this photo before breakfast:

To me, it's difficult to understand how anyone could see that water and not want to swim in it. Yes, it's cold. Yes, it's deep. But to swim in those beautiful surroundings would have been paradise to me.

Our bed and breakfast, New Hall Bank in Bowness, was just next to the lake and was delightful. I'd chosen it because it would have been ideal to catch the boat up the lake to the swim site - that was going to be the only way to get there as cars weren't allowed to get near.

But, as those reading my howls of disappointment on Friday will know, the Great North Swim was postponed - probably cancelled for this year at least, in actual fact - because of toxic blue-green algae in the water.

Two of the organisers had set up a stand at the harbour in Bowness so disgruntled swimmers could come and shout at them. I thought it was very brave of them.

I did go up and ask why the swim was cancelled at such short notice and they explained that the water had been completely clear of the toxic algae until the tests on Thursday. Lack of rain allows the algae to grow quickly.

Various gloomy swimmers came up and said how disappointed they were. Like me, they just wanted to say how fed up they were, and didn't seek to blame anyone.

One chap was rather different and was positively beaming: "Hey, I don't have to do it!" he said. "Look at my happy face!"

Another bloke thought it was a lot of fuss over nothing and ranted at the two organisers for quite some time. "I'll never swim with you lot again!" he said.

Silverback pointed out wryly after we'd left that actually, this was no real threat to the organisers as it would not exactly ruin any future event as there'd still be 8,999 swimmers left.

But I think that Ranting Man was wrong. Can you picture the headlines if the Environment Agency discovered toxic algae and then the swim went ahead and people were very ill or died from the stuff? Organising a mass event like this (9,000 swimmers over the two days) they had no alternative but to cancel.

As you may imagine, there's a huge amount of money involved - the cost of setting up the site - - there was a film crew to film it for television - - the loss to charities of the sponsorship - - and I don't know what will happen to the various Great Swims in future since this summer both the Great Scottish Swim and the Great North Swim were cancelled because of the algae.

I had imagined myself swimming in the lake so often - in the cold, clear, deep water surrounded by the Lake District fells. In the freezing days of last winter, when it was minus 4 Centigrade outside, as I swam in our local pool I would imagine I was swimming in Windermere on a hot, late-summer day - just like it actually was on Saturday, in fact.

Stephen and Silverback did a great job of making sure I had a lovely weekend anyway - and my grateful thanks to both of them for this cannot be over-emphasised - and the Lakes were at their most beautiful in the sunshine. I'll tell you more about it all soon.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Total Disappointment

Saturday, 4th September. The Great North Swim. A mile in Windermere, in the Lake District.

I've been training for it since December - a mile several times a week - and was nervous but really looking forward to it.

I'd got the entry pack, the swimming cap, spent some of the afternoon looking at the map of the route. I decided I'd write a blog post about it as we're going to the Lake District tomorrow.

So I clicked on the site and at first I could hardly take in what I read there. They have postponed it because of blue-green algae in the water compromising swimmer safety. For "postponed" read "cancelled" as I doubt they'll be able to reschedule this summer.

The same thing happened a few weeks ago with the Great Scottish Swim, but there'd been no warning that this might be the case with Windermere, and I must say I think they've left it a bit late to tell us. Though they have now emailed me and texted me as well as putting it up on the website.

I am absolutely gutted. In fact, it's really quite interesting to analyse the level of disappointment I feel.

When did I last feel this much disappointment? I can tell you precisely when. I was fourteen and there was a production of Hamlet at the old Leeds Playhouse, and the actors were supposed to be coming to talk to us at school about it.

I had been asked to welcome them, and to make a little speech. I'd seen the production and loved it, and was totally stagestruck.

Then, in our English lesson on the morning it was all supposed to happen, we were told, very casually, that the director had decided that they needed an extra rehearsal, and so they wouldn't be coming.

Very bad of the director, as a matter of fact, to call it off at such short notice - or indeed, at all.

So we were told - - and I was immediately asked to read the role of Julius Caesar in our English lesson, and I couldn't read through my tears, and the teacher just didn't seem to understand why at all.

We're still going up to the Lake District - the bed and breakfast has been booked for months - and plan to have an enjoyable weekend.

And I'm giving myself a bit of a kicking, because I know this isn't a tragedy. Oh no. I know what tragedy feels like, I've been there. I know what grief feels like and I've been there too, and sadness - and this isn't those.

But it's disappointment, and I've forgotten over the years just how bad that can be.

I would have loved to have done the Great North Swim in my twenties, when I could really swim, before the big tragedy of losing my baby and the illness that followed, and the DVT in my leg. And somehow this, in my fifties, was going to be my way of getting it back - to put it melodramatically, reclaiming a bit of the youth that I lost, and perhaps that's why I'm so deeply disappointed.

But as usual, having wallowed a bit, I'm going to try to go for my usual Pull Yourself Together and Move On. In a while. I have got a lot fitter. I used to swim a mile in an hour and twenty minutes and now I can do it in fifty-six minutes. It's been good for me. I've loved it. I'll carry on swimming.

Oh well. There's always next year.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Harvest Mouse and Sleeping Otters

On Sunday, the day after Jo and Ian's wedding, several of us decided to visit Slimbridge Wetlands Centre. The naturalist Sir Peter Scott (son of Scott of the Antarctic!), who founded Slimbridge, was a childhood hero of mine and when I belonged to the Panda Club of the World Wildlife Fund, he came to speak to us once and I was very starstruck. He was wearing bright red socks, which was a bit of a surprise in the formal early Sixties!

Slimbridge is a wonderful place, with zillions of different birds, and you can buy corn and feed some of them. This pleased me as I love feeding birds - - and animals - - and people - - well, anything that eats, really! Here is Stephen feeding a duck:

But an unexpected delight was a poolfull of otters. Their den had a glass window so you could see in, but they didn't know! (I appreciate that there may be an issue of Otter Rights here). I've never seen an otter before, except on the television, and it was wonderful to be so close to them. I also liked the sign:

Perhaps most unusual of all, there was this: (and thanks to Stephen who took the photo)

It's a harvest mouse - Britain's smallest rodent - they had a big vivarium full of them, all climbing on corn and eating berries and generally doing harvest-mousy things. I've never seen a harvest mouse before and couldn't believe how tiny they were - the blackberries in the photo weren't particularly large ones and the mouse really is as small as it looks!

It was a Grand Day Out to make a Grand Weekend of it and many thanks to Gareth and Jo's parents Val and Les for inviting us for lunch afterwards, too.