Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What Royal Wedding?

I expect they think it will take our minds off it all. All the recession, cuts, job losses and general misery.

It did work the last time. Or the last major time anyway - I think a few other Royals have got married since, and one or two have even stayed that way, though not many.

But history, as the authors of that worthy tome 1066 and All That pointed out, is what you can remember.

We all remember Charles and Di. "Shy Di" being chased by photographers and photographed in the street, looking shy, and with her back to the light so we could see her legs (shock!) silhouetted against her frock.

And the engagement. Reporter: "And in love?" Diana (shyly): "Of course." Charles: "Whatever love is". HAH!

And then the wedding. She wanted to look like a "fairytale princess". Why did nobody tell her to be careful what you wish for? Had she never read any fairytales? Most of them have at least a certain element of horror, and so it proved for Diana.

So she wore this huge great meringue of a dress, all frills and ruffles, and the rest - - - well, you know the rest.

So now we have another recession and they are trying to distract us again with more frills and ruffles.

But please, O Great British Public, don't go for it. We've been sucked into it all before. Enough already!

Now then. As part of my work, doing roleplay for the training and assessment of healthcare professionals, I have perfected looking Puzzled and Confused. It's a really helpful emotion to be able to express because doctors and such often aren't clear. If you can do a good Puzzled and Confused, then with a bit of luck they might notice, and explain more clearly.

I have to say (modest cough) that my Puzzled and Confused is very realistic and totally believable.

So I have decided to put this to good use, and I invite you to do the same.

Whenever anyone mentions the royal wedding, what you do is wear your best Puzzled and Confused expression, and say, in tones of quiet incredulity, "What royal wedding?"

I tried it out this morning.

As I packed my shopping after paying at the checkout at the Co-op, a girl was standing on a stepstool putting up bunting.

"Excuse me," I asked innocently, "what's that bunting all about?"

"It's for the Royal Wedding!" she said, as though to an idiot.

I looked at her with my best Puzzled and Confused expression and I have to say I did it very well. I thought for a bit.

"What royal wedding?" I asked, and, leaving her speechless, took my trolley and left.

As I reached the door, I could hear her behind me, telling her colleague in a very loud whisper.

"That woman didn't know about the Royal Wedding!"

Come on, folks. Try it. Tell your friends. These are gloomy times we're living in. Let's not swallow all the hype. And let's have some fun.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Winter Warfare

After the sunshine of last week, Scarborough was grey and blustery last Saturday. But, of course, even a grey and blustery beach is a thousand times better than no beach at all.

We had gone for the day to see some lovely old friends, George and Margaret. Old as in "my mother used to teach with Margaret over forty years ago" and also old as in "George is ninety-five".

Yes, George is indeed ninety-five, born during the Great War. Still full of wit and good humour. "Don't ask me," he says to any tricky question. "I can't be expected to know. I'm ninety-five. I'm senile."

It was a real joy to see them both.

He told us about when he was a soldier in the Second World War.

His platoon was sent to Iceland to train. It was extremely cold there: it tends to be like that in Iceland. The idea was to prepare them for fighting in cold countries. They trained for six months in Winter Warfare.

Finally, fully trained in fighting during all the extremes of cold weather, they were sent to North Africa.

"It's like that in the Army," said George, philosophically. "Things don't always go according to plan."

Friday, March 25, 2011

Developing and Printing and Donne Studios

Reading Silverback's post about the days of Developing and Printing took me back to some very early memories.

The Communist was a pharmacist and when I was very little he had a shop in Halton, Leeds.

It was an unpretentious Victorian building with a dark interior - here's how it looked when I was last there in 2007.

As you can see, it wasn't a chemist shop in 2007: its days as a chemist shop were in the 1960s when the Communist owned it.

When I was little I used to be taken there sometimes. If I was very lucky the Communist would take me to a local field near a railway line after work. It was there, one August long ago, that I first saw harebells in flower and thought they were the loveliest flowers I had ever seen.

There's just one more thing I remember about that shop and I didn't piece together the whole story until years later, but I remember there was a lot of gossip going on at the time all round me and I didn't understand it.

One of the Communist's shop assistants was pregnant. It was a big surprise to everyone. It was a particularly big surprise to her, because although she had a regular boyfriend she had never had what was known in those days as Sexual Intercourse. What she had participated in, presumably with some enthusiasm, was what was known in those days as Heavy Petting.

This interesting incident was, perhaps, why the story of Mary and the baby Jesus never impressed the Communist very much. Whenever the topic was mentioned he would look a bit superior and mutter something like "Virgin birth? My shop assistant had one of those. Happens all the time."

Anyway - - - - of course, in those days almost everyone who had a camera took their films to the chemist for developing and printing. That phrase "developing and printing" - or D and P as the Communist sometimes called it - is such a part of my world!

There was always a little box of films to be delivered to the place that actually did the developing and printing - and writing this post, its name has just come hurtling back to me out of the past. Donne Studios. And, thanks to the wonders of the internet, I found its address: 6-10 GREEN ROAD, MEANWOOD, LEEDS 6, LS6 4JP - and the company is now dissolved but how amazing that I found it!

One evening, after the shop closed, I went with the Communist to Donne Studios, and they showed me round.

Some kind person explained to me all about darkrooms and developing liquid.

I was fascinated. Thrilled. The idea of spending the whole day watching the magic as films changed into photographs - - wonderful!

For about the next ten years, whenever anybody asked me - as they often do ask children - what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would unfailingly say that I wanted to work in a place that did developing and printing. It was, in general, not the answer that they were expecting.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

For No Particular Reason

In these difficult times you have to find humour where you can. The Alzheimer's Society sent me some leaflets. They forgot to put a stamp on the envelope.

And also, for no particular reason except that I like it, here is Wendy the cat peering through the banisters, in a photo taken by Gareth.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Case of Casey Heynes

Many of you will have seen the video.

It's in Sydney, Australia, though it could be in any school on the planet.

A smaller, skinny kid, watched by an admiring circle of friends, decided to punch Casey Heynes, 15, who is clearly in role as The Fat Kid Who's There To Be Bullied, in the face.

Skinny Kid jumps about a bit and punches Casey once.

He tries to punch him again but Casey deflects the blow.

He tries to punch him for a third time and Casey picks him up, holds him in the air for a fraction of a second and then smashes him to the ground.

The video of this went viral all over the world - although Youtube keep taking it down as it's so violent you can find it in a second by googling "Casey Heynes".

I heard an interview on the radio with a representative of an anti-bullying organisation saying that violence is never the answer and they would never suggest that victims of bullying turn to violence in this way. What if Skinny Kid had landed on that concrete edge and fractured his skull and died? Yes, it's a fair point. I can see why they said it.

However, that response misses the main point. You can see from the video that Casey didn't choose the violent response - he just snapped after years and years of bullying.

It's hard for anyone who's ever been bullied, or who knows anyone who's ever been bullied - - and I bet that those together add up to most of us - to react in any way other than a loud inward cheer for Casey.

I hope that it won't cause more people to "have a go" at him in future. The school has suspended both boys as they have a strong anti-fighting policy which had clearly failed miserably in preventing him being bullied every single day he's been there.

I think that this interview throws up an interesting point. If you look at Casey, okay, he's somewhat overweight - - but that's it. Nothing else that instantly suggests why he might be a target of bullying.

He's articulate, clean and if he sheds some of that weight could quickly metamorphose from Fat Lad into Good-Looking Hunk.

So why was he bullied? Because he'd somehow fallen into the position of Victim of Bullying and his friends had deserted him, fearful of becoming victims themselves.

Why has the video struck such a chord? Because this kind of thing is happening in every school throughout the land. Which land? Any land. Every land. Any school that says "there's no bullying here" is lying.

It carries on into the workplace too, in a subtler form. It's human nature, sadly: though it isn't in the nature of every human being. I hope that this video has at least raised awareness of bullying. Perhaps it might provoke some children to tell of the daily horrors that are happening to them. And when they do, I hope they'll be believed, and taken seriously.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Quiche On Demand

I've never liked that "Abortion on Demand" slogan, even ignoring the whole debate about abortion in the first place. Surely what they really wanted was "Abortion on Request". Far more polite. Surely it's better not to go round demanding things if you can simply request them?

In the excellent cafe at Strikes Garden Centre the lunchtime menu included various types of soup and quiche - - and at the bottom of the menu, in chalk on a blackboard, was:

"Gluten-Free Quiche on Demand".

I looked to see if there was a queue of angry people banging their fists on the counter.

"We demand gluten-free quiche!"

A few people with placards would have been good. "What do we want? Gluten-free quiche! When do we want it? NOW!"

Sadly there was no such queue - - just another lady, also there with her elderly mum, and they were both marvelling at the low price and high quality of Afternoon Tea.

From the kitchens out came Motherly Cook and looked at the menu on the blackboard.

"Hey," she said to Young Serving Wench, "you've written Gluten-Free Quiche on Demand. It should be on request!"

"I'ts the same thing, innit?" asked Wench. But Motherly Cook won the debate and shortly afterwards the board was changed. Gluten-Free Quiche on Request. Hurrah.

At the canteen I sometimes go to at Leeds University there are some pretty decent sandwiches and hot food too.

There is a notice board that says:

Chips with Baked Beans
Chips with Chilli
Chips with Cheese
Chips with Egg
Chips with Baked Beans and Cheese
Chips with Gravy
Chips with Curry

At the bottom, gloriously, is the canteen's slogan:


But there is no quiche on demand, gluten-free or otherwise. Shame.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Once Upon a Time in a Taxi

This is a true story. It happened to a friend of Olli and Gareth's, whom I shall call Oswald, because they don't have any friends called Oswald.

Oswald was at a party. Also at the party was a pretty and very girly girl called Clarissa. Actually she wasn't called Clarissa but I don't think she knew, at that point, what she was called.

Clarissa was very, very drunk. Oswald, from a motive of great selflessness, decided to help her to get home. If he had any motives other than kindness, they do not feature in this story.

Oswald found a taxi. The taxi driver's name wasn't Nigel, but that's what I'm going to call him.

You may know that taxi drivers often won't let very very drunk people into their cabs, in case they vomit copiously all over the interior. Nigel didn't know this. It was going to be an educational night for him.

The taxi set off in the direction of Clarissa's home. After a very short time, Clarissa vomited copiously all over the interior, and all over Oswald, and all over herself.

Nigel screeched to a halt.

"That's going to cost you fifty quid, mate," he said, "to clean my taxi".

Oswald explained that he is a poor student and didn't have fifty quid on him. I think he did ask Clarissa but her reply wasn't coherent and didn't include any offer of money.

Oswald gave Nigel all the money he had, which wasn't much.

"Right, you can both get out of my taxi this moment," said Nigel assertively. Oswald climbed out and Clarissa fell out after him.

Nigel roared off into the night and plays no further part in this story except that I feel rather sorry for him.

Oswald looked to see where they were and the answer was The Middle of Nowhere Next to a Field.

"Come on, Clarissa," said Oswald, " get up. We'll have to walk home."

"Nggghmmh" said Clarissa enthusiastically from her position on the ground.

"UP! WALK!" repeated Oswald, to no avail.

Clarissa wasn't very big. Oswald hoisted her onto his back and carried her the two miles back to his house. He observed that the gentle rocking motion as he carried her enabled an even layer of vomit to be spread all over his clothing.

"Otter tail?" murmured Clarissa when they arrived. It took Oswald a little while to work out that she was suggesting that they should sleep top to tail in her bed.

Oswald considered this generous proposition. He thought of his feet, which were now the only bit of him that was not covered in vomit. He thought of Clarissa's hair, which was a vomit-covered mass of once-blondeness.

"I'll sleep on the floor," he said, and did.

It was early afternoon when they woke. Oswald noted with interest that a dried crust of vomit covered most things in the room, including every part of him, and all his clothes.

"You can't go home like that," commented the now-sober Clarissa.

As I mentioned previously, she was a very girly girl. As Oswald walked home, wearing a pink hooded top over a pair of white jeans embroidered with a little pattern of roses, he thought that the traditional pleasures of youth can be over-estimated.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Musical Interlude

At last - after a week and a half - I am feeling somewhat better though I still have a really glorious cough of which many a Victorian consumptive poet would be proud.

So today I've been paying out some money to actors which I hoped to pay out several days ago. I hate being late with such things!

But everyone has to have a break from time to time so here's an uplifting musical interlude, specially brought to you from 1978 Czechoslovakia. I particularly like the chap on the right with his stunning dance skills.

Righto, I'm off back into the office now to do a bit more work. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Daphne the Difficult Customer

The student doctors I work with sometimes want to practise dealing with "a difficult patient". Now then: I maintain that there's really no such thing. The patient they describe as "difficult" wasn't born that way. Something has happened that has made them angry or upset, or both.

Usually when people start being "difficult" in hospital it's because they are worried, or frightened. When my mother broke her shoulder last winter she was very "difficult" indeed in Swansea Hospital because she has a hospital phobia and was in deep shock. The staff all ignored her constant attempts to run for the exit and left me to deal with her and bring her back.

At this point, I too became "difficult" and enquired loudly, in the form of an announcement to the whole waiting room, if it was hospital policy to leave distressed patients entirely to the care of their relatives, and to ignore an elderly lady with a broken shoulder who was in deep shock?

This provoked the staff into action, and they began taking it all more seriously. Presumably, up to that point, they thought that my mother sitting there with a newspaper covering her head (she didn't like the flourescent lights) and from time to time making a break for freedom was some enjoyable game being played out for her own selfish pleasure.

However, I must say, thinking about it, that when healthcare professionals do need to practise their ways of dealing with someone who is distressed or angry and hence who is "difficult" to deal with, I am often called into service to play this role.

There's a reason for this. I don't shout, or punch people. I am always polite. I just know how to be really, really impossible, and how to push all their buttons so they want to punch me. One thing is, I am never, ever at a loss for words (yes, I can hear those who know me sighing at the deep truth of this) and in verbal combat I am extremely fast, with more than a touch of Patronising Cow.

And so we come to Sainsbury's this morning.

I wanted to buy some Lemsip, some Sudafed (decongestant), some paracetamol and some ibuprofen. My illness over the past week and a half has sadly depleted all our stocks and Stephen has a painful arm which only really responds to ibuprofen.

I arrived at the checkout with all these little packets, and the young assistant called the supervisor.

"You can only buy two of those," said the supervisor sternly. "Company policy".

"There was nothing on the shelves to say that," I said sweetly. "I did check."

"Yes, well you can only buy two," she said. "Company policy."

"I am a grown-up," I said politely. "My father was a pharmacist. I know about the dangers of overdosing on paracetamol."

"Yes, but you can only buy two," she said. "Company policy."

"Do you know what happens if you take a paracetamol overdose?" I asked.

"Err - - no - - errr - - " she said.

"You wake up after they've pumped your stomach, and you feel a lot better, and you regret taking the overdose, and you're glad they saved you. And then three or four days later you die a hideous death from liver failure. So it wouldn't be my suicide method of choice."

"Yes, but you can only buy two," she said. "Company - "

"Policy." I added. "Yes, you said. But in these two packets is plenty enough to kill me. So you're happy to sell me enough to kill me, but just not happy to sell me as much as I want, is that right?"


"And oh look! There are lots of cigarettes over there and you'd sell me the lot if I wanted. So clearly Sainsburys are happy to sell me things that will kill me, as long as I do it slowly."


"And you'd sell me a whole big bottle of whisky, wouldn't you? Or a whole big bottle of bleach?"


"And, furthermore, I could just go and put all my shopping in the car and come straight back in and buy two more packets, couldn't I? So the whole policy is totally ridiculous and I would have a large bet that it hasn't prevented one suicide: it's just the company covering its back, isn't it?"

She turned swiftly, and left, because she was about to hit me.

Now then, I never expected to win this argument - I'd just gone straight into roleplay mode: I simply couldn't resist it.

However, if that had been a communication skills training session - and that woman needed some training, believe me! - then I would have suggested in some feedback afterwards that she firstly apologise to the customer - because it's very hard to keep ranting at someone who's just apologised to you - and secondly explain that yes, this policy didn't seem applicable to me but unfortunately it was out of her hands. Thirdly that if I wished to complain this is the address to complain to, and fourthly that she would ensure that the shelves would be correctly labelled from now on. And, fifthly, if there IS any evidence that such a policy has ever prevented suicide, she should both know it and direct me to it: certainly she should have explained WHY it was company policy.

I called in at the local pharmacist on the way home to buy the remaining tablets.

"Are you on any other medication?" asked the young assistant.

"No," I lied, firmly and clearly, because otherwise she'd have gone off for a twenty-minute discussion with the pharmacist as to whether I could buy them or not.

I am a-weary of the Nanny State. I wish that we could be expected to take more responsibility for ourselves, and to take the consequences if we don't.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The Joy of Trains

I knew it would be difficult, if not impossible, to park at the health centre in Huddersfield where I was working this morning, so I decided to go by train, since the train station was only a five minutes' walk from the venue.

The taxi driver was on a mission to get from our house to the station faster than any motor vehicle had ever done so before. I don't know why this was: I was too busy trying to keep my balance as he hurtled in and out of the traffic and tested his ability to do emergency stops.

I was still feeling ill, and I have to say that this high-speed journey didn't help: I was relieved when we finally screeched to a halt outside the station and I could escape.

Then there were the ticket queues. You know that system they have in the Post Office where there's one long queue and whoever's in the front goes to whichever cashier becomes free? Good system, eh? SO WHY CAN'T WE HAVE IT IN RAILWAY STATIONS? (sorry, hysteria is setting in and I'm going all BLOCK CAPITALS).

I joined the shortest queue and it was a mistake. Shortest, maybe: but at the front of it were three teenagers who were planning a year-long Interrail trip throughout Europe and buying their tickets, one by one, for each twenty-mile leg of it.

The family at the back of the long queue to the right of me progressed to the front, bought tickets, travelled to Torquay, had a week's holiday and waved to me on their return.

"And that's got us to Switzerland", said one of the teenagers at the front of my queue, "and I thought I'd do Germany next."

The man at the back of the queue to the left of me progressed to the front, bought a ticket, travelled to North Wales, met and married a plump Welsh girl called Tegwen, then stayed and established a very successful small business making confectionery. Finally he returned to Leeds to visit relatives and offered me a sweet as he passed me by.

The teenagers were by now planning their travel to Barcelona and thence to Italy.

Finally I got a ticket - of course the price had gone up three times whilst I was in the queue - and boarded the train.

I may perhaps have exaggerated some of the above slightly but now we have the absolute truth. The train was packed. Standing room only and the corridors were packed too.

I found myself standing opposite the seats that were supposed to be prioritised for disabled people. In them were a couple of teenagers whose culture, in this multi-cultural country, was completely alien to me.

They were white, with those kind of trousers that have the crotch somewhere around the ankles, and wearing hoodies. Their culture includes listening to music through headphones so loudly that everyone else can hear it, and it goes Pshhh Pshhh Pshhh.

Their culture does not, however, include offering their seats to any of the many older people - some who were much older than me - who were standing in the aisle. But of course I wasn't bitter. I just coughed all over them throughout the journey and whenever the train lurched - which was often - I stood on their feet. Luckily, being a Woman of a Certain Age, I am completely invisible to them so even on the rare occasions when they glanced up, they didn't see me.

A man with a trolley appeared next to me.

"Could you move out of the way?" he asked grumpily, and without any use of the word please. "I need to bring this through here."

There were people sitting in the seats either side of me and a long row of people, all clutching luggage, stretching down the aisle.

"Well, if you just give me a moment, please," I said with what I hoped was a disarming smile, "I'll try to learn to hover in the air and then you can bring the trolley underneath me, okay?"

"Umph" he said, in tones of slight puzzlement, and heaved his trolley back from whence he came. That is, I find, another of the - possibly few - advantages of being a Woman of a Certain Age - nobody is ever quite sure whether you're being rude to them or not.

We arrived at the station - all rather characterful with Victorian architecture - in the sunshine. As I walked through the exit, however, a violent hailstorm started. From nowhere! I struggled up the hill to the health centre, holding one of my plastic folders above my head because the massive hailstones really hurt.

Just as I reached the health centre, drenched, shivering, frozen - - the hailstorm stopped.

It was THAT kind of morning.

Except - - - then things changed, for the better. The class was comprised of a group of student midwives, with one student social worker.

They were fantastic. They were caring and thoughtful and had excellent communication skills. They seemed to love the session and gave excellent written feedback afterwards.

So I emerged, greatly cheered, into the sunshine, just in time to miss a train back to Leeds and learn the true meaning of "absolutely freezing" whilst waiting on Huddersfield station for the next one.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

At the Tower of London

Like many tourists, I have toured the Tower of London, guided by one of the Yeoman Warders. I've been there a couple of times and found it fascinating.

Here's one of the Yeoman Warders with a rather unorthodox - yet very entertaining - approach to his work.

Many thanks to John Coombes who sent me the link.

I know I haven't written on here much recently - firstly I was very busy and then I was ill. Suffering. Proper Poorly. A infection of the Upper Respiratory Tract.

Okay, I've had a cold. It was horrid. Though since it was my first of the winter, and since I have worked with dozens and dozens of student doctors this term, I'm hoping my immune system's doing a pretty good job, on the whole.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Start Button

It's been such a busy week - I've been rushing about all over the place!

So here's a soothing end to it - - Start Button.

This track (though not the accompanying video) was composed by my brother Michael and his wife Deborah years ago, in the early nineties, and it featured on an album.

Then, a short while ago, it suddenly popped up being played in clubs all over Europe - -including in a French village where one of Olli's friends lived.

She was rather amazed to learn that this track was made by Olli's aunt and uncle.

The voices you can hear on the track are those of Michael and Deborah. I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Whatever Happened to My Part?

I've been rushing about all over the place for work. In amongst it all I have heard some interesting things.

"My daughter has a poster on her wall," said a friend and colleague. "It says I've lost my virginity. But I still have the packaging it came in."

This amused me greatly. And then, in the coffee break, some of us were discussing our rather tenuous claims to fame. I boasted about being distantly related to both Danny Kaye and the first ever heart transplant patient. "My Dad watched the Queen's Coronation with Wilfred Pickles' mum," said one of my colleagues, gloriously.

Wilfred Pickles, comedian, was the originator of the catchphrase "Give me the money, Barney" which my mother says just about every day - - I always wondered where it came from.

Anyway. Part of the rushing about, entirely for pleasure, was a trip to the Sunderland Empire last night to see Spamalot.

I'd never been to Sunderland before. My friend Alex had press tickets as she's a radio presenter, and she kindly invited me to go with her.

Alex lives near Stockton-on-Tees, sixty miles or so straight Up North up the A1, so I drove to Alex's house and then she took us the extra thirty miles or so up to Sunderland.

The journey took me through the little town of Yarm which was very picturesque and full of interesting-looking shops. I'd like to spend some time just wandering round there.

On we went to Sunderland and the Empire Theatre is a big, old-fashioned and lovely theatre. Spamalot is a rip-off by Eric Idle and John Du Prez of the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, made into a musical. It's extremely entertaining, very funny, and the standard of singing and dancing was extremely high.

It was supposed to star the comedian Phill Jupitus as King Arthur but we were convinced that the actor we saw was not him. Usually if there's an understudy replacing the star then the audience would be told by an announcement at the beginning - but we weren't told anything. Alex found out today that Phill Jupitus was ill and they'd swapped the cast round a bit - - and it didn't matter at all, they were great: but I think we should have been told.

For a show like this a high-quality ensemble cast is, to me, more important than any star name - and so it proved last night.

There are some great songs and I particularly liked this one, The Diva's Lament, which is sung by Guinevere when she's been offstage for a while, and suddenly notices this. I know many actors, of course, and I think its sentiments will ring true for many of them.