Monday, May 30, 2011

By the Bus Stop

Opposite our house is a road leading down to some woods, and there's a bus stop just by the entrance to the woods. Here it is:

It looks fine at first but then if you walk past and look inside the fence we have this:

Yes, lots of cans and take-away wrappers and bottles and crisp packets, all behind the fence so it's really hard to remove them - - and, indeed, nobody ever has. There's rubbish back there that dates back to Dickens' time.

So what's the thinking - well, I say "thinking" but I'm not sure that this is the correct word - in the mind of Litter Oik, behind tucking the litter down the back of the fence then? Rather than, say, hurling it into the road, giving it to the bus driver, setting it on fire or just dropping it on the floor at their feet?

I think that in Oik World, putting the litter behind the fence is almost as good as putting it in a bin, isn't it? It has just the same feel to it - - putting it somewhere rather than just dropping it on the floor.

Once, when I was walking by the edge of Roundhay Park Lake, a teenage girl in front of me finished drinking from a large pop bottle and then simply flung it into the lake. I was so, SO tempted just to push her in after it. I had to clamp my arms to my sides to stop myself. Okay, I'd probably have ended up in prison but ohhhhh the moment of pushing would have been such a pleasure.

When I was younger, when I saw people drop litter I would pick it up and hand it back to them with a cheery smile and "I suppose you didn't notice, but you seem to have dropped this by mistake." It may not have done any good, but I enjoyed doing it and it made me feel better. I wouldn't try it now though - I'd probably get stabbed.

Sometimes, in my grumpier moments, I think that if they ever put me in charge of the Justice System (unlikely, on the face of it, but you never know so I'm getting prepared in case), I think I would try an experiment.

Firstly, introducing far more rubbish bins - there isn't one by this bus stop, I notice. And secondly, a mandatory jail sentence for throwing paper or cardboard or a can on the floor outdoors. Ohhh yes! In our current system it's treated as a very minor offence - and yet it's not. It ruins the environment for the rest of us. When I see other litter-free countries, I feel ashamed.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Something Groovy and Good

In the ballroom at Park Hotel, Tenby, in the late 1960s, there was a Dansette record player. It was by the bay window, next to the piano.

There were only three records, all singles. One was Gerry and the Pacemakers' How Do you Do What You Do to Me? and I thought it was great. And I still do.

The second one was Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders with Groovy Kind of Love. I thought it was great. And I still do.

I'm pretty sure that the third one was an old and crackly - even then - copy of Tommy Steele with Little White Bull but I didn't like that as much as the other two so it has faded from my memory a bit.

There were a few of us there, on the cusp of our teen years. Stuart and Gordon Howe were my friends - we would swim in the pool, endlessly, doing lots of somersaults (I could do nine without stopping to breathe in those days, oh yes!) and racing each other (they always won, but in my defence Stuart later swam for Scotland in the Commonwealth Games). When we finally emerged and warmed up and were waiting for dinner-time, we would cluster round the Dansette and play the three records, and I can't tell you how much all was well with the world.

So, late last night, wallowing in nostalgia a bit, I started with Groovy Kind of Love and formed a theory.

And it is this: There has never been a song with the word Groovy in it that I dislike.

Here's three for starters.

Throwing off Some of the Load

Still on the flowers theme after the laburnums, here's my mother tending one of her flowerbeds:

I love the garden flowers at this time of year - - lupins, irises, peonies, and the huge oriental poppies:

All these flowers have been in this garden for as long as I can remember and when I see them I think - - hey, it's nearly summer.

Summer seems to have crept up on me this year. I had a lovely few days in Plymouth in April and even that was to work - I just seem to have been constantly in work mode, constantly trying to do the current tasl to the best of my ability, and then to prepare for the next job, always with the feeling of letting someone down, which I know is not a helpful feeling but it's always there!

I have had too much weight on my shoulders recently - too many things to worry about. With the coming of summer, I'm going to try to throw off some of it, at least for a while. We're arranging some holidays, which is great. I don't want to miss the summer. Here it is in close-up.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Laburnum Tree

There have been laburnum trees in our garden since before my parents bought this house, in 1959.

The one outside our bedroom window has always been there, and I love its yellow flowers in the Spring.

However, my parents seemed to go through a period of planting tiny bits of ivy in lots of places. They flourished and one climbed up the tree and was slowly overwhelming it.

So when the men came to trim our trees in the winter, they sawed through the ivy's trunk to kill it.

It was too twisted round everything to be removed, but gradually it died. So here's the laburnum tree, in full flower a couple of weeks ago, with the dead ivy.

This was the view from our bedroom window - - I love it!

The tree itself with the ivy round it gives an interesting effect:

It's a kind of twisty natural sculpture. I prefer it to much sculpture that's man-made.

Monday, May 23, 2011


"So, Mum," I asked, showing her the photo, "who's this?"

"Well, it's your Dad, of course," she said. "Why's he dressed as a doctor?"

To me, of course, he was dressed as a pharmacist. That's how I remember him in the shop, in his white coat.

My brother Michael found the photograph - but not anywhere where you might expect.

It was on this website about abortion in India. My brother, who lives in Amsterdam, came across it as part of his work.

Obviously it couldn't be the Communist. In India? Surely not.

And yet - - my brother and I had a careful look at the photo and it just looks like the Communist as he was in his sixties. He lived to be eighty-five, and died in December 2008, but this photo is exactly how I remember him just before he retired from pharmacy. Same eyes - - ears - - hands - - forehead - - hair - or lack of it! - beard - - and particularly that quizzical expression. Surely it had to be him?

And, of course, the Communist, after his retirement, did a fair amount of professional acting and certainly this could be a still from a corporate video or similar.

But still, of course, I thought - - well it can't be. And, amazingly, I really couldn't tell. Perhaps the fingers in the photo were just slightly slimmer than the Communist's?

I sent it to Silverback as I know he is Internet Search King and he kindly found the proof that we needed, here on this website of stock photographs.

Yes, it's not the Communist - - but in certain photos this gentlemen looks like his identical twin. It's an amazing likeness - it's the expression as well as the features.

If you click on the link, the fourth photo along on the top line, which also looks very like the Communist, is labelled "Intelligent Senior Man" and the description is "A portrait of a handsome, intelligent senior man."

If the Communist was still alive, I'd show it to him, of course. And we'd never, ever hear the end of it. "A PORTRAIT OF A HANDSOME, INTELLIGENT SENIOR MAN!" he would say. All the time. Several times a day. For ever.

He'd have loved it.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Foreign Parts

You thought I'd vanished, didn't you?

What do you mean, you didn't notice? Sighhhh.

I don't think there's ever been such a long time between blog posts since I started this blog in 2006. But then, I don't think I've had such a busy week.

I've been working in the actors' s agency of course, and doing medical roleplay in Yorkshire from Huddersfield to Hull and several points in between.

Stephen, meanwhile, went off to Stockholm in Sweden for a week of meetings. Oh, yes, it was work - - but then he showed me the photos - - and I suddenly became a seething mass of envy! Hey, Stockholm looks great! It's all surrounded by boats and water and greenery. So I thought I'd add some photos of Stockholm to this post since they're a bit more exotic than Huddersfield or Hull (and I hasten to add I do like both of those, so there!) So here's a bit of Stockholm. They got better weather than we did, too.

To add to this, I had a big pile of marking from some students. I can't tell you too much about it, of course, but one student managed to write entirely the wrong essay. Just nothing at all to do with what he was supposed to be doing. Okay, fair enough, he got the title wrong - - though I'm not sure how. And then, amazingly, he stapled a printout of the correct title to his essay, and handed it in.

Wouldn't you have thought that he would look at the title as he stapled it on, and then look at his essay, and then look at the title - - but no. Just handed it in. Sighhh.

Here's a street in Stockholm:

On Thursday I worked on a roleplay in Huddersfield with Olli. In an inspired piece of casting, I was playing his mum: he's been doing quite a bit of Simulated Patient work too recently. But Olli then had to get to work in York by two o'clock so I drove from Huddersfield to York and then back to Leeds, where I did some work in the office, and then in the evening I had a job in Harrogate - an exam practice for doctors.

Shall we have another look at Stockholm?

On Friday I was working on another exam, for Mental Health nurses this time. It was very intense as they were practising their counselling skills on the patient (who was played by - you guessed it - me!) And, much to my relief, I was able to hand in my completed marking too on Friday!

When the exam finished and I came home to the office I just couldn't believe I'd got through the week. Stephen returned from Stockholm too.

Silverback came round for the evening. Never have I enjoyed a Chinese takeaway and a film so much. I think I must like working under pressure - I find it very satisfying when I do get everything done - - but this week was just a bit too much.

Next week, thank goodness, is a lot more normal - - busy, but not crazily so.

Here's some serene Stockholm sea.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

That Time of Year Again

The bluebells are out and with them come the OSCEs.

An Objective Structured Clinical Examination, known as an OSCE, pronounced Oskey, is an exam for medical students, or other healthcare students.

They travel round a series of little rooms doing a different task in each: things such as testing a patient's reflexes or taking a medical history of their problem.

Each "station" is usually either six minutes or twelve minutes, depending upon the length and complexity of the task.

At this time of year I, and other simulated patients, work in OSCEs in different parts of the country for the different year groups' exams.

Student doctors train for five years and today I was working on an exam for 5th year students - so it's their final exam before they qualify as doctors.

There's a lot riding on this exam, as you can imagine. Some students from the second year had come along to help, with the cunning plan of also finding out how OSCEs work, because they haven't had one yet.

I knew some of them and they were marvelling to me at the level of nerves involved. "It's making me terrified just looking at the candidates," said one. I comforted them by pointing out that, at fifth year level, the students are of course particularly nervous - - but also that most of them pass.

In some "stations" the students are really rushed but in mine they weren't - good candidates could complete it in less than the allotted time.

As the Simulated Patient, I would then just keep quiet and stare at the floor - it's really important to stay neutral, in role, and not to be drawn into any conversation or you can find yourself faced with a student saying "How did I do?"

But there is also an examiner in each room: and the examiner, once he'd made it clear that he had finished examining, often asked them how they were finding the exam. The students mostly said something like "Really scary" or "You just can't tell how you're doing" or "If you think you've messed up one station you just have to move on quickly and put it out of your head, don't you?"

One, however, went into a little monologue which I found very entertaining.

"Well, this is my third station in this OSCE and I'm from Liverpool. Usually I don't have a strong Liverpool accent but when I'm nervous I talk more loudly and much faster and more Scouse. So if you talk to the examiner from the first station he'll remember me as a Liverpudlian maniac who seemed to be trying to break the British speed-talking record whilst shouting all the time in a thick Scouse accent.

Then if you talk to the examiner from the second station she'll think I was far too loud and too fast and too Scouse but she probably won't think I'm actually insane.

Now then, by the time I've got to you I've calmed down a bit and you'll think I'm just a bit manic but I hope I've done well enough to pass.

And by the time I get to the eighth station which is the last one for this OSCE, I hope I'll be beginning to sound like a junior doctor and I hope they'll pass me so I can become one. - - Ohhh, there's the bell for the next station."

And off he hurtled to shake his clammy hand with the next Simulated Patient.

I love my work.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Like a Bloody Furnace in Here

When we first lived in this house, in the late 1950s, it was slightly unusual. It had central heating, in the days when most people had coal fires.

It was fuelled by anthracite - there was a boiler in the cellar which was always kept lit. The Communist used to work in his chemist's shop on Saturday mornings and then on Saturday afternoons he would spend some time "shovelling anthracite", as he always described it, to get the fuel into the right place in the cellar for the next week.

It had definite advantages, this system. There was - and still is - a drying rack in the cellar, one of those that haul up to the ceiling. Because the boiler was there, the cellar was red-hot and any clothes placed there would dry very fast.

The boiler churned out heat at a great rate and the whole house was lovely and warm - or, as the Communist constantly put it, "It's like a bloody furnace in here."

The old Victorian windows let in plenty of air, even when shut, but this didn't matter because there was so much heat flooding round the old Victorian piping.

Of course, as a child I didn't find this central heating interesting at all. I loved watching the coal fire round at my grandparents' house and was very envious of it.

Then, sometime in the 1970s, we changed from anthracite to gas central heating.

This was better from the Communist's point of view as he no longer had to spend his Saturday afternoons shovelling anthracite.

On the other hand, it meant that the cellar was now cold and clothes didn't dry so fast. They still don't - though there is plenty of ventilation (most of it unintentional) and so clothes do dry down there.

But there was a lot less residual heat going round the house - when the heating was off, it all cooled down very fast.

And it was then that this wonder of technology came into its own.

Yes! Our electric fire! I could have one bar on, all glowing nice and warm, whilst doing my homework in the dining-room. From time to time the Communist would come in and grumble vaguely about the price of electricity.

Or sometimes I could sprawl on the sofa in the lounge in front of the television with both bars on. The Communist would look round the door. "Why do you need both bars? It's LIKE A BLOODY FURNACE IN HERE!"

Now, years later, we have a new, better, gas central heating system. The old electric fire hasn't been safe to use for many years, but just before I finally got rid of it, I had to take this photo, for nostalgia's sake.

Last winter was so cold that occasionally we had to use a - much newer - electric fire. It worked very well - - but it SO lacked the comfort factor of those brightly-glowing bars.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Roman Emails

I'm trying to imagine a parallel with how it must have seemed to the native Brits when the Romans invaded.

Perhaps it would have been as if, during the Second World War, the Nazis had invaded Britain equipped with mobile phones and the computers that we have now.

The Romans were so very far ahead in technology and in just about everything else.

They were well-organised planners at a time when the Brits didn't do much except shiver a lot and wish for summer - - much as we do now, in fact.

On our recent visit to Hadrian's Wall we also visited the Roman fort of Vindolanda, which was at the far North of the Roman Empire.

I was last there in the early Seventies, soon after the Romans had left (let me make that joke before you do, eh?) In those days they hadn't excavated much of it - - but now they have excavated a lot of the fort and the village in front of it and also added a museum which really brings the place to life.

Museums can be deadly dull, full of bored children filling in worksheets. This one isn't dull at all - and the Roman Army Museum nearby is also fascinating. I loved such exhibits at Vindolanda as hundreds of different Roman sandals, from basic workman's shoes to elegant ladies' slippers, all preserved because the damp conditions kept the oxygen, which would have rotted them, out.

The museum's full of interesting details - - such as that Roman soldiers used to train with wooden swords filled with lead, to make them extra heavy - so that when they picked up the real thing it seemed light as a feather.

The Romans were there at about the time that BC had recently turned into AD. So a loooong time ago by our standards.

During the excavations, one day they found two tiny, thin pieces of wood stuck together. Closer investigation showed that they were covered in handwriting.

As the digging continued, they found hundreds of these writing tablets. When the Romans at the fort, or at the village, wanted to send a quick email, they couldn't, because email hadn't been invented.

So what they did instead was to write a message on a small piece of thin wood, and send it that way. Because - unlike the Brits of the time - the Romans were literate.

"Could you bring me some socks?" "We need more provisions for the troops." "I'm not going via Catterick, the roads are terrible that way."

"Would you like to come to my birthday party?" This one, unusually, was written by a woman and is the earliest example of female handwriting found in England!

Hundreds and hundreds of these tiny tablets were left scattered deep under the fort, discussing all sorts of subjects. When one cohort of Romans left, they started a bonfire to burn a big pile of them. But the reliable Northumberland rain soon put the fire out, so the tablets survived.

Again, the lack of oxygen has preserved them, and modern equipment can make the writing readable - though they are of course very difficult to interpret, being firstly written in Latin, secondly written in handwriting - often by people whose spelling wasn't brilliant - and thirdly, often using slang of the time, which, let's face it, we don't really understand. Though one writing tablet did describe the natives as "Brittunculi" -"wretched little Brits"- and we certainly understood THAT. Rude Romans. Pah!

Many of the tablets have now been deciphered and translated and they are fascinating. I spent ages poring over them - I do like historical documents that bring history to life in that way.

Both museums bring home in no uncertain terms how terrifying it must have been for the Britons when the Romans invaded. When they left, it took us a while to catch up with them, technology-wise. Well over a thousand years, in fact.