Sunday, September 25, 2011

Somewhat Outclassed

When I go swimming during the week I swim 66 lengths (two lengths more than a mile, in case I've counted wrong) and on a Sunday I swim 72 lengths (a mile and an eighth, though today I did 74 lenths, in case I'd counted wrong.)

I'm quite pleased with myself for swimming this distance and I always enjoy it. But - - all things are relative - -

Today I met my old friends Jo and Deb - the sisters I've known since - - well - - forever. The Communist was best friends with their father from schooldays until the Communist's death (their father is still hale and hearty at something like 88).

We used to go swimming a lot together as children and we often meet in the pool now. They are both much better swimmers than I am - - but I am taller, so there. I shan't tell you how tall they are - - or rather, aren't - but I am 5'4" and Jo and Deb are the reason I grew up thinking I am a giant.

To my surprise, Deb was swimming in the "medium" paced lane, where I swim, instead of in the fast lane, where she usually swims with her sister Jo.

So I asked her why. It turned out that this morning's swim was, for her, merely a twenty-five length warm-up prior to doing the Ilkley Triathlon this afternoon.

"So what's that, then?" I asked. "How far?"

It turns out to be twenty lengths of the pool, followed by an eight-mile cycle up and down some of Yorkshire's finest and most hilly hills, followed by a three-mile run.

Ah. Yes. Could I do that? Nope.

But then, of course, you have to remember that Deb is younger than I am, of course.

She's only fifty.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Murder in North Yorkshire

I can't give you too much detail about this story, to protect the innocent. And the guilty.

In this case the guilty party was my son Olli, but his guilt wasn't really as bad as it sounds. All he did was kill the wrong person.

He works for a company which has a scheme that families can belong to. They pay into it and get benefits from the scheme. Olli's job is to decide how much they can get.

But, of course, if one of the family dies, then that family member doesn't pay into the scheme any more. I think that's fairly clear.

So an elderly man, whom I shall call Old Man, rang Olli and said, sadly, that one of his family had died and that her name was Shirley Knott. (Actually that wasn't her real name. Shirley Knott is a bit of an Annette Curtain or Lydia Dustbin kind of name, and I've just invented it, and I'm rather proud of myself.)

Knowing, of course, that the devil is in the detail, and so it's vitally important to check, Olli said that he was sorry to hear that, and asked for Shirley Knott's date of birth, to check that he had the right person.

"I can't remember her date of birth," said Old Man, sadly.

"Don't worry," said Olli, soothingly, "can you give me the postcode instead?"

Old Man gave Olli the postcode. Olli checked that there was indeed a person called Shirley Knott living at that address. He transferred her into the category of Dead Customers and was about to say goodbye to Old Man.

And it was only then that he noticed that there were two people with exactly the same name living at that postcode.

"Aaaaah," said Olli. "There seem to be two people called Shirley Knott at this address."

"Oh yes," replied Old Man. "One's my daughter and one's my daughter-in-law. I forgot to mention that. You wouldn't want to put the wrong one down as being dead, would you?"

Well, of course - - Murphy's Law - - if a thing can go wrong, it will - - -

And the way their system works is that once someone is listed as Dead, it is impossible to undeadify them and put them back into being a live customer again. Whoever wrote the software didn't believe in reincarnation, clearly.

Olli decided to follow the proper procedure in such cases, which was to panic and then to go home for the weekend.

He did leave a note, however, to his colleagues, to say that if anyone from that family happened to ring over the weekend, they were not to say anything about Shirley and her deadness.

On Monday he will have to see if the Top Manager has a Special Button to be used for bringing people back to life. Otherwise he will have to talk to the IT department, probably bribing them with chocolate. And if all that fails, poor Shirley will just have to remain dead until the day she dies.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Looking for the Zebras

I'm going back to working with medical students tomorrow and thinking about the phrase that I've often heard.

"Common things are common."

When I first heard it, I didn't have a clue what it meant: but what it meant is that if, for example, you have a headache, it's much more likely to be a tension headache than a brain tumour. Tension headaches are very common: brain tumours are rare.

In fact, I did hear a GP say once "Well I know I won't see another brain tumour until I retire, because I've had one patient who had one."

He wasn't being entirely serious, but it's an interesting point. Statistically, he wasn't likely to have another patient with a brain tumour - - but then, statistics, as we know, don't always give the full picture.

It's true, though, that student doctors are taught to look for the likeliest things first, so they don't miss any common illnesses or injuries. And it's the right thing to do in some ways.

However, what it means is that, if you don't quite fit the usual picture, sometimes they will be totally at a loss. And, at other times, they simply won't listen. My best example of this, that happened to me, went like this:

"I'm sure I'm in labour. Absolutely certain."

"No you're not. Don't be silly."

And it was not until the baby arrived that anyone believed me, and even so, nobody ever acknowledged that I'd been right all along, or apologised. Their training - and here it was nurses at fault as well as doctors - taught them that if a woman is in labour, she is also in pain. I wasn't in pain, so they wouldn't listen.

As it turned out I have something unusual wrong with me so I don't feel labour pain and the labour doesn't work too well either. But it was unusual, and nobody was thinking "Perhaps there are exceptions - - "

My friend John told me another version of "Common things are common" the other day which I rather like.

"When you see hoof prints, look for horses, not zebras."

And that is - for much of the time - true.

But if you look for horses, and there ARE no horses - - - well, that's the time to go and find the herd of zebras grazing just behind the clump of trees.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

In Front of a Class Again

I don't believethat dreams can predict the future, or in any such thing - - - but I do believe that they tell you quite a bit about yourself. So I suppose they can predict the future to some extent in that they can tell you about how you're likely to behave in a real-life situation.

Last night in my dream - - and believe me, it was so realistic that when I woke up I had to work pretty hard to convince myself that it WAS a dream - I was back teaching in a secondary school. Supply teaching, much as I used to do at a secondary school in Seacroft, all those years ago, before Olli was born.

If you know Leeds then the word "Seacroft" will not fill you with idyllic thoughts of little houses on the coast. It's not, perhaps, the most genteel part of Leeds, and many of the teenagers I taught there came from very difficult backgrounds.

"Sorry I'm late Miss, but my Dad was arrested last night for flashing, and we all ended up spending the night down the station."

(For those of you who need an explanation: "flashing" is "displaying one's genitals in an inappropriate place and suggestive manner" and "the station" is "the police station.")

Yes, it was quite a memorable excuse.

And last night, I was back supply-teaching again. I knew it was going to be a tricky day. My class, which numbered about forty, was to be taught in a field. They had all been asked to come in historical costume for some different lesson afterwards, and they were all dressed in cumbersome plastic outfits with swords and bows and arrows and a few guns. They were, of course, already poking each other and hitting each other with these weapons.

I was going to be teaching them English so I looked for the books and there weren't any. Another teacher turned up with some story-books for seven-year-olds and I knew this would go down badly with the fourteen-year-olds in the field. And I'd have to shout my head off to make myself heard - - it was a pretty big field.

However, I did manage to get them all sitting down, and I confiscated a few swords and such, and was all ready to start. And then I lost my voice.

This was so traumatic that I woke up.

On Thursday I start again working with medical students in Communication Skills. I loved it last year. The students were great, the work was interesting, they are split into in groups of five students only. Compared with the big groups of troubled teens that I used to work with - - well, it was bliss.

And yet I'm still nervous, as the dream showed. I want to do the work as well as I possibly can. Perhaps if I wasn't nervous, I couldn't do it.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Indian Summer

Yes, we all know it hasn't been a great summer in Britain. But never mind, I thought - - there might be an Indian Summer. Early September is often gorgeous and I have fond memories of lovely narrowboat trips at this time of year.

Sadly, in a helpful attempt to over-compensate for the Spring drought, the weather continued to throw it down.

However, we did have an Indian Summer, in the sense of an Indian Takeaway. That is, it was pleasant whilst it lasted but was all gone very quickly. It was last Thursday.

And, luckily, Silverback invited me to go for a walk with him on Thursday, and it was the perfect day for it. Blue skies. Little white fluffy clouds.

So I left all the financial stuff in our office temporarily, and off we went to Eccup Reservoir, just outside Leeds.

Lovely day or not, Eccup Reservoir is somewhat lacking in what Silverback termed, in his blog post about it all, as photogenicness. (And now this word has been used twice I think it should enter the dictionary).

To try to alleviate this problem, Silverback stood me in the front of the reservoir in his photo in the hope that I would look interesting. Judge for yourself the result on his blog. To my mind, the most interesting thing was that in his photo, every other colour looked just as it did in real life, except my hair, which is light brown but looks ginger.

I didn't think of adding any foreground interest, and hence my photo of Eccup Reservoir is one of almost stunning dullness.

It was a gorgeous afternoon though. Every fruit-bearing tree is bearing more fruit than I would have believed possible. I think it is because of the hard winter last year. It frightened them. "Nooooo! It's minus TEN! We're going to DIE! Quick, we must produce lots and lots of fruit to carry on our species!"

Here are some hawthorn berries. See what I mean?

I knew I wouldn't starve on this walk. There was plenty of food on the way, such as this field of turnips.

I like raw turnips. I like most raw vegetables. I spent a lot of my childhood eating raw cauliflower, raw cabbage, raw carrots, raw turnips, raw potatoes - - and then, to my annoyance, suddenly this became fashionable and suddenly everyone was diong it. Except for the raw potatoes, which are poisonous, apparently. I told Silverback this and he nodded sagely in a kind of "This explains EVERYTHING" way.

Anyway, here's my favourite crop. A field of stripes.

It was a delightful walk, and only three miles from home.

I thought, and not for the first time, how much I enjoy wandering along country paths like this.

It's chucking it down again now. But the Indian Summer was lovely while it lasted.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Are You All Right There?

I start the Communication Skills work again soon and thought I'd better acquire some new clothes so as to look respectable in front of medical students.

So off I went to town - very bravely, I thought, as I hate the city centre at any time but particularly on a Saturday morning.

Anyway, I found much of what I was looking for, which included two jumpers.

It wasn't easy, mind. Some of the jumpers currently on sale have short sleeves. Now then, what use is THAT? Why do I wear a jumper? To keep warm. What does a jumper have to keep me warm? Yes, long sleeves.

These are also jumpers - - oh, okay, I suppose they're cardigans - that don't fasten at the front. You put them on like a cardigan. But, in general, I'd expect any sort of cardigan-type garment to have either buttons or a zip. The buttons or zip draw the two sides together, thus covering your front and keeping you warm.

But - aha! Cunning plan by the jumper-sellers! These garments, lacking buttons or a zip, don't keep you completely warm, and neither do the short-sleeve jumpers. They only keep you a bit warmer than you were in your summer garb of hotpants and bikini (well, that's what I've been wearing since April, I don't know what you've been wearing of course). So these jumpers are only warm enough for Autumn.

Once we get really really cold weather, we will all have to go to town AGAIN and buy a jumper or a cardigan that fastens at the front, to keep out the howling wind and the snow. See? They have effectively doubled their jumper-selling opportunities.

Furthermore, when queuing to buy said items, I learned a whole new shop-assistant phrase.

They would finish serving the previous customer, or arranging their social life on Facebook, or similar - - and then look up, and this is what they said.

"Are you all right there?"

And this, dear reader, is Shopassistantspeak for "May I help you?" They said it to me in three different shops, so I know.

I am not sure what the answer is supposed to be. I thought of several options:

a) "Yes, I'm fine, thank you so much for asking, it's lovely to have your concern".

b) "Am I all right here? Well, yes. The temperature's okay and this bit of carpet's quite comfortable to stand on. Just as well, really, since I've been here for quite a while now."

c) "Well, the past few years have been tough - my Dad was ill for two years before he died and he was in and out of hospital. My mother has dementia but it's not too bad yet. However, I'm coming to terms with everything slowly - I wouldn't say I'm all right, but I'm getting there."

Sadly, what I actually said was, weakly, "Well, I'd like to buy this, please." On each occasion this seemed a little bit of a surprise to the shop assistant, but she coped and struggled bravely through apparently unexpected events such as putting it in a bag and working the card machine.

Anyway, dear readers, I don't like this phrase "Are you all right there?" because it doesn't make any sense in the context that they say it in, and it's deeply annoying. I should prefer a return to "May I help you?"

So could I please enlist your help to bring this change about? If any shop assistant says it to you, I should like you to go straight for option 3, above.

Let us have a little rehearsal. The answer to "Are you all right there?" should be, initially, "Oh God. Oh no." Put your head in your hands. Rock backwards and forwards a bit. Then go into your monologue. "No, no, I'm not all right, not here, not anywhere else. Let me tell you about it. It's just unbearable. Unbearable. I'll start at the beginning - - "

That'll teach 'em. They'll think twice before saying THAT again. Let us bring about a return to "Good morning, madam. May I help you?"

Yes, it's slow progress, I know. One tiny thing at a time. But I'm hoping we can make Britain great again, one day.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

On the Edges

Of course, to get the best views you have to go up high. I know this. I love being up high. I just don't like edges.

My balance isn't great and if I'm on an edge I just think I'll sway forwards and become part of the view. The crumpled-heap part, many hundreds of feet below.

But then again, to get the views you need the heights - - so off we went through a gorge in the Luberon, Provence, South of France, on our way to Mount Ventoux.

People have lived along the gorge for a long time - this cave-room was a kind of extension to a little stone cottage. They had wonderful views, all right, and I don't think they can have been scared of heights.

Here's the kind of thing they could see: (you can click to make the picture larger and the gorge even more deep)

And here's the road we drove along. Now, honestly, do you see my point about the edges?

No, I didn't do the driving, for all sorts of reasons, of which one of the main ones is that it's best to keep your eyes open at all times on roads like this.

We passed quite a few cyclists - -

We also passed a floral tribute where one had gone over the edge. It didn't add to my confidence.

Stephen drove, well and carefully, for quite a while. He loves views too, but he doesn't even like heights, let alone edges, so I think actually this road was a bit of a triumph for him.

Then Silverback took over and cheerfully and accurately did the rest of the driving.

Of course, we stopped many times and took lots of photos. Here's Silverback taking one:

and here he is at another place, taking a photo of another stunning view of the gorge:

Is he scared of heights, or edges? I think I'll let you be the judge of that.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Daytime

Perhaps it was because of the wind: I'm not sure.

At eight o'clock this morning I was driving up the street where I live, on my way to a roleplay with the early and very precise arrival time of 8.25am.

The road splits into two about a three-quarters of a mile from our house, by a parade of shops (yes, I still call it "a parade"), and each side is quite narrow: there are trees down the middle.

Just after the road split, I saw a man ahead of me in the middle of the road, so I stopped. He was bending over, with his back to me, and it took a while for me to work out what he was doing.

He seemed to be holding some kind of floppy toy. Then I noticed that his hands were covered in blood. Then - rather belatedly - I saw that there was a car just past him, stopped in the middle of the road, with its driver's door open.

It was like watching a film - I could see it all unfolding before me and yet, because I had the car windows closed, it was all in silence.

I realised that the lady on the pavement looking very upset had to be the driver of the car. I noticed that one of the shopkeepers had come out and was appeared to be asking what had happened.

And, finally, I understood what I was looking at. A dog - a brown, brindled dog, like a cross between a terrier and a pug - had been tied to a kind of plastic bollard, with the dog lead, presumably while its owner, an elderly man, wearing those kind of old-man tweeds the same colour as his dog, went into a shop.

Somehow - - and the wind was very strong, so perhaps it blew, taking the dog with it - the bollard, and the dog, had ended up in the middle of the road, and the dog had been hit on its head by the car, and was completely motionless, clearly dead.

After what seemed an eternity, the man managed to disentangle the dog and its lead from the bollard. Blood dripped everywhere. The man started shouting at the driver of the car, who was trying to explain that it wasn't her fault. I couldn't hear any of it, but I could understand everything.

I thought of opening my car window and offering to help - - but the shopkeeper was trying to help, and I didn't think there was anything I could do. I couldn't get past the woman's car which was exactly positioned in the middle of the road, with high kerbs on either side. By now a queue of about fifteen cars had built up behind me. Strangely, they didn't honk their horns - perhaps they could tell that there was something going on.

After what seemed forever, but which was actually ten minutes, the man carried his dead dog into the shop. The car driver got back into her car and, after a few moments to gather herself together, drove off, and I did too.

Then, as I drove off, I saw the man come out of the shop, carrying his dead dog in a cardboad box, in his blood-covered hands. Somehow they had cut a hole for its head, which drooped through the hole, its tongue lolling out, blood still dripping.

The whole image looked slightly comical and yet I felt so sorry for the man - all he had done was take his dog to the shop, and now here he was, slowly making his way home again, his life suddenly changed.

I wanted to stop and say something - - but what? And I had a queue of cars behind me, and I didn't want to be late for my roleplay. So I didn't stop, but all day I've wished I had. If I'd set off a few seconds earlier, of course, it could have been my car that hit the dog.

I keep thinking of the image of the man trudging home, with his dead dog in a cardboard box, and I can't get it out of my head. And now I've put it in yours.

Monday, September 12, 2011

On the Coach to Llandudno

"Look out. Corridor-blockers."

That was how the Communist always described parties of old people who stayed in hotels. Eventually, of course, he became one himself. It comes to us all, if we live long enough.

My mother, age 87, has gone to Llandudno for five days, on a coach trip, all by herself.

She went on a similar one a few months ago, and loved it, and this one is to the same hotel. It has everything she likes: it's on the sea front, it has friendly staff, a heated swimming-pool, and it has entertainment and dancing every night.

Perfect, I thought, when I saw it in the National Holidays brochure - - and so it proved.

Last time she went just for three days so when I saw there was a five-day trip, I booked it for her. She was delighted.

This, of course, did not stop me feeling really REALLY nervous as I took her to the coach station this morning.

Everyone else had one of those cases on wheels that you can trundle along, but not my mother. She could have borrowed ours, but chose not to. Instead, she had a big black bag that she could hardly lift, and a rucksack. It's pink and green - - or it was once. That rucksack is Spirit of the Seventies. It wasn't new when David Bowie was singing about life on Mars.

"Mum, I'd love to buy you a new rucksack. How about it?"

"Ohhh no. This one's an old friend. I like it. It fits me."

Mum understands everything, but remembers - - well - - not very much. Not very much that's new, anyway. She liked this hotel. "They don't mind how many times you ask what your room number is."

When she says things like that, it breaks my heart, because I remember the stunningly intelligent woman she used to be. There was only one scholarship to University for her part of the North-West when she was eighteen: and she got it, which is how she came to be in Leeds.

But now she can't remember things. So the bag and the rucksack had to be opened and checked numerous times and, as we left the house, she picked up The Umbrella with the Broken Spoke.

"Mum, that one's broken. I'm sure you have others."

"Ahhh, wll, I like that one. Anyway, it'll be better than nothing." The bag was unzipped again, and in it went.

I drove to town, we parked and walked to the coach station. Mum insisted on taking the rucksack and I took the black bag.

We had to sit and wait for the coach to arrive. I wondered what would happen if Mum gets lost in Llandudno. She did have her address book with her, with all the addresses written in the Communist's neat writing, from years ago.

"Daphne's Little Phone. Expensive" was how he described my very first mobile, which was not, of course, little at all by today's standards.

Last night I read all his entries in the address book, and cried a bit, to myself, so Mum wouldn't see.

Whilst we were waiting for the coach, I wrote some things on a piece of paper. Mum's name: her date of birth: no allergies: no particular medical problems: my name: that I was her daughter: my contact details - - - all just in case. I put it in her handbag.

The coach arrived and a big swarm of elderly people - - yes, elderly but probably the oldest was ten years younger than my mother - all headed towards the coach.

I left Mum standing at the front of the coach and made my way to the back, for her name to be ticked off on a list and her luggage put in the boot.

"Is this you, then?" asked the driver, looking me up and down and noticing my extreme youth, and I was very pleased that he looked surprised.

"No, no, it's my mother. Eighty-seven. Very small."

"I'll look out for her," he said cheerily.

Now a queue of people had formed behind me and the way back to the front of the coach was really narrow, in between this coach and the next, and it took what seemed like half an hour as they all tried to move out of my way with their bags and walking sticks.

Slow, perhaps, but smiling. Looking forward to their holiday.

"Oooh, sorry love. Come on through."

So I climbed onto the coach with Mum and found her seat, and settled her down, and she hugged me and thanked me a lot, and I told her to be careful and not to even THINK of swimming in the sea - - and then I turned round to go out again and the corridor of the coach was completely blocked by people with sticks and hand luggage and newspapers and sandwiches.

"Excuse me - - I'm not going to Llandudno, I'm just seeing my mother onto the coach."

They all had a little jolly comment as I squeezed past them.

"Eeeeh, lass, you should come with us. We'll have a grand time."

"Yes, well, I can't, I'm working this week."

"Oh, poor you. Hey, Mary, she can't come because she's working this week."

"Oh, poor lass. Working eh? I bet you wish you could come with us."

Corridor-blockers, all right, but lovely with it. I stopped being so worried about my Mum. I turned round and she was already deep in conversation.

Several hours later, she rang me.

"Well it was a long journey - lots of stops - but we got here all right. I know I should have rung earlier but I've been in the pool all afternoon."

By now I'd guess she'll have drunk a glass or two of wine and will be either dancing or chatting up one of the more attractive waiters. I hope she'll have a lovely week.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The End of the Summer

Today I was planning to write about the French sunflowers: and then I looked at Silverback's blog Retirement Rocks - - - and guess what? He's just written a great post about them.

I love sunflowers: they are some of my favourite flowers.

When we got to France, there were still some in flower. These were in Roussillon, in Provence, and weren't as spectacularly yellow as the one on Silverback's blog - but lovely, nonetheless. No wonder they were happy: they were looking at a great view:

If they turned their heads a bit, they could see this: (you can click to make the photo larger)

But by the time we reached the Loire Valley, two weeks later, there was a spider's web on the window of our bed and breakfast and there was a definite feel of autumn in the air.

The sunflowers had died, but the sun was still shining:

But once the sun has gone in, as Silverback pointed out, a field of dead sunflowers has a definite air of melancholy:

And, then, last night, just over a week later, I was putting some sunflower oil on the lamb chops whilst making warming British food as the drizzle fell outside.

It's the end of the summer. Sighhh. But oh, how wonderful it was.


Honey was in her thirties when I first knew her, and the mother of two young children.

I never met her: I only knew her because I read her blog, and she read my blog.

Since those days, she met a new man, had another baby, and was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Less than three years later, she died on Tuesday, in her thirties, the mother of three young children.

Although I never met Honey, my son-in-law Gareth's mum was a friend of hers in "real life" and I know from her other friends too what a fantastic person she was, with great courage and tremendous love for her family and friends.

Okay, I've been through some tricky times myself in the past few years. During the past three years, whenever things have been difficult, I have thought of Honey and the truly horrendous situation she has been in, and have given myself a large mental kick. I am not going to reveal any more details of her life or her situation - and Honey isn't her real name, but it was the name she used when blogging.

I wish Honey's children and her partner all the very best possible for the future. Although, as I said, I never met her, I don't think I'll ever forget her.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

The Hospital Appointment

Today Stephen had a hospital appointment.

He has had a frozen shoulder for over six months now and is having some physiotherapy for that. But he has a lot of pain just about everywhere, and the GP thinks it's fibromyalgia.

Both these are chronic conditions which cause a lot of pain, and fatigue, too.

However, he's had no time off work because of them, and they haven't stopped him from cycling twelve miles a day in total to work and back. But sometimes the pain is so bad that he simply can't move for a while.

Stephen is not very used to hospital visits, or, indeed, doctors: - a glance at his medical records when he first went to the doctor's with the frozen shoulder showed that the last time he was at the doctor's was in the year 2000, and, before that, in 1994. So he doesn't really know how hospital departments work - - but, then again, why should he?

Anyway, finally, a hospital appointment for the fibromyalgia came through.

Stephen stood in front of the reception desk. The receptionist on the right was chatting in a gossipy way to one of the other staff. The receptionist on the left was looking at her computer and didn't look up. One of the queueing patients tried to talk to her but she cut him off by holding up her hand in a "what I'm doing is SO important, do not interrupt me" way.

Eventually she must have registered that Stephen was there, but didn't look up or speak: she merely held out her hand for the piece of paper he was holding.

She took it from him, but didn't say anything. Stephen waited for her to tell him what to do next. She didn't say anything. So he kept on looking at her, expectantly.

"Oh, do you need it back?" was her first foray.

"I don't know. Do I?" asked Stephen.

Then a nurse called him in. She was very pleasant but didn't introduce herself. She sat him on a chair and put a blood pressure cuff on his arm and left him for a while whilst it inflated itself. She didn't explain what it was, though, or why they were taking his blood pressure, or indeed what the result was when they had taken it.

Of course, because he cycles twelve miles a day, I'd guess his blood pressure is nice and low - - and couldn't she have said so, in a friendly manner?

Then she asked him to step on a machine to check his height.

"Shall I take my shoes off?" he asked.

"No, do it backwards," was the somewhat confusing reply, because she hadn't listened to what he'd asked and assumed he was asking which way to step onto the machine.

Finally he saw a doctor - or we will presume it was a doctor, since he didn't introduce himself.

The doctor checked all Stephen's joints lots of times. For Stephen was in the rheumatology department, and rheumatoid arthritis was clearly what this doctor was about.

Stephen kept explaining that his joints don't hurt: no, they don't swell up: they are fine. Everything else hurts, but not his joints.

"So, when do you get these aches?" said the doctor.

Stephen explained that they are not aches. They are sharp pains. They are everywhere except his joints. At their worst, he feels that he can't bear the pain.

"So, when do you get these aches?" asked the doctor, in reply.

Another doctor came in. Well, we'll presume he was a doctor, though he didn't introduce himself. The first doctor was very reverential towards the second doctor, so perhaps Second Presumed Doctor was more senior.

This doctor was foreign, with a strong accent.

"You should try Coblblblblblblbblblb for the pain" said Second Presumed Doctor.

"Sorry, I couldn't quite hear that," said Stephen, "what drug did you say?"

The doctor repeated it several times in exactly the same way. He didn't think to write it down, or to spell it out, and looked at Stephen as though he was displaying deep stupidity in not understanding.

First Presumed Doctor wondered to Second Presumed Doctor if the other pains and the frozen shoulder could be connected in some way.

"No." he explained, and said no more.

Second Presumed Doctor checked all Stephen's joints again. They still weren't swollen and they still didn't hurt.

Finally they decided that he should come back in two months to have all the same blood tests done all over again, although these blood tests don't seem to have conveyed anything of meaning. Not that they explained this to Stephen.

"It was the Sausage Machine school of medicine," said Stephen.

As regular readers (ohhh that sounds so grand!) of my blog will know, one of my jobs is to help to teach Communication Skills to healthcare professionals in different jobs.

Stephen was very unimpressed and I'd say that this was a lazy and thoughtless department. Many of the patients were "regulars" and knew exactly how the systems worked - - but Stephen was new, and didn't, and nobody bothered to explain, and their lack of communication skills was appalling.

The very least that a patient should expect is for everyone to introduce themselves - their name and their job: and to say what they're doing and why they're doing it: and to listen to the patient and to take on board what they're saying about their problems: and to reach a shared management plan with the patient so that both parties know what will happen next, and why.

Whereas what Stephen got was a couple of doctors who weren't listening to him, and hadn't the foggiest clue what was wrong, so passed the buck on to someone else in a couple of months' time.

Sometimes people say to me "Communication Skills? Isn't that just common sense?"

Yes, well, common sense is not so common, unfortunately. Some people just have naturally good communication skills. Others don't, and have to be taught. And some need frequent reminders.

I'll be starting to work with medical students again soon. Almost all of those I met last year were delightful, intelligent and keen to learn. So let us hope that things will - albeit gradually - change.

Meanwhile, Stephen's going to see if he can get a private appointment - he can get BUPA through his work and, ironically, that may well mean that they take him more seriously.

Things shouldn't be like that.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011


You may remember that last year in Amsterdam I had a close encounter with a pickpocket. I was standing watching the Gay Pride parade and felt someone trying to unzip my handbag. Without any thought, I grabbed his hand and threw it at him as hard as I could. He tapped me twice, on the shoulder, in what I'm sure was a "you escaped me this time" gesture, and melted into the crowd.

I wasn't pleased. For one thing, my handbag is very important to me. I have been told - hard though this is to believe! - that I'm a teensy bit obsessive about it.

Everyone mocks my handbag, its great size and its many contents. They mock me a LOT. Right until the moment when they need a pair of nail scissors, or a tissue, or a wetwipe, or a pair of wellington boots, or a towel, or a 50" plasma tv - - and then they're grateful. Okay, I maybe exaggerate a bit, but in general, if you need it, it's in my handbag.

And, therefore, I prefer the contents to stay in my handbag until I take them out, and not until Mr or Ms Pickpocket takes them out.

I had heard a lot about the street crime in Barcelona and therefore decided to take steps not to become a victim of it if I could possibly avoid it. At the same time, having thought about it a bit, I didn't want to leave my handbag back at the hotel, because, without it, I have a constant "my handbag is missing!" feeling, which I didn't feel would enhance my enjoyment of Barcelona. And if you think that's weird, well, I'm sorry to say that you're entitled to your opinion, but you're wrong. It's not weird, it's COMPLETELY UNDERSTANDABLE, okay?

My current handbag is exactly the same as the one I had last year in Amsterdam. That one finally got old and tatty, which saddened me as it had exactly the right number of pockets and compartments and zips that I like, to fit in money and credit cards and emergency fruit and a road map of Western Europe and a 1974 typewriter and such.

So off I went to the same shop - - and they had another one the same, except a light brown colour, where the previous one was black. Hurrah!

I am very "tuned in" to my handbag and its whereabouts, because it is so important to me.

So, going down the escalator to Barcelona's excellent metro system, I was suddenly aware of something not quite right with my handbag.

I looked to my right, at my bag, and there was a hand inside it. Although I keep lots of things in it, someone else's hand is not usually one of them, and it brought a new and unwelcome meaning to the word "handbag".

He had gone straight for the little pocket that's specially designed to keep a mobile phone in it - - - and this was, luckily, exactly where my mobile wasn't. Because, luckily, everything that was of value I had removed from my bag.

"THAT BASTARD IS TRYING TO STEAL FROM MY HANDBAG!" I said, with more volume than elegance.

But he was already gone - - a train, interestingly, pulled in just as he reached the bottom of the steps and he stepped straight onto it.

I think there were two of them. He didn't look like a Baddie: early twenties, smart casual dress, jeans, jacket, MP3 player. I didn't really see his mate but he looked much the same. Nothing unusual, nothing to attract attention - - just like a thousand other young men wandering round Barcelona that day. Obviously, if you want to succeed as a pickpocket, that's the way to look.

He could, of course, just have been an opportunist - - but the trains are so regular there that I would think you could make a sound pickpocketing career out of going down the escalators just before a train arrives, and then disappearing very fast.

It's one of those crimes that spoils the whole city for everyone. People stealing because they're hungry and desperate - - well, I understand that. But as a kind of career option? It's just WRONG.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Starting with the Sheep

So, here I am, back in Leeds, wondering what's that strange grey colour that the sky seems to be, and, as usual, protesting to the world that this isn't right, this is a different Daphne in a different world, and I prefer the holidaying one, and why has that one stopped?

Silverback has started a wonderful account of our travels during the past couple of weeks, with great photos, too.

I'm going to dart about a bit. I'm going to start with the sheep.

We travelled through a tunnel under the mountains from Bielsa in Spain to Aragnouet in the South of France.

The mountains were stunning and I kept saying to myself - - and to anyone who would listen - "We're in the Pyrenees!" because it sounded so exotic and foreign.

And then, high in the mountains, we rounded a bend and there was this:

A flock of sheep. And a helicopter. We stopped to have a look.

The sky was bright blue, with small white fluffy clouds and, from time to time, eagles soaring high above us. Some of the sheep were wearing bells round their necks that made a gentle clunking sound. It was very hot, even so high up, and the sheep were panting in the heat.

It was silent, apart from the sheep baaing and the bells clunking - - and then the helicopter would come sweeping in, with a very loud whirring of the blades, and take away a big container full of gravel.

It managed to alternate between being very peaceful and then rather exciting as the helicopter swooped in every few minutes.

We wandered about a bit, and took some photographs. It looked like this:

After a while, we turned round to look at the car, and found that it was now surrounded by sheep.

Their reasoning was not entirely logical, but clearly a deeply-held conviction.

"If my head is in the shade," they thought, "then the rest of me is in the shade too. And thus, I shall become cooler. And this will be a Good Thing."

Standing back a bit from our sheep-surrounded car, in the heat, with the blue skies, the baaing of the sheep and the clunking of the bells, this is what we could see:

I can't quite explain why, but for me, this was one of the key moments of our wonderful holiday. Glorious.