Thursday, May 31, 2007

Global Warming Up North

A few years ago I found a funny-looking plant growing under the kitchen window.
A friend of the Communist's, who is an Expert on Funny-Looking Plants, peered at it.

"It's a baby fig tree" she said. And sure enough, the leaves did have the look of something you might wear if you happened to be living in the Garden of Eden.

And 'twas then I remembered eating a fig in the kitchen one day and finding a bit of it to be slightly over-ripe. So I did what I normally do with small, edible, biodegradable things and threw it out of the window, because there's always a hungrily waiting semicircle of birds, cats, foxes, hedgehogs and other life forms out there.

This bit of fig, however, didn't get eaten, and grew, in the sheltered spot just under the window. After a couple of years it was getting rather too big and the leaves were trying to get in through the kitchen window. So my mother moved it one winter to a few yards away at the other side of the lawn, next to the bird table.

It sulked for a bit and grew its leaves rather late, but then picked up again and grew taller and bushier. Here it is now, in front of all the ivy that's covering the garage and providing a good nesting place for several squillion birds:

The birds like to perch on it before hopping onto the bird table.

And now (loud fanfare of trumpets) my fig tree has three figs. Here's one of them, to the left of the picture. They are fig-shaped and about two and a half inches long. Will they ripen in the summer of the North of England?

When I were a lass, you just didn't get figs growing in Yorkshire. Not never, not nohow. You got rhubarb, that was what you got, and even that shivered.

I'm going to plant a banana.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

oh no, not the cat again

The trouble is, once you start writing about cats, it's very hard to stop, and you're on the rocky road which leads to a lifelong habit and the Cat Addiction Unit.

Is it some kind of survival strategy that impels cats to do things that make them look cute?
Here's a photo of our cat Froggie sitting inside a carrier bag on our bed.
Note her effortless mastery of many of the Rules of Cuteness in this photo. Being small. Being furry. Flat face, large eyes. Sitting in an unusual place which only serves to emphasise her smallness and cuteness.
I'm writing about the cat again. Sorry.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Of Patio Heaters and Indian Sandstone

Global warming mentioned in the media everywhere. Patio heaters for sale in garden centres nationwide and throwing out heat merrily outside many a restaurant. When I'm Prime Minister I'll do away with the blasted things.

So I was pleased, watching Countryfile on BBC television, to hear them condemn patio heaters too and suggest that if you must sit outside in the chilly British night you could just put an extra jumper on.

Fine. But then, in an article about how to make your garden more eco-friendly, they suggested you could use, for paving, "sandstone ethically sourced from India".

Okay, by "ethically sourced" I presume they mean that the quarrymen were paid something approaching a living wage.

But how did the sandstone get to the garden centre in Britain? Continental Drift? Perhaps it just floated naturally on the ocean currents. Or perhaps it went for thousands of miles by lorry. Or even by plane. Eco-friendly? HAH!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Saying the Unsayable

"There's still been no word about that missing girl Milly Dowler," I said to my friend several years ago.

"She's dead," he said. "When missing children don't turn up very soon, they almost invariably are dead."

He was right, of course, she was.

Just in case you've been living in a remote cave somewhere for the past few weeks, Madeleine McCann is the little girl who was abducted from a hotel room in Portugal about twenty-five days ago. Now Madeleine McCann's parents are to meet the Pope.

Kate and Gerry McCann are Roman Catholics and "it is hoped that the Pope will refer to Madeleine and her parents during prayers in St Peter's Square" (The Times, today)

Well, I hope that Madeleine will be found safe and well, but I don't think she will be, sadly. I can understand why her parents are taking part in this media circus - a visit to the Pope, planning to meet David Beckham in Madrid, visiting Morocco as the little girl might perhaps have been seen there, visiting Seville, Berlin, Amsterdam - - determinedly keeping Madeleine in the news, just in case some tiny bit of evidence is found that leads to her being returned to them alive. Prince Charles and Camilla have expressed their "deep concern" and sympathy. Sir Philip Green has offered the use of a private jet. From the parents' point of view, in their shocked, grieving state, it must seem to make sense.

A similar media frenzy ensued when Ian Huntley murdered Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman - two pretty little girls, English and, er, white. That last photo of them taken in their red shirts underneath the clock was in the press everywhere for weeks, long after it needed to be - because they had been found, and they were dead.

The blonde, blue-eyed, photogenic Madeleine McCann has been in every newspaper all the time since she was abducted. I keep getting emails with photos of her that are ricocheting round the world. There's a website devoted to the search, with a soft voice-over and mushy music.

It all makes me uneasy. I don't understand about the Pope praying for her. I don't see how that's supposed to work. Does God think "all right then, the Pope's mentioned her in his prayers, I'll make sure she's okay?" I cannot make sense of that, I just can't.

It brings out the cynic in me, and I don't like that. While the newspapers are filling their pages with this poor little girl, what news are they hiding? There are too many people getting a kick out of the "ooh, isn't it terrible?" factor.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world, how many children have died in suffering since Madeleine McCann was abducted? Shouldn't the Pope perhaps give them a mention too?

There are some things that can't be said - the media certainly aren't saying them much, but I'm going to say them now.

Firstly, if the child who had been abducted was a boy, and if he wasn't good-looking, and if he was older, and black, or Asian, would the papers have given so much coverage?

And if the parents had been working-class instead of articulate, photogenic doctors, would there have been so much publicity?

And - - too late, I know, they'll regret it for the rest of their lives - they should not have left their children alone in that hotel room, no matter how near they were. I know they were very, very unlucky, and that people do such things every day and get away with it, and that they were checking on them every half-hour - but they should not have left them.

I've seen a few articles saying that parents who think - like I do - that small children should never be left alone in such circumstances, are over-protective. But if you check on your child every half-hour, and the child wakes two minutes after you've left - - well, twenty-eight minutes is a long time for a small child to be alone and frightened. And if any good at all ever comes from this tragedy, it might be that more parents will stay with their children.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

What They Won't Tell You

"It's the over-eighties that kill the over-sixties," said my friend Peter, years ago.

What he meant was that the over-eighties need so much care that they wear out their sons and daughters, who are generally in their sixties.

Fortunately for me, the Communist and my mother had me late in life (and my brother even later) so we are comparatively younger and fitter. But even so, it's very difficult to help the Communist to move about and taking him to the hospital twice last week left me really tired.

If we cared about old people in this country, we'd send them a letter as soon as they reached, say, sixty-five.

"Dear Mrs Boggins

We know that sixty-five is the new forty and you're probably still very fit. However, a time may come when you need a bit of help and here's a leaflet outlining all the help you can get, and money you can claim.

We'll send you an updated version in two years' time, and every two years from then on - but meanwhile, you can always pick one up from your GP - - "

Of course, this doesn't happen, because the Government - whatever Government - is terrified that everyone might claim everything they're entitled to and it would cost a fortune. So it can be really difficult to find out what help is available.

But old people generally aren't out for what they can get - it's hard to get them to claim at all.

If you have an elderly relative who needs care almost all the time, then there is a benefit called Attendance Allowance which isn't means-tested. There's a rate of £43.15 for people who just need care during the day, and a higher rate of £64.50 if they need care at night as well. You can download the form from the website I've linked to. It takes a long time to fill in, but isn't particularly difficult. You can fill it in for someone else, but it really helps if they can sign it.

Usually, you have to have had whatever causes you to need care for six months before you get the allowance - unless you're terminally ill with a form signed by your doctor to say that you're not expected to live more than six months, in which case you can get it straight away. You can spend the money how you like, to get some of the help you need.

The Communist has had his symptoms - ulcers on both legs, walking very difficult - for more than six months, but I hadn't applied before because I didn't know the allowance existed. And who told me? The Communist's GP? No. The Practice Nurse, who's been dressing his leg ulcers for weeks? No. A hospital doctor? No. A different health professional? No. The person who told me was one of the actors whom I work with, who happens to be a qualified social worker - and even she didn't know that the application form was available on the internet.

I filled it in and posted it off and a very nice lady rang me THE NEXT DAY and said that they were awarding the Communist the higher rate, and we should hear this officially in a week's time.

In this country we don't have any kind of system for looking at the patient's circumstances - for realising that if there's an old person living at home, who needs a lot of care, then the most likely main carer is likely to be an equally ancient spouse, or a harassed stressed-out not-that-young son or daughter.

So, if you're in Great Britain and have a relative who's over sixty-five and needs a lot of care, look up the website and claim attendance allowance. It's probable that nobody else will tell you about it ever, so I'm telling you now.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Back to the Lunches

Thanks to Martine, who posted an interesting comment about my grumblings about the inequality of actors' lunches and doctors' lunches when they were both helping to examine students for a medical exam.

She pointed out that the actors were being paid and the doctors probably weren't, they were doing it out of the goodness of their hearts for the next generation of doctors: so a good lunch was a kind of recompense for this.

Well, it's true that the actors were being paid, but the medical exam roleplay is very hard work (doing about 45 roleplays a day for two days, making sure every student gets exactly the same opportunity) - and actually, it pays less per day than other roleplay which is more demanding emotionally but takes far less time. So I too see it as payback time from me as a thank-you for all the really interesting roleplay that I do, and also to help the next generation of doctors.

It's true that it's mind-bogglingly dull for the doctors, who have to listen to the same thing again, and again, and again - - did he ask about smoking? drinking? when the pain started?

And, of course, if you compare the average actor's pay with the average doctor's pay the doctor is miles and miles ahead - even if the doctor was not paid extra for the examining, they would still have a salary at the end of the week, whereas for some actors the day's roleplay might be their only work that week.

But then again, people really don't go into acting for the money, unless they're stupid, which most actors who do medical roleplay certainly aren't. And most of the actors there that day would be perfectly capable of getting a salaried job if they wanted to: they have chosen not to.

I suppose, in conclusion, that my post was really about the fact that I think that if two sets of people are working together on the same job, then they should both get the same lunch. And I know that, all over the world, that doesn't happen. Thanks, Martine, for making me think about it further.

Sat Nav

That's clever, isn't it? I know, I'm probably the last person in the Western World ever to have been in a car with one, but I have to say I was intrigued by its cleverness. And infuriated by its patience.

I was in a taxi taking the Communist for one of his ever-increasing hospital trips, and the taxi driver had only been doing the job for a couple of weeks and didn't know where the hospital was. But it was okay because Madame Satnav, with her calm, somewhat robotic voice, took us there with her emotion-free directions. "After two hundred yards, bear right." "At the next junction, turn left," and the somewhat confusing "After four hundred yards, go straight on".

If I had to listen to her all day her calmness would drive me mad and after a bit I'd stop listening. In fact, if you ignore her completely she doesn't get upset.
"After two hundred yards, turn right." The taxi driver on the way back knew where he was going, chose a different way and boldly turned left. I hoped against hope that Madame Satnav would say "Oh! Ignore me completely, why don't you, you bastard?" but no, she just paused for a bit and then said calmly "Turn right here." After a couple of miles, I wanted to hit her.

I believe you can get satellite navigation systems with Personalities and I think they might be more fun than Robot Woman. Immediately I thought here's a niche for Overbearing Emotional Jewish Mother "I say turn left, and he turns right already. Oy, oy-oy. This boy's breaking my heart."

Or you could have Special Interest Sat Nav, for people whose interests are so dull that real people won't talk to them. "Turn left here and please tell me more about your collection of floral tea-towels."

Or Flattering Sat Nav "After two hundred yards turn right, you good-looking hunk. Why not undo your top button?"

Ah, the possibilities are endless. But for the moment I think I'll stick to my old-fashioned paper thing called a Map.

Friday, May 25, 2007

First and Last

"But she's so young," I said to the lovely Head Teacher, Mrs Cawsey. "She'll only be four and a month at the beginning of September. Surely she's too young to come to school full-time?"

"You wouldn't be saying that if she were your fourth child," said Mrs Cawsey. "You'd know she'll be fine and you'd be grateful for some time to yourself."

"I'm still not sure - - "

"Let me introduce you to Mrs Malir, the reception class teacher. Then you can make up your mind."

Mrs Malir was delightful. Emily started school.

That conversation seems very recent to me. But tomorrow is Emily's last ever day at school before she leaves to revise for her A-levels.

A lot of primary school she quite enjoyed. A lot of secondary school she has really, really hated, with complete justification. She's the kind of academic girl who would have thrived in the school as it was when I was there - a 400-pupil grammar school.

I know that the old eleven-plus system wasn't ideal either - and I know that frequently grammar school pupils thrived at the expense of the secondary modern pupils. At the age of eleven children were sorted into Society's Successes, who went to grammar school, and The Rest, who didn't.

In her time at this huge comprehensive school, Emily has had some excellent teaching, and some truly inspiring teaching (especial thanks to the Head of History). And some superb extra-curricular activities. And some terrible teaching. And a whole term without a German teacher. And most of a year without a proper Science teacher. And endless, endless hassle from large groups of anonymous teenagers. And this is at one of the best comprehensives in the city.

Grateful thanks to all those who have worked hard to help Emily and all the students. Sucks boo to the one-size-fits-all system of this country's education.

Of course, there isn't an easy answer, but I know that smaller schools, and smaller classes, is part of it. (If large classes are a Good Thing, why aren't there classes of thirty-five at Eton? Emily is one of the school's top achievers, she's had superb results academically - - and yet it's so sad that I feel we've let her down by sending her there, because in many ways she's had such a crap time. Hurrah for Gareth and all her friends - both in school and out of it - and everyone else who's helped her through it.

She'll miss her schoolfriends, but she won't be sorry to leave. I remember my last day at school - what an anti-climax it seemed. Schooldays seem to go on and on and on - all those Friday afternoons of double maths and all those breaktimes chatting with your friends - and then they stop, suddenly and forever.

And, actually, you can keep in touch with your friends, and she will. I have: - one of my closest friends at school is one of my closest friends now.

But they won't be the happiest days of her life, oh no. Those are, I am sure, to come.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Not only is our bottle of Pears' Handwashing Liquid hypoallergenic, pointed out Ruth today, having read the label, but it is also non-comedogenic.

This, we deduced, means that it is guaranteed not to generate jokes when you press the dispenser on the top.

If you buy top-quality comedogenic handwash, clearly, you can expect good jokes. Clearly, if you pay over the odds and buy comedogenic handwash from one of the Luxury Skin Care ranges, all you have to do is press the squirty thing and out comes, say, my current favourite about the two aliens from Pluto who come down to Earth and say, "We're from Pluto and it IS a planet, SO THERE, and we're going to rename YOUR planet and we're calling it BLEURGH".

Press again and you might get that joke I like about the seven dwarves who go to see the Pope and ask His Holiness if there are any dwarf nuns. The Pope says there aren't, and all the dwarves then point and laugh at Dopey, saying "Ha Ha! Dopey fucked a penguin!"

If, however, you choose to buy Value brands of comedogenic handwash from the cheaper supermarkets, beware! Only press the top and you will be deluged with poor-quality, sometimes offensive material about mothers-in-law, the Irish and immigrants.

But those who like a quiet life or who lack a sense of humour should go for Pears. It comes in a bottle pleasingly shaped like a bar of Pears soap, and you can press the top as hard and as frequently as you like, secure in the knowledge that it is completely joke-free. Thanks to Ruth for enabling me to share this important discovery with the world.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Where the Caravan Isn't

When we bought this house from my parents, in 1999, they then had a house built on the land at the bottom of the garden. But when they moved into it, in the year 2000, they somehow forgot to take the Ancient Ancestral Caravan with them.
They claimed, erroneously, that they had sold it to us along with the house and it was now our responsibility. It was full of Ancient Ancestral Junk and whenever we came out of the back door of our house this was the sight that greeted us:

We didn't feel that this was a particularly enjoyable view and had a perennial getting-rid-of-the-caravan-plan which never quite came to fruition for two reasons:
1) we were too busy to clear out the Ancient Ancestral Junk
2) we were cheapskates and never got round to paying someone to take the caravan away

Then, one day a few weeks ago, a man knocked on the door and asked if he could have the caravan, as he wanted to restore it to its former glory - - and a few days later he actually came and took it away, which wasn't particularly easy as it had not much left in the way of wheels.
The ground where it had been was a bit of a mess as all sorts of Ancient Ancestral Junk had been hoarded under the caravan as well as inside it.

But my diligent mother (83) worked on it for about a fortnight and now, when you open the back door, here is the view:

Not finished - it needs some kind of patio or more gravel or something. But it's a great improvement.
Now I've got my sights set on the removal of the Ancient Ancestral Near-Derelict Greenhouse.

Monday, May 21, 2007


Oh YES! or Oh NO! Most people seem to either love it or think it's a blight on the traditional British countryside. Here's some I saw near Huddersfield a couple of weeks ago in the evening sunlight, and I stopped to take a photo:

A field of oilseed rape flowers. You never used to see them when I was a child and the first time I saw them, I loved them, and I still do.

Some people don't, though, and they get very heated about it. Not a proper British crop. Despoiling the countryside. Just too - - well - - YELLOW.

It's true that, in general, I prefer subtle colours (especially GREENS - - yes, you know, you've heard it all before from me) and there's not a lot of subtlety in oilseed rape flowers.

But whenever I see them, they cheer me - to me, they mean sunshine and Spring. And, judging by these photographs, I'm not the only one who likes them.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


Though I’ve never had any kind of turn of speed in anything, I’ve always had lots of energy. I’ve always been able to keep going for ages, doing jobs, or walking, or swimming.

Gradually, over the last couple of years as my diabetes has got worse, my energy has dwindled too – but because it’s happened fairly gradually, I couldn’t really compare with how it used to be.

High blood sugar causes you to feel tired because all the sugar is sloshing around in your blood instead of going to fuel your muscles and your brain. The Metformin tablets I was put on seemed to put me in a kind of slow, grey haze.

Now I’ve cut down to one Metformin tablet and started taking one Gliclazide tablet a day. Metformin helps your body to use the insulin it’s already producing (but makes me feel very ill in the process). Gliclazide boosts the body’s supply of insulin.

Since the beginning of the year, in a determined effort to get fitter, I’ve been eating very healthily and having lots of exercise. I’ve lost about a stone. But none of it helped – I still felt tired all the time, and found it hard to remember what it felt like to have energy.

However, I started on the Gliclazide about a week ago and suddenly I am transformed. I still feel a bit queasy sometimes from the one Metformin tablet - - but my energy levels have soared beyond belief.

I’ve done lots of walking this week, and at swimming on Thursday evening I was – to my amazement – back to my old swimming speed of a length a minute, so did 40 lengths, which is a kilometre, in 40 minutes, which delighted me. (I must add that this is not at all fast for a Proper Swimmer. But it’s jolly fast for me.)

Years ago, I remember my grandmother, then aged about ninety (which, I must add, is VERY VERY MUCH OLDER THAN I AM) had been ill for some weeks, and had recovered. She came into the kitchen – the same kitchen where we live now – and did a little dance. “I feel better! I feel better!” she said.

That’s how I feel. I haven’t taken good health for granted ever since I nearly died in 1984, but oh boy, good health is important. How I hope this energised feeling continues.

BUT - - Gliclazide makes you feel very hungry and predisposes you to put on weight. Every silver lining has a cloud.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Creature On the Beach

Emily doesn't like things with too many legs, so I expect she won't like this:

But I did, because I found it rather interesting. It's undoubtedly a millipede: slow-moving herbivore (more usually known as ooh look what's that creepy crawly thing?) with two pairs of legs on each body segment, unlike the much faster-moving centipede which only has one pair. This picture is about actual size (unless you have a really, really big computer screen, in which case I don't want to frighten you).

Where did I come across this millipede? On the beach near Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria.

Now all the information I can find about millipedes tells me they live in places with lots of plants that they can eat. The middle of a large tract of sand didn't seem a very millipede-friendly place. In fact, I was rather on the verge of rescuing this one and taking it to the nearby grass-covered sand dunes, when I noticed that she was not alone.

All over the beach were hundreds and hundreds of them, about a yard from each other in solitary millipediness, trotting amiably along on their many little legs, seemingly focused on a distant destination.

Where did they come from? How did they get there? Where were they going? Had I come across the millipede equivalent of a works outing to Blackpool?

If anyone has the answer, please tell me. I can't say it's been keeping me awake at night, but it would be good to know.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

So That'll Be All Right Then

I'd rather be in the countryside than in a park. On the other hand, Roundhay Park, less than a mile from our house, is a very big park, and some bits are formal, for those who like formal bits, and some bits are wilder, for those, like me, who prefer wilder bits.

There are two lakes: Waterloo Lake, known descriptively as The Big Lake, is - well - very big for a city lake.

It used to be a quarry until the lake was made and it is dark and cold and deep - "bottomless" is how it's described locally.

From time to time over the years people have drowned in it, some intending to commit suicide and some by accident. Most recently, a couple of summers ago, two teenage boys were drowned, one trying to help the other.

But now the council has hit on a winning formula to stop this: and it is Warning Notices, many of them, differently-numbered, all round the lake.

"Leeds City Council Parks and Countryside" it reads. "Emergency Notice. You are at safety point no. 7. DO NOT Enter the water. Children must be supervised at all times. In the event of an emergency dial 999."

Okay, if these notices saved even one life it would be worth it. But they won't. They won't stop a person who wants to jump in to end it all, and they certainly won't stop teenagers who, not understanding the dangers, fancy a swim on a hot day, or a walk on the ice on a cold one.

And, come on, the lake's not THAT big. If someone's fallen in, a passer-by - who, you never know, might think to dial 999 without even a notice to tell them to do it - would be perfectly capable of saying "up the far end" or "next to the cafe" rather than "it's by notice number - -er - - what - - where's the number, I can't see?"

To me, the notices are one more taming of the wildness of the park, more signs of man's intervention in the wilder bits, and I think that's a shame. If there must be notices, perhaps there should be a map of the park at either end of the lake with a note of how big and cold and deep and dangerous the lake is.

Because, sadly, many people seem to expect the countryside - and especially parks - to be like a large, safety-conscious Center Parcs where they don't have to take responsibility for their own safety.

No, these notices won't save lives, and I expect the Council knows it. But they might stop a lawsuit from time to time, and I expect the Council knows that too.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Status as Defined by Lunch

Today, somewhere in England, some actors and some doctors worked together all day to run an exam for medical students.

In the middle of the day there was lunch. The actors and the doctors had lunch in separate rooms.

Actors' Lunch:
Sandwiches, all with mayonnaise and with fillings of egg and prawn, chicken and some unidentified foodstuffs which I didn't try because they were bathed in too much mayonnaise

Fruit juice, tea and coffee, bowls of apples, oranges and bananas

Doctors' Lunch:
Sandwiches with cheese and salad and ham and salad and chicken and salad and no sodding mayonnaise
Bowls of mixed salad of different kinds
Various dips with celery and carrot sticks to dip into them
Samosas and similar
Pieces of chicken and small Scotch eggs
Several different kinds of crackers with butter and cheese
Gateaux and other desserts (which I heard described but never saw because the doctors had eaten them all)
Fruit juice, tea, coffee, bowls of apples, oranges and bananas

Now then, I know my place, guv'nor, and I know that doctors are Very Very Important People who have worked to earn their status, and the fact that the actors have been working just as hard as they have all day is not at all important, and the fact that some of the actors have acquired a degree or two or even the odd postgraduate qualification is not at all important, because they are not doctors and doctors need Serious Lunches to show that they are Very Very Important People.

(And, it must be said, the doctors with whom I was working were all lovely and made no attempt to pull rank at all, but it must also be said that this was not true of all of the doctors who were there today).

But some of the 'umble actors have learned a thing or two from many years of these kind of exams, and it is this:

Because everyone knows that doctors need Serious Lunches, there will be a lot of lunch provided for the doctors and - as long as you're not interested in gateau or cheesecake - if you lurk in the shadows for twenty minutes all the doctors will have finished and the 'umble actors can descend like a horde of - well, actors - and plunder their leftovers. Haha! And thus is Rank and Privilege preserved, and Honour Satisfied.

Note to all actors who do medical roleplay: Get on to a day run for surgeons. They always have the best lunches of all.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Consultant Who Says Good Morning

A very annoying letter in the Sunday Times this week, replying to an article in last week’s paper about the French healthcare system:

I disagree with Lois Rogers (French hospitals are as sick as our own NHS, News Review, last week). It’s wrong to give significant weight to issues of privacy, keeping the patient informed and reassured. She was promptly and correctly diagnosed and treated. If I ever go into hospital that’s what I shall want – not reassurance, deferential staff or a consultant who says “Good morning.” I’ll want expert staff, not new friends.
Peter MeAnena

I think the clue to the depths of ignorance - and I use the word in the sense of “not knowing” not in the meaning it’s often used these days of “rudeness” – in this letter is in the phrase “If I ever go into hospital”.

For he really, truly doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

I have been in an old-style hospital ward where nobody tells you what’s going on, or what’s going to happen next, and where the consultant never even speaks to you. It leads to fear bordering on terror.

It doesn’t take a comprehensive knowledge of psychology to work out that a frightened patient is not going to get well as fast as one who feels that they know what’s going on, and can discuss any worries with friendly staff who have the professional skill – and it is a professional skill – to make the patients feel at ease.

Why on earth shouldn’t the consultant say “Good morning?” What is needed are doctors who have both top-notch clinical skills and also top-notch communication skills. Fortunately, medical schools, knowing the importance of both, are increasingly choosing students who can do both – and quite right too.

A medical student once said to me, “Well, it doesn’t matter that I can’t talk to people, because I want to be a surgeon.”

But surgeons too have to talk to patients before and after the operation, and also to relatives too. And we don’t want a surgeon who would say,

“Well the good news is your mother’s had her operation. But the bad news is, she’s dead.”

Monday, May 14, 2007

Un Chateau Fort

In the middle of the forest in France, at a place called Guedelon, they are building a mediaeval castle.

Now I think that's a really interesting idea, but they have taken it further: they are building it entirely using mediaeval methods. So around the chantier (which is French for building site, though I think it doesn't look like a word that would mean building site) they have set up all the things that would have been needed in mediaeval times - a blacksmith, a rope-maker, a quarry for the stone, stables, hens, vegetable gardens, pigs - -

All the craftspeople give demonstrations as well as doing the job, and of course the whole place is ideal for school parties - several were there when we visited in April, and they seemed to be having a great time. It's good for return visits, too - people in the queue told us they come back every year to see how the castle's growing.

Everything is moved around using carts and massive horses. It was really fascinating to watch, and to see how it's all done - here's the wooden structure used to make the inside of one of the towers.

It's not a short-term project - they expect it to be finished by 2023. They're not too pompously serious about it either - I liked the notices in the cafe (yes, mediaeval food, though perhaps with better hygiene than would have been authentic) asking you to please clear your trays so as not to delay the building work.

It's all done with just the right amount of seriousness - getting the historical building methods right, for example - and just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek - they're not, as far as I know, planning to introduce the Black Death for authenticity.
I can't see such a project happening in England - there's simply not enough land. But in the middle of France, there's plenty. As with many such things, it's the product of one man's idea: a man with the vision and fund-raising ability to get it all going. When they've finished the castle, they plan to start on the surrounding village. I think it's great.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Gemm of Laf

Reader, I taped it. I was out last night and before I went I set it to record. I just pressed that little button. I knew it was wrong and yet it felt so right. The Eurovision Song Contest.

And then today (and in mitigation, I did LOTS of ironing) I watched it.

Some countries sing in their own languages and you can, if you’re not careful, find yourself thinking that there might just be some hidden meaning in their lyrics.

Others however, choose to sing in English to make sure that you know there is no meaning. The foreign accents merely emphasise the banality of the lyrics:

In thees gemm of laf you always ween (thank you, Belarus)

I gotta go crazy just to stay sane, sang Finland, before admitting, sensibly, Leave me alone, I want to go home.

Lithuania introduced some interesting rhymes:
Words lose their sense
When I feel you near
When I touch your hense

There seemed to be a lot of desire for world peace: In my world we’ll live in harmony, sang Macedonia.

At the bottom of the pit of hell was Ireland which was like a parody of an Irish entry with a Dana-like Irish maiden in a damsel frock, plus a team of men on violins and whistles all doing the Celtic thing for all it was worth. There were just two problems with it: firstly the damsel just could not sing. She approximated her way round every note in a way that made me put the iron down and gaze at the screen in bewilderment. Secondly, the lyrics were completely inaudible, something about They may steal the honey - - and no, I wasn’t going to listen to it again to try to work it out. Everyone else liked it as much as I did and it came bottom.

There was a good deal of what my old drama teacher called meaningless arm-waving throughout the contest, and lots of special effects.

As for poor old Scooch and the UK entry, it looked as though it was going to be Nul Points until very near the end. I rather liked it – like a parody of a Eurotrash song, it had uniforms, a silly dance, and a chorus with lots of badabada-type stuff in it. I think it neatly satirised the whole competition and it should have won, so there.

But we’ll never win again, and it’s time we realised that, because all the Eastern European countries with names ending in – ia all vote for each other, and they cannot be blamed for this. They know there’s more to it than just a poxy singing contest – they are from regions which have been subject to strife and division for hundreds of years and they know that “you didn’t vote for us in Helsinki” could count again them in years to come. To us, it’s frivolity, and we cared when Scooch lost, a bit, but not for very long - - and by tomorrow lunchtime we’ll have forgotten all about it. To Eastern Europe, it is not just a singing contest, more a gemm of laf.

I Told You So

It starts innocently enough - - just one mention of how cute your cat is, maybe a picture - - and the next night here we are with a whole hutchful of baby rabbits.

What's worse, they are Netherland Dwarfs, a breed of rabbit clearly created for maximum cuteness appeal. They are tiny, with very short ears and soft, fluffy fur. It's impossible to look at them without - - aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah - - - so SWEET - -

These gorgeous little bunnikins belong to Carry, and I took this photo clandestinely the other day when I called at her house and she was out. So you could say it was taken by the paparabbitzi, and, what's more I just did say that, and I should perhaps be ashamed, but I'm not.

Anyway, it was a very pleasant bonfire at Carry's house tonight, in spite of intermittent rain, thank you Carry: and at midnight, after Carry had gone to bed, with the fire still blazing brightly, and all of us a bit drunk, we realised that the little rabbits would make really delicious individual kebabs, with their little ears a convenient handle to hold them as we munched.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Cats, Mostly

When I was teaching English one lesson that was a sure-fire success with any group of eleven-year olds was The Difference Between Cats and Dogs.

"I am from Mars," I would begin - the class registered little surprise at this new information - "and I can't tell the difference betweeen cats and dogs."

The class would register a bit more surprise and a few murmurings of dissent would be heard, along the lines of 'course they're different, she's even more off her trolley than normal.

"So what's the difference then? They look the same to me."

Louder murmurings of dissent. I continued.

"Cats and dogs. Four legs. Two ears. Tail. Two eyes. Look at this! (Picture of white poodle) And this! (Picture of German Shepherd) And you're saying they're the same thing! Now look at this. (Fluffy white cat) Surely that's nearly the same as the first picture? Because it's not at all the same as the second picture - - "

A Heated Debate would ensue and lots of words to describe the difference, and, generally, some interesting writing afterwards.

Our cat, Froggie, knows all about How to be Cute - she is very small and very human-oriented. When the doorbell rings, she runs to answer the door, which is most uncatlike. Here she is with my mother, looking cute:

(I feel I should point out that the old caravan behind them is NO LONGER THERE, HURRAH! And how I am enjoying looking out of the window at the space where it isn't.)

But in our garden lurks a most uncute cat, with only three legs.

Carry christened it Tripod and the name stuck. Now it comes running if you shout. Or if you open a tin of anything, or open a window, or do anything at all that might mean food. Although it must live nearby, and is clearly well-fed, it could win an Oscar for its Starving Cat routine. The milkman claims he sees it do this about-to-die-of-starvation act (which works well on me, I can tell you) at a number of houses in the area.

The milkman reckons it bit its own leg off in a bid for sympathy.

That's it. The rot has set in. I have started writing about cats. And that way madness lies. I must be stopped before I start making rugs out of old plastic carrier bags and exhibiting them at art exhibitions, and making a long thin draught excluder out of felt and embroidering the words Long Felt Want on it and then going into production and selling them at handicraft stalls.

Not that there's anything wrong with cats. Just with writing about them.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Nothing to be Done

So after the Communist went to the doctor with his poorly heel, and the doctor had referred him to the hospital, and nothing had happened for a bit, and I had rung the surgery, and they had found out that the doctor had referred him to a department that didn’t exist, and the doctor had referred him again, and nothing had happened for a bit, and I had rung the surgery, and I had found out that the doctor hadn’t marked it urgent, and I had rung the hospital and explained that it was urgent, and they had given me an urgent appointment over the phone for only four weeks later, the Communist and I finally attended the hospital today.

The Communist has Type 2 diabetes (yes, like me, that’s where I got it from, family tendency, hah!) and currently has hugely swollen calves, because they took out his varicose veins – which in my case I have not got – years ago, so there’s very bad circulation there. He also has three leg ulcers, which are very painful, caused by diabetes, and his right leg – the one with the poorly heel - is bandaged from the knee to the foot.

The young, very pleasant Registrar peered at all this lot and decided it was beyond her so fetched the very pleasant Consultant.

They checked they had enough bandages in the department to rebandage the leg, found a pleasant nurse to unbandage it, and looked at the heel.

Easy to diagnose – plantar fascitis, which is inflammation of the plantar fascia, which is a broad band of fibrous tissue which runs along the bottom of the foot (oh yes, of course I knew that already, obviously).

But as for doing anything about it - - well, they could try steroid injections, but any kind of injections are bad news for anyone with leg ulcers – the resulting hole will just start another ulcer. And the other option, physiotherapy, is also impossible because of the bandages for the leg ulcers.

So how about better pain relief? I asked, because the Communist has been sleeping in a chair because he can’t lie flat because of the poorly heel, and because he’s in a lot of pain the lot of the time, and because this makes him very grumpy with my mother, which is understandable, but very wearing for her.

- - Ah well, all the better pain relief clashes with the tablets he’s already on.

“I’m stumped,” said the Consultant. “I’ll talk to my colleagues and – er – get back to you.”

But what they were saying is, they can’t do anything about it. The only answer is to amputate the leg, as the Communist had already realised. It hasn’t quite got to that yet, and anyway, at eighty-three, having had a triple heart bypass - would they do it?

The crux of it is this. The Communist, unlike many, thinks that Godot is rather more likely to turn up than God. He wants to stay alive. And go on holiday. And sit in the garden. And see his grandchildren. And who can blame him?

Nothing to be done.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

In Crystal-Clear Water

Amy Tree comments on my last post that the "pubes and used plasters" in one of the Leeds swimming pools rather cramped her style when swimming.

The secret is not to be able to see them.

I've mentioned before that, prior to getting my prescription goggles, I had no idea that there were signs in swimming pools that say things like "Deep End" and "No Diving".

Even with the goggles, of course, I can't see brilliantly (oh, all RIGHT then, even with my glasses I can't see brilliantly, so my twenty-twenty vision family tell me, whilst chortling to themselves).

In the sea or in the pool I can't see any nasties floating about and I just keep right on swimming. The sea at Tenby, where I swim most frequently, is a Blue Flag beach and really clean, fortunately. There are jellyfish, I'm told, though I can't see them, and I often think that this is a Good Thing as I don't worry about them and have never been stung.

But the changing rooms at the municipal swimming pools in Leeds, including Scott Hall, where I swim, are generally a bit grubby, even I can see that. I'm quite glad I can't see the pool itself too clearly.

Ten Kilometres Excitement!

A few weeks ago I told you how I’d bought a cross trainer (it’s a machine you walk on, if you’ve never heard of such a thing, and it has a little display that tells you how far you've gone, and what your speed is, and how long you've been going). I said I’d tell you more if all went well and if it didn’t you’d never hear a thing more about it.

Well, it has been going well, I’m pleased to say. When I first got it, I could only do about half a kilometre before I got out of breath. However, I’ve been building it up gradually. I usually do about three kilometres but tonight at the end of three I thought hey, I don’t feel tired, I’ll do a couple more, and Annie Lennox was singing on the DVD player in tribute to Emily’s splendid new hairstyle, and I did a couple more - - and then a couple more - - and then I’d done ten kilometres, so I stopped, rather surprised.

And I wasn’t even very out of breath. I suppose the term for this is “getting fitter”. It’s rather cheering.

Swimming I can do, I’ve always been able to swim – well, I can’t remember not being able to. My first memory of swimming is doing a width at the baths, age Very Very Small, and being surprised and pleased, rather as I feel tonight.

At the moment I go swimming once a week and do forty-two lengths. Forty lengths is a kilometre and I add an extra two in case I’ve miscounted, and in the hope of finding the secret of Life, the Universe and Everything as in the Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This impresses people, because not that many people seem to swim. “Wow! A kilometre!” But in the time I do forty-two lengths, my mother does thirty-two, which is half a mile. And she’s eighty-three. Now that’s impressive. Use it or lose it, she reckons, and she’s right.

So I’m pleased with my ten kilometres. Now I must do it every day.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

No More Bridget Jones

Cigarettes smoked: 0
Alcohol consumed: 0 units
Blood Sugar: 10.6

Really, if it had been Daphne’s Diabetic Diary instead of Bridget Jones’s they would never have made the film.

There was always a similar list of the day’s booze and fags at the top of Bridget Jones’s Diary when it was in the paper: the list somehow put me off the whole column and I never really liked it. There was something about reading about the fictional smoking and drinking of a fictional character that didn’t seem right.

But the above exciting list is mine. No cigarettes because I’ve never smoked any, ever. Which has, I may point out self-righteously, saved me a fortune! Hurrah! Where is the fortune, then? - - er, dunno.

No alcohol because I can’t drink alcohol whilst taking these Metformin tablets. These tablets, as you may remember if you read my post Not So Sweet a few days ago, are the ones to help lower my blood sugar, which should be between five and seven, and isn’t. (“Between Five and Seven What?” asks Emily, but this is one of the great mysteries of medical science and they don’t tell me. Hedgehogs per calendar month, for all I know.)

The tablets make me feel sick, so I stopped taking them for a bit and felt great, but my blood sugar was fifteen (VERY BAD INDEED). So I started taking one tablet per day, and now just feel sick for an enjoyable couple of hours, around teatime, which makes cooking rather difficult.

But my blood sugar’s still too high, hovering round nine or ten. Or eleven. Okay, it was fourteen at some point yesterday. Pah. So, as instructed at my last visit, I tried to book another appointment at the doctor’s.

The phone was continuously engaged so finally I set off and walked there – it’s about a mile and a half each way, so at least I got my Healthy Exercise. I booked an appointment for next Monday, by which time I’ll be so sweet you could make me into a gateau.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Not Even In Charge of a Goldfish

The Thomas Deacon City Academy in Peterborough, Britain’s most expensive state school, is being built without a playground.

“We are not intending to have any play time,” said Alan McMurdo, the head teacher. “Pupils won’t need to let off steam because they will not be bored.” The only break will be a 30-minute lunch period when pupils will be taken to the dining room by their teacher, to make sure they don’t escape.

Now look, Alan – do you mind if I call you Alan? Otherwise it would be Very
Very Stupid Man – I am going to tell you something important. That idea that all subjects are always interesting, provided that the teachers are good enough, is rubbish.

People will always find some subjects more interesting than others. Even in a subject which you find interesting, sometimes there are parts to it which are not interesting. Sometimes you have to put in a bit of boring spadework to get to the interesting bits. And actually, that’s a good lesson for life, because in any job there are boring bits too. The idea that a teacher has to be a new kind of thrilling stage act that makes absolutely everything interesting, is just never going to happen, and it’s putting unfair expectations on the teachers.

Of course a good teacher will endeavour to make the work as interesting as possible – but some teenagers will not enjoy every moment of their school day, I can tell you that now, Very Very Stupid Man (I think on balance I prefer that name to Alan for this particular head teacher).

Academy schools are in the state sector but are independent of local councils. They are sponsored by local firms, which have some input in how they are run.

The management of this school says that “playgrounds did not fit into the concept.” Because the school will be so big, replacing three Peterborough schools, having a playground could lead to bullying.

“That’s typical of New Labour,” says Emily, who for the purposes of this article I shall call Very Very Perceptive Daughter. “People are being bullied so let’s take something away from everyone else rather than from the bullies.”

Here is a good way of how to stop the bullying: Split your great big new school into four smaller ones, each with its own set of teachers. Then every teacher will know every child in the school and the bullies will have nowhere to hide.

- - Ah, that would be too expensive, is the usual cry.

- - Yes, but your nasty big playground-free school is costing FORTY-SIX POINT FOUR MILLION, I reply.

The Sunday Times reporter asked how the pupils would have refreshments during the course of the day, with only one half-hour break for lunch. Ah, they’ll be able to drink during class, apparently. (I’ll tell you how Very Very Stupid Man phrased that in just one moment.)

I will tell you what will happen. The pupils will get out their bottles of water because the school rules tell them they can. And they will squirt them at each other under the desks. And they will drink lots of water, to pretend that’s the purpose of getting the bottles out. And then they will need the loo and out they will go from the lesson, one after the other, so as to cause maximum disruption. And I don’t blame them.

And what did Very Very Stupid man say about there not being any breaks?

“Pupils will be able to hydrate during the learning experience.”

I wouldn’t leave a man who speaks like that in charge of my goldfish, let alone my children. Not even for a weekend.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Sainsbury's - The Story Continues

A quick recap: although my local Sainsbury's supermarket has posters all over promoting Fair Trade products, I was miffed to see that their Fair Trade coffee was always positioned on the top shelf, well above eye level. So I wrote to complain.

They misunderstood my letter (hmm) and replied offering assistance to reach any products on the top shelf.

I replied to say that this was not what I had meant. I was not complaining about the height of the coffee, but about the fact that it was difficult to find. If Sainsbury's is so keen on promoting Fair Trade goods, I opined, they should jolly well put them at eye level where people will come across them: at the moment Nestle and other big brands are at eye level and you have to search using stepladders and Sherpas to find the Fair Trade coffees.

My second letter has cause them to Pass the Buck. In a letter dated April 1st (hah!) they wrote

"Thank you for your further letter dated 28th March.

I wish to advise you that I have passed a copy of your letter to our planogram department at our head office in London and asked for their comments. When they get back to us, we will contact you again.

Also, I have enclosed a leaflet which Sainsbury's has just produced, which I hope will be of interest to you."

Well, I've left it a while for the Planogram Department to get their act together and change their whole policy of shelf-positioning, but they haven't got back to me. The leaflet is called Change for the Better and is all about how Sainsbury's is promoting Fair Trade products. I think I will write again.

But there are two things this suggests to me:

Firstly, let us not forget that the positioning of every single product in the supermarket is decided by a Higher Authority. Nothing is positioned accidentally and everything is carefully placed to make us more likely to buy those products which will produce more money for the supermarket. Anything positioned haphazardly has been piled in a heap to make us feel we're getting a bargain. I know this really, and so do you, but it's easy to forget and I think we should remember it as much as we can.

Secondly, WHY can't they just put the Fair Trade coffee at eye level? I suspect it's because Nestle and its ilk won't let them.

BUT, in an interesting development, last time I visited Sainsbury's, the Fair Trade tea was bang on eye level. Hurrah! - - But, sadly, the coffee was still up there with the satellites and the spacemen.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Spring Greens

Whenever "favourite colour" is mentioned all my family and friends roll their eyes at me in a Knowing Way and say "Oh, Daphne likes green, you should see the house - - "

And I do. There are lots of shades of green and they are all great - can you say that about any other colour?
Luckily, in case you were sceptical, Nature is currently assisting me with a country-wide demonstration of this (and if you're somewhere Else, such as Australia or Belgium, you'll have to take my word for it I'm afraid.)

Here are some greens seen from the Cleveland Way near Sutton Bank in Yorkshire this morning.

A mile or two further and we came across a deserted farm. After battling my way through a field of nettles I found this:

Nobody had trodden there for ages and ages - perhaps years, because it was hidden and difficult to get to. I love places like that, and it's great that there are still some left in this crowded island.

Friday, May 04, 2007

The Facts of Life

Walking through the University today, I found myself in a crowd of students and, as we waited to go through a doorway and bunched up together, I overheard two female students talking in front of me.

"I think I'd better go to the doctor," said one. "I've got this funny feeling low down below my stomach - it's like a buzzing, or a fluttering feeling. It doesn't happen all the time, just from time to time, but it's really strange."

"That's odd," said the other one, "Have you any other symptoms?"

"Well, yes," said the first girl, "my periods have stopped. In fact I haven't had a period for weeks."

"Er, hey," said the second girl, rather tentatively, "Um - - is there any chance that you could be - er - pregnant?"

The first girl stopped in her tracks.

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" she said, not in an "I couldn't possibly be pregnant" way, but in pure, clean, unadulterated astonishment that such a thing might be the case.

Then they turned off down a corridor and I saw them no more. Amazing.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Exercising my Franchise

I decided to go and vote in today's local elections.

The choice was thus:

Labour - but like many people I feel very very betrayed by Labour because of Iraq.

Conservative - Floral Frock Lady, see my earlier post. Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

Green Socialist Alliance (I think that's what they're called). - My mother voted for them because of her fury with Mr Blair. Please don't tell the Communist, for whom voting anything but Labour is undiscussable, even though he hates New Labour with a passion. He would, of course, vote Communist but since there's never a Communist candidate hereabouts it has to be Labour. I think the Green Socialists sound quite appealing but suspect they're a bit knit-your-own-lentils and haven't quite thought things through - perhaps the terrible state of the Leeds roads wouldn't be at the forefront of their agenda.

Liberal Democrat - I was at school with one of their councillors and he was a nice bloke but that's no reason to vote for a party and I don't really know what they stand for or what they'd do - - and I was mulling this over and then I spotted - -

BRITISH NATIONAL PARTY - - and that brought me up sharpish. Make no mistake, here we have Fascism Revisited. Oh boy, people have short memories. Never mind all that sanitising of it that they try to do these days - they're Fascists. Even one vote is too many.

So I had to vote Labour, just on principle really. But if you happen to see Tony, tell him it was with a heavy heart.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Castle Colours

Here are some colours that I like:

Blues and greys and sandy reds and grey-greens. This is part of the wall of Piel Castle on Piel Island off the Furness Peninsula in Cumbria. Of course, it's a small island - only twenty acres - and hence the castle gets a lot of hammer from the weather. Sandstone being very soft anyway, it's wearing away fairly fast. But I love the colours of the rock and the lichens.

William Wordsworth was in Barrow once, having a look at Piel Island, and wrote the following oeuvre (and I'm having problems with the spacing so haven't set it out like a poem, though William did)

I was thy neighbour once, thou rugged Pile!/Four summer weeks I dwelt in sight of thee:/I saw thee every day: and all the while/Thy Form was sleeping on a glassy sea:/
So pure the sky, so quiet was the air!/So like, so very like. was day to day!/Whene'er I looked, thy Image still was there:/It trembled, but it never passed away.

Not as good as Daffodils, methinks, but I did like thinking that William enjoyed the view that I enjoyed so much on Sunday.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Hurray Hurray it's the First of May

Ah yes, the traditional English seasonal rhyme:

Hurray Hurray it's the First of May
Outdoor Fucking Starts Today

Though these days such activities would probably lead to arrest for indecent exposure, breach of the peace blah blah. Whereas in mediaeval times it probably just led to the birth of more mediaeval people.

Anyway, here are some Mayflowers to celebrate:

These particular mayflowers were growing on the delightful Piel Island off the Furness Peninsula in Cumbria.

I had a vague memory of visiting the island once: of being very small, and sitting on Mum's cousin Frank's shoulders and looking at the mediaeval castle there. I asked my mother whether this was a real memory and she said that indeed it was.

To reach Piel Island you cross the causeway to Roa Island, just off Barrow-in-Furness, and then wait for the ferryman to come and fetch you. On Sunday he turned up at about half-past eleven in a little motor boat and took us the short distance across.

On the island there's the mediaeval castle, built of a mixture of the local sandstone and round stones from the beach. There is a row of cottages, built in 1875: a boarded-up pub and a newish toilet block. There are several boats in varying states of repair. And that's it for the man-made stuff. The island is twenty acres and there's a pond in the middle - other than that it consists entirely of meadow and beaches.

On Sunday the weather was beautiful and the island was paradise. We were the first visitors and had it all to ourselves for a while until the next boatload (a boatload being twelve people at the most) arrived.

The island was given to the people of Barrow in the 1920s and my Barrow relatives love it. One of them spent several summers camping and fishing there. Although it's not far from the shore, it has the feeling of somewhere much more remote - partly because the Furness Peninsula is in itself remote, not only geographically but in a miles-from-anywhere feel.

It's beautiful and largely unspoilt, with Barrow the only place of any size. Slightly to the south of the Lake District, and largely untouched by tourism. I hope it stays that way. But if you happen to visit, take the ferry to Piel Island and watch the seals.

Not So Sweet

About three years ago I was diagnosed with diabetes.

There are two kinds. Briefly, Type 1 diabetes is where your body doesn't produce the hormone insulin so you have to have insulin injections.

Type 2, the kind I've got and the kind that they're always going on about these days, is where the body does produce insulin, but either doesn't produce enough or doesn't react to it properly. The blood sugar is high but the sugar can't get to the muscles to be used. So the owner of said high blood sugar feels tired because not enough energy's getting to the muscles: and the surplus sugar coats itself all over everything inside you - eyes, nerve endings, for example - and basically wrecks it all slowly.

Type 2 can be controlled by diet and I did this for a while - all that healthy diet advice is basically what diabetics should eat - and I did. But it wasn't enough and my blood sugar was always too high. So they put me on Metformin tablets which are the standard treatment for Type 2 where diet alone isn't working.

You can, apparently, take up to six of the 500mg Metformin tablets a day. They started me on one. Blood sugar still too high. It should be no more than seven: mine varied between nine and twenty. Far too high. Makes you prone to all sorts of nasties: heart attacks, strokes, leg ulcers, blindness, to name but a few.

So they upped my Metformin dose to two per day.

It was a while after this that I noticed I was feeling sick a lot, like when you're pregnant and have morning sickness, only without the pregnancy bit. Lots of different kinds of food became distinctly unappealing. I kind of got used to it. I lost nearly a stone in weight. I liked that. Finally it got so people were saying "have you lost weight?"

But the weekend before last the feeling sick got so bad that I really couldn't do anything except lounge about, going "ergh I feel sick" to anyone who would listen.

In a belated flash of insight, I read the Possible Side Effects of Metformin. Oh look, nausea. Oh damn.

So I stopped taking them. And within twenty-four hours I realised that I hadn't just been feeling a bit sick for weeks and weeks, I had been feeling ABSOLUTELY BLOODY TERRIBLE for weeks and weeks. And suddenly I felt normal again. Yippee!

But, of course, my blood sugar wasn't normal, it was flaming fourteen point eight, more than double what it should be. (Fourteen point eight WHAT? I hear you ask. Well I don't know. Doctors don't tell you. It could be furlongs per fortnight for all I know. But anyway, fourteen point eight when it should be seven is Not Good News.)

I test my blood sugar by sticking a special needle in my finger with a special measuring device. It's always a surprise that it hurts. "OW!" I go in astonishment, every single time. Then it counts down to give you your result. Five! Four! Three! Two! One! FOURTEEN POINT EIGHT AAAAAAAARGH!

So I went back to the doctor and told him this. He was very young and his communication skills were excellent, which pleased me greatly since I help to train and assess medical students' communication skills. He suggested that I should start again with just one Metformin tablet a day, see how it goes and come back in a fortnight to report back on the state of my nausea and the highness of my blood sugar.

That was on Friday. Now it's Monday. I feel thoroughly sick and my blood sugar's still fourteen. It's enough to drive me to treacle toffee.