Friday, June 29, 2007

Apres le deluge, moi

Sunflowers. Big, jolly, yellow, cheery - I love driving past fields of them in France, all turning their heads to face the sun.

Way back in about March I bought Emily a Sunflower-Growing Kit consisting of a packet of seeds and a tall pot. Plant the seeds, it said in the instructions, and then, when they start to grow, thin them out and keep only the three strongest seedlings.

Well, she planted the seeds and they started to grow, but there was no way Emily was going to take part in the massacre of dozens of tiny sunflower seedlings. So we gave the pot of seedlings to my mother, who thinned them out, left three, and planted all the others in other pots. Because she has very, very green fingers, all the others grew.

So there they are, in pots positioned all over the place where the caravan isn't. We were looking forward to their yellow, happy faces bathed in the warm June sun.

But, of course, of recent weeks there has only been rain, and rain and rain.

So far one bedraggled flower has opened its petals.

I admire its courage and it's good to see, in a summer that doesn't feel like summer should.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Not Waiting for God

The Communist has never had any truck with religion. But a polite "not interested, thank you" has never been his style when confronted with any of the disciples of any God.

For he is as determined to convert them as they are to convert him. He takes it upon himself to show them exactly where they are going wrong.

My mother isn't religious either and she isn't took keen on anyone who might try to convert her. But hers has always been a quiet revenge: she would smile sweetly at any doorstepping Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses or any other evangelical bearers of faith.

"I think you'd better talk to my husband," she would say, before showing them into a room with him and firmly closing the door on it all.

An hour or so would pass before the door would open and the Believers would stumble out, ashen-faced and blinking dazedly. They would leave quickly, and never return.

"I told 'em what's what," the Communist would say, by way of explanation.

So he brightened immediately when telling me, as I visited him in hospital today, that the Vicar had been to see him.

"What did you say to him?" I enquired with some slight nervousness.

"I told him I don't share his beliefs. Then I told him Tony Blair's a bloody liar. Then I told him about all the children that have been killed in Iraq and how, if there is a God, he's a bastard."

"And what did the Vicar say to that?"

The Communist paused dramatically.

"He buggered off."

Well, they say the Communist has had a minor stroke followed by several strange epileptic periods of unconsciousness. But, if this afternoon was anything to go by, there's life in the old dog yet.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Here's the Buzzer

Here's a remarkably jolly-looking Communist, demonstrating from his hospital bed the piece of wire which should have a buzzer on the end of it.

He's not really very jolly: he's thoroughly fed up and he wants to come home. Many people in that ward have senile dementia, and pressing the buzzer would be beyond them, which is probably why nobody had noticed that the buzzer is broken. But The Communist doesn't have senile dementia, and is perfectly capable of working a buzzer.

The electricians have been to look at it today, I'm told, following my demonstration of the Broken Buzzer yesterday. We shall see.

Meanwhile, when he wants something, he can't move, so he just has to shout. One of the nurses in the night remarked that he has a very loud voice. Just as well.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Oh, I am so weary of having to be assertive.

The Communist is now temporarily in a geriatric ward until a kick-bed becomes available in the nursing home.

Having heard this term, kick-bed, bandied about for a while, and having no clue what it meant, I decided to pretend I was doing a medical roleplay, where we draw attention to any jargon they are using in the hope that they learn not to use it.

"So what's a kick-bed then? One where you kick the patients?"

- - Ah, no, that pulled everyone up short. Turns out it's a CIC-bed, as in a Community Intermediate Care bed. Of course, you'd have guessed that, wouldn't you?

In the geriatric ward, for the first time, I encountered Nurse Who Doesn't Listen Because The Patients Are Old. All the other staff have been great.

"Hello," I said, "please could you tell me how my father is supposed to call for help when he needs it? Because last night he was in a lot of pain and he shouted and shouted and nobody came. He doesn't have a very loud voice at the moment and he's right down the far end of the ward."

Nurse-Who-Doesn't-Listen looked bemused.
"He should press the buzzer."

"Could you show me the buzzer, please?" I asked sweetly. "Because he couldn't find one, and neither can I."

Nurse-Who-Doesn't-Listen reluctantly followed me to the bed. She rummaged behind the bed and found the bare wires, on the end of which, in the distant mists of time, used to be a buzzer.

"Oh, well, there are always lots of staff about," she said, looking uncomfortable for the first time.

I pushed home my advantage.

"And when someone did finally come," I said, "she said he couldn't have any more painkillers because he'd had all he could have. But actually, he's written up for Oromorph on request, so something has clearly gone wrong there."

"Ah, yes, well, yes, I'll investigate that, umm - - "

"And, finally, just one more thing," I said, "When they were getting him out of bed today, one of them grabbed hold of his leg to put it in the proper place. His leg is bandaged because he has lots of ulcers. Underneath the bandages are lots of raw wounds. So, as you may imagine, it's extremely painful if you touch it at all and absolute agony if you grab it. So please could you make sure that everyone who's caring for him knows this?"

"Oh, er, yes, er, I'll put it in the notes - - "

I smiled at her, and the subtext to my smile was this: "Unlike most of your patients, sunshine, The Communist still has a brain that mostly works. And he will report back to me what goes on here. And if he's still in the same bed tomorrow I'll be taking a photo of the Bare Wires that Used to Be a Buzzer. So, as my old Grandma used to say, Think On."

But I hate doing it. And it's exhausting, and I can't bear it. The only good thing about it was that The Communist witnessed it, and it made him smile. But I wonder what happens to old people who don't have a stroppy daughter who's used to dealing with the NHS?

Monday, June 25, 2007


Sunday afternoon in the Chancellor Wing of St James's Hospital, Leeds.

Lots and lots of visitors arriving, some having travelled from afar, to see their loved ones. What could be more welcoming than a nice cup of tea?

Here's the cafe:

Oh dear, never mind. At least there's a drinks machine:

Actually, there are two. Both broken.

Never mind, let's just take the elderly visitors up the three floors to the ward, then, shall we?

Here's the lift:

Now to be fair, the other lift was working: it was just very, very full of people trying to get to the wards full of elderly people on the third floor.

Now this isn't Bogglesville Cottage Hospital (for if that had ever existed, they'd probably have closed it years ago, in fact) - it's St James's, which is one of the largest teaching hospitals in the North.

Has nobody worked out that for the patients to get better they need to be kept in a positive frame of mind? For the patients to be positive they need to have visitors: and the visitors need to be positive and such things as a welcoming cafe and a lift that works really, really help.

When I was younger I wanted to save the world. Now I'd settle for just saving the NHS. Or even making it a bit better.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Grey matter

I saw two nasty grey things this week. They look rather alike. Firstly, seeking some Philadelphia cream cheese, Emily searched the back of the fridge and found this:

Mmm, delicious! I think this is a bit of an indication that things have been rather hectic here recently.

And then, visiting the Communist in hospital, we noticed this fibreglass insulation hygienically placed on a window sill:

People had dumped the odd cigarette end and bit of paper in it. Lovely. Even more interestingly, the Communist was in the same part of the hospital briefly in January and it was in the same place then. Presumably nobody who works there has "remove all old fibreglass insulation from windowsills" in their job description.

That sounds like a criticism of the medical staff - and actually, it's not. But there should be someone with an overview, to stop potentially hazardous stuff like this kicking about for months.

Saturday, June 23, 2007


I walked across Gledhow Valley to visit the Communist in the nursing home on Wednesday.

The valley is the kind that they use to demonstrate the phrase "V-shaped valley" in geography lessons. Both sides are very steep, and a little tranquil stream runs along the bottom. One side, rather coyly - and somewhat over-dramatically - known as Little Switzerland, is covered in woodland: the other side is covered in nasty 1960s flats and other buildings.

The woodland side is very pretty and a haven for wildlife in the city - we once saw a deer there.

On Wednesday, however, after all the recent heavy rain, the landscape had changed somewhat. The woodland glade at the bottom of the valley was now a pond:
And here is the little stream, seen from a bridge above it:

I've known this woodland since I was three and I've never seen it like that before.

Then, last night, I saw on television some film of the very cold winter of 1947. Massive drifts of snow: sheep buried, whole landscapes turned white. We just don't get that any more. Emily's never seen snow deeper than a few inches, and she's nearly eighteen.

Whether it's caused by global warming from greenhouse gases (and I bet it is) or just natural climate change, it's strange that the weather has changed so much over a relatively short period. I reckon the dinosaurs had a few conversations along those lines too.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Dear Sir/Madam

Many weeks ago, when the trees were bare and we didn't yet have the facility to do bank transfers, (we do now) we sent a cheque by post to one of our actors, whom I shall call Martin, though he isn't called Martin.

To speed things up, because he needed the money, we sent it to his bank, Upnorth plc (that's not its real name either). The cheque had the correct account number and sort code on the back and went to the correct address.

The cheque was cashed, but the money - nearly a thousand pounds - never appeared in Martin's account. Martin was by now in Singapore and desperately needed the money, so we replaced it, as we are very actor-friendly and thought we could stand the loss for a few days better than he could. We rang our bank, who assured us that this never happens. Martin, they said, must simply not have not noticed the amount had gone into his bank. They could, for a few quid, send us a copy of the cheque.

We got the copy of our cheque, which had the correct account number and sort code on the back. Because we are very, very clever indeed we worked out that the likeliest thing was that somebody at the bank had got one digit wrong and paid it into someone else's account. Someone Else, whom I shall call Mr Lucky, had presumably checked his bank statement, noticed a gift of nearly a grand had gone into it, and thought Yippee!

We rang our bank again. They assured us, with some sarcasm, that this never happens. They made no bones about what they thought had happened: Martin had actually received the money the first time, as well as the second time, and was trying to defraud us.

This infuriated us because we knew it was not the case. Martin was pretty pissed off about their insinuation, too. Although he was in Singapore, he rang his bank, Upnorth plc and pointed out that we had now paid him twice and were a thousand quid down.

"Sorry", said Upnorth plc, "we can't trace the money, because this never happens, so it can't have happened, so we can't pay it back."

Martin got frustrated and asked us to ring them, because it was really difficult to be put on hold for hours when you were in Singapore and it was costing squillions. We rang them.
"Sorry", said Upnorth plc, "we can't talk to you, because you're not a customer of the bank."

Could Upnorth plc talk to our bank? - Apparently not. Data protection. Customer confidentiality. Time of the month. Letter Y in the day. Or some old bollocks.

Stalemate. We were a thousand pounds short. Martin was understandably very upset about it. Mr Lucky, on the other hand was presumably dining out every night and generally having a rather good time.

Finally, Martin returned to England to do some work in the Deep South, where he wandered into a branch of Upnorth plc which had The Employee With the Brain. Martin told the story.

"Have you a copy of the cheque?" asked Mr Employeewithbrain.

"My agency has a copy," said Martin, "I will ask them to fax it to you."

The magnificent Jane, in our office, faxed them the cheque. Mr Employeewithbrain did a quick comparison of the cheque with Martin's bank statement. Using his ace detective skills he worked out that the money was not, nor had it ever been, in Martin's account.

"Probably the likeliest explanation is that someone's got it one digit wrong and it's gone into Someone Else's account," he said, then followed it up with the Golden Sentence, "I'll refund it to you."

They did. It was now June. The whole thing had dragged on for weeks and weeks. Martin paid us the money back. We wrote to complain to Upnorth plc about their general shitness.

In fact Jane wrote, and her name is Jane, and she signed it Jane with her surname. How lovely, then, to get a reply from their Customer Relations Manager addressed to Dear Sir/Madam containing no real information at all but many such exciting sentences as,

"We are committed to achieving high standards of customer service, so I am sorry to learn of the difficulties you have experienced."

It was signed Freda Cowface (actually it wasn't, but you get my gist) - except it wasn't even signed at all: they had used one of those dreadful, - yes, really vile, please, please, never ever do this - typefaces which pretend to be handwriting. I did find myself wondering how Freda ever got the job as CUSTOMER RELATIONS MANAGER for one of the biggest banks in the country.

I think we'll be writing back.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Not Bloody Likely

- - I'm going in a taxi, said well-known Chirpy Cockney Fictional Character Eliza Doolittle.

I hate taxis. The first thing I hate is that the drivers frequently set off before you've put your seat belt on and you spend the first half-mile bouncing along trying to find the slot to put the fastener in, and feeling like an idiot.

So, knowing that rules can make one's life so much easier, I have introduced a rule, thus:


This rule removes a bit of the pressure from the biggest taxi dilemma, which is the main reason I don't like taxis: and it is How Much To Tip.

You drive along, watching the fare mount up. Not wanting to be too much of a cheapskate. Not wanting to be too generous.

"That'll be five pounds ninety pence, love." NIGHTMARE! If I give him a fiver then ten pence is just too little for a tip. If I add fifty pence, that makes it a very deliberate sixty-pence tip. Is that acceptable? Otherwise, I don't want to add a pound and ten pence, that's too much.

"Six pounds twenty." NOOOOOOOOO! I don't want to give him eighty pence as a tip, but neither do I want to wait while he counts out eighty pence in change, very, very slowly, staring at me as though I've just starved his baby to death, and neither do I want to tell him to keep fifty pence and give me thirty pence - - that's just too horrible.

So all my taxi journeys are taken up with thinking about these sorts of dilemmas and hence I am a nervous wreck in a taxi. Do other people worry in this way, or is it just me?

Today I came home in a taxi.

"That'll be four pounds fifty, love."
"Thank you, here's a fiver, please keep the change."

All taxi journeys should be either four pounds fifty or nine pounds fifty and this is just to let you know that when I'm in charge this will be one of my first laws.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Look and Guess

Do you remember learning to read? I don't, really - my first memory of any part of it is starting to read a page of a Noddy book and then realising I could go on, and on, and on - - and it was a great feeling. Yes, I know, I was reading Enid Blyton, but then again there was no Quentin Blake in those dark days.

Little Noddy was at least different from the Janet and John books, used universally in schools, where Janet was helping Mummy with the dishes and John was helping Daddy to mend the car. In the school I went to there were some Dick and Dora books, which predated even Janet and John. I have no memory of the plot of these - probably Dora learned to starch aprons whilst Dick told the stable lads to saddle the horses.

Emily seemed to learn to read by being read to - I am convinced she was determined to do it from when she was very small indeed, because as soon as she learned where those good stories came from she wanted to be able to get at them for herself. Though, like all children, she still liked being read to long after she could read.

They used to teach reading by a method called Phonics, where you learned the sound of letters - t, d - and combinations of letters - ch, gh. It was somewhat unreliable because the English language insists on having words like bough, cough, chough with are pronounced differently, though written with similar endings. But hell, it was a start. It did mean that, if confronted with a sentence such as "The four brown Labradors are in the kitchen" you did at least stand a chance of being able to work out what it meant.

Another system they tried was ITA - the Initial Teaching Alphabet. This exciting new system meant that children were taught to read a whole new set of letters, supposedly to simplify things, and then once they had learned it, they were told it was all wrong and they had to learn the proper letters now. A brilliant scheme, enough to put any child off reading for life.

Phonics became thought of as old-fashioned and not interesting enough, so they brought in Look and Say. The reasoning behind this was that, because adults read by looking at the shape of a word, not letter by letter, they thought children could learn this way too. Children with an aptitude for reading could indeed learn very fast by this method - but let's face it, those children with such aptitude would learn to read by any method you liked, no matter how daft.

However, for less able readers, it was a disaster. You either knew a word or you didn't. It was like reading Chinese. If you didn't know the word, you had no possible method of working it out. So, with Look and Say, "The four brown Labradors are in the kitchen" would be exactly that to some children. To others, however, it would be something like "The four brown Jiobrpdrs are in the pvythwn." with no hope of ever cracking the mysterious code of the words you didn't know.

So now they have hit on a brilliant idea and it is this. PHONICS. I heard a man explaining it on the radio. Apparently children are going to learn the sound of individual letters, and the sound of combinations of letters, and then they will be able to work out how to put them together. Amazing.

Sometimes I feel very old.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Spoonful of Sugar

Ah yes, here's one of those notices that never fails to get my attention:

What, I enquire, is the meaning of those inverted commas? Perhaps they mean: when I say pull I don't actually mean pull, as such, I mean that you should hold the handle and then move the handle in a towardsyouly direction.

But never mind - if you do yourself an injury in the nursing home (for that's where this notice is to be found) simply call for First Aid and here's what will happen:

Yes, Julie Andrews will come and sing to you:

In ev'ry job that must be done There is an element of fun You find the fun and snap!The job's a gameAnd ev'ry task you undertakeBecomes a piece of cakeA lark! A spree!It's very clear to meThat a...Spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go downThe medicine go down-wownThe medicine go down Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go downIn a most delightful way.

That's quite enough of that, thank you.


When things are difficult, which they are at the moment because of the Communist's illness, I find I can cope with the big things, partly because I have no choice.

So the endless pestering of doctors, hospitals, nursing home to get such basic things as the correct medication - - those I can do. But it does seem endless.

Why, for example, didn't they bring him any insulin? - - Well, a bit of investigation showed that on his notes it said "self-medication" for insulin. So they didn't bring it to him, because they assumed it was in his room. But, of course, it needs to be kept in the fridge, and that was where it was, and that was why he hadn't got it. My brother worked this one out.

Yesterday, they were still offering him morphine - which had made him terribly ill - instead of the new drug that the doctor had prescribed. And they had given him the wrong dose of statins. He's a pharmacist. He notices these things.

I rang the nursing home. "Please could you chase up the new drug he's supposed to be on? And also please could you give him 20mg of statins and not 10mg because that's the correct dose?"

"- - Oh, sorry love, I don't know anything about that, you'll have to ring his GP."
I rang his GP and spoke to the receptionist.

"Could you pass on a message please? Please could you ask Dr Dolittle to follow up the new drug that the Communist's supposed to be on because the nursing home don't seem to know about it. And please could you ask Dr Dolittle to get them to give him the correct dose of statins?"

"I'll ask Dr Dolittle to ring you when he finishes."

"No, I don't want that. I don't need to speak to him. I am on a film set and my phone is on silent. I won't be able to answer it. And I won't be able to ring back because your phone is usually engaged. Please could you just PASS ON THE MESSAGE?"

"Oh, well I'll have to write it down then - - "

It all seems to require me to be pleasant and very, very assertive at the same time. This has been going on for a few weeks now and I'm coping, but it's very wearing.

So - big things - I'll cope.

Little things - - well - -

I took three bags of clothes to the recycling place at the supermarket. The clothes bin had one of those metal windows that you pull foward to put the clothes in, and then you push it back.

I couldn't reach the handle to open it. And I'm not that short - five feet four is not tiny. I jumped up and down. No good. I looked for something to stand on. Nothing. I looked to see if there was anyone about. Nobody.

I dumped the three bags on the ground, swore very loud and very long, burst into tears, and left.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


It rained and it rained and it rained, as A. A. Milne once memorably wrote about the Flood in The House at Pooh Corner.

I was on my way to Huddersfield, where I am helping on a film, Babbling Fools, which is being made there. More of that in a future post.

I knew the weather was bad so set off at half-past seven for a journey which usually takes an hour. All was well on the M1 until I got to the usual exit, where the traffic jam tailed back right onto the motorway. So I carried on to the next exit, near Bretton Hall, and came off there.

Very slow and lots of water on the road - lots of spray - torrential rain - but I carried on slowly but surely until I reached Flockton where a harassed-looking policeman had put up a row of cones to block the road.

I turned off left and now everything suddenly became a bit different. Fields had become ponds full of surprised-looking dripping sheep. Water flowed down hills and gushed over walls. And every time there was a slight dip in the road, the road had become a stream of rushing water.

I carried on, driving through every stream across the road - and there were many - and turning left or right every time I found a Road Closed sign, which was often. On I went, without much of a clue where I was going, until finally I arrived at Emley. where I found a place to stop and look at the map, before driving slowly down into Huddersfield. It had taken me two hours, but could have been much worse, and it was fascinating to see how quickly the countryside was transformed into an alien landscape.

I watched a long, interesting and productive day's filming, and then I dodged the floods by coming home on the M62 and dodged the traffic jams by stopping at Hartshead Services and marvelling at their dried-up hot food.

I called in at the nursing home to see the Communist, who seemed a bit brighter and pleased to see me.

Gareth, as you may know by now, is the lovely fiance of lovely daughter Emily: he has lived with us for two years. He has been applying for jobs since finishing his Finals. Yesterday, in the downpour, he went for his first job interview, and got the job. He starts a week on Monday. Excellent.

I arrived home quite late and somewhat tired and just as I was about to go to bed, Emily rang with the interesting news that she and Gareth, on their way home from a friend's house, had run out of petrol.

It had been such a long day that one more bit to it really didn't matter so I set off to Scarcroft to collect them, and we all got home well after midnight.

As you'll know if you've read this blog before, I don't usually write it as a diary. But yesterday was unusual, and always interesting. I loved it all.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Just Count Backwards from Ten - - -

Here's a list of some consultant anaesthetists who once worked at a hospital in West Yorkshire:
You would think he would have known better than to study medicine, really, wouldn't you? How many patients made jokes about it in the course of his career? How many expressions of assumed hilarity did he have to assume?
I once taught in a classroom next to a Miss Lovely. That kind of name is just a strong hint that you shouldn't go into teaching. Why don't people pay attention to these things?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


"Come in, quickly," the Communist whispered conspiratorially. "I've got something to tell you."

"What is it?" I asked.

"The thing is," he said, "there are two girls here for the chemist assistant's job. And I can't remember the name of the second one. It's most embarrassing."

"Don't worry about it, Dad" I said. "It's a dream. It's the drugs you're on."

"So where has the first girl gone, then?"

"She hasn't gone anywhere. She was never here. It was a dream."

He thought about it. "Well that's a pity. I could remember that one's name. I'll just have to tell the second one that I don't know hers."

"The second one's not here either."

"Oh well, I'll give the job to the first one then."

"No - - oh, never mind. I'll draw the curtains."

The sun streamed in.

"So is it night then?"

"No, it's morning. Look at the sunshine."

"Hah! Your mother said it was night. She's got it wrong, hasn't she?"

"That was a while ago. It was night then."

"So is it night or morning?"

"Morning. Look at the sunshine coming in."

"Well if it's night time, it's really bright."

"No, Dad, it's morning."

"Your mother said it was night."

I changed the subject to one that I knew would get his attention in spite of the drugs.

"Emily's learning about Stalin for her history exam."

He brightened. "Stalin? I'll tell you about Stalin!"

I waited. But he was asleep.

Tragedy can be very funny, as Samuel Beckett well knew.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Hitting the Kids

I'm going to be doing some work about Child Abuse this week and was given some statistics as part of the preparation.

Here are just two of them:

About 7% of children suffer serious physical abuse
Physical abuse by other than parent or parent figure is uncommon

Parents these days worry tremendously about their children and won't let them play out in case they are hurt by a stranger. The statistics, however, suggest otherwise.

In fact, parents, you'd be better off letting your kids play out, because, statistically, the people most likely to harm them are you.

Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick

In the dark, shoulder-pad days of the 1980s, Ian Dury and the Blockheads were a little bit of light in the darkness.

John quoted just a couplet of Ian Dury's lyrics from Spasticus Autisticus as a comment on my piece about the truly dreadful verses that I found in some offices Somewhere in England on Friday.

Here's Ian Dury:

I wibble when I piddle
Cos my middle is a riddle

From just those two lines I think it's possible to tell that Ian Dury could write both well and with wit and originality. Unlike the woman (because yes, Emily, I think it very probably was a woman) who wrote

If you sprinkle when you tinkle
Please be neat and wipe the seat

which, as previously discussed, just makes me wince. Ian Dury's is superb because of the sound of the words: because of its openness: because of its unexpectedness.

And Tweeds, Pearls and Frilly Blouse Woman's offering is dreadful primarily because of the coyness of "sprinkle" and "tinkle" and the inclusion of that nasty word "neat". What "neat" ever do for the world? It's a couplet that thinks it's clever and witty, and it so isn't.

You see? Three years spent studying Eng Lit weren't wasted after all.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

A Child that Flies

A little while ago I wrote about that Joni Mitchell song Big Yellow Taxi - I had always thought it contained the line "They paint Paradise, put up a parking lot" and was most surprised to find they were, in fact, covering Paradise with paving stones.

Tonight Connie Fisher, currently playing Maria in The Sound of Music in the West End of London, explained to me about the flying child.

To me it had always been a line of mystery: I think you've quite probably heard the song before - it starts like this -

The hills are alive with the sound of music
With songs they have sung for a thousand years
The hills fill my heart with the sound of music
My heart wants to sing every song it hears

All clear so far. But then we come to:

My heart wants to beat like the wings of the birds that rise from the lake to the trees
My heart wants to sigh like a child that flies from a church on a breeze

I've always wondered about this flying child. How, I have wondered all my life - on and off: well, more off than on, really, to be fair - did the child fly? and what made the poor infant sigh? Are these flying children common? The simile would seem to suggest so. So why have I never seen one?

But tonight Connie Fisher explained it thus, as she sang the song:

My heart wants to sigh like a chime that flies from the church on a breeze

Aaaaaaaaaah. Mystery solved. Sometimes it's almost worth being a saddo who stays in doing the ironing in front of the telly on a Saturday night.

Wigan Premier Travel Inn Goes to Jail

Ah, it could have been so different. If she had had other parents, she could have been called Wigan Premier Travel Inn, for a start.

(I've got nothing against Wigan, by the way - spent a great day there once negotiating all the 23 locks in a narrowboat. Not being sarcastic - really enjoyed it!)

Firstly, Paris Hilton got really really famous because - - er - - no, I'm not sure why.

Then she was forbidden to drive because she was driving while drunk.

Then, obviously thinking that the above forbidding was some kind of formality that didn't apply to rich girls, she drove again, and was sent to jail.

She didn't like it. She cried.

"Hilton's lawyer suggested that she experienced genuine anguish in prison."

Unlike all the other people in jails throughout the world, I suppose, who are, of course, enjoying every minute.

So, obviously, they let her out again: like, I suppose, they let out everyone in jail who gets a bit upset.

But then they decided that this wasn't totally fair, and decided to send her back again, probably primarily so that we could all punch the air and shout "YES!" like I did.

But I don't think the prison sentence is enough. I hate the current cult of celebrity where people are famous for simply wearing clothes and being rich and photographed. Here's my suggestion. I am starting a NO PUBLICITY FOR PARIS movement. I call on all writers and all media everywhere to join me. All you have to do is never mention her again. Wouldn't it be fantastic? From now on, this blog is a Paris Hilton-free zone.

Friday, June 08, 2007

If You Can't Use the Sink

I love notices, as you may know by now. I found Gareth’s masking-tape design on my parents’ door most appealing.

But today, somewhere in England, I was working in a place that seemed to think it was part of the set of Ricky Gervais's comedy The Office.

“Help yourselves to tea or coffee,” we were told.

Above the sink in the little kitchen was a notice.


That’s the kind of trying-to-make-a-point-with-humour little rhyme that sets my teeth on edge.

Then, in the ladies’ loo, I was confronted with the full horror of the two below:

The bottom one (no, no, I’m not making a joke, I promise) was bad enough – here it is in case you can’t read my photograph:


The forced humour! The coyness! I am embarrassed that I am in the same universe as this rhyme. But the one above it is even worse. Put your hands over your eyes before you read it:




Who wrote it? And what did they think? That it was funny? Or witty? Or what? It doesn’t rhyme properly. (“Fix”, “Bits” and “Ticks” don’t rhyme. At all.) It’s not set out properly (if we’re assuming it’s a rhyming verse, then “With” should start a new line). It thinks that adding an exclamation mark to everything is a good idea. It uses that vile word “pop”, so reminiscent of “Now then dear, just pop up on this bed and let’s have a little look at your tummy”.

But again, it’s the arch isn’t-this-funny-it’s-nearly-rude coyness I can’t stand. It makes my toes curl and it makes me want to hit things very hard.

Thursday, June 07, 2007


I've never got involved with drugs, and in some ways it's been a bit of a disappointment to me.

I don't think of myself as staid in any way, but my drugs history would seem to say otherwise:

I have never smoked tobacco
I have never smoked cannabis
I have never tried cocaine
Or any other recreational drug
And now I can't even drink alcohol because of the tablets I'm on for diabetes

But I do drink quite a lot of coffee, though not enough to be interesting in itself

Ah yes, very commendable, but surely there's got to be a happy medium, somewhere between my track record, above, and being hooked on heroin for years? Smoking the occasional spliff, perhaps, just to show that you're not the kind of woman who has a preference for frilly blouses and tweed skirts and pearl necklaces?

I don't know why, but it just never happened. Something about never having liked parties much, I suppose.

Over the past few days the Communist has been on morphine for the pain in his legs. It has made him extremely confused and it has made him shake a lot.

This shaking rang a distant bell with me. I'd forgotten about it completely until that moment, but at some point when I was pregnant with Emily I had an operation and was then put on a drug that made me shake. I woke up, shaking, and asked them what on earth they'd done to me.

"It's the drug you're on, for the pain" they said. And I'd forgotten the name of it, because, as with the Communist, it made me rather confused too. Something like a cross between pompom and poppadum.

And then I remembered. Omnipom. But at the time I hadn't a clue what it was.

In the intervening eighteen or so years they have invented the Internet, so I googled Omnipom. They don't use it any more, so it took me a while to find, but finally I did.

And it's Opium. Now there's a Proper Drug. Hah.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Someone who Nearly Likes It

Thank you all for your comments on the Olympic logo. I think Silverback's idea of beaming the animated version onto the walls of Paris Hilton's prison cell is really most sadistic and cruel, and yet very very enjoyable even to think about.

I have found someone, however, who nearly likes the logo.

"Well, it's not bad, I suppose," said the Communist. Which is odd, because he usually takes a violent dislike to anything new.

I told him that, since he is currently drugged-up on morphine because of the pain in his legs, and is so woozy that he can't think straight most of the time, I am going to ignore his opinion on this occasion.

"I didn't say it was good, though," he said and went to sleep.

Thanks also to the person who nominated me in the Blogpower awards in the category of the Most Under-rated Blog - Ah were reet chuffed, as they say round here.

The Witnesses in the Tunnel

I've just watched that documentary that there's been such a fuss about. The one about the photographers in the tunnel the night Princess Diana died.

Of course, I knew from reading a few advance reviews that, contrary to all the photographs of shocked-looking William and Harry in some newspapers, it didn't show photos of the dying Princess - there was one of a doctor leaning into the car and you couldn't see much else. And that was it.

It was an interesting documentary, though it did that annoying thing where you get someone speaking French, and let them speak to camera for a few seconds, and then fade their voice out and replace it with a voice-over translation. I'd rather have subtitles and, even if I can't follow all the French, I can tell more the nuances of what they're saying. Also it mixed up real footage and reconstruction so you couldn't always tell which was which.

Yet it was interesting: it told how all the photographers were carted off to jail, kept in transparent cells with bright lights, while all the world blamed them for Diana's death and we all got swept up in all the hype - I'm no royalist, and yet I watched her funeral and found it very moving. Only the royal correspondent James Whitaker seems to have mentioned at the time that, even if the car was being followed by paparazzi, so what? The driver didn't have to drive so fast that he crashed, did he?

What this documentary was saying was, look, the photographers took lots of photos after the crash - well, of course they did, it was heading to be one of the biggest stories of the end of the twentieth century - but at the time they didn't think that she was actually going to DIE. Once she died the photos were unuseable and some of the photographers' houses were raided in search of them. One man thought he'd been burgled, but was told he hadn't been: "the men who came had a plan of your house and a front door key".

Two sides to every story, of course: and a few days later came the news that Henri Paul, driver of the car that Diana and Dodi Fayed were in, had very high alcohol levels in his blood.

Now, as the documentary pointed out, Mohammed Al-Fayed really had to cling to the theory that it was the paparazzi who killed Diana and his son, because otherwise the culprit was one of his employees, who was quite simply very pissed. And as a theory, that was far grubbier and duller and far less - - well, what's the word? Dramatic? Historic? Meaningful? Romantic?

Of course, too, one of the best manipulators of photo-opportunities was Diana herself: and, indeed, in the week prior to the car crash, you may remember all those photos of Diana and Dodi frolicking about on a yacht in the Med, keeping Charles and Camilla off the front pages and frightening the Establishment with the idea that the English Rose and the Swarthy
Foreigner might become engaged.

The dullest theory about the crash is probably the correct one. Diana wasn't killed by the paparazzi, or a plot by the Duke of Edinburgh - though he'd probably wished her dead often enough - or a plot by the British Establishment, ditto. She was killed by a drunken driver. Dying not like a romantic princess, but like hundreds of ordinary people every year.
Oh, let us hope that this was the last documentary about Diana's death. It has taken ten years to hear the photographers' side of the story. In about forty minutes' time you can, if you so wish, watch a debate trailed as "was Channel Four right to show those pictures?" I'm telling you, it didn't show them. End of debate.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Nobody likes it

Here it is in my slightly simplified version:

london 00000

Ken Livingstone doesn't like it, Tessa Jowell pretended she likes it but I bet she doesn't, I don't like it and neither do you, I suspect. The new Olympic logo.

Apparently Sebastian Coe has to raise half the budget for the 2012 Olympic Games in London from "merchandising" - which means everyone in the country has to buy about three T-shirts and one baseball cap with the Olympic logo on it.

So, you would think, therefore, that if they were going to spend four hundred grand on the design, and if it was really REALLY important that people bought things with this logo on them, they would maybe do a bit of a trial and pick one that almost everybody liked. Not one that the experts in logo-design liked, I point out. Or how about a competition? That would have been quite fun and made us all feel involved.

Now we just feel cross. The Olympic Games are costing a fortune. Us lot Up North don't feel the Games have much connection with us anyway. And now there's this crap design for the logo - already there are thousands of signatures on a petition to change it - and we're going to see it bloody everywhere for the next five years. FIVE YEARS!

The interesting thing is, they've come up with a design that everyone dislikes (correct me if I'm wrong and you like it, please) and, cleverly, everyone has a different reason for disliking it. Here are some I've heard:

don't like the colours
looks rather nineteen-eighties
looks like an unfinished jigsaw
has nothing to do with London
trying to hard to appeal to Youth and Youth always suss this and aren't interested
the supposed appeal to Youth alienates everyone over fourteen
you can't read the 2012 bit
it looks like a couple having sex (I make no comment)
it looks like the Nazi insignia
the animated version makes people with epilepsy have fits
it just looks a mess

The nation hasn't felt so united since the Second World War.
Object of Olympic Games achieved! Hurrah!

The Winding-Down Bird's Teacher

Here's the bird that taught the Winding-Down Bird everything it knows.
Thanks to John who sent me the link.

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Winding-Down Bird

I'm pretty good at recognising most common birds, such as all the ones which are currently emptying our well-stocked bird table twice daily to feed their growing chicks.

Here are some we see in the garden: Sparrows (little flocks of them - they may be rare in other places but not in our garden, oh no) blue tit, great tit, long-tailed tit, robin, blackbird, mistle thrush, song thrush, magpie, starling, crow, jay - - and, more occasionally, blackcap, chaffinch, jackdaw (that's the bird pictured on your blog on June 2, Mr Silverback) wren, that big pink thing, what's it called? - oh yes, bullfinch, greenfinch, the occasional owl and once, only once, I saw a goldfinch in the garden. And I saw some siskins in the park, which is pretty near so nearly counts. And there may be one or two that I've forgotten.

I'm not so good on the birdsong though. Even when you know the sound, it's hard to write it down. Which bird can everyone recognise? Only a few, such as the cuckoo, I'd say - and I love to hear its call, even though its lifestyle makes it it a bit of a bastard, really.

I was extremely surprised when, a few years ago, Emily changed my whole world picture by saying that an owl doesn't go To-whit- to-woo: it is in fact two owls, one calling To-whit and the other replying To-woo. It's taken me a while to accept that, I can tell you, but I'm getting used to it now.

The easiest birdsong, apart from the obvious ones, to recognise, is a stonechat, which I saw near the beach once: it makes a noise like two stones being tapped together. Herring gulls aren't bad, either - they go Aaaaar - - then pause for a second - and then popopop.

But many of the sounds that birds make we just don't have words for. The mistle thrush makes a loud and vicious-sounding noise, and the tits make little, sharp noises, and the robin sounds like - well, a robin.

Who could forget the Trimphone Bird of the 1980s, which could do a perfect impersonation of a trilling Trimphone popular at the time? It was probably a starling: they are good mimics.

But in our garden at the moment we have a Winding-Down bird. It makes a noise like a traditional ambulance siren - Ee-aw-ee-aw - ee-aw. It starts off high up, all cheerful and positive, and ee-aws down the scale a bit until after a few goes it appears to run out of steam and stops rather suddenly.

So you get:
Ee -aw

I told you it was difficult to write down. And I have no idea what it is. We've all heard it. None of us has managed to see it. We're all clueless. Any ideas gratefully received.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Green Fingers

Visitors are always telling me how lovely the garden looks, and they're right.
Here's under our kitchen window:

"The key to it," I say,"is to make sure your gardener is over eighty. Because by then they've learned a thing or two."

It's my mother who does all the gardening for both our gardens - about a third of an acre in total. She has been working on the soil since about 1959, initially with the help of her own mother, who lived with us, and who remained very active well into her late eighties.

Every last banana skin goes on the compost heap and is fed back into the ground. Any seed that hits the soil thinks it's in the Garden of Eden and grows mightily (hence my fig tree, see recent post).

My mother likes informal borders with lots of different shades and textures, and so do I: here's one of ours:

There are lots of characterful corners:

My parents' house, at the bottom of our house's garden, was only built in the year 2000, and at that stage their garden was a heap of rubble.

Here it was this afternoon:

There are many kinds of flowers and also lots of fruit and vegetables in their various seasons - plums, pears, blackcurrants, strawberries, raspberries, rhubarb, tomatoes, sprouts, potatoes, lettuce, cabbage - -

I claim no credit for any of it. All I ever do is say "Garden looks great, Mum."

Sometimes, on a cold February day, at dusk, my mother goes past the window with a trowel.

"Just doing another half-hour."

This could, of course, be why she's so fit, at eighty-three.

I get annoyed when I occasionally see television gardening programmes which imply it can all be done in an afternoon with a few pots and a bit of decking. A proper garden takes a lot of work and many years. A garden should have history as well as beauty.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Hirst in our House

A lot of fuss in the media today about Damien Hirst, who has cast an eighteenth-century skull in platinum and covered it in 8,601 diamonds - you can look at it here.

And what's he saying in this oeuvre? I think - and hey, it's not too profound an insight, is it? - the price tag of fifty million quid says quite a lot about art and money - art's worth exactly what someone's prepared to pay for it and we're only interested in this skull because it's so expensive. Because if you bought it you couldn't really keep it on top of the telly, as a daily reminder of both your wealth and of your mortality, because it would be a bit expensive to insure.

So you'd have to keep it in a bank vault somewhere and get a cheap replica to keep on top of the telly instead. And actually, if it was a cheap replica, I'm not sure you'd want it on top of the telly or anywhere else because it's not that intrinsically interesting. Looks a bit tacky, in fact, really.

But who knows - perhaps that's what Mr Hirst intended. Perhaps he's taking the piss out of art collectors who'll pay a fortune for something it's by someone famous. I rather hope he is. But wouldn't it then be glorious if nobody bought it? And, sadly, someone will.

But, now, this is more interesting. I am, as you may know, in Leeds, and Damien Hirst was at school with my brother, just up the road, and Damien Hirst, aged about fourteen, came to a bonfire party at this very house once, and, while everyone else was out watching the fireworks, he stayed indoors and drank up everybody's drinks and got really, really drunk in THE VERY ROOM WHERE I'M WRITING THIS BLOG.

(And, as I've mentioned before, my parents, whose house it was then, have never, ever forgiven him, and whenever his name is mentioned, they remark, in unwitting Life-of-Brian quotation, "Well he may be a world famous artist, but we think he's just a very naughty boy.")

So the room where I'm writing once contained the youthful Damien Hirst. Clinging to the walls and floor are minute traces of his drunken vomit. He, and hence all the genesis of his future art were to be found in this room.

I offer you our whole house as a piece of conceptual art called Damien Hirst Got Very Very Pissed Here. I'm very fond of our house, but not THAT fond of it. Every man has his price, and so does every woman. Offers invited, and if they're high enough I might throw in the fig tree too.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Municipal Decor

You've probably already clicked off somewhere else because Municipal Decor is such a drab title.

I work quite often in hospitals throughout Yorkshire and hence I spend quite a bit of time observing Municipal Decor. Here's a corridor where I had the joy of spending half an hour or so earlier this week:

Even the sunshine streaming in couldn't cheer it up much. Lots of old pipes, a fire extinguisher, woodwork and a carpet in used-to-be Beige and walls in used-to-be Magnolia.

I don't even have a problem with Magnolia - I know it's become a bit of a joke but if you're going to put pictures on the walls - which I usually am - then Magnolia is generally a half-decent background.

But this corridor had no pictures. It was entirely functional. That part of the hospital seems to be used mostly for educational purposes and this really wasn't the decor to stimulate creative thought.

The only thing I liked were the windows, which were Victorian originals and no doubt very draughty but well-proportioned and pleasing to the eye.

This building is quite an interesting old building and could be restored to look good as well as to be useful.

"Ah," the argument goes, "but the building works, doesn't it? It's warm enough and the rooms are large enough and how can we possibly justify spending money on decor when we haven't enough intensive care beds?"

That kind of argument is always wrong because the two things being compared always come from different budgets and it's a false comparison. We always seem able to afford things Those In Charge want to be able to afford.

But, as a nation, we don't care enough about hospitals - we prefer not to think about them until we have to, because of illness or pregnancy - and then we're often shocked. But, once we're better, we carry on preferring not to think about them. And that's why we end up putting up with places that look like this.