Sunday, September 30, 2007

Operation Tomorrow

Here's The Communist, who was looking very well today and who has moved to another ward, the surgical ward, where all the staff seem lovely and he's in a side ward.

He sends many thanks to all of you who have wished him well. He's second on the operating list tomorrow and I am to ring the hospital at two o'clock to see if he's back on the ward yet.

I can't think what it must be like to know that this is your last day with two legs. You can see in the photo the scar from his last operation, where they replumbed his heart with a triple bypass ten years ago - a miracle operation which made him instantly so much better.

I hope tomorrow's will work wonders too - though of course he's eighty-four now. Today he was wondering about how he's going to drive a car again. Of course the answer is "You won't," but I didn't say that - I think that it's great that he's thinking so positively about the future.

Here's to the Communist! I am hoping so much for the best.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Dreaming the Future

I watched one of those human-interest documentaries on Channel Five, out of pure kindness, so you don't have to. It was called something like The Man Who Dreams the Future. They all have titles like that, don't they? The Boy With Three Legs. The Girl Who Turned Green. They're all dreadful. But I'm a sucker for anything like that so, worse, I recorded it and watched it late last night.

It was about a man who looked like a second-hand car salesman, and one played by Ricky Gervais at that, and I distrusted him on sight. He told us all about the dreams he'd had that have come true. He dreamed, for example, about the planes crashing into the Twin Towers.

But, unfortunately, dreams like that tend to be a teensy bit non-specific. It's all "a plane crashing into a tall building and there were lots of flames". If he'd marched into a police station three days before it all and given the place, the time and the names of those responsible, I'd have even forgiven him his truly terrible shorts.

The last chunk of the programme was where the family of a poor girl lost in a plane crash in the desert in the USA asked him to try to dream the location of where she is. He dreamed a location! They flew round in a helicopter looking for it! They found it! Was the plane there? - - er - - no.

But hey, I know I tend to be a bit of a born sceptic, so I thought I'd open my mind a crack and give his method a go. What he does is write a question down before he goes to sleep and hope his dreams will answer it, though he seems to be quite liberal with his interpretations. "Cups always mean dead people."

So I tried it. Before I went to sleep I asked for a dream about the future, though I said I didn't want anything unpleasant. And it worked, at least partly. A short time later, there we were, me and David Bowie, sitting on a speckly green sofa, discussing his most recent film, which I had helped with in some unspecified capacity.

I told David Bowie all about how I first heard Life on Mars in my friend Fran's kitchen, many years ago, and thought it was great.

"Glad you liked it," he said, "but isn't this sofa hideous?"

When this happens in real life, you may be sure I'll tell you.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Pause for Thought

When I'm in the car in the mornings I listen to the radio. The stations to which I listen depend upon my mood.

If I want to hear a serious discussion about the Government's policies, I listen to Radio Four. If I want to hear that lovely duet from The Pearl Fishers - again - I listen to Classic FM (and sometimes I do want to hear it. Because it is lovely. It's just that they play it three times an hour). If I want to hear Serious Classical Music I listen to Radio Three. If I want to feel like an old fogey I listen to Radio One (though not for long, it must be said).

And - now we're getting to it - if I want to listen to inane banter and chart hits past and present, I listen to Radio Two. AND SOMETIMES I DO, so there. Nothing wrong with it. I'm only a little bit ashamed. But wait! There I am getting my guilty fix of Gloria Gaynor singing I Will Survive and Terry Wogan or someone flirting gently with the traffic woman and then suddenly, out of the blue, comes

"And now it's time for this morning's Pause for Thought, and this morning it's Kevin Bumpkin, Vicar of St Mary's, Little Giddings. And how are you this morning, Kevin?"

And Kevin starts telling us he's very well thank you but after five seconds of that he's into his broadcasting-on-the-radio voice with just a bit TOO MUCH warmth and humour and everything OVER-EMPHASISED SLIGHTLY just to show that although he's a Vicar he's just like a REAL PERSON, except one who wants to tell us a dreary anecdote about how when he was watching The X-Factor last Saturday (oh, yes, he watches it, just like a real person) he started thinking about the poor people of Zimbabwe and how they used to sing when he was over there blah blah wonderful singing blah blah troubled country blah blah trite conclusion blah blah world peace.

Has it not occurred to them that I was listening to Radio Two because I didn't want to think for a bit? And that if I wanted to pause for thought I would turn the radio off?

I might start a Campaign for the Abolition of Pause for Thought. Anyone out there campaigning to keep it?


I've just watched Mock the Week, which is an irreverent quiz programme about the week's news. This week's was an amalgam of the funny bits that hadn't made it to the previous shows in the series.

The word "fucking" was allowed. The word "cunt" (oh yes, all those years at Lip-Reading College have paid off) was bleeped out.

I do wonder who bleeped it. And why they reckon that the presence of The C-Word (as I have heard it coyly called, errgh) is going to corrupt those watching this programme, shown after the nine o'clock watershed.

In the same programme was a joke stating that, instead of a concert, a more appropriate tribute, summing up the essence of Diana, would have been a gang-bang in a minefield. Stunned silence from the audience who didn't quite know how to react to this tasteless joke about the D-word.

Actually, I didn't think that particular joke was very funny - a bit contrived - but hey, I think there has to be a place for thoroughly tasteless humour on television. And surely that joke has to be more offensive than the word cunt? Surely if you were the type of person who was going to be offended by the word, you wouldn't be watching the programme in the first place?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Hospice Smile

A friend of mine, an actor, was filming a video. A real social worker was in it too (because the clients hadn't realised that if you want someone to look real on screen, you need to get an actor to do it).

Our actor didn't think much of this particular social worker, who wasn't very good as an actor and didn't seem at all caring as a human being.

"Would you like to see my hospice smile?" she asked my friend.

Some people make me really, really angry.

It's Time

While I was at the hospital today, the Vascular Man turned up in a suit, looking Important. He is the next one down from the Very Very Important Surgeon, who is currently on holiday in Spain.

Vascular Man explained, very clearly and very well, that it is the Communist's choice as to whether or not his right leg is amputated.

If the leg remains, the Communist could come out of hospital: but the painkillers aren't always killing the pain. Also there's the risk of gangrene.

If the leg is removed, then it's 99% certain that the Communist will never walk again, because to walk with a prosthetic leg takes lots of effort and the Communist probably isn't strong enough.

It is very likely that the Communist will survive the operation. Which, by the way, won't be done under general anaesthetic, oh no, far too dangerous. It will be done with an epidural, as when women are giving birth. So the Communist will be wide awake.

After the operation, there is an 80% chance that he will recover and go home. Which means that there's a 20% chance that he won't.

And if the operation does go ahead, they will need to stop the Warfarin (which he's on to thin his blood and prevent blood clots.)

"I'd have it done if it were me," I said, "because it brings risks but it also brings the chance of a greater quality of life."

"It's an individual decision," said the Vascular Man. "Some people say that they came into this world with two legs and they're going to leave it with two."

"Well, that's not what I'd think," I said.

"Nor me," said the Communist. "I'm having it done. I've decided."

"Right then," said the Vascular Man. "We'll schedule it for early next week. We'll stop the Warfarin today."

Blimey. That brought it home to me, all right.

"He's determined to pull through," said David later, "because of Emily and Gareth's wedding. He's not planning on popping his clogs before that."

He paused for a moment. "Well - - clog."

We all laughed. Some things are too serious to cry about.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Another Grand Day Out

Few villages know how to nestle in their valleys as well as Kettlewell does. Here it is, nestling in Wharfedale in the Yorkshire Dales.

My friend David and did one of our one-day Escapes from Leeds today, and started walking in Kettlewell in the sunshine. It was freezing cold this morning, and there was a very strong wind, so we walked along the river to Starbotton, rather than trying to climb up onto the hills.

It's not at all a difficult walk - last time we went up the side of the valley and walked along the tops which was much harder - but even so I was aware of being less fit than usual: visiting the Communist in hospital has cut into my leisure time, of course, and much of it used to be spent walking.

Here's the river Wharfe on the way:

We arrived at Starbotton, a delightful village with an excellent pub where we partook of light snacks. Steak and ale pie with chips and vegetables and apple crumble and custard was my repast of choice (where are the Government posters proclaiming "Apple Crumble! One of Your Five a Day!"?) The pub is clearly used to starving hikers.

Here's Starbotton:

Fortified with all that food, we found a path parallel to the road and walked back along it to Kettlewell, across moorland and woodland.

It was a lovely day. I plan to do more of this sort of thing.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Real Person Discovered on the Internet

Since Silverback is about to migrate back to his winter feeding grounds in the USA, I thought it was about time he came round for a cuppa, since we've never met, and I'm glad to say he agreed.

Byron, the actor who was working in our office today - look out for him soon as pub quizmaster Harold Stamp in Emmerdale - had a Cunning Plan.

"Can I pretend to be from Eastern Europe and tell Silverback that I used to read your blog too, and called round three months ago, and now you won't let me leave, and that there are six more of us upstairs?"

"No, Byron." Bloody actors.

I didn't tell Silverback this in case he fled. But actually, it was great to meet him, I really enjoyed it and I hope he'll return for more tea and Jaffa cakes when he comes back from the USA.

He has seen the space shuttle launch! Now that, to me, would be amazing. I plan to have more adventures. I'm starting tomorrow with a trip to the Dales, which is not quite space-shuttle-launch exciting, but will be wonderful nevertheless.

Monday, September 24, 2007

ringing the changes

Church bells. People tend to either love them or hate them.

I love them, for many of the reasons outlined here. Listen, and see what you think.

The Last Green Leaves of Summer

The leaves are beginning to change colour now: here are some near where I live that are still green:

What a strange summer it's been. Weird weather, torrential rain, lots of flooding. Plenty of good things happening in our family, but all overshadowed by the Communist's illness.

I'm tired of strange. I want things to be normal. But I'm not sure what normal is. Strange is beginning to be normal.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

As Thick as Thieves

On his way home the other night, Gareth's biggish, fastish car started to overheat and - to cut a longish story short - because he knows about cars, he worked out that it was the radiator.

So he booked it in to the garage for a new radiator. Very slowly, stopping frequently so that it didn't overheat, he drove it to the garage.

That was yesterday. Today, the garage decided to move some cars around and so left Gareth's car, key in lock, engine running, outside for just a moment while they worked out where to put - - oh, it's gone.

For someone had jumped into the driver's seat and sped off in it.

All very infuriating for many reasons, primarily because Gareth needs his car to get to work but also because Emily's lovely coat and lots of cds were inside the car.

It will be messy and unutterably tedious to sort out, insurance-wise. The only tiny shred of pleasure comes from the idea of the Thickest Thief in Leeds using this car in some kind of bank job. Because yes, it will go fast - right until it overheats and stops dead. Because if you steal a car from a garage, when a mechanic is right in the middle of working on it, d'you know, it's entirely probable that there'll be SOMETHING WRONG WITH IT.

I feel very tired sometimes.

Daphne's Brain is Weird - Official

In the New Scientist this week there's an interesting article about the brain's ability to extract meaning from distorted signals.

It's a distorted version of speech called sine-wave speech. If you hear the sentence firstly in sine-wave speech, you can't understand what it's saying - "it sounds alien and unintelligible, somewhat reminiscent of whistling or birdsong."

But then, if you listen to the normal version, and then go back to the whistly version, the whistly version becomes words, because the bit of your brain that didn't know they were words has switched itself on.

Although nobody can understand the words the first time, once you've heard the proper version you can't "unhear" it and you hear it like that for ever after.

So far so good. But then Stephen, having told me none of the above, simply played me the whistly version and I repeated the words straight back to him and he was very surprised that I could do it, and could mostly do the other examples too, just missing the occasional word.

He thinks it's because my brain is weird, and points out that he has been saying this from time to time for many years now.

I think it's because I am so verbally-orientated that I expect there to be words in everything and am always looking for them - and, on this occasion, I found them.

Matt Davis of the UK Medical Research Council's Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge says that the sine-wave speech isn't speech-like enough to trigger the brain's speech circuits.

And, following the rigorous scientific test, above, I should like to say HA HA HE'S WRONG, at least in my case. Should I leave my body to medical science, I wonder?

Go on, you try it and see what you can hear. Here's the link. You have to listen to the sine-wave speech versions before the clear speech versions of course, though.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sociable and Victorian

My mother is a delightful, warm, kind person.

She is also very, very sociable. She likes nothing better than to be in a roomful of people, chatting and preferably dancing. She befriends everyone she meets. She can't wait in a queue for five minutes without exchanging phone numbers with the person she's next to. On a beach she'll join in with anyone's game of cricket or football. She will find out anyone's life story if she's with them for more than ten minutes, and then tell it to me later.

"That taxi driver who brought me home is doing a law degree. And he got married at twenty-three and he's got three children. He's from Wakefield originally - - " And I try to listen politely, though I've never met him and I'm just not interested and if that's my failing then it's my failing.

I'm not like that. I don't like large groups of people. My mother never, ever understood that when, as a child, I said "I don't want to go to the party," that was exactly, EXACTLY what I meant.

The other thing about my mother is that she was brought up by Victorians: my grandmother was born in eighteen-ninety-eight and my grandfather was born in eighteen-eighty-nine. So, as a child, she was never permitted to express a single negative emotion, because Victorians didn't. So although she's always, always incredibly kind, and always trying to help me, I have never seen her cry.

This combination of the tremendous sociability and inability to deal with emotions is driving me crazy when we go to visit the Communist in hospital.

I'm always busy, always short of time and so when, on the way through the hospital, she stops for ten minutes to befriend some child who's kicking a ball about, I find myself wanting to move on to get to see the Communist, and feeling guilty because of my impatience.

In the ward, she works her way round all the other elderly gentlemen on the ward, chatting to them all. They think she's wonderful. I am only aware that the Communist, who would like to talk to my mother above anyone else, is left talking to me while she does her Befriending thing.

Then the tea lady arrives and my mother finds out that she lives quite near us, and has twins, and a five-year-old, and how she gets to the hospital, and how long she's worked there and then the Communist says quietly "Talk to me while you're mother's nattering to her" and then I want to say to the tea lady, "Excuse me, could you please FUCK OFF because I DON'T CARE how many children you have, I am here to see the Communist and will you please stop talking to his wife during his precious visiting time."

But, of course, I don't, I just talk to the Communist and feel guilty for thinking it.

When we're about to leave, the Communist's eyes fill with tears because his wife and daughter are leaving and his leg is hurting.

"Now then, now then, don't cry, no crying," says my mother sternly, waving her finger at him.

Once we're out of the ward, I say to her, with more gentleness than I feel,

"Mum, if you're in hospital and you haven't been home for three and a half months and they're about to amputate your leg and you're in a lot of pain and you don't know if you'll live through the operation, and your loved ones are going home - - don't you think you're entitled to cry, just a bit?"

I can see that sink in and I can see how upset she is, and I feel guilty for saying it.

"Yes, but it's not the way I was brought up," she says.

"Well, try to change," I say, "you know that way was wrong."

She won't change because it's too late. Nothing to be done.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Discovery of Ghosts

Was it the Victorians who discovered ghosts? Certainly, they went in for the supernatural in a big way with all those seances and ectoplasm. What did ghosts do before the Victorians found them?

I suppose they were around before then: Banquo's ghost in Macbeth, for example. But I think ghosts kept a fairly low profile until the nineteenth century, when they started manifesting themselves and knocking on tables all over the place.

But, since then, ghosts haven't really done much, have they? The thing is, when we discover other things, such as radio waves or electricity or non-stick surfaces or North Sea gas, hey presto! We do all sorts of things with them and suddenly there are television sets and microwaves and mobile phones everywhere.

It's not been like that with ghosts, has it? We haven't really moved on with them. You'd think by now they'd be presenting television history programmes or solving murder mysteries. Stephen suggests that in the event of your murder, there should be a law that you have to come back and explain it to the police to save a lot of police time and taxpayers' money.

But no - we're still at the tapping-out-the-message, cold-feeling-in-the-room, mysterious-light-upstairs stage. Oh come on - what kind of progress is that in a hundred and fifty years?

Wouldn't you think that, by now, if there were any ghosts, we'd have proved it? I don't mean proved it to those people who think that any old medium doing that "is there anyone here who knows anyone called Doris?" thing is scientific proof.

I mean proper scientific proof. Repeatable every time. Plug in your ghost-detector and any ghost goes WOOOOO HERE I AM before walking through the wall towards you.

So, what if there never were any ghosts? What if it's all in our imagination and instinct for self-preservation, dating from millennia ago when, if you did leave the safety of your cave and go off somewhere in the dark, something might get you?

If there might not be any ghosts, therefore, would I stay all night in the spooky castle or in the graveyard?

Well, no, of course not, I'd be terrified. But you've got to admit it's a theory.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Only a Minor Crime

Walking through Gledhow Woods with David today, we came across this:

A couple of stones and a gap.

Closer investigation showed the gap is where a paving stone isn't:

There were several others missing in the area too. And it's happening all over Leeds, and probably all over Yorkshire wherever there are paving stones. Or, rather, aren't.

It's quite easy to turn up with a van late at night and just nick a few stones, which are very saleable. Sometimes half a street's worth disappears.

The council don't replace them, because they're too expensive: for a long time it all just looks a mess and in the end they tarmac it over and it looks dull and characterless for ever after.

To me, it's crimes like this - often thought of as comparatively minor - which really alter the feel of a place and make it a less pleasant place to be. And I resent the fact that people do this just to make money, with no thought to the impact on the place or on those who live there.

And that's why, non-violent peace-lover that I am, if ever I happen to be on a railway bridge holding a large piece of Yorkstone paving, and if the man who has taken it from its rightful place just happens to be directly underneath, I may just drop it on his head. Even thinking about it makes me feel better.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Dangerous Rocks Revisited

Thanks to Honey who pointed out that the safety sign for The Dangerous Rocks at The Deep (see recent post) is actually bigger than the rocks and could do with its own safety sign.

I suggest a small one, made of something soft and cuddly, next to it, saying Beware of the Dangerous Safety Sign, Do Not Touch or Climb on It.

Ah, I feel better now. Always good to sort out important issues of public safety.

I Do Not Wish to Share the Seas

What are these then?

Strange objects drifting round in outer space, perhaps, with a blue moon in the background?

Well, the moon bit's right. The strange, semi-transparent objects are moon jellyfish. The one in the foreground is upside down, and the other one has its circular top facing us, with the underneath facing away.

These particular jellyfish live in a big tank at The Deep in Hull. The blue bit is the top of the tank. The jellyfish are not really blue: they're almost transparent, but live in ultra-violet light so they show up more, and drift round like little blue ghosts.

Flanders and Swann wrote, about much bigger jellyfish, the Portuguese Man O'War:

I do not wish to share the seas/ With jellyfishes such as these/Particularly Portuguese.

I found the moon jellyfish fascinating and strangely hypnotic to watch, but I still don't think I'd like to swim with them.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Bring Them Home

Here's Pete Seeger's version of his fine anti-war song, in 1969:

And here's Bruce Springsteen's, which I heard him sing at the Sheffield Arena last year.

It's interesting to compare the two versions, both the music and the lyrics.

I love protest songs, when the song is good, as this one most certainly is: but, like agit-prop theatre , the song or the play has to be as powerful and brilliant, in its genre, as the message it's trying to put across. Otherwise you just feel you've been beaten over the head with the message.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Dangerous Rocks of Hull

Today we went to The Deep, which is a fantastic, and huge, aquarium in Hull. But it wasn't a very promising start, when we parked in the car park:

Yes, the rocks in the picture really are the ones that the sign refers to. Scary rocks, eh? I expect the Health and Safety Inspector looked at the rocks and said oh, no, you can't have those rocks without a warning notice. Someone could fall off them and graze their knee, or get a very slight bruise.

I fear we may be in danger of rearing a generation who can only walk in a straight line on flat ground, and only then if there's a notice giving them permission, and if there are special shoes provided.

But I'll tell you more about The Deep soon, because it's great.

When I'm Eighty-Four

It was all a bit of an anticlimax, the Communist's eighty-fourth birthday yesterday, because he had some kind of infection, was on oxygen, and was rather sleepy.

My mother went to see him in the afternoon, taking lots of cards which had arrived at their house or at our house (and thanks to those friends and relatives who sent them): when Emily and I arrived later on, there wasn't a card in sight.

Where were they? I searched everywhere - no cards. I was so upset to see this birthday-free zone that I rang my mother to see what on earth had happened to them.

"Oh, I put them out, and then he asked me to take them home, so I did," she said.

Ever since he went into hospital in the beginning of June, he's wanted all cards, letters and everything else taking home. "I don't want them in here," he says, "I want to see them again when I get home."

He might never get home, of course. And it upset me that the staff knew it was his birthday - we'd bought him two huge cakes because that's what he wanted, as presents for the staff - and it looked as though nobody gives a stuff about him.

Also, let's face it, it's better for him too if the staff see him as a real person with lots of birthday cards, rather than just as the patient in the end bed.

"Bring the cards back tomorrow, Mum," I said, "and we'll put them on the windowsill."

She did, and when we went to visit today there they all were, and he didn't mind at all but showed them to us rather proudly. He was much better today, much more like his usual self.

Our conversation was interrupted constantly by the new patient in the opposite bed, Chirpy Charlie, who hasn't a clue what's going on but is certainly enjoying it and emits a throaty chuckle every five minutes.

"Nice weather today, " he says, and "I know all about you, missus," and - - well, that's it. He doesn't say anything else. But he says these two phrases very often, to make up for it.

For his birthday weekend they have given the Communist a decision to make. On Monday he has to tell the surgeon whether or not he'd like them to amputate his leg.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Mad Carol and the Handbag

"Nice handbag, Brenda," said Mad Carol the hairdresser yesterday. Oh, the stories I could tell you - and probably will - about Mad Carol, who isn't called Carol and isn't really mad, just displays how life can be if you never listen to a word anyone says.

Of course, my name isn't Brenda, either, but Mad Carol has another customer with a similar surname and mixes me up with her and so usually calls me Brenda, except once yesterday when she called me Doris. It worries me that someone thinks that I look like either a Brenda or a Doris, because I don't feel as if I do.

I didn't give the handbag a lot of thought when I lifted it off the rack at the supermarket, except that it was large and had useful pockets and a place to put my mobile and cost fifteen quid which is about right for a handbag in my world.

But later on, an article about designer handbags in The Times yesterday took me into a whole new realm. Designer handbags, apparently, cost hundreds of pounds. For most luxury brands, the profit is between ten and twelve times the cost of making the item. At Louis Vuitton, it's thirteen times. Miuccia Prada, a designer of such things, says, "There is a kind of obsession with bags. It's so easy to make money. The bag is the miracle of the company."

My handbags see life. They follow me everywhere and are dumped in all sorts of places. They're for carrying all sorts of stuff around, the kind of things for when people go "Has anyone got a tissue/comb/pair of scissors/map of Worcester? - Oh, Daphne'll have one in her bag." Then they all laugh indulgently when I have.

But I couldn't stand it if my handbag cost a lot of money. What's the point? If a handbag is too expensive, it's because either you chose it for its beauty - in which case you won't want to use it much in case it gets damaged - or because you want everyone to know that you're rich enough to afford something that other rich people like. Why you should want this, I've never understood, but then perhaps I've never been rich enough.

I've never been poor, either, and I know I'm very lucky. But if ever I were to become really rich - and I can't see it looming on the horizon, I must say - I can never envisage a time when I might buy a handbag costing more than twenty quid. If you understand the Great Designer Handbag Mystery, kindly explain it to me.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Slight Change in Tone

I've just discovered that I know someone who knows someone who knows them. It's a small world like that.

But, other than that, I've nothing new to say, of course, because I know no more than you do. It's one of those cases where there's so much rumour and hearsay going on that it's hard to make any sense of it at all.

A while back I wrote that I didn't think the parents should have left their children on their own - no matter how near they were - while they ate out with friends. And I still think that was really wrong. And when I saw an interview with Kate McCann where she said that they'd had hundreds of letters of support saying "we do that all the time - you were really unlucky" I thought she'd really missed the point. All the people who do it all the time are really wrong too.

Now the tone of the media coverage has changed ever so slightly. Whereas before it was tragic Gerry and Kate, and endless sympathy for poor, fragile, photogenic Kate clutching Madeleine's Cuddle Cat everywhere she went, they are now hinting at darker things which they don't quite state.

When the papers say that both parents deny having given Madeleine a sedative, and that the parents said they'd only drunk a couple of bottles of wine but the restaurant bill showed that they'd bought far more, and that the young twins Sean and Amelie slept through the whole thing including the panic when Kate discovered that Madeleine was missing, what they want to write is this:

Ooh, what if the McCanns drugged all three of their children so they could go out with their friends, because they're doctors and would have access to sedatives: and what if they accidentally gave Madeleine an overdose and found her dead: and what if that was why the twins slept through it all? And what if the parents hid Madeleine's body and disposed of it later, using their hire car?

At the moment the newspapers, having previously totally bought into the McCann's story, and the visit to the Pope, and the posters everywhere, aren't sure which way to jump. But the slight change in tone, the slight distancing, suggests to me that they might be about to change completely. If it ever does appear to be proved - because appear is as much as we're ever likely to find out - that the McCanns were involved in Madeleine's death - then the press will vilify them as the next Moors Murderers. For two reasons: the press don't like feeling they've been taken for a ride: and also, let's face it, that would sell a lot of papers too.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Van Blah Blah Blah

I want a VAN. I've always wanted a van. For years I've been going round muttering this little chant to myself (not all the time, obviously, they'd have locked me up)

I want a van
I want a VAN
I want a van I want a van I want a van

Why do I want a van? Oh, reason not the need, as King Lear remarked whilst staring at a van almost exactly like the one below. Sadly Goneril and Regan had already swiped his and were off to Scotland on holiday in it.

There was the van, this weekend, parked tantalisingly just outside Dagmar in all its lovely van-ness. Green, too, one of my very favourite colours.

This van belongs to The Theatre Company Blah Blah Blah, which remains a very silly name for a theatre company, though they've been going for over twenty years and do some excellent work. They are generally known as the Blahs.

Why do I want a van? Well, you can do this sort of thing with them:

I think it's the idea that if ever you want to transport lots of stuff, you can. And it's that self-contained moveable-house thing that I love about narrowboats, too.

I can't justify getting one: I don't need one enough. But I want one.

If you're passing my house and see the one above parked in my drive, with the Blahs' logo painted over rather badly and DAPHNE'S VAN written on the side in shaky lettering, please don't mention it to anyone.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Don't Jump

Wandering through the streets of Leeds the other day, I was idly looking up at the To Let notice and I came across this young man next to it:

Intrigued, I zoomed in for a closer look:

He's clearly been standing there for quite a while, looking down and holding his shorts up, - a tribute to Victorian decency, surely - and I've never seen him in my life, though I must have walked down that street hundreds of times. I'm not sure why he's there: is he a famous Leeds landmark that I've just never noticed?

I reckon he's wondering whether to jump, but has worked out that, if he does, his shorts will come off, because elastic hasn't been invented yet. Shame.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Enjoy Yourself

You may not have heard of Guy Lombardo, but he sang one of the most meaningful songs ever. It has a jaunty tune and doesn't sound as if it's going to be profound, but here are the lyrics for the chorus:

Enjoy yourself, it's later than you think
Enjoy yourself, while you're still in the pink
The years go by as quickly as a wink
Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it's later than you think.

It always makes me cry. In Noel Coward's words: "How potent cheap music is."

I don't think I've enjoyed myself enough: I'm very work-orientated. I like work, I know where I am with it. If in doubt, I work. I find it hard for me to have any time off because there's always another job to do. You will always find me in the kitchen at parties (to quote another song). Now I see the Communist in hospital, wondering what happened. I remember him on his eightieth birthday, wondering aloud: "How did I get so old?"

And on Friday he'll be eighty-four, but this year's different: this is the year that the years have caught up with him.

I was thinking along those lines when we went to Spurn Point last weekend: I'd always wanted to go there and I never had before, which is daft because it's only eighty-seven miles away.

I've enjoyed helping with the plays today, just selling tickets as people came in (lots of people and the plays went very well). But I suppose that's work, of a kind. It's the work-free enjoyment that I need to work on.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Phoenix and Turtle

If you're in Leeds this weekend you could see Phoenix and Turtle, the summer company of Theatre of the Dales doing two open-air Shakespeares: A Winter's Tale at 2.30pm on Saturday and Sunday and The Tempest at 7.30pm both days.

It's part of the Headingley Festival and the plays will be performed in Dagmar Wood, which is just off Grosvenor Road, which is near Hyde Park Corner. It's easy to find - you'll see a group of people milling around just over a wall.

I've seen both productions before - the plays are abridged so you won't freeze if it's cold, but I don't think it will be cold. The casts are all professional actors and are excellent - the actors' agency I work for represents five of them, and some are in both plays.

Both productions are very entertaining and enjoyable and tickets cost a fiver. I'll be on the door, taking the money, I think, since I've volunteered to help.

If you're reading this in somewhere like Idaho, I can only apologise but you don't know what you're missing. And if you're in Leeds, come along.


In my dream, everyone tells me that Emily is leaving home to go to university.

I look at her, lying in my arms in her babygro.

"But she's a baby," I explain. "She can't leave home yet."

Everyone assures me that she will indeed be leaving home very soon.

"No," I explain. "Look at her little bonnet. Her tiny feet. Look at that wispy hair. She's only a baby."

"Sorry," they say, "but she's leaving."

Some dreams really don't require too much psychological interpretation.

In real life, as we walk down the hospital corridors to visit the Communist, I am trying to explain the difference between various types of showers for when she gets a new one.

"Power showers are good. Electric ones aren't - well, not those 7.5 kilowatt ones, they need to be at least 9 kilowatts or they're just a lukewarm trickle. Ones that work off the boiler are okay but if you have the kind of boiler that has a hot water tank you'll need to remember to set the boiler to come on or the water will be cold."

Emily pauses a moment. Showers in general are dear to her heart but I can tell she isn't fascinated by this information.

"Is this how you plan to plummet me into adulthood, with news of different kinds of showers?" she enquires.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

William Perks of the Rolling Stones

Thank you all for your comments on this blog - it's always good to get them, even if you disagree with me (heaven forbid!)

Silverback points out that the hospital staff can't really be blamed for calling the Communist "Ronald" since that is indeed his name - and it's a good point that Ronald is the name that's written on all the documents and, indeed, above his bed.

What I want is a place on all the forms for "What first name is does the patient prefer to be called?" and then two names above the bed:

known as MARILYN

known as ELTON

known as STING

known as BING

(such a shame Sting and Bing will never be in adjoining beds)

known as CILLA

known as BUDDY

known as BOB

(getting more tricky now)

known as DEMI

known as DIDO

known as BRIGITTE

known as FREDDIE

known as BENNY

known as FLUFFYKINS (ah, sweet revenge)

Now, how difficult is that? It's just that nobody's thought to put it into practice, have they?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Stem Cells

Most countries, apparently, have banned stem cell research, and the UK is the last great outpost of it.

Apparently some scientists want to mix animal cells with human cells to create an embryo which consists of about 99% human cells and then let it develop for a few days to create some stem cells.

Look, I apologise for the vagueness of this report from your Science Correspondent. At the time I was listening to it on Radio Four I was trying to back into a narrow parking space in the hospital multi-storey car park and that's not really one of my skills. Well, not at all, actually. So I may have missed some of the finer detail.

Back to the stem cells. These could, after lots of research, perhaps be grown to form a part of any organ of the body, and would therefore be very useful in healing all sorts of injuries and illnesses. Christopher Reeve, who played Superman in the films, and who became a quadriplegic after a fall from a horse, was a great believer in stem cell research. His autobiography Still Me is very good indeed.

But my point is that lots of countries, such as the USA, object, and have banned it, or almost completely banned it. The idea of mixing human cells with animal cells, even for a few days, is horrific to them, because of ethical or religious considerations.

The trouble is, because the science is so complicated, it is easy to creat shock-horror headlines along the lines of Half Man Half Giraffe or whatever rubbishy interpretation bad journalists can put on it.

I think that, provided laws are in place concerning the number of days that such embryos can be kept, the research should continue - it could do a lot of good. I freely admit that I don't, of course, really understand any religious arguments. I don't believe that it's God that we're concerned about here, it's ourselves: we wonder what could happen if it all fell into the hands of "terrorists" . Though, of course, the word "terrorist" means many different things to different people, and is bandied about far too loosely.

The very idea of mixing human and animal cells for any purpose makes a lot of us feel uneasy - but that doesn't mean that it's necessarily a bad idea: that's just our gut reaction, before we've thought about it. The problem is, I think, that it's really difficult to get to know accurately what's going on, or to understand it if we did.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


I hardly ever watch television programmes on the night they're shown: I always watch everything recorded, sometimes weeks later. So now, only a few weeks after it was on, I can tell you that I hate bloody wallpaper television like the programme Ganges which I just watched tonight.

They spent about four squillion quid sending some very clever cameramen to get a lot of wonderful footage of the source of the Ganges up in the Himalayas, and lots of wildlife, and the people of the region - - and it all looked very pretty. And that's all there was to it, really, because it had a commentary of such mind-boggling banality that it sucked any information out of your brain rather than putting any in.

We watched for ten minutes in surprised silence at the glory of the pictures and the dullness of the words. It didn't help that the woman who narrated it had a voice of exquisitely soporific blandness, and yet she tried to LOAD everything with MEANING by stressing RANDOM words to no PURPOSE and speaking QUIETLY in the hope of sounding MEANINGFUL. The whole thing was souped over by mushy music.

After ten minutes Emily remarked evenly, "Whoever wrote this script should be shot. And so should the woman reading it." The woman's name, I note, did not appear in the credits.

After twelve minutes I thought, privately, that shooting was too kind. Disembowelling with a spoon was my punishment of choice.

Everything was given equal weight and none of it seemed to be about anything much. "snow leopard - - vultures - - pilgrims - - Lady of the Mountains - - pilgrims - - gods - - naked couple copulating in a china shop - - sunsets - - splashing water - - pilgrims - - "

Except I lied about the naked couple and the china shop. No, nothing so interesting. This was television from which you learned nothing new - it all blended into a lot of pretty images one after the other, like watching chocolate boxes pass before the eyes. I feel sorry for the cameramen - they did a fine job and it was all ruined by everything that happened after they'd gone home. What a waste.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Two Tractors and Two Boats

Here they were, yesterday, on Spurn Point:

a tractor towing a boat:

and a different tractor towing a different boat:

I like them all, and I don't know why, and I like the bottom tractor and boat best, and I don't know why. I like most old machinery, and I don't know why, and I like things with big round wheels, and I don't know why.

Here ends another post positively dripping with wisdom and insight.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Beyond the End of the World

I once read a survey which stated that the city of Kingston-upon-Hull, more usually known as just Hull, is the city fewest people can place geographically.
If you start off from Leeds - which we did - which is roughly in the middle of the British Isles, and then go East along the M62, you will quickly find two things: firstly, there isn't much traffic any more, and secondly it all gets very flat, with a landscape of fields and power stations.
After sixty miles or so, you reach Hull, which feels like the City at the End of the World.
But today we kept going: our destination was even further. After another twenty-odd miles (and it is odd, if you're used to hills, like I am: it's FLAT FLAT FLAT) you get to some pretty villages, such as Patrington and Kilnsea: and finally you reach the wide mouth of the River Humber, and Spurn Point. (Emily continually refers to it as Sperm Point, and if you look at the shape, you will see why).

I've wanted to go there for years, and today was the day I finally made it. It's a long - four miles long - thin, hook-shaped piece of land with the North Sea on one side and the Humber Estuary on the other. You have to make a real effort to get there - you'd never, ever, be passing - there's nowhere to pass to.

The North Sea side is continually eroding and the Humber Estuary side is continually filling in, so the whole strip of land keeps moving. Here's the sign on the cafe at the beginning of it:

There used to be a railway line on Spurn and the tracks now point in completely the wrong direction.

If you love sand dunes, and melancholy estuaries with seabirds calling, and wild plants, and strange landscapes, and sunlight and clouds over the sea, and lighthouses, then you will like Spurn Point.

I, of course, love all those things.
After a substantial lunch in the cafe, we walked the four miles along to the end. In the middle section it's quite thin - waves wash right over it sometimes and there are fears it may eventually become an island. It's not a difficult walk - very flat and you really could not get lost since you can always see the lighthouse at the end. For quite a bit of it you can see two beaches at once - one on each side - and this, to me, is bliss.

Then we came to this:

and Stephen and Emily and Gareth all chorused "Ah, Daphne loves those!" And they were right, I do, though I'd be hard put to say why.

We reached the lighthouse at the far end, wandered about a bit and and walked the four miles back again to the car. It was a Grand Day Out, and no mistake.