Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Curious Introvert

I found this personality test on Bun's blog and couldn't resist having a go at it: thanks, Bun.
Here are my results:

Big Five Test Results
Extroversion (36%) moderately low which suggests you are reclusive, quiet, unassertive, and private.
Accommodation (88%) very high which suggests you are overly kind natured, trusting, and helpful at the expense too often of your own individual development (martyr complex).
Orderliness (60%) moderately high which suggests you are, at times, overly organized, neat, structured and restrained at the expense too often of flexibility, variety, spontaneity, and fun.
Emotional Stability (18%) low which suggests you are very worrying, insecure, emotional, and anxious.
Inquisitiveness (62%) moderately high which suggests you are intellectual, curious, imaginative but possibly not very practical.
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Hmmm. If you know me, feel free to comment on its accuracy! (Do try to be kind though: I am emotional and anxious, see above). Worry? Me?!

Do I recognise myself? Well, d'you know what, I am quite practical, in spite of what it says. It's possible to be imaginative and practical, you know! When I'm on, say, a desert island, and people have need of, say, a pair of scissors, or a safety pin, or a notepad and pen, or a rescue helicopter plus crew - - I'm the one who's always got it in my handbag. And then they mock me because I'm not spontaneous enough. Hah!

As for the rest of it - - well - - you decide.

Here's the Meme

I love reading things like this on other people's blogs - I've found this one on several that I read regularly.

So I hope you'll find my answers of interest - - and if you do it on your blog, please leave a comment and let me know! I find I've done this one rather seriously: - - -

My ex wasn't very significant to me. I don't have any significant exes. But he's probably in New York.

Maybe I should stop worrying.

I love the countryside, especially wild countryside with lakes, rivers or the sea, and being with my family and friends.

People would say that I don't stand up for myself.

I don't understand why people are often so bad at communicating with each other.

When I wake up in the morning I always feel a bit rushed.

I lost my first baby (and my sense of humour too, for quite some time). I felt lost without them both.

Life is full of things to think about, and some great people.

My past is a big part of me. Mind you, I'm moving forward too - - honest!

I get annoyed when people are insensitive and thoughtless.

Parties are best avoided. Simple times with friends, though, are great.

I wish I had more free time - - though I love my work.

Dogs know how to be happy.

Cats know more than they let on.

Tomorrow I will be attempting to sort junk. Again.

I have low tolerance of fools. Even though I am one, sometimes, of course.

If I had a million dollars I would buy a narrowboat and travel to distant places (not necessarily to all of them by narrowboat though)

I'm totally terrified of having any kind of disabling illness. I had a long period of illness in 1984 and I hated every minute of it.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Start Button

My brother Michael and his wife Deborah live in Amsterdam with their two almost unbelievably cute daughters Daisy and Flo.

They both work as actors, amongst other things such as translators and broadcasters. About ten years ago they made the track Start Button as part of a play, with music by their friend Gary Shepherd. The male voice is Michael and the female one is Deborah (could this be Daphne States The Obvious Again?)

Then, rather to their surprise, it became part of a compilation album and suddenly popped up all over Europe.

And now it's on Youtube. The accompanying video is not their work - - but here's the piece.

I've heard a lot of voice-overs, because I work with actors - - and I must say I think they've got every nuance of this one spot-on.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A New Definition of Easier

"So how long have you been in the supermarket?" asked Checkout Man.

"Like how d'you mean?" replied Daphne with Wilful Disobedience, entering into the conversation with gusto, as if it were a New Parking System Roleplay.

"I need to know how long you've been here in order to validate your Smartcard."

"Well, I don't know. And if I did I wouldn't tell you. I've just spent over £50 here and I don't think part of the transaction should be explaining how long it took me."

"But I need to know how long you've been here in order to validate your Smartcard."

"Yes, I know. But I'm not going to tell you. So please either validate it or call the manager."

Poor lad. He validated it.

At the Sainsbury's I sometimes visit in Huddersfield, they have introduced a new parking system.
Notice that word "easier" on the poster?

Before the introduction of the new parking system, you drove into their car park, you parked your car, you went shopping in the supermarket, and you drove off again.

But now there is a new system.

You have to queue to go in, and get a little card from the machine on the way in, and then get it "validated" at the checkout - though I think Checkout Man was being a little over-enthusiastic with its implementation - and then queue to go out again. If you spend under a fiver at the supermarket you can park for half an hour. If you pay more than a fiver you can park for up to two and a half hours.

So I think the word "easier" in this context can be taken to mean "more difficult".

Ah well, Sainsbury's would say that the reason for it is that some people were using Sainsbury's car park to park for free to go into the town centre, the evil criminals.

But, as I pointed out to Checkout Man, the car park was no less full than usual. What people will now do is to park there as usual and buy a few things from Sainsbury's - everyone can find something they need from the supermarket, surely? to get them some parking for up to two and a half hours.

So who benefits? Not the customer, certainly. Could it be Sainsbury's? Yes, it could.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Up, Up and Away

Michel Fournier, 64, was trying to do a parachute jump yesterday from the height of 40,000 metres. That's forty kilometres. Upwards. That's really rather a long way up.

The idea was that he'd go up with a great big helium balloon in a capsule that looked a bit like a silver telephone box. Then he'd jump out, taking about quarter of an hour to drop back down to Earth, and breaking the sound barrier on the way. And this would set a new world record.

But somehow - - and nobody seems to have an explanation as to why, yet - the balloon broke away before it was due to be launched, and soared up into the sky all by itself. Six million quid it had cost to get it all ready. They thought of everything. Everything except, apparently, getting a good strong piece of string.

Poor man! If ever there was an "awww NOOOOOOOO!" moment, that was it.

It was nearly forty years ago, on 21st July, 1969 that Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon. Events like yesterday's escaping balloon make me wonder how we ever managed it.

Outer Space is positively buzzing with extra-terrestrial life, I bet, and yet we've never met any, have we? Could this be because they're giving us a really wide berth? On their interplanetary map where Earth is, there's just a big red cross and an exclamation mark.

"No, really, Slrzg, you don't want to go there, honestly. They're just SO accident-prone."

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Long, Long Corridor

When I'm doing medical roleplay I spend quite a bit of time hanging around in corridors, waiting to be called in for my meeting with the student or doctor or nurse or whoever.

I generally look at my brief for the role. Even though by that time I generally know every bit of it, I always re-read it in case there's some crucial bit of information that I've missed. I don't think that there ever has been, but I like a last look just in case.

After that I sit around nervously for a while. I'm always nervous before doing a roleplay. If it's a simple and straightforward one, then I'm not very nervous: if it's one with lots of accurate facts to remember, or that I know will need a lot of emotion, then I'm generally much more nervous.

The ones I find the most difficult are the ones where, as the character, I have to have bad news broken to me, because I want to make my reaction as real as possible. Real, of course, in this context, doesn't always involve bursting into tears - I hate it when roleplayers burst into tears just because they can! - it involves the most genuine reaction possible to both the news and the way it's broken to me.

Anyway, once I've looked at the script, and sat around nervously, then the next thing I generally do is to take a photograph of the corridor where I'm waiting, because I always have my camera with me, of course, and I'm always rather intrigued by corridors and their strange way of being not quite anywhere. (I'll stop right there before I get into Pseud's Corner).

Here are some where I waited recently:

somewhere in Manchester:

somewhere in Leeds:

and somewhere Very Secret Indeed with lots of signing needed to get in: I was told it has a nuclear bunker underneath!

And then, after taking photos, if I still haven't been called in to the roleplay, I start thinking about things and I often start with my friends and relatives.

As I've told you before, I sometimes dream in verse. I dreamed about sitting there, in a corridor, waiting for a roleplay, thinking about people, and woke up with this:

Long, long corridor
Corporate blue
I'm thinking of you, and you, and you
And you, and you, and you, and you
Long, long corridor
Corporate blue

No, not the greatest poem in the world, I have to agree with you. But, for me, it sums up hundreds of hours, over the years, spent waiting in corridors.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Eccle Riggs Again

I'm still back in the 1960s, at Eccle Riggs, the hotel near Broughton-in-Furness which I wrote about yesterday, where we used to stay often when I was a child.

It was, in many ways, still back in the Victorian era. In the grounds were many plants that had originally been brought by the first owner, Viscount Cross, from the Empire - huge clumps of bamboo, for one thing. Years ago, a square of trees had been planted to make a playhouse for some children - perhaps the same Victorian children whom I thought shared the attic with me.

And of course, now, in the sixties, the trees, once thin saplings in a square, were huge, their trunks squashing into each other. There were huge rhododendron bushes and, in the spring, violets and primroses everywhere in the grounds. It was a place of secret corners, of fallen trees, of chaffinches.

Inside Eccle Riggs all was darkness, peace and wooden panelling. The three spinster owners, the Misses Preston, knitted dolls' clothes and sold dolls, complete with clothes, in aid of the local church. I was given one as a present - I still have it. Let's face it, I still have everything from my childhood really since I've lived in the house where I am now, on and off, since I was three.

Because the owners of Eccle Riggs were devout Christians, a lot of Salvation Army people tended to stay there and I remember them as being very friendly, if a trifle over-jolly. There was a big lounge with huge windows and tables with magazines. No television, of course, dear me, no. In the evenings we sat in the lounge and talked and read the many Readers' Digests that were about: I retain an affection for this much-mocked magazine to this day.

At nine o'clock in the evening the Misses Preston brought in a proper trolley with proper white tablecloths, teapots, crockery and home-made cakes. And, after that, everyone drifted off to bed, hoping the weather would be good for exploring the Lake District the next day.

If it rained - and, this being the Lake District, it sometimes did - there was the library.

Nobody but me ever seemed to go into the library, which was off the entrance hall and which was full of old Victorian books. Most were too heavy and too dull to be worth attempting - but there was some things I liked, such as a very early edition of Edward Lear's nonsense verse, and even that uplifting tale of that Welsh girl who tramped halfway across Wales to get herself a Bible in Welsh. I spent hours in there, reading dull poems by bad Victorian poets, and I loved it.

Such an atmosphere and such a place would not suit every child but oh, boy, it suited me. Hills and streams during the day: good food: plenty to read: places to make dens: freedom to run around outside.

Lucky? Yes, I was.

Idyllic? Yes, it was.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Up in the Attic

I've been to an excellent concert at the Quaker Meeting House in Rawdon, Leeds, tonight. It's always very peaceful there and it made me think of a hotel we used to stay at that had the same atmosphere.

It's not a hotel any longer: a publishing company is based there now. But there's still a photograph of the house if you click on Eccle Riggs.

Eccle Riggs is a large old stone hall near Broughton-in-Furness, which is a delightful village in the Lake District. Apparently it was once the home of Viscount Cross.

We stayed there often when I was a child. It was owned by the Misses Preston, three religious spinster sisters who were out to do good, in the best possible way. When we used to go there it looked like this old postcard: - oh, how many times have I swung on that swing! It had only been minimally modernised and was still essentially as the Victorians had left it.

I'll tell you more about the rest of it another time. Tonight I want to tell you about the attic.

We often went there in the Spring, at Easter or Whitsuntide. One time the house was very full of guests and the Misses Prestons asked if I would mind sleeping in the attic room.

Up right to the top of the house, up an extra flight of stairs, through its own little door, in amongst the eaves and the water tank.

I loved it on sight. I liked its sense of being apart from the rest of the house, that feeling of being in a secret room on some kind of adventure. I liked the swishings and gurglings of the water tank. I loved the stack of old Victorian paintings next to it, and spent a lot of time looking at them. I liked my little single bed in the corner, with all its old eiderdowns. And I loved the atmosphere of it.

I was a child who was scared of all ghosts, strange atmospheres and things that go bump in the night. I always slept with a light on. I still leave the landing light on at night, so that if I wake in the night I can see the light under the door.

But that room was all calm and comfort and safety, and I've never known why, really. The whole house was all peace and calm as a matter of fact, under the benign stewardship of the Misses Preston: but my room was the epicentre of it.

So in that room, for once in my life, I wasn't bothered about the light.

Which was strange, because I was pretty sure that there were Victorian children in the room. I never saw them. I never heard them. But I just thought that they were there.

I stayed there every visit from then on - it was "my" room. Eccle Riggs became a much posher hotel after the Misses Prestons sold it, with a swimming pool: and now it isn't a hotel at all. But I want to know if the attic room's still there. I expect the old paintings are long gone - but perhaps the atmosphere's the same. I'd love to go back and find out.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Goodbye Western Europe

"Goodbye Western Europe" said the Eurovision Icon Terry Wogan as the United Kingdom finished an impressive Joint Last, with most other Western European countries not that far above us.

Now he was a big supporter of Andy Abraham's UK entry - it was his wildcard vote that got it into the final in Britain - and he even made a comment that he'd have to think whether he wanted to comment on the contest again.

I can't share his enthusiasm for the song which was - - no, it's no good, I've already forgotten - - though Andy Abraham seems a nice bloke, ex-dustman, X-factor finalist and all that.

We here in the UK think that we're some kind of Europower. We remember the glory days of Sandie Shaw and Puppet on a String. The days when the immaculate Katie Boyle solemnly went through all the votes in three languages. The days when every country had a jury which said things like "Here are the votes of the German jury. Spain, one point, L'Espagne, un point - "

Now it's all done by telephone vote and - as I'm sure I said last year - the UK could have the most brilliant song in the history of the whole world ever, but we'll never win again.

We think we're important. But we're not. We're just a tiny bunch of islands off to the left. Nobody likes us, and nobody thinks we matter.

The Baltic votes for the Baltic and the Balkans vote for the Balkans and everyone votes for anyone they think they might need to keep sweet, which is any great big powerful country that happens to be nearby. Which country won, by the way? Oh yes, Russia. Surprise, eh?

And suddenly in the middle, up popped San Marino, giving out votes as if they were a proper country and not - as Emily has just suggested - a country invented entirely for the purposes of adding to the UK's hammering in this contest. "Quick! Let's get it up on Wikipedia and pretend it's real! The Most Serene Republic of San Marino!" And - just to add to our humiliation - it turned up trumps and gave us six points. So we have to be grateful to a country the size of this desk, with a population of three adults, nine children, two donkeys and a hamster, for six of our measly fouteen points.

I should mention in passing that the female host from Belgrade had won the Pan-European Contest for the Most Annoying Voice Ever. Or should have done, anyway. And we all know that, for the purposes of Eurovision, anyone can enter really. "Yes, I know we're just to the right of India, but we're really European, honest. All together now, Bobba Bobba Whee Hi Bobba Bobba Boo. See? We can be in Eurovision!"

Actually, there wasn't enough of that kind of thing. To me, no Eurosong is complete without a bit of it. These days, a lot of people tend to sing in English, which can put them at an advantage in that they're understood by more people. On the other hand it leaves the lyrics of your oeuvre out there, naked and exposed, in all their rubbishiness.

There is always someone out there who'll be there for you.
There is always someone out there who'll be true, true, true - -

Actually, I think that was one of the better ones.

I had a sneaky liking for France, simply because he had a backing group that went Badabooboobaba throughout. And Latvian's jolly pirates had a hi hi ho and a hi hi hay, which is the kind of thing I greatly enjoy.

The embarrassing comments of the representatives from the different countries who give the votes are always good. Hurrah! It's my two minutes of fame! Let's see if I can make it three minutes!

So everyone said how wonderful the hosts were (and they SO weren't) and nobody said "And here in Norway we can't help noticing what an annoying voice you have, dear. Couldn't Belgrade muster anyone else?"

And occasionally they really went to town, like Mr Finland who said,

"Hello everyone in the stadium! Why don't you make some noise for our amazing hosts! You deserve it, guys! Job well done!" I had to watch him from behind the settee and through my fingers. And poor old Bjorn from Sweden seemed to have been at the vodka and was barely capable of any speech at all.

Any songs that I liked? Well, the kitschness of the Latvian pirates, obviously. Sweden and Serbia both turned in good ballads. And I had a sneaking affection for Finland mostly because all the band had long blond hair like my son-in-law Gareth.

But the Russian song, the one that won? White suits and roller-skating. It was rubbish.

Until next year, dear countrymen, in Moscow. Where we'll come bottom. Again.


Ah, local papers, you have to love 'em. I remember once the Bradford Telegraph and Argus had a poster campaign that said, in big letters:

DULL DULL DULL DULL DULL - The Bradford Telegraph and Argus

And then, underneath, in much smaller letters:

It isn't.

Wickedly clever marketing campaign, eh? Stroke of genius. Except that when you moved more than about a yard away you couldn't read the "It isn't" bit of it, so you ended up with rather the opposite message to that which was intended. The campaign really stuck, though, at least with us lot, so that whenever anyone says the word "Dull" in this house somebody else can be relied upon to chime in with "Bradford Telegraph and Argus!"

And it may be an apocryphal story - I so hope it isn't - but I've heard that, when the Titanic sank, the headline in the Bradford Telegraph and Argus the next day was:


A copy of the Manchester Evening News came into my possession on Wednesday, even though I was nowhere near Manchester. I confess I found it on the train and no newspaper is safe from me. In fact, nothing with printed words is safe from me, at least until after I've had a brief look at it and decided it's not worth reading any further.

There was a headline in this paper that, for a few minutes, I just couldn't understand.


Now it was the end of a very long day, remember, and I'd been playing a woman with mania all day, and - oh, look, to cut a long story short I'd been up since four in the morning and my brain wasn't, perhaps, at its sharpest.

But my first thought was that someone called Mr. Cash, probably a member of the Nazi Party, was proposing to sack any business bosses who hired any people from ethnic minorities.

Then I realised that couldn't make sense, as then the sentence would have read "CASH OFFERS" - - etc, with an S on the end of OFFER.

Then I realised that CASH means MONEY. So I thought that somebody - as yet unspecified - was bribing Those in Power to sack any bosses of any company at all which hired ethnic minorities.

It still didn't quite make sense so I was reduced to actually reading the story.

And then I found out that fire was not as in "sack" or "get rid of" but as in "thing you make by rubbing two sticks together" and as in "that thing that burns buildings to the ground".

And what it turned out to be about was that the bosses of the Fire Service in Manchester are being given cash incentives to hire more people from ethnic minorities. Oh yes, and more women, but we didn't sound interesting enough to make a headline out of.

I'm glad we've cleared that up. Wonderful thing, the English Language. I'm off to practise climbing ladders and sliding down poles now.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Losing it All

I didn't want to see John Terry's face on the front cover of the Times today. I'd seen enough of it at the time. I don't want to see anyone looking as sad as that.

I saw the penalties in the Champions League final and it was really hard to watch, even though my knowledge of football is less than extensive, to say the least. So much riding on each shot! So much rain! Even I had to watch whilst peering through my fingers from a Dr Who vantage point behind the settee, and I wasn't really supporting either team.

And after it was over, of course, Manchester United looked pretty damned happy and the Chelsea team and supporters looked very upset.

But John Terry, as Chelsea captain, looked beyond upset - he looked like his world had ended, and I suppose that, in many ways, it had.

But come on - in a world where there's been two huge disasters, in Myanmar (formerly Burma) and in China, with thousands upon thousands of people killed or destitute - - why should we be bothered about a highly-paid footballer's distress? Especially people like me, who don't know much about football at all?

For various reasons, I think. Firstly, because human beings really, really can't understand numbers beyond a few, certainly not in an emotional sense. If we hear about fifty thousand dead it doesn't seem a thousand times worse than fifty dead. We may know it is - - but we don't feel it.

I reckon it's because people evolved, thousands and thousands of years ago, to live in smallish groups. We can care very deeply about our smallish group - family, friends etc - but anyone in need of our caring outside of that group needs to be drawn to our attention.

So when we see, say, a child who's survived the earthquake, it brings it home to us: that child suddenly is part of the group that we care about. But "fifty thousand" is a number that we can't imagine.

And when we see John Terry's stricken face, it brings it home to us too. And I don't think that caring about one means that you don't care about the other: I think it's just a fact about how people's feelings work. I think it's hard for anyone with any degree of empathy to look at that photograph and go "oh, for goodness' sake, it doesn't matter, it's only football".

And another point that struck me is that for all we go on and on about men being able to show their emotions these days - - well, they can't, in general. Not without running the risk of embarrassed laughter from any other men - and perhaps some women too - in the vicinity. There's still the feeling that "big boys don't cry" no matter how traumatic their experience. If you tell me that's not the case, well, I don't believe you.

So football matches, especially, and other sporting events, intermittently, are the only places where any public display of emotion from men is permitted in our society.

And, actually, I think that's wrong too. I think repressed emotion is very bad for people and leads to all sorts of health problems. I don't mind at all that men at football matches show how upset they are. I do mind that they can't show it in other circumstances too.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Geese and Goslings

I've always liked geese. Many years ago I was involved in a pantomime - The Magic Goose - about the old story of The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs.

The goose was made by an expert props-maker and it functioned rather like Rod Hull's Emu. The actor's right arm went into the goose's neck and head, and he had a fake right arm that went right round the goose so it looked as though he was holding it.

(Apologies to those of you who thought that Rod Hull's Emu was real. It isn't, and neither is that big green chick thing - Orville, that's what it's called. Father Christmas is real, though, so don't worry.)

The actor, Eddy Clayton, who was the owner of the goose in the play, became highly skilled at manipulating the goose. So he'd be talking to one character on stage, with all his attention apparently focused on them, and the goose would take on a life of its own - it would be trying to peck the set, or one of the other characters, or grabbing the clothes of one of the audience.

It was a huge success and I'm sure that many of the children believed it was real - some of the adults probably did, too.

In real life geese are a Good Thing too - full of character.

York University campus is full of geese at the moment, mostly with goslings: the campus is full of lakes and streams and waterfowl of all kinds. The goslings start out little, round and fluffy like the one in the middle of this photo:

Then they get a bit teenage-looking with big feet and long legs. Here are some that were eating chips, which some students were helpfully throwing to them. I expect, on a university campus, that goslings eat a lot of chips.

The only downside to this is that all these ducks and geese seem to produce a lot of Duck Poo and Goose Poo. I think that all the students' memories of Academe will be tinged with the squelchy feeling of having stepped in something.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Mad as Cheese

Today, somewhere in Great Britain, I have been playing a patient with mania, for an exam for medical students.

Mania is the manic bit of manic depression: it can also be hard to tell the difference between mania and schizophrenia.

This patient played by me had a lot of classic signs of it - she thought God was speaking to her, and sending her messages, and this made her very happy in a somewhat over-the-top way. I can't give you more details as it was part of an exam, but it was a very difficult scenario for the students to deal with.

It was very interesting to do, and the people I was working with were great. But it was soooooooooo tiring!

I had to get up early to travel to Different City anyway, and by the time I'd done the role a couple of times I looked in the mirror and found I looked about a hundred and three.

So I'm going to bed and hope tomorrow I'm both sane and looking a bit less ancient.

Sometimes I think I do some strange jobs.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Oakwood to Harehills

Last week there was a photograph in the newspapers of Tory leader David Cameron pushing a rather large child in a pushchair.

This provoked a storm of Harrumphing from lots of people, including, it must be said, me.

It was all along the lines of It Never Happened In My Day. No Wonder There Are So Many Obese Children.

But, of course, I can see why people do it. If the child is in a pushchair, he or she is far easier and more convenient to move around. The parents are often busy and trying to get from one place to another quickly and a dawdling toddler would slow them down mightily. And I can quite see why a wandering child and traffic-filled streets don't really mix.

When I was a child, my mother hadn't learned to drive, so either we got the bus, or we walked. Sometimes I enjoyed the walk, such as when we walked through Gledhow Woods and I could look at the flowers and birds and think about making dens.

Sometimes, however, I hated it. The walk that I particularly hated was from Oakwood to Harehills.

Oakwood is a suburban shopping area with woodland - yes, probably oak trees, in fact, the clue's in the name - and a kind of square with a clock: it's very pleasant.

Harehills may have hills but hasn't seen a hare in decades - it's very urban, nearer the city centre. It used to be the most densely-populated area in Europe: that probably isn't still true, but nevertheless, it's crowded and I didn't like it.

My grandparents used to live in Harehills, in some spanking new Sixties flats that had to be demolished a mere twenty years or so later as they were dropping to bits. In fact my family lived there too when I was small, in Lawrence Road, which calls itself Oakwood sometimes but I know it's really Harehills.

The shoe shop that we went to was in Harehills when I was little, and my incentive to go to the shoe shop - apart from new shoes, which I quite liked - was the shop next door, which sold ice-cream cornets with a sticky sweet topping in them, which I very much liked.

However, to get to the shoe shop we would get a bus to Oakwood and then walk down Roundhay Road, along where the tram track used to be, to Harehills.

I suppose it's about half a mile or perhaps a bit more. To me, it was the most boring walk in the world.

There were shops for a while, and then Gipton Woods on your left - but we never went into them - and traffic on your right. It seemed to take forever. Things do, when you're little. Interminable is a word with a lot of meaning when you're small and doing something dull and wish it would stop.

I didn't try to wander off, or run out into the traffic - I wasn't that sort of child. But I bet I did a lot of complaining and "Are we there yet?" And I bet my poor mother wished she could stuff me in a pushchair and go at twice the speed. But light folding pushchairs didn't exist in those days, it was your huge, heavy Silver Cross pram or nothing, so toddlers and young children tended to walk.

I expect it was good for me, all that walking. I enjoy walking now. Sometimes, when I'm doing medical roleplay at St James's Hospital, I even walk from Oakwood to Harehills. It's still boring. But at least it's my choice.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Long Time Ago in Italy

Today one of our actors got an audition for a commercial which, if he gets it, will film in Barcelona (and yes, I know that's not in Italy, in spite of the title of this post!)

"I hope it won't be like the last time you did a commercial in Barcelona," I said, "when there was such a terrible storm that filming was postponed and the commercial nearly got cancelled."

"What, you remember that?" he said, "That was years ago!"

Yes, I have a good memory: people are often surprised by it. Sometimes I think I remember too much.

When I was five, The Communist, my mother and I went on holiday to Italy, to Laigueglia.

Before we went, my parents taught me some Italian: how to count, and a few simple phrases: "Uno gelato, prego" - an ice-cream, please - is one that springs to mind.

I was happy to learn all this - I liked learning things: still do. I remember asking how it was all written down and being told "the same way that we do". I took this to mean that, although it might sound strange when you spoke it, Italian would be written down in English, and I'd be able to read it. I remember being very disappointed when I couldn't.

Still, they took lots of books for me to read: Little Old Mrs Pepperpot, and The Little Prince are two that I remember. Reading and swimming were my two chief areas of interest in those days: as soon as I worked out what both were I had been determined to learn to do them.

However, it never occurred to me that I might be called upon to say any of this Italian that I had learned.

On the beach my parents got friendly with an Italian family and somehow their daughter and I ended up reading a dictionary together on the beach: I read the English words and she read them in Italian. I got to the word "interpreter" and didn't know what it meant so pronounced it the best I could, which was INTER - PREETER rather than in TER preter.

Everyone present laughed uproariously in that "aaaaw the little child has made a mistake" way and I remember thinking "Hey, folks, I'm only FIVE" - although I had my sixth birthday on that holiday, in fact - "and you should count yourselves DAMNED LUCKY that I can do this at ALL."

I remember the terrible feeling of embarrassment, of being laughed at.

Another day my parents got chatting to an elderly man - well, that's how I remember it, he might well have only been forty - on the way back to the hotel.

The Communist, as usual, was keen to show me off.

"Speak some Italian, Daphne!" he said.

No, no, never. I was paralysed by shyness.

"Go on, count to ten!"

My mother joined in.

"Say something, Daphne. Ask for an ice-cream."

But I could not speak. I wished the earth would open and swallow me. I felt I was letting my beloved parents down big-time.

"Go on! I know there's lots you can say. Go on. Uno gelato - - "

No. I could not speak. No way.

Everyone looked at me for what seemed like an hour. The feeling of failure was unbearable. And yet I could not speak.

My mother, eventually, learned not to do that kind of thing to me: no good ever came of it.

But The Communist never did learn. Every restaurant, all my life, with foreign waiters. Daphne knows some Italian. Daphne speaks French. Daphne's learning German. Speak Italian, Daphne.

And yet I always knew he meant no harm. It was a cross between showing me off and heavy-handed humour.

The last time it happened was only a couple of years ago and I actually got up and fled the restaurant.

So, now, which is more sad? Pick an option:

The fact that he always did it, always joked about my reaction, never seemed to learn and never seemed to take on board how much it upset me?


The fact that he'll never be able to do it again, because it's most unlikely that he'll ever be in that kind of restaurant any more.


The fact that I never grew out of this kind of shyness, like everyone said I would? I'm nearly hiding under the desk just writing about it. Bonkers.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Renaming Smelly Aisle

In a comment on this blog a couple of days ago, Deb suggested that if supermarket aisles were to be labelled, say, Penis Related Items, or Soccer Paraphernalia, then the men putting up the signs might be more likely to notice the spellings.

This is indeed true: and it also made me realise that the reason we can never find what we are after in supermarkets is because the labelling in the aisles is all wrong.

Never mind all that "Cosmetics" or "Adult Cereal" stuff. - Though, actually, I rather like "Adult Cereal" - I'm always hoping it will be somehow a bit rude.

I suggest relabelling the aisles along these lines:

So if you just had ten minutes to do the supermarket, you'd get almost everything you need in this aisle.

See? You'd know exactly what would be in this aisle.

It would be the aisle equivalent of the Innovations Catalogue. You'd spend hours here.

Shiny new trowels. Big chunky spades. Big bags of fertilizer. Stick them in the garage and feel virtuous. Nearly as good as actually doing the gardening.

Ooh! Fancy mops! Fancy polishes! Makes you feel, if only you got round to it ever, that your house would be a Little Palace.



Self-explanatory - although your first thought might perhaps be of Paris Hilton. I know I said I'd never mention her on this blog again but she just keeps creeping in, sorry.

It would be far easier to find everything. Having a dinner party and can't be bothered to cook? Head straight for the YOUR GUESTS WILL NEVER FIND OUT section. All the Embarrassing Products will be in a slightly darkened aisle labelled EMBARRASSING PRODUCTS with a big pile of brown paper bags to put your Embarrassing Products in, with writing on the outside that says I've Bought This and I'm Really Embarrassed.

Supermarket shopping would be far easier. And probably more fun, too.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

These I Have Not Liked

Yes, of course, the proper spelling should have been HOSIERY, see previous post, and thanks for your comments on it.

And it's a word I don't like. Perhaps because it's one of those old-fashioned pompous-sounding words like BEVERAGES which I know I've grumbled about before on this blog.

There are other words I don't like and two that spring to mind are USED and MOIST. Clearly I'm not the first one to feel that way since I came across the two words in an internet gender test, to see what gender you are. It said I was female. I was pleased, since that's what I've always believed.

The word that I like least of any, the word that gives me shudders and shivers and ewwwwwwwwwwwwww nooooooooooo is - - and it might not be the one you expect - -


Horrible word. Freaks me out. I don't like the look of it, the sound of it, or the meaning of it.

And I don't quite know why. I think it's because it reminds me of a world I just don't understand.

My hairdresser (who, you may remember, is mad as a bucket of frogs) always says to me, "Oh, it must be lovely for you in your busy life to spend a couple of hours pampering yourself having your hair done."

And, if I were to leap up and slash her throat with her own scissors, I expect she'd think it an over-reaction.

I hate anything like that - anything that makes you sit still where you're not even able to read or watch television. Facial, nails, make-up, massage, the lot - - forget it. In my limited free time, I'd rather be doing something else. But sometimes I feel that, because I hate all that kind of thing, I'm not a Proper Woman since I can't join in any kind of girly chat about it. So the word PAMPERING makes me feel both bored and inadequate. No wonder I don't like it.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Hoisery in Huddersfield

As those who've been reading this blog for a while may perhaps remember, over a year ago one of my areas of interest was Smelly Aisle in my local Sainsbury's at Moortown, Leeds. They refurbished the store completely to make everything difficult to find, and in the process I think one of the builders must have been buried underneath somewhere.

So as you wandered round you suddenly encountered a Putrid Reek of Death which was not terribly enjoyable as you tried to buy your week's groceries.

Eventually I suppose the maggots consumed the corpse and now the Smelly Aisle smell has faded.

So much for Leeds. In Sainsbury's in Huddersfield they have a Hoisery department.

"Oy, Mike, get that sign put up."

"What's it mean though, Ted?"

"Like how d'you mean? What's what mean? Cosmetics? Y'know, make-up and that."

"No, not cosmetics. Hoisery. What's hoisery?"

"No idea. Who cares? Probably some women's crap. Just get the hammer."

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Pointy-Nosed Pony of Heslington

I visited the University of York's Heslington campus yesterday. Emily and I had a meal in the canteen (very good too) and then I had a wander round whilst she went to a committee meeting about the forthcoming Sex and Sexuality week that she's involved in.

I was a student at the University of Leeds and it was Concrete Hell when I was there. The York campus, however, is rather more attractive:

There are lots of streams and a big lake and the trees and greenery are a delight.

Ah, yes, but then there are the buildings. They were built in the 1960s and 1970s and hence look like this:

Yes, someone must have looked at these once - at least at the design stage - and thought they were really rather attractive. Wrong! Back to Concrete Hell again. But at least the surrounding greenery softens it all a bit. And there did seem to be more ducks and geese than people. There were a few students about, mostly, apparently, from the B. A. course in Juggling and Circus Skills:

If you click to make the photo bigger you can see the balls in the air (and yes, I know it's a bit of a rubbish photo, but I just turned round and saw them so clicked quickly).

There was also this strange creature:

It's the rare Pointy-Nosed Pony of Heslington, a mythical beast whose shadow haunts York University on sunny summer evenings.

Oh, all right then, since you are so keen to know, it is me taking a photograph whilst standing next to a bollard. The only explanation I'm going to give you is that the topmost ear of this creature is in fact my head, and my jumper was blowing in the breeze, and then I looked down and thought - - hey - - !

A very enjoyable evening and it was good to see where Emily's studying, too. Then I saw the signs for Hull York Medical School and realised I'll be working there myself soon, doing medical roleplay for an exam. So I've never been there before in my life - - and I'll be back there next week.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


You'll find them all along the Inland Waterways, at almost every lock on the canals.

Here are some:

Here are some more:

Some of these, as you can probably tell, were in the middle of a football match.

Here are some more:

Most of those pictured are children, but it isn't limited to children, most definitely not:

And they are all looking at this kind of thing:

which is a group of people taking a boat through a lock.

And all the spectators are known as gongoozlers, and what they are doing is gongoozling.

If you've never heard the word before you'll think I'm making it up, but I'm not: a gongoozler is someone who enjoys watching people and boats travelling up and down the canals.

In case you don't know, canals in the United Kingdom are interspersed with locks, where the water flows in or out to help the boat to go up or down a hill. It's always interesting to be in a boat going through a lock as the water rushes in or out: and it's also interesting to watch.

Wikipedia thinks that the term gongoozler comes from the Lincolnshire dialect gawn and gooze, both meaning to stare or to gape. But who knows? It's a great word - - and, actually, it's a relaxing and fun thing to do if you don't have the added pleasure of actually being on a boat.

These photos were taken in the summer of 2006 on my birthday narrowboat trip - the best day of that year, thanks to all involved - and hence some of the people on the boat or the bank may possibly be known to me. In fact, one of them, with long hair and a bandana, may perhaps be married to my daughter.

Shall I just mention winding-holes? A narrowboat is well, narrow, six feet ten inches - and can be seventy feet long. So it's hard to turn it round, and you have to do that in a specially wide place on the canals called a winding-hole. Which - you'd think - would be pronounced winding, as in a winding lane, or winding wool. But it isn't: it's pronounced winding, as in the wind that blows, and I don't know why.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Cleaning the Soil off the Soil

In the middle of the countryside near York, my daughter Emily is digging up a field.

Not just Emily, of course. Quite a few others. Archaeology students from York University, led by some Field Archaeologists (and that's a proper term, oh yes, I'm picking up the jargon).

Now this is what is called Rural Archaeology, which means it's a Field, as opposed to Urban Archaeology which means it's a Town.

Somewhere in this field is a Roman burial, and somewhere else may lie the corner of a Roman villa.

But it's a big field.

Emily's group, excitingly, came across some footprints preserved in hardened mud. Using all their deductive powers they worked out exactly to whom these belonged - - the previous team of archaeologists to dig in that field! - - No, it's not all like Time Team from the telly, you know, where they dig for twenty minutes and find a perfectly-preserved Roman mosaic.

Emily's lot also discovered the previous team's test pit - the first pit that's dug to see what kind of things might lie in a particular piece of ground. In the test pit the current diggers found a Neolithic arrowhead, which taught them a vital piece of information about Homo Sapiens. What it taught them was that even archaeologists can be careless and miss things sometimes.

Archaeologists dig using a variety of tools, from a bulldozer to a very small trowel, depending upon the size of the site and the intensity of its likely contents. Sometimes, if it's a particularly interesting site, they pack the whole site up in plaster of Paris and take it home to excavate it with a toothbrush.

Emily has been using the Trowel and Wheelbarrow approach, whilst some of her bigger and stronger co-diggers have been using mattocks to break up rocks.

"Do you want a hand with that?" asked Helpful Male Student as Emily painstakingly pulled a wheelbarrow full of rocks up a hill. "No, I'm fine!" she said contemptuously (her word) oh no, she may be very slim but she's not a weak girly, no way. So she pulled the wheelbarrow up to the spoil heap and then an interesting moment occurred when she and the wheelbarrow did a strange little dance together before they both fell over and its contents landed on top of her.

To examine the different layers below the surface, archaeologists must make sure that the layers are kept separate. So this means that they spend a lot of time cleaning one lot of soil off another lot of soil. In fact that's what they've been mostly doing all day. Cleaning the soil off the soil in the sunshine, and finding very little, except soil. And a few worms.

Emily was wearing camouflage trousers, a grey vest and a kind of Rhinestone Cowboy hat - excellent for keeping the sun off - plus a lot of sun cream when she arrived at the site this morning. This evening I met her at the station and she was wearing all the above plus a thin layer of dried mud over everything. There is a time for a Big Mac, and this was it, so Emily and I took the mud into Leeds City Station McDonalds and had a good talk about it all.

Tomorrow, of course, I expect she'll find a vast hoard of Roman coins. But even if she doesn't, I think she'll enjoy it.

Monday, May 12, 2008

On Soldiers' Field

Soldiers' Field, near Roundhay Park in Leeds, has always been a part of my life - only ten minutes' walk from where I live and very pleasant too, with lots going on.

The field got its name, apparently, from the fact that soldiers from the nearby Chapeltown Cavalry Barracks used to train there.

Once, many years ago, my mother, brother and I came across a very respectable-looking Indian gentleman holding a piece of string which went up into the clouds - he informed us that there was a kite on the end of the string. Can this memory be real? My mother remembers it in exactly the same way, so unless it was a hallucination on the part of both of us, it probably was.

More usually, there are people playing cricket or football and here are some I saw earlier this week:

Lots of little boys kicking footballs about at some kind of football school.

They were very small and very cute: I enjoyed the way they were concentrating as they tried to make the ball obey their feet.

Nobody noticed, or cared if they did, as I moved in to take the photographs and in fact I wished later on that I had taken more.

Of course, gentlemen, if you had tried this you'd be in a police cell by now. That's one thing that's changed since my childhood, all right.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Antichrist is In the Caravan

On the hottest day of the hot summer of 2003 - the day it was 104 degrees Fahrenheit, 40 degrees Centigrade - we arrived, in a heap of heat, at a campsite in the south of Brittany in France.

I know many places are hotter, but I had never been in heat like it, and never have since. I'm fine in the heat as long as I can get into the sea, or into a swimming-pool, and the campsite had a pool and was near the sea. So far so good.

But there was a problem with the caravan: the shower wasn't working properly, so we couldn't get into it while they fixed it. And our swimsuits were packed in the suitcase, which was deep in the boot of the car along with all the other paraphernalia - we had the Communist and my mother with us and had therefore brought most of the contents of their house including a couple of dozen umbrellas and a shovel in case of snow.

The job of telling us this Shower Disaster News fell to a young representative of the holiday company. Where he had gone terribly wrong was in having a lip piercing, and my mother had never seen one, and she decided the whole thing was his fault - which it clearly wasn't, and the poor man was obviously doing his best - and she decided there and then that he was a Very Bad Thing.

We lay under the shade of a pine tree all afternoon whilst the heat blasted us: I have never, before or since, felt so hot that I simply couldn't move. Emily was feeling slightly unwell but I was sure that it was just the heat.

Finally we got into the caravan. The shower leaked. My mother decided the solution to this was to spread newspaper all over all floor surfaces, so that we could tread soggy newsprint into everything. We tried to humour her.

Lip-Piercing Man kept coming to try to sort it out, and we had to keep him away from my mother in case she killed him.

Then, a couple of days later, Emily and Mum encountered him again on their way to the swimming-pool. To go to the pool you needed a wristband and one of these had got lost. Lip-Piercing Man asked them for a deposit of three euros or something for a new one. My mother told him this was ridiculous and said she wasn't going to pay it. Emily wished that the ground would open up and swallow her.

Later on, Emily and I were returning from the camp's shop. As we approached our caravan, we heard raised voices, as poor Lip-Piercing Man made one last, valiant attempt to get the shower mended, give us a year's supply of free wristbands and do anything, anything in his power to pacify my mother.

Emily looked at me solemnly.
"The Antichrist is in the Caravan," she said, in a phrase which has passed into Franks Family History.

Oh, we enjoyed the rest of that hot, hot fortnight in August 2003: we went on the beach, swam in the sea and Emily went horse-riding and we swam in the pool. But my mother never forgave Lip-Piercing Man for his perceived crimes and failings and gave him a stern Schoolteacher Glower whenever we encountered him.

Five summers later and Emily has lots of piercings, including lip-piercings. My mother has got used to them. Time is a great healer.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Meat Without Feet

Each year, worldwide, people eat 240 billion kilos of meat, and in the US they eat a million chickens every hour.

I eat meat: I have sometimes thought of giving it up, but never for very long, because I like it too much, and because most veggie food that I have had is very nice but would be even nicer with an accompanying pork chop, or steak, or piece of chicken.

I'm choosy about which meat I buy. I always, for example, choose British bacon from pigs that are not kept in factory-farm conditions. I had a tour round a French factory farm where pigs were reared a few years ago and it was horrific, because pigs are intelligent animals, and these pigs were kept in horrendously crowded conditions on concrete, and the only time they saw grass or trees – if indeed they ever did – was when they were loaded onto the lorry that was taking them to slaughter.

The French farmer's take on it, however, was different. Look how healthy they are! They have all the best food, and all the best vitamins, and they never go hungry! (En francais, naturellement).

Last week Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) put forward a prize of a million dollars to “the first person to come up with a method of in vitro meat at competitive prices by 2012”. The idea, which is beginning not to seem too far-fetched, is that you get the stem cells from an animal and grow them, in a laboratory, into meat. Not, perhaps, a leg of lamb exactly, but more a chunk of meat which you could mince and make into spag bol or a pie. It could be healthier, too – harmful saturated fats could be removed and omega-3 introduced instead, for example.

Then you wouldn't have to use up so much of the planet's resources feeding the animals – it can take 16lb of grain to produce 1lb of meat - and the carnivores would be happy, and so would the animal rights campaigners, surely?

Well, many purist animal rights campaigners think that eating meat is a Bad Thing no matter where it comes from, apparently. Many think that even using the stem cells from animals is deeply wrong. Which is, I have to say, a load of bollocks of the kind that leads the most stupid of them to release domestic animals into the wild to die a slow, painful death, in the misguided belief that this is some form of kindness to animals. (Notice how I just sneaked that little opinion into this carefully-reasoned piece?)

Of course, the offer of the prize has caused chaos within Peta itself as many of their members think that people should just be vegetarians, and they think that the prize is totally immoral.

My first reaction to this proposed test-tube meat was, like many people's I suspect, along the lines of “Ewwwwwwwwwww nooooooooooooo!” But I think that's just the cry of the carnivore who doesn't like to think too hard about where their meat comes from.

I don't have anything against this test-tube meat on principle, I think, though the idea does take a bit of getting used to.

As usual with such issues, it isn't clear-cut. Presumably the members of Peta who thought of this prize are hoping that, if people must eat meat, then laboratory-grown meat will improve the treatment of animals. People will eat lab meat. Factory-farming will be abolished. The little lambs and calves and piglets will be free to gambol freely in the fields.

Except they won't, will they? Because there'll be hardly any of them.

I think the idea that people will, globally, be prepared to give up meat is pie in the sky (Pie In the Sky. Made with Quorn and Vegetables). It's fine to campaign for the better treatment of animals, and a good way to help this is by buying meat that comes from animals that have been well-treated.

But the idea that people will somehow all agree to become vegetarian is a nonsense. And if Peta's ideas – and those of similar groups - are put into practice, then animals simply will not be bred for meat, and there won't be many domestic animals. The initials will stand for People for the Extinction of Tame Animals – and perhaps that's what they want, but I don't agree with them.

Yes, we should eat less meat, though we in the West will find that difficult. Yes, the test-tube meat idea is one worth pursuing. And yes, we should treat our cows, pigs, sheep and other domestic animals as well as possible. And then we can kill them humanely, and eat them.

Honey's Question

A few days ago, Honey asked me a question in a comment on another post.

She asked me "If you could pass on one line of wisdom, what would it be?"

Well, I've been thinking about the things I've learned over the years in the hope of coming up with something mega-wise, and I haven't really managed it, so here instead are a few things that I'm sure of:

Actors who can do comedy can always do everything else.
This discovery interests me. It's not something that I've been told: I've just worked it out from years of watching and working with actors. The reverse is not necessarily true at all. I met one actress, who'd just had a regular role in Casualty, who said to me, "I don't do comedy. I don't understand what causes people to laugh, and I never attempt it. I just stick to roles with no funny lines because they wouldn't be funny if I said them anyway."

I think it's something to do with the fact that actors who can time a comic line can also time a serious line, or a tragic line - they've just got good timing. And actors who understand what makes something funny also can understand what makes something sad, or moving, or tragic - they just seem to have a better understanding of the human condition.
I'm sure that this applies to those who aren't actors, too.

Trust your instinct about people, rather than any apparent logic that your brain might tell you.
I always think that thinking about things is the thing to do. And sometimes, when meeting people, it just isn't: you can end up as tangled as that last sentence. As I've said before, whenever I've trusted my instinct I've been right. On the few occasions I've let my brain overrule my instinct, I've been wrong. Though this might not be a universally applicable piece of wisdom. Perhaps I've just got good instinct. Or a crap brain.

And, of course, there's much wisdom in the little song from which I've hijacked the line at the top of this blog:

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.

I've always been a bit of a workaholic and I'm trying to learn not to be: though I do enjoy my work. At the moment I'm enjoying the Spring, too, amongst other things. Here are some new leaves on the trees in Roundhay Park, Leeds, last night:

It was really rather late and was beginning to get dark, after a fantastic sunny day, and I liked the bright green of the leaves against the darkness.

If you have any lines of wisdom, please let me know.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Back to Black

According to a survey, apparently, she is the person that most girls aged under twenty-five would like to be.

So either the survey's wrong, or most girls under twenty-five are deeply stupid.

For, seriously, would anyone in their right mind want to be Amy Winehouse? To have her talent, perhaps: to have her life - - - oh, never. But she's a fantastic singer: when I heard Back to Black on the radio for the first time it already sounded like a classic to me.

Watching the What Really Happened? television programme made me understand one reason why I like Back to Black so much: she's very much influenced by the female singers of the 1960s and so it sounds, to me, like a Proper Song.

It's easy to blame the bad-boy husband Blake Fielder-Civil. Of course he's not entirely to blame: but he hasn't exactly helped to stop her taking drugs, has he? And okay, many women find a bit of a bad-boy image attractive, though I've never really been one of them. But, oh, for goodness' sake, it's possible to take it too far, and both he and Amy are heading for a drink and drugs-induced death unless something stops them. Their caricatures on Headcases are just not funny: they're too accurate.

If I met her, I wouldn't like her and she wouldn't like me. I don't understand the desire to take drugs and never have, and that's just me and if it means I'm not cool, I don't care. And the world is so full of people with very little talent doing their best with it - and there's mega-talented Amy, throwing it all away, and I want to yell at her. But I also feel sorry for her and there's a bit of me that wants to make her a cup of tea and ask her where it all went wrong.

She doesn't seem able to write a song without experiencing the torment first. And this song moves me every time: I love it. I don't know why it affects me so much, since my life and experiences have been so different from hers and - luckily, I know - I've never been through a messy relationship such as she describes in the song. Songs with strong emotions do tend to get to me, I know.

But I don't like the video. I have to listen with my eyes closed and I recommend that you do the same.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

On the Lawn

The weather's been glorious this past couple of days and suddenly everything's in flower. Our top lawn, which was only mown a couple of weeks ago, is speckled with dandelions, like little suns.

In amongst the dandelions are other things too.

Dandelions and forget-me-nots:

Dandelions and daisies:

Dandelions and violets:

Okay, so perhaps we don't have the neat stripes, but I prefer the flowers. And we do have the neat edges - see the top photo - and here amongst the dandelions is the eighty-four-year-old gardener who neatened them: my mother Joan.

Many thanks to Silverback who took this superb photograph of her yesterday. I can see the young woman in the eighty-four-year old, because - as she said when she saw the photo - "Oh, I do look happy!" Of course, she's very fit and her hair has hardly gone grey and she looks younger than her age anyway - but I think this photo really captures her personality.

She was outside - and she loves being outside - doing one of the things she likes doing best: gardening. Wonderful.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Old Pear Tree

Today, for the first time, the weather seemed to have bypassed Spring and moved straight into early Summer, which is my favourite time of the year. Sunshine and flowers and all the Summer still to come!

The huge old pear tree is in full blossom and looked wonderful against the blue sky.

I've known that tree almost all my life, of course - my parents moved to this house when I was three. In 1999 we bought the old Victorian house from them and they had a house built in its grounds, where my mother lives now. The Communist, of course, now lives in a nursing home, but at this time last year he was still at home.

My uncle and aunt came to visit this morning, on their way between their home near Manchester and my cousin - their daughter's - family home in Harrogate.

My uncle is my mother's brother. When I was a child I stayed with them a lot - they lived near Stockport then - and they were always very kind to me and I always had a lovely time with my cousin: she is two years younger than me.

One year we found a clover plant that grew nothing but four-leaf clovers - we picked and pressed lots in the hope that they would bring us luck for many years to come. We played a lot of Cowboys and Indians - my cousin had a tepee and we did a lot of lighting fires and trying to make smoke signals and saying "How" to each other in a not, perhaps, politically-correct manner: but this was long before politically-correct had been invented, of course.

So this morning my uncle and aunt were on their way to see my cousin, who is married with one daughter, two years younger than my daughter, in a strange repeat in the next generation. Our daughters played together as children, too, and stayed with each other, as we did.

"So," said my kind aunt this morning, "are things easier now your father's in the nursing home?"

"They should be," I said,"but they're not. Because he spends all his time wondering when he can come home, and he'll never be able to."

I found myself looking at the pear tree, and thinking that, when it was in blossom last year, The Communist was at home, and I was suddenly very upset.

"Look," said my aunt, "we don't see you so often these days, but please don't forget, we're there for you, in any way that we can be."

She hugged me and I was suddenly about eight again. In a good way.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Four Things

Thanks to Bun who tagged me to do this. I haven't linked to his blog, though I normally would, simply because he's asked me not to publicise his blog at the moment.

Four places I have been:

Inside my head. Not sure whether this counts but I've spent a lot of time there, usually on a beach, when the rest of me was in, say, double maths on a Friday afternoon at school, or doing a dull job.

On a beach: yes, a real one, just about any beach, especially one with biggish, yet swimmable waves and rock pools.

On a narrowboat: Lovely scenery in the countryside: fascinating history in the city: wildlife to watch: towpath to walk along: bacon sandwiches to eat. And I'll be going on one again fairly soon, hurrah!

Up in the hills, with sheep, and dry stone walls, and views across the valley.

Four jobs I've had:

Temporary job for six months as a clerk in the Civil Service Department of Customs and Excise in Cardiff in 1979. Mostly in my memory for lovely ex-policeman Bob, lovely clerk Julie, a never-ending card game, and the whole office singing "Oliver's Army" every afternoon with ice-cream every single day of a long, hot summer.

Television feet-putter-on for National Panasonic near Cardiff. I did it for six weeks. It was more boring than even my job as an envelope-stuffer in Cardiff, or a jeans-packer in Leeds. Notice how I snuck three jobs into this paragraph? And a question, too? - - sorry, two questions!

Teacher of English and Drama at various schools such as the one where Neil Walters - - ah, I'll never forget him, the little poppet - used to take an orange with razor-blades inside it to football matches at the weekends, or the one where David Jones used to set everything on fire.

Roleplayer and facilitator for the training and assessment of healthcare professionals of all kinds: I'm still doing that one, and I love it.

Four of my favourite foods:

Most kinds of fresh bread

Christmas Dinner (turkey, please)


Chicken with bamboo shoots and water chestnuts, preferably with fried rice, though I know it's bad for me so usually have boiled rice. This was the first Chinese dish I ever tried, at the old Man Fang restaurant in Leeds in the sixties, and I've loved it ever since.

Four scenes from movies that I wish I'd written and directed:

Now look, I've seen ridiculously few feature-length films. And, as I've probably said before, I don't know why not - - except that I always seem to be rushing about, so will watch a television programme that lasts half an hour or an hour, and yet not a film that lasts an hour and a half. But here goes:

The battle of Helm's Deep in the second of The Lord of the Rings films. I've never been in a battle like that, and hope I never will be, but I thought this was a wonderful evocation of it.

That scene at the end of The Railway Children where Jenny Agutter is standing on the platform and sees her father amidst the steam from the train, and cries out "My daddy! My daddy!" Makes me cry just thinking about it.

That scene in Alien where John Hurt is eating the beansprouts and the alien bursts out of his stomach. Splendid stuff.

I'm stuck now. Shows how many films I've seen - or rather, how many I haven't. So for my fourth one I'm going to cheat and mention Etre et Avoir, a wonderful French feature-length documentary about a year in a tiny, remote village school. There's a scene where a boy who lives on a farm is trying to do his maths homework and, one by one, all the family chip in with their different ideas on how to do it and what the answer is. I'd like to pick that scene: along with every other scene in the film, because it's just glorious although, as I said, it's cheating because it's a documentary.

Hey! But I've just remembered the football match with Brian Glover as the PE teacher in Kes which is one of my favourite films ever. Fantastic! So now I've got five scenes, but hey! it's just too bad.

Now I can't - as usual - tag anyone else to do this as I'm just too shy, in case they feel they have to, and they don't want to. But if you do want to do these four things on your blog, please let me know when you've done them.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Special Effects Sighted Over London - Several Actors Drowned

Hercule Poirot: "So, are you saying that Central London is now at risk?"
Tom Courtenay: "I’m afraid so."

In the beginning there was The Towering Inferno. I remember watching it in the little cinema in Tenby, years ago. It was all about a skyscraper which set on fire: this could be seen as entertainment in those oh-so-innocent days before the horrific events of 9/11. It even had Fred Astaire in it, though he wasn’t asked to put on his top hat and tails and dance, sadly.

It spawned a whole genre of films known as Disaster Movies, each one trying to be more spectacular than the last. Earthquake! With glorious Sensurround!

They were all basically the same - - we get to know and – hopefully – to care about the characters, and then some of them die heroically, and some fall in love, and some emerge, battered and bruised, at the end, and the man who’s done something bad in the past redeems himself and then dies.

Now they have made a really rather remarkable remake of the whole genre, and it’s called Flood, and I’m watching it now, and it lends a whole new meaning to the phrase “unbelievably dreadful.”.

It has an all-star cast, and oh, boy, does it need it, because they have been given some of the most unsayable lines to be found on screen ever. Just to give you the flavour, I have jotted down some of them for you.

"You need to go to the Thames Barrier - - there’s a problem!"

Hercule Poirot – oh, okay then, David Suchet - is the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister – whoever he or she is – is conveniently away in Australia.

Scotland Yard is represented by Joanne Whalley, whom many of you blokes will remember with something approaching tremendous affection – oh, okay, mostly lust then – as the very attractive nurse who had to put cream on Michael Gambon’s bits in The Singing Detective whilst he tried very hard to think about anything that wasn’t erotic.

Okay, men - - that’s enough of thinking about Joanne Whalley in her nurse’s uniform, can you come back to my blog please? Hello? Shall we hear another line from Flood?

"We’ve lost Tony to the storm. For his sake, please, hear your father out!"

Poor old Tony found himself in Scotland at the beginning of the programme, and since the whole thing started with Wick suddenly getting covered in water, we knew that Tony was a goner, because let’s face it, this is a programme about London and so anyone in any bit of Scotland is completely expendable (sorry Malc). Tony was the equivalent of those extras in Star Trek who are the first ones on the new planet, and you’ve never seen them before, and you’re sure as hell never going to see them again because we all know they’ll be dead in the first minute.

Tom Courtenay’s the father who’s neglected his family. What did Robert Carlyle – he who used to be Hamish MacBeth and was then in The Full Monty – say about him?

"The only thing he cares about - - dramatic pause – is himself!"

And Tom’s playing Professor Morrison who gave the Awful Warning that the storm was going to be far worse than anyone suspected. Anyone suspected, that is, except me. And anyone else watching, obviously. At the start of the programme Tom was at his grand-daughter’s christening in what I think – though it may have been too subtle – was a kind of metaphor - - christening - - water - - geddit?

Let’s have a few more lines from it, shall we?

"Sir, with all due respect, this storm is not behaving within expected parameters."

"Why weren’t we given any warning?"

"When this gets out there’s going to be panic on an unprecedented scale."

"I never believed this could happen!"

I’m not giving you any more. Every line’s like that. I can’t write them down fast enough. Did I mention the dramatic music that never stops for a moment? Did I mention how the picture freezes on a close-up of, say, Hercule Poirot, and says things like:

“Scotland Yard. 9.58am.”

Nigel Planer’s in it too, he who was the long-haired hippie in The Young Ones.

In response to ""So the worst of it’s over?" he replied

"I believe so."

Well, we didn’t believe so. There are hours and cruel, interminable hours of it to go. It carries on tomorrow night. As I write Robert Carlyle and some American bird have jumped off the Thames Barrier and are floundering around in the water. People are panicking all over the country. I expect they’re trying to get away from their television sets and start playing Scrabble instead..

As a movie, it’s certainly a disaster. This has been Daphne watching it, so you don’t have to, and writing this on the laptop in front of the television, because I couldn’t wait until the end to slag it off.

Let us think of better films. May the Fourth be with you.