Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Faster Connection to Heaven

Three miles from Tenby is the idyllic and delightful Caldey Island. It's owned by Cistercian monks who live in an Italian-style monastery and make a living from growing flowers to make perfume, and growing cocoa beans to make chocolate. Okay, they don't grow cocoa beans, but they do make chocolate, and it's delicious. You could, if you wished, buy some from their website, and their perfume and shortbread too.

Beautiful beaches:

Wild flowers everywhere:

Cliffs, wild waves, rocks, seals:

Yes, gorgeous. My mother grumbles her way round some parts of it every year, because the monks have the effrontery to put up the occasional statue of Christ on the cross, and she disapproves mightily because she thinks it's a cruel image and she doesn't like religion.

"But, Mum, they're MONKS. Religion is what they do. And they own the island."

"Well, I don't think they should have put up this statue. Horrid."

Anyway, thanks to Ruth who sent me the link to a news report today. The monks of Caldey Island have got thoroughly fed up of their slow dial-up connection (yes, we broadband junkies remember with a kind of affectionate horror that er- erererer- er -er er - noise as the dial-up dialled up). So the monks have acquired a shiny new broadband connection.

The BBC report has a pretty picture of the island and a lot of facts about how broadband will help the monks. And the person who wrote it is to be commended for introducing no element of innuendo or Smut in any way at all.

Unlike the person who's writing this blog, who has a happy image in her head of all the monks gathered round their computer at this very moment, looking at websites with titles like Teen Nuns with Very Dirty Habits.

On the Phone

All I wanted to do was pay The Communist's telephone bill.

So I rang British Telecom.

The first person I spoke to asked for his account number, and couldn't understand it no matter how I said it, so passed me on to a second person.

Person 2 could understand the account number, but said it didn't exist.

"Where did you get it from?" he asked suspiciously.

"This piece of paper which has BT BILL written on in. It follows the words Your Account Number so I guessed that the account number might follow."

"Does it have any letters in front of it?"

"No. Just a number."

"Hold on." The line went silent. Finally it rang again and I was through to Person 3.

This person seemed to be able to make the account work.

"Thank you," I said, "and could you change his surname so it's correct? It should be double S not double F."

"Sorry? I'm afraid I don't understand."

"Double S. Two of the letter S. Not double F. Not two of the letter F."

"Sorry? I will pass you on to my colleague."

"Can I help you?" asked Person 4.

"Well, you're the fourth person I've spoken to so I hope so."

"I am very sorry for that." - - And she was fine. And finally she understood the new spelling, after two or three goes. And paying the bill had taken about four times as long as it should have done.

Then I got another phone call later: a lady with such a very strong accent and such a very quiet voice that I could only make out the word "Nassinome." Which wasn't a word which made any sense to me. Could she repeat what she'd just said, but more loudly and also more slowly?

She said exactly the same thing in exactly the same way, culminating in the interesting word "Nassinome."

I thought she might be a wrong number or a cold call and very nearly hung up, until I remembered that I'd been confused this way before.

"Are you from the nursing home?" - -- Yes, she was. And after only a couple of dozen "sorry?"s and "pardon?"s I managed to get the crucial piece of information which is that the hospital has arranged transport to take the Communist to his eye clinic appointment tomorrow morning.

To start with the BT call: well, I don't know whether the call centre I was speaking to was abroad, but everyone I spoke to was foreign, and they all had very strong accents, and I found them hard to understand, and I'm used to hearing lots of different accents. A couple of them were having problems understanding me. And, as those who know me will testify, my voice is clear, loud and, if not quite Standard English, well certainly hovering around Northern Posh. (Girls' grammar school, 1970s, it's not my fault, honest).

It's very annoying: don't BT know that? When you ring up with a perfectly straightforward, everyday kind of query and find yourself struggling to understand what's being said to you, and struggling to make yourself understood, you find yourself getting very cross very quickly.

The case of the woman from the Nassinome was not just annoying, but upsetting too. Is she the one who'd ring to tell a son or daughter that their parent has died? In any case, if she'd tried to tell my mother anything at all, no matter how crucial, my mother would be neither able to hear her (too quiet) or understand her (too strong an accent).

The BT people were all Asian and the Nassinome woman was from the Caribbean. So my complaint could be taken to have racist overtones. But I would be just as cross if they had, say, an impenetrable Glasgow accent. If someone's job involves talking to members of the public, and they have a strong accent, then they should be trained to speak loudly and slowly and clearly. But firstly, Those In Charge must understand that it's important, and I think that's a fair way off.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Lacking Vision

The Communist's vision was getting more and more blurred in his left eye and suddenly he couldn't see at all.

The nursing home called Dr Death - the doctor whose general policy of "take half an aspirin and come back if it's not better in a year" nearly caused the Communist's demise last summer. Emily had visited the Communist and told him to put a rocket up Dr Death to get him to Do Something.

Much to our amazement, Dr Death did. He sent the Communist to hospital yesterday, and Emily kindly volunteered to go with him.

Of course, it took all afternoon, and the Communist was completely exhausted when he got back, and they still don't know what it was but think it might be, perhaps, a bleed in the back of the eye. The Communist's diagnosis (he was a pharmacist, of course) is that this could have been caused by the Warfarin he's on to thin his blood and prevent clots.

This morning, when I visited the Communist, he was finishing his breakfast and when we went back to his room the remote control for his television was missing.

I searched the room, the drawers, the floor - - everywhere. No sign of it.

Well, of course, he can't read really as he can't hold a book steady and anyway his eyesight's very bad at the moment so he really needs his television. It's one of those that can't be turned on and off easily without the remote control.

Unwilling to leave him sitting there in his wheelchair, alone in his room with absolutely nothing to do except think about the loss of the sight in his eye, I found several nurses and care assistants and told them about the missing remote control. I could tell they didn't think it was a priority, so I went and found the manager.

I told her I had searched the room to the best of my ability but there was no sign of it. I pointed out that there was no way the Communist could have lost it, since he can't move. And - warming to my task - I asked why his glasses were still missing, and had been missing for over two weeks, and explained that lots of other pairs of glasses had appeared in his room but none of them was his.

She was a bit taken aback and asked me to show her. I went up to the Communist's room and counted the little pile of spectacles, which I had placed on top of the bedside table about a week ago, pointing them out to a nurse at the time.

"One - - two - - three - - four - - five!" I said with triumph. "But none of them is his. So there must be five people here without their spectacles, and nobody seems to have noticed."

The manager looked a bit sheepish and picked them all up. I decided to press home my advantage.

"So please could you ask someone to search for the remote control now? It's really important as he hasn't anything else that he can do at the moment, apart from watch television. Could you ask someone to ring me when they've found it?"

They rang me about an hour later to say that it had been found under the mattress on his bed. Hmmm. So how did it get there, then?

The - mostly well-meaning - staff constantly unplug the Communist's phone to plug other things in and then leave it unplugged. They put everything he needs - tissues, water, remote control, spectacles before they got lost - just out of his reach.

It's not deliberate, I know. It's just thoughtless.

Thoughtlessness, I think, can make all the difference between a quality of life that's acceptable and one that feels unbearable.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Three Men in a Boat

Okay, not three men in a boat. Two men and me. You may remember our narrowboat trip with Silverback in June, along the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.

Silverback made a great hour-long film of it, which is a fantastic souvenir of the trip to have: and now he has done the Director's Cut, edited to fifteen minutes, and posted it on his blog here.

I'm the skinny blonde. Okay, there isn't a skinny blonde, so I must be the one who isn't a bloke. Stephen's the one in the red T-shirt who is running around working the locks and I am the one whose skilful handling of the boat resulted in the centre rope slicing the aerial clean off. Fortunately, that bit's not on film so you'll never know I did it.

So you can see for yourself my stylish green mac. Not for nothing do the credits on the longer version have the telling phrase "Costume by Stevie Wonder". You can also see the moment where I try to do that clever thing where I pull into the bank, put the boat in neutral and keep hold of it so the others can get back on. Except the boat just kept going so I had to do an embarrassing shuffle along the bank, trying to look as if that was what I meant to happen.

It starts just outside Skipton in the Yorkshire Dales and the scenery's great, and it's all accompanied by evocative going-along-the-canal music.

And just before the end, there is a rare shot of Silverback himself, on the boat in some rare British sunshine. Who did this brilliant piece of camerawork? Yes, it was ME. The very first time I have ever wielded a video camera, I kid you not, and I was rather nervous, though pleased with the result.

Go on, sit yourself down with a nice cup of tea and a biscuit or two, and watch it here. We had a lovely weekend, and I hope you'll see that from the film.


Apparently, according to an article in The Guardian newspaper that I read recently (it was free in my hotel in Paris, she said swankily) sales of picture postcards are soaring.

I didn't know that they had declined. It's possible that I've been keeping the British Postcard Industry going single-handedly for years.

For I've always sent postcards. Even if I'm on a day trip somewhere I'll usually send at least a couple.

To me it's a way of saying hello, I'm thinking of you and I wish you were in this lovely place too (or, sometimes, I'm glad you're not in this horrible hole).

Sometimes I use them as an interim measure for people I don't get in touch with very often - hello, I'm thinking of you, but the last you heard from me was at Christmas and now it's July, but the long gap wasn't intentional, honest.

I generally go for the scenic ones because that's what I like when people send me postcards - - ooh, that place looks good!

When I was a stage-struck teenager I once wrote to the actor Ian McKellen (Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings films) to ask where the theatre company he was with was touring to (no interclacker in them far-off days, of course). After that he occasionally used to send me postcards, which was lovely of him: I remember he once sent me one from Japan.

And we still have some postcards that my grandfather sent from France when he was in the trenches of the First World War - fascinating in their very dullness, because anything interesting would have been censored.

I used to collect them, and stick them in albums, but finally gave up when I had just too many to keep up.

Whenever I go anywhere I'm armed with stamps and those who know me sigh with resignation as I hurtle towards any shop selling postcards.

I love to receive them too, of course, but I don't see it as an I'll send you one if you send me one transaction at all. I just like keeping in touch, and sending postcards, to me, is a great way to do it.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

In Paris Again

"Yes, Paris is where it's at," said Barack Obama to Nicolas Sarkozy, "Daphne's here too, you know."

I was watching the French news on television, in the hope of learning all the French I don't know from it. There's that scene in the film Splash where Daryl Hannah as a mermaid learns English from watching a bank of televisions in a shop and I've always thought that might be a good way to top up my French.

So, of course, because it was in French, we didn't hear what Barack Obama actually said in English, but I think my lip-reading was pretty accurate.

Although the Eurostar was far busier than when I went in June, it all worked really well and was very easy. A minor disaster happened on the way though - I was reading my book and completely absorbed, my handbag on the shelf in front of me, when a man walking down the aisle suddenly cannoned into me, knocking my bag sideways. It in turn hit the Blackberry belonging to Russian Man next to me, and everything went on the floor.

His Blackberry was fine and I never considered that anything of mine might have been damaged: my camera was in my handbag, in its case and well cushioned, and it seemed a very gentle fall. But when I switched it on, later in the journey, having almost forgotten the whole incident, its screen was showing only interesting smudges in shades of black and blue: it's cracked.

It's insured, but I was not at all happy: as I've said before, I just don't feel complete without a camera! Fortunately my phone has a camera, so I was able to take some photos using that.

I was met again at the Gare du Nord by a taxi driver holding up a placard with my name on, which should make me feel important but actually just makes me feel rather embarrassed. He set off at top speed in entirely the wrong direction.

I realised pretty sharpish that he was taking me to the Hilton hotel, which was where I'd been booked into previously - but the booking had been changed to the Concorde Saint-Lazare - more of that in a moment - and the taxi driver had not been told.

So I told him. He rang his boss, and explained that he had this strange woman in his taxi who was English, but had spoken to him in French, and said she said she was booked into a different hotel. Should he believe me, or insist on dumping me at the Hilton? At this point I chipped in and told him sweetly that although my French is by no means perfect, I could in fact understand what he was saying and the Concorde Saint-Lazare was where I needed to be and he could forget any idea of dumping me at the Hilton. He did look a bit sheepish.

Whilst this interesting conversation was going on, he was driving me at top speed past the Eiffel Tower, and across the Seine, and through several rather beautiful squares which didn't seem to have any traffic lanes at all. So apart from the constant fear of imminent death, it was actually most enjoyable.

We arrived at the hotel, which is most certainly the poshest place I've ever stayed in. Okay, I know that's not saying that much since I'm a caravan/cottage/tent/b and b kind of person, but take it from me, it's really most impressive. The lobby - top right on the image gallery on the right-hand side - is about twice the size of our house, all marble and gilt and paintings - stunningly beautiful in a very French way. My room looked exactly like the second one down on the left.

It was the kind of place where, if you stand still for two seconds, a uniformed member of staff rushes up to you and asks if he can help you. Although I must say everyone was very friendly, I spent the whole time there waiting to be rumbled and for someone to come up to me and say "Zees hotel is not for zee likes of you. Kindly leave at zees moment."

The company I was working for had chosen it because it is very near to where I was working, at the junction of the Rue de la Victoire and the Rue Taitbout.

I wandered off round Paris and had an excellent steak at the Royal Trinite restaurant on the Rue Chateaudun, before going to bed quite early in preparation for work the next day.

Paris is fantastic. I hope Barack Obama liked it as much as I do.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Cambridge and a load of Punts

The river's called the Cam and there are lots of bridges across it, which is presumably why some inspired now-dead person came up with the idea of calling it Cambridge.

Similarly, and to digress a bit, some old Roman must have found a broken bridge in Yorkshire somewhere and decided to call the place Pontefract, which is what it means if you speak Latin, which I used to, a bit. But hey! They've probably mended the bridge by now, or replaced it altogether, and the town's still called Pontefract. It's the equivalent of us calling somewhere Broken-Down Lorry.

Anyway, Cambridge, jolly famous university city. It sort of runs from North to South with all the colleges next to each other, mostly very beautiful and all knowing how to take money off tourists.

At the back of the colleges are what's called the Backs (by 'eck, they knew how to name things in Cambridge). These are grassy bits with a river flowing through them, called the Cam, and there are lots of bridges over it. Yes, I know, we've had that bit.

I was going to Cambridge to see an actor in a play, and Silverback kindly agreed to accompany me, and what's more to drive too. This driving offer may, perhaps, have been a gesture of self-preservation: but anyway, it was all highly enjoyable, to me at least.

Anyway, in the early morning the river looks all tranquil, like this:

It doesn't last though. In the daytime, at this time of year at least, the river is full of people on punts, which are the British equivalent of gondolas. You stand at one end and push it along with a pole.

You can't walk more than ten yards in Cambridge without someone asking you if you want to go on a punt: it gets very irritating after a while and you find yourself thinking of sentences that start with Go Away and have Stupid in the middle and then a bit of rhyming slang at the end.

You can go on a punt with someone to punt it, or you can - if you're more adventurous - hire one to punt yourself.

So, once all this is going on, the river looks like this:

or like this:

It may look easy - - actually, it doesn't look easy, now I come to think of it. It looks like a blend of hard work punctuated by lots of opportunities for close encounters with the wet bit.

So there's a mixture of skilled punters who clearly spend the whole summer trogging up and down the river with tourists in the punt - - and self-punting tourists who think it can't be too difficult.

Lots of crashes, lots of punts spinning round in a circle, the occasional lost pole. One person actually fell in the river whilst we were watching, though cruelly didn't wait until we could get our cameras on him. Very entertaining, though.

I had a lovely time in Cambridge - - thank you, Silverback for your excellent company - but now I'm trying to get my head round my next little adventure, which is going to Paris tomorrow, back on Saturday evening. What a great week! It's work, Captain, but not as we know it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

England Swings

England swings like a pendulum do,
Bobbies on bicycles two by two,
Westminster Abbey, the tower of Big Ben,
The rosy red cheeks of the little children

In case you think that England Swings is some kind of reference to adventurous sexual behaviour involving car keys, well it isn't. It's a song about the Swinging Sixties - not, perhaps with the most profound lyrics, but I thought of it today when I saw this shop window in Cambridge:

Clearly, if you're a foreign tourist, this is what we think England means to you: at a glance here I can see the tower of Big Ben - in several sizes - a red post box, a London bus and several important-looking crests. Oh, and poor Princess Diana lurking at the back, her memory to be exploited as long as tills go ker-ching.

Cambridge is a city of great beauty and an equally great desire to separate tourists from their money as fast as possible. I had, however, a lovely time, and I'll tell you more about it very soon.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Travelling Woman

I'm off on my travels again with a couple of two-day trips this week. Now this may not be much to you, but it is to me, and I'm really looking forward to both.

Tomorrow, Cambridge. I have a pretty good mental map of the main streets of Cambridge - I've been there a few times, but that's not the reason why I know. Our actors work there a lot and I've booked many, many bed and breakfasts there over the years.

Why Cambridge? For work, though I'm expecting to enjoy it a lot too. I'll tell you more later.

And I'm delighted to say that I've been asked back to work in Paris again on Saturday, after my trip there last month. Mind you, they don't seem to have booked me any accommodation yet for Friday night so it could be a park bench on the banks of the Seine, we'll see.

It's possible that I've mentioned this working-in-Paris lark to my family and friends once or twice now. They seem to think so, anyway.

Like a Willow

"He's not in his room," I said to the nurse. "Do you know where he might be?"

It didn't take much investigation to find him. All the nursing-home residents had been led, wheeled or escorted into the lounge where a singer called Colin, who also played the guitar and flute, was giving them a concert.

He was spanning the decades in his choices, was Colin, and they loved it. They were all sitting round the outside of the room. The Communist, at nearly eighty-five, was one of the youngest. The rest ranged from merely ancient to As Old as Time Itself.

Some were joining in with gusto: some appeared to be asleep. Yet even the ones who were slumped with their eyes shut were tapping along to the rhythm.

They were having a great time. There seems to be some kind of protective mechanism that kicks in as very old people approach the end of their life, that seems to stop them thinking too much about the things they've lost and will never see or do again.

But it got to me big-time. A roomful of ancient people waving their arms in the air, singing along:

Hi, ho, silver lining,
And away you go now baby,
I see your sun is shining,
But I won't make a fuss,
Because it's obvious.

I've always liked that chorus. Not much of a silver lining here, though, I thought, looking at the Communist making the best of his new, infinitely narrowed existence. Oh damn and blast, I thought, I'm going to cry.

I stood behind the Communist, so he couldn't see my eyes filling up as Colin moved on to If you were the only girl in the world - - and told us it was written about ninety years ago - some people in the room would have been almost in their teens then.

Everyone knew this one, at least partly: the Communist knew every word. Why? Because he used to have a fantastic baritone singing voice, and sang for years in choral groups and West Riding Opera and - - well - - groups that toured nursing homes putting on shows.

He sang as loudly as he could, and to hear what was left of that great voice just set me off again, reminding me of all those times that I used to play the piano, very badly, so he could learn some dull bass line for an opera that I didn't like.

On went Colin, relentless in his one-man bid to make Daphne howl, so he played his trump card, the Second World War.

There'll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover,
Tomorrow, just you wait and see.
There'll be love and laughter, and peace ever after.
Tomorrow, when the world is free

That was bad enough, but then he got to the lines that always get me:

The shepherd will tend his sheep,
The valley will bloom again,
And Jimmy will go to sleep,
In his own little room again

I could see all those people who'd lived through the war, with all their optimism for the years afterwards, now approaching the end of their lives. I stopped even bothering to pretend that I wasn't crying.

Then Colin got to his jolly finale song.

Is this the way to Amarillo,
Every night I've been hugging my pillow,
Dreaming dreams of Amarillo and sweet Marie who waits for me.

Show me the way to Amarillo

Yes, I was weeping like a willow. The Communist, luckily, never noticed.

When I'm ancient, I wondered, what will they sing to me? Simon and Garfunkel? The Beatles? David Bowie?

When Emily's ancient what will they sing to her? Nightwish? Westlife? Take That?

Sometimes it's not a good idea to think too far ahead.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Long Time Ago in Paradise

People's definitions of Paradise vary. One of mine is this pool.

This is the pool at Park Hotel in Tenby, seen from the third floor of the hotel a couple of weeks ago.

It's not huge, nothing special really: but I've spent so many happy hours there over the past forty-something years. I just love swimming. Preferably in the sea, with just-enough-of-a-challenge waves - - but, failing that, an open-air pool, preferably this one, situated at the top of the cliff with blue skies and the smell of the sea.

And now, in my Time Machine, back to the summer of 1966, and here's the pool as it was then:

It's the same in essence, though rather posher now. The woman sitting with her back to the camera is my mother and she is holding my baby brother Michael. I took the photo, of course. I'll come back to the man at the far side, by the fence, in a moment.

Here they are again, in the pool: the Communist, my mother in the then-obligatory swimming cap, and my brother.

My mother and my brother:

Of course, these photos were taken by the nine-year-old me (or maybe the ten-year-old me - I had my tenth birthday that holiday).

Let's come back to the man leaning on the fence: here's a close-up:

He was the hotel's swimming teacher: one of the best teachers I ever had, because he gave everyone tremendous confidence in their swimming ability, made everything fun, and took your stroke to pieces and put it back together much, much better.

I have told you this before, but, in case you didn't read it, or don't remember, or simply didn't believe me, I think I should tell you that his name was Ivor Fish.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

About the Loss of Glasses But Not of Marbles

When I visited the Communist in the nursing-home today, he was wearing some glasses that weren't his.

"Why are you wearing those? Do you know they're not yours?"

"Of course they're not mine. They've lost mine."

Where the ones he was wearing came from is anyone's guess. Clearly the Communist couldn't have lost his own glasses - he can't move. Even with his new electric wheelchair he can only go forwards, backwards or round a bit and he certainly doesn't have the strength to open a drawer and put his glasses in it, or any inclination to speed off down the corridor to leave them somewhere else.

So the staff in the home have somehow lost them: how, I don't know.

I decided to look in his bedside drawer, which turned out to be a repository for - well, just about anything really. In amongst the bits of old paper and other junk, I found two glasses cases, both of which were empty and neither of which was his. Then, more interestingly, I found two pairs of glasses, neither of which was his, either.

The thing is, most of the residents in this nursing home are there because they have some form of dementia, and therefore cannot be expected to know whose glasses are whose. So what I suspect has happened is that Someone has brought the Communist these glasses, and he's said that they're not his, and Someone has said sweetly, "Of course they're not, dear," and stuffed them in the drawer, not believing a word he said.

But the Communist has not got Alzheimer's: he's there because he can't move.

And, therefore, he's quite a good spy for what actually goes on in this home, one of the best in Leeds, we're told. Mostly he is well cared for - though everything seems to take ages to achieve.

Yesterday, however, two of the staff - healthcare assistants, not nurses - were having a furious row with each other as they came in to get him up in the morning. They didn't address a word to him other than "Get washed, go on, get on with it, you know what to do," and then just carried on arguing over him.

My mother went to visit him later and found him very upset by this: he felt terrible, and just wanted to leave the place: though, of course, he can't. My mother was so cross that she rang up to complain, and the Manager has been to see him today, and heard what he had to say, and I hope she listened.

Firstly: surely, in a place costing six hundred pounds a week, they could come up with some strategy for making sure that crucial aids like glasses don't get mislaid?

And secondly: if I were in charge of a nursing home, and if it were proved to me that two of the staff were having a row with each other whilst supposedly tending to a patient, then I'd have it in their contracts that this would mean instant dismissal.

Of all the indignities of old age, being ignored, or treated as though you don't matter - and the staff losing your glasses is a part of this - is by far the worst.

The Communist was feeling better today: I showed him Silverback's photographs of Twelfth Night, (see previous post), and those cheered him up mightily. Because, in his head, they took him out of the nursing home and into a world where he used to have respect.

Friday, July 18, 2008

With a Hey, Ho, the Wind and the Rain

When that I was but a little tiny boy
With a hey, ho, the wind and the rain

A foolish thing was but a toy

For the rain it raineth every day

So sings Feste the clown at the end of Shakespeare's comedy Twelfth Night. The rain it raineth just about every day at the moment, certainly, and I was fervently hoping that it would hold off for the dress rehearsal of the play last night in Dagmar Wood, Headingley, Leeds.

Theatre of the Dales are just beginning a tour of it and you can find more details on their website, here.

The director David Robertson - who also plays Malvolio - and the company have had a tricky time of it in rehearsal for various reasons. The most recent of these is that the stage manager has completely lost his voice, which provided a blackly comic subplot to the play as he took command of setting all the props and getting the company ready to start the play, all in sign language.

The weather hasn't helped, of course, because it's an outdoor production and it's been hey, ho the wind and the rain all through rehearsals.

So we were all hoping that the rain would hold off, particularly since Silverback had kindly offered to come along and take some photographs.

But, bad weather and problems notwithstanding, all the right elements were in place: an excellent team of people, great music and total commitment from everyone. It's going to be a Grand Evening Out - - and, since tonight is the first night, it probably already has been.

Silverback came up with such a fantastic set of photos that it's been hard to pick just a few to show you here, but I've chosen some that I think give the flavour of it all:


Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Sir Toby Belch:


and Malvolio again:

Olivia and Maria:

Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Antonio:



Sir Andrew Aguecheek:

I hope that from now on it will be sunshine all the way for this excellent production, and very many thanks to Silverback for the photos. If you're going to be in Yorkshire over the next couple of weeks, and you would like to see it, you can find the details on the website.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

And I Would Rather Be Anywhere Else

Blogging in working hours eh? Not something I'd usually do - there's too much going on in our office and I'm too busy. But for some reason I woke at half past five today and have been in the office since shortly after that, so I think it's time for a break.

I've told you before about the long hot summer of '79, when I had a temporary job in the Civil Service: boring job, lovely people, especially ex-copper Bob and teenage Julie, who were great.

Every afternoon one of us would go and buy ice-cream for most of the office from the shop down the road. There'd be a war of nerves: who would crack first? We would all work in silence for a while. Eventually, the one who could stand it no more would leap from their desk and sing part of the chorus from Elvis Costello and the Attractions' song Oliver's Army, which was playing everywhere at that time:

"And I would rather be anywhere else than here today!"

It would then be the singer's job to go and get the ice-creams. Though it wasn't true - in my case at least - that I would rather have been anywhere else: it was a very happy office.

I've clung to that chorus over the years to sing on occasions when, as yesterday, it was true.

I knew the job that I was going to do yesterday would be tricky: I was told that when they booked me. ("When I rang the place to ask how to confirm the details, Daphne, the person who answered the phone said I don't bloody know, nobody tells me anything"). I can't say too much about it of course, but it involved a bunch of people who seemed to all hate each other and, further, thought their communication skills were excellent, though they clearly weren't.

Just to add interest, it was in a part of England that is not the loveliest part. Put it this way, if England was a pig, I was working in a place you wouldn't want to eat.

I was running the session and felt like I was back in school teaching the Stroppy Sixteen-Year-Olds. They weren't actively hostile - I have too much of the Schoolmistressy Stare about me for that, though I hate using it on adults - but they just thought they didn't need this session and could best be described as Hard Work. The superb actors I was working with were not impressed with them either.

I like to think that I can generally win a group over, and I'm always very cross with myself when I can't.

So, I sweetly thanked them all for taking part (HAH!) and got out of there, singing "AND I WOULD RATHER BE ANYWHERE ELSE THAN HERE TODAY", Very Very Loudly in the car all the way back to Leeds, and thinking with affection of Julie and Bob and the summer of '79.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bring Back Words

Remember that television programme where they showed the contestants a picture and they had to guess what saying or proverb or whatever it meant?

I could never guess the answer. You could show me a picture of a stone, and show it careering down a hill going round and round, and show me a picture of some moss crossed out, and I STILL wouldn't come up with "A rolling stone gathers no moss."

I like pictures, but not when they ought to be words.

A couple of weeks ago, coming back from Tenby, we were up in the Welsh mountains and very beautiful they were too, in spite of the rather dodgy weather.

We crossed over a stile, which had a footpath on either side. On one side of the stile, but not on the other, was this picture.

No playing with several footballs at once? - - No, because the round things are, in fact, just nails, attaching this important sign to the wood.

No walking? In the mountains? On this footpath? WHY NOT?

Go on then, tell me what it means.

Perhaps I just can't understand it because the picture's in Welsh.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Look Around You

When I was a child television for educational purposes was also very much in its infancy. At primary school, one day a week our class would all gather round the flickering black and white set and learn about the tomato crop of Gozo and the head-hunters of Borneo.

It was quite a pleasant half-hour, just watching a bit of telly - - but then our teacher, who took Education very seriously, would spoil our fun by giving us a test on it immediately afterwards, which is probably why I remember quite a bit about Surinam and those tree houses where the people used to live, and maybe still do for all I know.

Anyway, here's a rather glorious spoof of all those school telly programmes, which will give anyone who ever watched any of them an instant pang of nostalgia. School dinner-halls and the smell of cabbage! School changing-rooms and the smell of a hundred ancient PE kits! School classrooms and the smell of - well - school. I didn't have a bad time at school at all - just quite a lot of boring time, some excellent teaching, some terrible teaching and some very good friends - and yet the memory of a thousand dull maths lessons still makes me shudder.

I've just had a lovely birthday meal in a restaurant. Very many thanks to all who took part, and also to those, in the blogosphere and elsewhere, who sent birthday wishes, texts, cards, presents and even a delightfully-presented IOU!

One of the few benefits of being old is the escape from school. So enjoy this programme, and then be glad you don't have to watch things like this ever again.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Clear Black-and-White Photograph

I like most things about the actors that I work with, but one of the things that some of them do that I don't like is this.

(And, if you're reading this R, you will know that I most certainly do NOT mean you!)

When actors graduate from drama school the first thing they need to do is to get some photos taken of themselves, because a good photo is a vital marketing tool for any actor.

Let me tell you about actors' photos. A clear black-and-white photograph, ten inches by eight inches, is the industry standard. It should be taken straight on to camera, just head and shoulders, no gimmicks, no over-cluttered clothing, no holding wine glasses - a wine glass in your photo is a clear sign that "I am Not A Proper Actor - I am a Wannabe". You don't need a photo of yourself smiling, wearing a T-shirt and then a near-identical photo of yourself with the same smile but this time wearing a dinner suit. If you have different photos, you must look different, as well as your clothes.

And then you put them onto Spotlight, so that casting directors can see them. And then what sometimes happens - not always, but all too frequently - goes like this.

The actor rather likes the photograph of his or her twenty-one-year old self, and when he/she is twenty-two they think oh, well, I've hardly changed at all, so I'll keep this photo for another year. Then when they're twenty-three, they think - - oh, well, I might have changed a bit, but this photo will do for a bit longer.

Then, when they're twenty-four, they think - - oh noooooo - - must get some new photos - - but that'll cost me quite a lot, so I'll leave it till next year.

Then, when they're twenty-five they think d'you know what, I think I looked a bit better when I was twenty-one than I do now - - and I haven't changed that much, so I'll keep this photo a little bit longer.

Eventually, someone like me, in the role of Grumpy Old Agent, says,

"Look, you know that photograph that you've had for six years? Well, when you had that audition last week, you know how you thought the casting director looked a bit surprised? Could it be because on your photo you've got waist-length blonde hair, and now it's short and brown, and you're four stone heavier?"

And then they look at me as though I've just drowned their kitten. And finally, about a year after this, they rush into getting some new photos.

So, since it's my birthday tomorrow and I'll be one year older, I think it's time I set all the actors a good example.

It's not often that I show you a photo of myself, but here's a clear black-and-white photograph of me. Straight on to camera, just head and shoulders, no gimmicks, no wine glasses, no over-cluttered clothing.

All I will say is that it's a real pain tying that ribbon in my hair every morning.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Summer Holiday

Summer Holiday was the first film that I ever saw. Yes, the first film ever. In 1963, in a proper cinema.

I loved it. The plot? Oh, it doesn't matter - - but, since you are so insistent to know, Cliff Richard and some blokes who can dance - including Melvyn Hayes who later found telly fame in It Ain't Half Hot, Mum - are, somewhat unbelievably, bus mechanics and borrow a red London bus to go on holiday in Europe, with the idea of starting a tour company of similar buses.

They decide this because it is supposed to be summer, but in Britain it never stops raining. Some things don't change, then.

On the way they meet a girly singing trio with Una Stubbs in it, and their car has broken down, and the boys rescue them. And then they meet a young boy who turns out to be a girl, and she turns out to be an American singing star called Barbara who has fled her tyrannical mother, and they all set off to take her to Athens for some reason I forget. On the way they meet lots of Comedy Yugoslavians and mix up the words "bread" and "bride" in a way I once thought hilarious.

And by the end of it Cliff, whose character name I forget but it's something short and butch, and Barbara have fallen in love and defeated the baddies and got to Athens and they all live happily ever after. On the way, they do lots of set-piece dancing and singing in some very bright and cheerful early-Sixties clothes, and the Shadows keep popping up and playing guitars.

In short, you could compare it to the films of Ingmar Bergman or Ken Loach, but I'm not sure quite how. I hadn't seen it for perhaps thirty years, and then I watched it again, whilst doing lots of ironing, yesterday.

When I saw it the first time I wanted Cliff to marry Una Stubbs (and, actually, so did she in real life, I seem to recall, but he was less than interested).

Lauri Peters, who played Barbara, apparently created the role of Liesl, sixteen going on seventeen, in the original Broadway version of The Sound of Music. I didn't like her as much as I liked Una Stubbs, but I was very, very envious of her stripy dress with its "sticky-out" skirt as I used to call them, and I longed to grow up so I could wear one that was just the same.

Sadly, by the time I had grown up they were well out of fashion and I've never quite got over it.

Yes, of course, they don't make films like that any more: again - as often - I think of the first line of L.P.Hartley's excellent novel The Go-Between:

The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

But I loved the film so much, with its jolly songs and bouncy dance routines and glorious Sixties optimism! Even now, I only have to hear the introduction to the title song and I feel a big burst of happiness.

Things like that have a big impression on children, don't they? I was pulled up a bit sharpish when I thought hey, when I saw that film for the first time I was only a bit older than my niece Flo is now: she's currently over here from Amsterdam as her family start their summer holiday. Here she is, pictured with The Communist who was home from the nursing-home for a visit a couple of days ago:

Her current musical passion is The Sound of Music. I wonder if she'll be thinking of it in over forty years' time with the same affection that I have for Summer Holiday.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Living Dangerously

Here's a very dull photograph of Canal Gardens, Roundhay Park, Leeds, this morning:

It was all a bit dark and overcast and I'm only showing it to you to put the next photograph in context.

As we drew nearer to the fountain, our minds were boggled by this moorhen:

Yes! Great choice of nest site there! Perhaps she built the nest and laid the eggs when the fountain was switched off and then when it came on thought "oh nooooooooooooo!" Or perhaps moorhens don't mind being permanently damp.

Anyway, it's not the dozy bird's fault: it's the dozy Leeds City Council's fault.

There used to be islands in the little man-made canal, where birds could - and did - nest. But the council recently did a big spruce-up of Canal Gardens, and decided to do away with the islands. Why? Some stupid Health and Safety reason. Rats might live on them. Alligators might move here from Florida and take up residence. People might decide to try to wade out to them, and drown in the attempt. Who knows?

For years and years and years children have fed the ducks and coots and moorhens in Canal Gardens and now they don't because there are hardly any of them because some stupid idiots at Leeds City Council have taken away their nest sites. And in these days where we're supposed to have a more enlightened attitude to animals and birds, why the council did such a deeply stupid thing I don't know.

I feel like writing to them but I know what the response would be - - horrendous danger to members of the public from the islands in the middle of the canal so they had to be removed yawn yawn.

By 'eck, as I've mentioned before, it's damned hard to save the world, even a little bit at a time, when it's been staffed with such fools. Homo Sapiens? HAH!

Friday, July 11, 2008

From a Distant Corner of the World

I've known Christine since the mid-1970s, when she was living in England. She's from New Zealand: she used to live in Auckland and now lives in Coromandel. Since she went back to New Zealand in the late 1970s, Christine's been over to visit Europe three times and this time she's been here for three months, visiting France and Italy as well as the UK - and she came to Tenby with us for a few days last week.

Whenever she's here, it seems as if she's always been here, so it's strange when she goes home. Tomorrow she goes back to New Zealand. Tonight we've been talking about what we'll be doing next week and it seems strange to me that she'll be doing things at the other side of the world.

Christine's daughter, Jennie, lives in Melbourne, Australia, and has made this extremely enjoyable video. It's strange to see the park, which could be a park here in Britain, and yet is so far away.

Au revoir, Christine - come back soon. And hello Jennie, from this corner of the world, and thank you for the video.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Fantasy Men

I've always felt uncomfortable when a group of women get together and start complaining about their husbands or boyfriends or partners or whatever, as a kind of pastime. I may, perhaps, be fortunate in that I've never had anything to complain about: but what I'm talking about here is not the serious complaints, it's that "and you should see what he does in the bathroom" stuff, especially when it's just used as a form of amusement.

Of course, men may do the same thing, but, as Jane Austen well knew, men's conversation changes when a woman appears on the scene, so I don't know if they do.

(Look, I know this post is what may be termed hetero-normative, ie assuming everyone's straight: I'm really not assuming that, but bear with me please because this is from my point of view, as a straight woman.)

Anyway, when women behave like that I don't like it - I feel that telling all your female friends, in that kind of condescending way, what your partner does with his socks etc, is wrong. And I can honestly say that I've never done it! Hurrah!

It's partly a respect thing - I hate it when women do that "oh, MEN, they're SO - - whatever" in a genuinely complaining way (in contrast, Laura, I loved your post Man Thing on July 8th because it was both affectionate and very funny).

A few times I've been in a room with men and thought, with reference to a particular bloke, "Hey, he really does NOT like women." Fancies them, perhaps, but doesn't like them. Men like that don't interest me at all (nor, let's face it, do I interest them, because I am not early-twenties eye-candy).

Occasionally, I've been listening to some women's conversation and thought "You really don't like men, do you, even though you may fancy them?" And that, I feel is a shame, and their loss, because I do like men, some of them, very much indeed. Apart from the horrible ones, obviously.

I was asked today what men - fantasy men, not real ones - Do It For Me and my first thoughts were my old favourites - they are old too, now, bless 'em - Robert Redford and Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Why? Dunno. Good-looking, yes, but it's really, actually, not that, - - action men, but it's not just that - - witty with it, yes, I like that. I suppose it's the combination.

But, d'you know what, I'm immune to the charms of just about every other Fantasy Film Hunk. Sean Connery - - no - - Daniel Craig - - no - - (enjoyed the Bond film though) Tom Cruise - - does he count? - - anyway, no - - Russell Crowe - - no - - and I can't think of any others, which shows how much I care, or don't, I suppose. - - Oh, all RIGHT then, I did fancy Colin Firth as Mr Darcy, but then who didn't? I quite like a bit of darkly-brooding-suppressed-passion.

The least attractive or interesting type of man is the Himbo: men with lots of muscles but nothing between the ears. I'm totally immune to them. I think this is one area where there is a difference between straight men and straight women - - okay, a difference between straight men and- well - me, as a very small sample of all the straight women in the world. Men can fancy someone without wanting to have any kind of conversation with them. And I just never do.

Fantasy men, in general, therefore? Forget 'em. At least as far as I'm concerned. Mostly. Apart from Mr Darcy.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Holiday Reading

"What you need," they say to me, "is a nice light novel to read on the beach."

That's what people have said to me over the years. A Jilly Cooper, perhaps, or a Catherine Cookson - suitably frivolous holiday reading.

Oh no, not for me. If I'm going to read something light and frothy, I'll do it when I'm in the middle of a load of work and feeling stressed out. But, let's face it, I never would read Jilly Cooper or Catherine Cookson - I have tried, but they just don't appeal to me. I don't read many novels anyway: I like autobiographies, or travel books, or books that tell me things, or factual books that make me laugh.

Or, when I'm on holiday, "How I Survived the Japanese Prisoner-of-War Camp" kind of books. I think it's because when I'm on holiday, feeling relaxed, then I feel able to tackle the gloomy topics which interest me; and I'm a sucker for any kind of "human interest" story.

For years and years when we've been on holiday my mother has said, sadly,
"What's that you're reading? - - Oh, no!"

I therefore resolved not to do the same thing to Emily. Here's one of her choices of holiday reading:

The Art of Death. It's one of the books for Emily's archaeology course at York University: it's about how people have dealt with death over the centuries, and I must say it did look rather interesting.

So here she is, in the hotel dining-room at breakfast, sunglasses on head in preparation or the beach, clutching her holiday reading. She does at least have the grace to look a little bit guilty about it.

(Thanks to Emily for giving her permission to put the photo on my blog).

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Five Things

Here's a meme that I have shamelessly nicked from Malc.

I like doing these kind of little questionnaires (actually, I like doing most questionnaires, I'm not sure why) as they make me think rather hard about everything, and I quite like that.

Five things I've always wanted
Well, what does it mean by "always"? I think I'll take it to mean "since I was grown up" (yes, I know, not long at all then).
1) To have good friends
2) To have an interesting job
3) To visit interesting places
4) To write better
5) To have enough money not to have to think about money

I wrote straight down the first five things that came into my head. The first two I'm very happy with - the other three I'm still working on. I'm going to do the rest of this meme the same way, so what you'll get will be my first thoughts. They'll be honest, though they may be dull, and if so, I apologise.

Five things I'm currently into
1) Becoming more assertive (that's if nobody minds)
2) The seaside (what's that bit about "currently"? I'm always into the seaside).
3) Blogging, daily
4) Worrying, always
5) Trying to relax more

Five favourite things in my room
No, I can't do it that way, so I'm going to cheat and replace "room" with "house".

1) The oil painting of Emily in the front room, painted by John
2) The mirror in the hall with the toucan on it
3) All my photographs, everywhere (that's probably cheating too, sorry)
4) The way the sunshine comes into the dining-room (look, I'm finding this really tricky, and also it's interesting that I call it the "dining-room" which sounds as though we live in a mansion: but that's what it was called when we moved in in 1959, and there's also the "lounge" downstairs, which also sounds a bit naff. Now I think about it, we also have the "cloakroom" which has seen no cloaks for many a decade. What do people call their rooms these days?)
5) The view of the garden (yes, cheating again, I think you'll find).

So why's that so difficult? Well, I've never been one to collect things - not expensive things, or sets of things, anyway: they just remind me of death, and that they'll be around when I'm not. I do have lots of things that I like - - odd bits of pottery, lots and lots and lots of little things that have just been amassed over the years - - but none of them that I would class as "favourite".

Five things in my bag
Ahhh - - far easier!
1) My mobile phone, and I don't know how I ever managed without it
2) A piece of Victorian pottery that I found on the beach
3) A pleasingly round pebble that I found on the beach
4) Three pens that I like
5) Stamps, because I send lots of postcards

So those are my answers, and if you're a blogger and fancy having a go at it, I'd be very interested to read what you write.

Monday, July 07, 2008

When I've Finished this Chapter

"Daphne, could you come and help with the washing-up?" (Or any other dull task deemed suitable for children to help with).

"Yes, when I've finished this chapter."

Then I'd just keep on reading and hope that they never realised that my so-called "chapter" was about fifty pages, and that by that time Someone Else would have done the washing-up.

My idea of a social event was to find a corner of the room, grab a book or magazine from my host's shelves, and read it until until somebody stopped me. My idea of a meal was a Good Book and some food to accompany it. Actually a Good Television Programme would have done just as well, but we didn't eat in front of the television, oh dear me no, we all sat round the table like a Proper Family.

I still confuse reading and eating in my head: they seem like the same thing to me. Yes, I know that's a weird thing to think, you don't need to tell me this. Many people have told me it already.

Now I'm a grown-up (barely) I shamelessly read whilst I'm eating, and I shamelessly watch television whilst I'm eating. And I have not prevented Emily from doing the same.

Here is Emily about to enjoy a lovely breakfast in Bala.

Ah yes, Stephen Fry's autobiography, an excellent read, I'd certainly recommend it - at least the half I read before it vanished and reappeared in front of Emily's face.

Still, she reads very quickly and I've got it back now.

Here she is again, on the beach with Gareth:

Nature or Nurture, I wonder?

(And thanks to Emily and Gareth for giving me their permission to show you the photographs).

Not Still the Same

Time for a musical interlude. Here's a song that I like - I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls - in a version that I like, by Enya. Looking on t'interclacker, I found that many people seem to think that she wrote it, but she didn't: I remember singing it at school, probably extremely badly. It was written by Michael W. Balfe and first performed in 1843 as part of the ballad opera The Bohemian Girl.

It was difficult to find a decent version of it on Youtube: the ones of Enya herself were all terrible quality. So I've settled for this version, which at least has pretty pictures.

They're WRONG pictures though. The song itself isn't about the marble halls, vassals, serfs, suitors, knights - - it's about the chorus. I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls - - and had lots of wonderful things - - and I ALSO dreamt THAT YOU LOVED ME STILL THE SAME.

Here are the lyrics:

I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls,
With vassals and serfs at my side,
And of all who assembled within those walls,
That I was the hope and the pride.
I had riches too great to count
And a high ancestral name;
But I also dreamt, which pleased me most,
That you lov'd me still the same
That you lov'd me, you lov'd me still the same,
That you lov'd me, you lov'd me still the same.

I dreamt that suitors sought my hand;
That knights upon bended knee,
And with vows no maiden heart could withstand
They pledg'd their faith to me;
And I dreamt that one of that noble host
Came forth my hand to claim.
But I also dreamt, which pleased me most,
That you lov'd me still the same
That you lov'd me, you lov'd me still the same,
That you lov'd me, you lov'd me still the same.

I've been thinking of this song because of a couple I know who've recently split up: and I wasn't expecting it at all. When something like that happens, your whole world picture changes, just a little.

I love Enya's voice and the simplicity of her delivery, and I think it's both beautiful and very moving.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Watching It At Last

Who won? Nobody, yet - rain has stopped play for the second time.

Yes, I got home in time to watch the Wimbledon men's final. And if you want expert commentary, I suggest you stop reading right now, because I'm going to give you the benefit of my lack of expertise.

It's been years since I last watched one, though, as I said yesterday, I used to be an addict. When they say "there hasn't been a tie-break like that since Borg/McEnroe in 1980" I think yes, I saw that! And, by the way, it was before either of today's players was born, damn them.

So today we have Nadal, who really, really wants to win it, and Federer, who has won it lots and doesn't want to lose it.

Some things have changed since my addict days. There are lots more statistics, for a start "that serve was only 103mph". I rather like all that. And of course there are tie-breaks now, which I rather don't like. I used to like it when a set was 23 games to Borg and 21 to Connors or whatever.

And when the ball might have been in, or might have been out, instead of a twenty-minute barney where one of the players shouts at the umpire in a "You Cannot Be Serious" McEnroe Moment, you have instead a Computer Graphic which flies across the screen and says "Official Review" and either IN or OUT, that's it mate, shut it.

Fairer, no doubt - - but I used to quite enjoy a bit of a row about it all. And I don't think you'd get Ilie Nastase bringing on an umbrella these days when it rains. Both players just seem to look a bit sad and accept it. It's all got rather more professional, because there's so much money involved.

David Attenborough's there, I notice, and I'd really like a bit of commentary from him, perhaps in his best whispering tones, about the animal psychology of it all.

Because this match is really showing that, at a certain level of play, it's the psychology that's the key. If I were, say Federer, and I was two sets down I'd say look, Raffi, old chap, I reckon I've lost here, let's get it over with and go to the chippie. This is one (of many, I admit) reasons why I'm not a champion tennis player.

But that's not what Federer did - he just went off and had a bit of a rest, which helped him, being older than the Young Pretender.

Who am I supporting? Federer, because he's older, and I'm older, and Nadal will have more time. And (getting to the important stuff now) I don't like Nadal's vest top - - yes, I know he's got lots of muscles but I don't like it when men with muscles show them off that way. Just wear a proper polo shirt, Rafael! And, more significantly, on every single flaming point Nadal makes a grunting noise like a dying wildebeeste and I didn't like it when Monica Seles used to do it and I don't like it when Nadal does it, so there.

Okay, play's starting again now, so I shall stop writing and go and watch it.

Did I mention that this has been an absolutely cracking match? Fantastic, exciting tennis, lots of rallies? I think I stopped watching tennis because I saw too many aces and not enough rallies. But on this showing, I think I'll be starting to watch again.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

From Beautiful Bala

I'm in Bala in North Wales, surrounded by hills and glorious views. The signal does seem better here than in previous years (I'm using a 3G card which picks up the mobile phone signal).

So just a quick post today to thank everyone who's left comments on my posts while I've been away - there've been some really good ones and some I'll reply to when I get home tomorrow. It's always good to get comments - please do leave one if ever you feel like it!

It's the Wimbledon Finals this weekend of course. Well, I think so. I haven't seen a newspaper or watched television since I left Leeds the Friday before last, so I don't even know who's playing! I'd guess Federer but that's all I'd guess!

Once, this would have been unheard of for me - I used to love tennis and probaby still would if I had more time to watch it. I am, after all, The Woman Who Once Touched Rod Laver's Arm. (Don't ask "Who's Rod Laver?" Just don't.) I date from the days of Bjorn Borg, John Lloyd, Ilie Nastase. Billie-Jean King. Martina Navratilova, who was born on the same day as me. Yvonne Goolagong. Chris Evert. Gabriela Sabatini. (Heterosexual male readers, who were going oh yes, Billie-Jean King, oh yes, Martina Navratilova, are suddenly getting more attentive to this post now, I can sense it).

I remember travelling all the way back from Tenby one year listening on the car radio to Boris Becker winning Wimbledon for the first time. I remember being in a tent in France listening to Bjorn Borg winning - - again.

I used to like playing tennis too - I was never very good, lacking the ability to run, which seems to be rather crucial. But I did enjoy it.

A Wimbledon Final, and I don't know who's playing, or whom they beat to get there! I think I'd like to get tennis back into my life.

Friday, July 04, 2008


Whenever I hear the word "titbits" I think of my grandmother, the Communist's mother.

Born in Lithuania, she moved to Leeds, England at the age of fourteen, and she lived to be ninety-six. Or maybe ninety-five or ninety-seven: she was older than my grandfather so tended to lie about her age and in the end even she forgot how old she was.

When I knew her, in old age, her favourite magazine was always Titbits. As far as I can remember, it consisted of lots of little - er - titbits of news. Of course, any magazine of that name now would be found firmly on the top shelf, but this one was clean and, if my memory serves me correctly, a sort of love-child of the Fortean Times and Hello.

When my grandmother got to be Very Very Old Indeed, long after my grandfather had died, and it was clear that she was now two coupons short of a toaster in the marbles department - though always very charming with it - they assessed her, and decided that she was blind.

This came as news to my grandmother, who cheerily moved into the Home for the Blind that they suggested, where she lived for perhaps ten years, getting gently more and more confused and forgetful - - but still reading bits aloud from her Titbits magazines till almost the day she died.

Anyway, all that was a preamble to a couple of unrelated titbits of news.

You may remember that, a few weeks ago, Silverback and I had what most definitely can be described as A Grand Day Out in London: and we saw the preview of the film Summer, directed by Kenny Glenaan.

Steve Evets, who is one of the actors represented by the agency that I work for, has a major role in it: the film stars Robert Carlyle.

And today there was a piece about Steve and the film in The Guardian - please read it here . It's very complimentary about Steve, and deservedly so.

My second titbit of news is that today is our last day in Tenby, for this year at least. As a child, I would generally cry, on and off, throughout the second half of the holiday, in sad anticipation of its end. What a pleasure that must have been for my loving family! Of course, I've grown up since then - I've only cried once about it today.

I keep waiting to tire of Tenby, of its scenery and its walks and its safe sea for swimming - - and then I find I never do. I find myself quite tempted to buy the old lifeboat station and live in it. But the maintenance would be many thousands per year, so perhaps not.

Of course, I've always gone on holiday to other places too, though the thrombosis in my leg when I was twenty-eight stopped me travelling much for a number of years. So yes, I want to come back to Tenby - - but before I'm much older, I want to travel more to places further afield.

A rather rambling post today, I know. Tomorrow I'll be in Bala and may not be able to post as ths signal's distinctly dodgy there (I am using a 3G card on my lovely little Asus Eee). So perhaps, the next time you hear from me, I'll be back home in Leeds.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


"Mum," said Emily in tones of utter pathos, "I have no socks. And Gareth has no socks. Please may we borrow some of yours?"

I have mentioned the important topic of socks on this blog before, though not for some considerable time. So just in case you live in a different sock universe from the one I have the misfortune to inhabit, I'll just tell you briefly that, in our world, socks begin life with us in neat pairs but after a very short time half of them have faded from black to either a reddish-brown or a greenish-brown. The other half have vanished completely. We think that there may be destructive Sock Demons living in our house.

But hey! I'm on holiday, so I wasn't going to get stressed about it. Even though Emily was doing an expression guaranteed to melt any mother's heart. And this expression, practised daily since the age of three, should really fail to work when done by someone aged nearly nineteen.

Being on holiday gives you time. In my usual life, I am always planning ahead, rushing to get things done, rushing to fit things in. I know I'm lucky in that I love my work, but sometimes I just wish I could sloooooooow down a bit.

But here, in Tenby, I've slowed down. I have enjoyed just looking at the views of cliffs, and seabirds, and sea (oh yes, and taking photographs of them too). I have enjoyed watching swallows skimming over the beach, catching insects. I've enjoyed exploring Manorbier Castle, and Tenby Museum. And, especially, I've enjoyed swimming in the sea, and splashing over the waves.

Also, I've had time to buy things in Tenby that I'd never think to buy in Leeds. I haven't owned a watch for about two years, because I've never happened to think to buy one at a time when I've been near a watch shop. But here, it was easy, and I bought one. And at the crafts centre in mid-Wales on the journey down, I bought a lovely leather belt to keep my jeans up (and if you think that this is a very subtle way of boasting that I've lost weight - - - yes, you're right).

Now, I know that The Great Sock Problem cannot be easily solved. I know that Douglas Adams may not have been entirely correct when he stated, in that seminal scientific work "The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy" that the secret of Life, the Universe and Everything is Forty-Two.

But I'm ON HOLIDAY and my normally thoughtful, careful attitude to everything has been replaced by one of devil-may-care flippancy.

I went to a shop with a sale on and bought forty-two pairs of identical black socks. That should set the Sock Demons a challenge.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Nearly Twelve Hours Without a Camera

I can hardly remember a time when I didn't own a camera. I know I was very fortunate. The Communist was The Pharmacist at that time and would always get the films developed and printed for me. But from my first Brownie, my beloved Instamatic 100 and many other cameras since, I've always had a camera.

More to the point, I've always taken my camera just about everywhere with me, and always taken lot of photographs (often being the butt of much teasing for doing so). Why are there so many people who own a camera but never take it with them?

And then there are people who just have never owned a camera and, even more strangely, don't seem to want to.

To me, almost everything in life (careful now, and you can stop giggling right there) is one big photo-opportunity. I particularly like taking photographs of places, and also of everyday things which will jog my memory in years to come. I love photographs of people, and always admire those who can really do portrait photography.

I'm not a highly-skilled photographer, using lots of technical equipment - though I admire those who do - and I'm not the kind to wait for the light to be perfect either, because what I generally want is a record of a certain moment in time, often with a background feeling - to me - of how I felt at that moment. I'm more "Oh! Look at THAT!"

So when my first digital camera finally decided, inconveniently, to stop working properly, the evening before last, in the middle of my holiday in Tenby, it felt like a really big deal to me.

"You should stop looking with a lens, Mum, and look just with your eyes for a while, and see how it feels," said Emily.

I tried it for about an hour. It felt terrible.

So yesterday morning found me in Tenby's camera shop, buying a Fujifilm Finepix 920, and since then I've taken 362 photographs, and you can laugh all you like because I don't care.

It's been a glorious day here in Pembrokeshire and here's Manorbier Castle this morning, with the sea in the distance.
I was standing up on the highest tower and the views in all directions were wonderful.

And, this afternoon, here's Tenby Harbour in the sunshine, with the old lifeboat station about a third of the way in from the left, and the brand new lifeboat station on the far left. The lone swimmer in the foreground on North Beach is, of course, my eighty-four-year-old mother.

How anyone can bear to be without a camera I really don't know.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A Fast Crawl

When I was a teenager I used to go to Leeds Ladies swimming club on a Thursday night, at the Olympic Pool in Leeds, and they worked us all very hard and made us all swim lots of different strokes - - breast stroke, front crawl, back crawl and the horribly exhausting butterfly.

They also made us do racing dives - which I didn't mind - and neat dives - which I could never do. Neat in any form does not come naturally to me. I can still remember how to do a racing dive, and, if you insisted, could even do one to demonstrate. But a neat dive where you jump up vertically in the air, turn over and then go straight down with barely a splash - - oh, no, not me.

My mother, of course, at eighty-four can still do a near-perfect neat dive. Her racing dive isn't bad either. She looks at the signs round the pool, which always say "No Diving" these days, as diving has generally been Health and Safetied out of existence. Then she decides to ignore the sign, and dive anyway.

These days I mostly swim breast stroke, because it was always my favourite, and I can swim for ages and ages doing breast stroke.

My mother, however, favours back crawl. There is a problem with back crawl. You lie on your back and go backwards. This is fine provided you have your wits about you and realise that, if you keep on swimming backwards, you won't be able to see the end of the pool and may be in danger of crashing into it.

My mother used to be quite good at this and would stop just in time.

Then, sixteen years ago, she had a major stroke. She made an amazing recovery, but one thing that's gone is her grasp of where the end of a swimming-pool might be. So for the past sixteen years or so I've got into the habit of keeping a bit of an eye out for her when we're swimming together, and of yelling "Mum! STOP!" in the nick of time.

But then, over the past year, she's gradually become rather deaf. No, let's face it, very deaf. She does have hearing aids, but won't wear them much as she doesn't like all the traffic noise and they make this louder too. "Speak up, I haven't got my lug'oles in" she says, about twenty times a day. And, of course, she couldn't wear them for swimming anyway.

So there she is, hurtling towards the bank, because she still swims pretty fast.

"Mum! Stop! STOP! STOP! MUM! MUM! STOOOOOOOOOP!" - -- BANG! She crashes into the side.

"Oh dear, I've bonked my head again," she says cheerfully before setting off to do exactly the same thing at the other end of the pool.

The NHS doesn't seem to provide any advice about how to stop your eighty-four-year-old mother from knocking herself unconscious in a swimming pool. And part of me thinks well, to do yourself in by crashing during a fast back crawl - - well, there must be worse ways to go. But I hope it won't be for a few years yet.