Tuesday, September 30, 2008


In the Olden Days when I were nobbut a lass, as they say round here, I wasn't allowed to eat ice-lollies.

The reason for this was that they were supposed to be made of nasty dirty water in the land of Johnny Foreigner, and they would give you typhoid.

There may in fact have been some truth in this, or it may have just been one of my parents' rather over-protective theories, of which there were many.

I was, however, allowed ice-cream - no, I don't quite understand it either. And, after a while, they started making ice-lollies out of ice-cream, and I was allowed those.

The one I really, really coveted was called something like a Heart. It was - you guessed! - heart-shaped, and was vanilla ice-cream on a stick, with stripes of raspberry sauce, covered in milk chocolate.

It cost a shilling, which was at the time about the price of a family car. Oh, all right, perhaps I exaggerate a bit. But a whole shilling! - yes, that's five new pence, or just five pence as we would call them now they're not new at all.

A shilling, in days when an ice-cream cornet cost threepence. You can see why a Heart was a rare luxury - I think I only ever had one about twice.

These days, of course, what with being diabetic an' all, I don't tend to eat sweet things very much. But the other day, in the park, after a walk (that's my excuse) we headed straight for the ice-cream van and bought a 99 each.

I don't remember 99s from my childhood - I think they must have been invented a bit later, along with the internal combustion engine. If you have missed out on their glory, they are a vanilla cornet with a Cadbury's Flake stuck in it, and they are Paradise in ice-cream form.

Here you go. A vision of heaven. Well over twenty times the cost of a Heart.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Down and Down

Olli, who is an archaeology student, and I keep having a conversation where I say that I don't really understand why things go down and down. Archaeologists dig down say, ten feet, and there's a Roman villa.

And yet I can't quite picture the conversation where they decide to build the new villa on top of the old one. But I suppose they did, more or less. Is the whole planet getting higher, therefore? Or at least the built-up bits?

This is the sort of question I ask; and she gives me a puzzled shrug.

Anyway, a few days ago I got evidence of it whilst driving through a Northern city - you know, the kind that's supposed to be full of pigeons and ferrets and flat caps and the like.

They were resurfacing the road and had scraped off all the layers of tarmac and stuff that they used nowadays for roads. Underneath were lots and lots of rather beautiful setts (they are like cobbles, but neater - Wikipedia doesn't seem to do setts, but you can scroll down from cobblestones).

Okay, fair enough, I thought, the roads at least go down and down.

This brings me to the ghosts.

In the 1970s I stayed in Abingdon Abbey in Berkshire, England. I was helping to put on a theatre festival in the delightful Unicorn Theatre there. For a few nights we slept in the Long Gallery but any ghosts left us well alone.

The curator of the abbey told me, however, that when he was on his own in the Abbey he had sometimes seen ghostly monks walking about. However, they only seemed to exist from the knees up, drifting about looking even shorter than mediaeval monks generally looked.

After a while he found out that the floor of the Long Gallery had been raised over the years, and the ghosts dated from when the floor was about a foot lower.

So surely, if everything's getting higher and higher, then this should be true of many ghosts, if not most? I know there's a story of some workman in York seeing lots of Roman soldiers walking through underground walls, but surely most ghosts should at least disappear below their ankles?

I've never seen a ghost, but if I ever do I shall try to check that it's at the right level on the floor. And if it's not I shall be even more puzzled than I am already.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Arrival of Wendy Wollstonecraft

This post's going to cover a lot of ground but I'll do my best. It's going to lurch from Cute Overload to touch very fleetingly on eighteenth-century feminism. Please bear with me.

My lovely daughter Emily got married to the equally lovely Gareth in February: but she has since changed her first name and is now called Olli.

Olli and Gareth live in York and they have just today acquired a kitten: they bought it a couple of weeks back, have been to visit it with its mother and now it's old enough to come to live with them. On the way back to York with the kitten they called in here so that we could see for ourselved that it's the cutest kitten in the whole world ever (apart from our cat Froggie, of course - though she was a stray so I didn't know her when she was a kitten).

The kitten has a W on her forehead and is now called Wendy Wollstonecraft. Here she is, on my friend Sarah's shoulder:

and here is Wendy, doing her best to amuse Gareth and, it must be said, succeeding:

You will notice that Gareth is rather big and that Wendy is really very small.

I didn't get any really good photos of her, because it's tricky taking photos of kittens, because they won't keep still, and in a roomful of lovestruck kitten fans and kitten equipment it's doubly difficult. But take it from me, she's mega-cute.

I'll do the next bit quickly: the Wendy is because it's a good name for a kitten, and because of the W. The Wollstonecraft is after Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792. As part of my Eng Lit degree at Leeds, I had to write a 2,000-word comparison of this work with Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch. It was the 1970s, what can I say?

I have no idea what my conclusions were so luckily for you I can't thrill you with them. Oh, wait! I think my general conclusion was that there are more interesting ways to spend a summer than writing stuff like that. I never even bothered to collect it after it was marked so have no idea what grade I got.

Why the kitten has the surname Wollstonecraft I just don't know. Perhaps Olli and Gareth will explain. But hey! Cute kitten, or what?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Goodbye, Paul

He used to be the same age as the Communist in all the newspaper articles, but now that the Communist is eighty-five, he seems to have lagged behind a bit at eighty-three.

And now Paul Newman's dead.

I feel shocked. Of course, he was eighty-three which is really quite old - - but, come on! Paul Newman! Paul Newman of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, one of the first films that I loved.

Paul Newman of The Sting, a few years later.

I had never heard that Scott Joplin music before the film came out and I loved it. One night several of us danced for hours to the LP (that's long-playing record) in our dining-room with the bouncy floorboards, with the poor old Dansette record-player struggling to survive as it jiggled up and down. By heck, we knew how to live in those days.

Of course, Paul Newman's been in many films since then, but those two made such an impression on me in my teenage years. One of the things that really brings home the passage of time is the death of the icons of your youth. Paul Newman, eh? I can't believe it.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Listening Very Carefully

Yesterday, somewhere in England, I was being trained in some roleplay for a future occasion.

The man doing the training, whom I shall call James, though that isn't his name, is a psychologist and a bit of an expert in body language.

Most medical roleplay is done from a detailed brief - I am given the important points, such as any medical symptoms and how long the character has had them. I'm generally free to invent other details which help to make the character seem more real - such as names and ages of any children - as long as they don't interfere with the central theme of the brief.

So, if I was playing a character who was having quite a lot of exercise, I might say, for example, that I had a dog and took it for long walks every day. If, though, there was no mention of alcohol intake in the brief, and if in the roleplay I was asked if I drink alcohol - a common question - then the answer would always be "no" or to make it clear that the character really doesn't drink much. Otherwise, the student doctor might go off on an "is she a really heavy drinker?" tack which was not relevant to the aims of the roleplay.

For much of the roleplay work I do, the brief is just sent to me in the post or by email and I'm left to work out for myself how I'm going to play the role. I'm usually fine with that as I've done such a lot of it and I think - I hope - that I can generally work out what learning aims or assessment aims a particular role is trying to achieve.

However, James's training on any work I do for him is extremely thorough. He generally spends a whole afternoon on one set of roleplays - yesterday there were just three of us, learning three briefs. We went through each one in detail and then tried them out to see if they worked.

As I said, James is highly skilled in interpreting body language. So, in all previous sessions with him, if I've ever got a bit tired and glaze over for a moment, or if I don't agree with something he's saying, he's noticed in a flash.

"Are you all right with that, Daphne? Do you agree with me? Is there something you think isn't working?"

But hey, do you know what, I'm quite good at the old body language too. I know how to sit slightly forward, looking keen, with a fascinated expression on my face.

So yesterday, there wasn't - I hope - one moment when he could think I wasn't concentrating, or that I didn't agree with what he was saying.

And yet, of course, he knows from past experience that I'll just switch off for a little while when it's coming up to the tea break.

He surely knew that I was doing "I'm listening really intently" body language. And I knew that he knew. And he knew that I knew that he knew.

Tricky stuff, this Communication Skills lark.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Heard on the Radio

Driving down the M1 today, listening to the radio, I suddenly heard a song that I hadn't heard for many, many years. How many? I don't know. Twenty, probably, at least. Great voice, I thought. It took me a while to place it.

Joan Baez. Great to hear it again.

Hurrah for t'Interclacker!

I'm always amazed that I still meet people, people who aren't in their dotage and have all their own teeth and everything and seem to have a lively mind, who say things like "Oh I never bother with the internet. It just doesn't appeal to me."

When I started writing this blog in 2006 I didn't know what it would be like. All I knew was that that I'd always enjoyed writing, and that I wanted to write more, and that I felt that I would enjoy writing short pieces, and that there were some stories that I wanted to tell about things that had happened to me, and that I wanted to see if I could be funny sometimes, too.

I didn't know quite how much I would enjoy writing it. And, most certainly, I never expected that I would start reading other people's blogs and enjoying them so much. One of these was written by Silverback.

Nearly two years ago Silverback left a comment on my blog about Desmond Dekker and The Israelites. Perhaps I'd left a comment on his before that - - or perhaps his was the first comment - - I can't remember, and it doesn't matter. He was then in Florida and I remember assuming he was American for a while - - and then I worked out that he was British and lives in Leeds for half the year, about two miles from where I live.

And, a year ago today, we met, and we got on as well in real life as we did by blog comment and email. He's become a great friend, and really great friends don't come along that often, and are to be treasured: and I do.

Because of this, Stephen and I are off to Florida in November (yes, yes, we know, they sigh. One day I'll write a post where I don't mention this. Perhaps) to see him and to meet his friends there and to see some of Florida.

Internet? Wonderful.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Daffodils from the Seventies

My grandmother used to do a lot of embroidery, but quite often didn't finish making something from the embroidered cloth.

She died in 1991, age ninety-three.

The last time Amy, who is eighty-four, was over here to visit from her home in Barrow-in-Furness, she found some of this embroidery and made it into a cushion cover.

Now she's found some more, and is doing the same thing:

and here's a close-up of the embroidery:

Now it's a kind of double family treasure: embroidered in the nineteen-seventies by my tiny-and-clever grandmother Charlotte and hand-sewn into a cushion-cover by the lovely and supremely talented Amy.

A lot of embroidery was done to make tablecloths and I'm not an embroidered-tablecloth kind of person myself: these are more casual times, perhaps.

But I love it that this beautiful old embroidery's being recycled. By chance, when I saw textile designer Katrin Freitag the other day I saw some delightful cloth bags which she's been making from old embroidered tablecloths.

We hear of recycling all the time these days: this is a lovely form of it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Another Place I Was Never Going to Visit

When I was a child I knew there were some places I'd never be able to visit. One was the United States of America, because you had to answer the question "Are you, or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?" And, of course, my answer would have been "No, but my dad is".

And, of course, the Communist's answer would have been a ten-minute diatribe about the evils of Capitalism. So, on balance, I don't think we would have got in.

We were never going to visit Spain because of General Franco and its history of Fascism, and, actually, since a lot of my relatives in Eastern Europe were killed by the Nazis, that seemed fair enough to me.

But there are a lot of traditions in this family and the tradition of never going to the USA and never going to Spain has persisted to this day and none of us has ever been to either, even though Franco's not in power any more, in fact hasn't been for quite some time. (American politics? I'm not even going to go there, except to say that I don't believe in Creationism.)

And now, in the space of one short month, I'll be doing both, in November. Barcelona at the beginning: Florida at the end.

Barcelona's been rather overshadowed in my head by Florida, which is in America, by the way (pause for five minutes jumping up and down shouting YES, I'M GOING TO AMERICA!)

But everyone tells me that Barcelona is fantastic and I'm looking forward to that too. Though I'll have to learn a bit of Spanish, because I don't like going to people's countries without speaking any of the language (yes, I know it's mostly Catalan in Barcelona).

When I was small and we went to Italy, I remember asking how this difficult-sounding language was written down and was told "Just like ours". By which I suppose my parents meant that it used the same letters.

But that was not what I took the answer to mean. I assumed that when it was written down it would somehow turn into English and I'd be able to read it.

I was very, very disappointed when I found that it didn't turn into English at all. But I'm still vaguely hoping that this might be true of Spanish.

Monday, September 22, 2008


Here's my favourite folk tale.

"And so," said the King, "I sentence you to be executed. Sleeping with one of my daughters was bad enough, but two, and my wife as well!"

"Okay, Sire," said Egbert, "that's fine. Fair cop. But if you could find it in your heart to spare my life for just one year, I will be able to teach your favourite stallion, King's Ransom, to talk in that time."

"To talk?" asked the King, amazed. "In English?" (Yes, I know it might not have been English. Dramatic licence.)

"Yes, Sire," said Egbert. "In just one year I will teach your horse to talk fluently, in English."

The King was delighted. "Spare that man's life!" he exclaimed. "And bring him back, in a year's time, with my horse."

Egbert was led away. "You promised what?" asked the jailer. "To teach the King's horse to talk?"

"Yes, that's right," said Egbert.

"Why on earth did you promise such an impossible thing?" asked the jailer. "You know you can't do it."

"Look," said Egbert, "in a year's time the King may die. Or I may die. Or the horse may die. Or the horse may talk."

Now then. Egbert, dear reader, was an optimist.

I'm an optimist too. To me the glass is always half-full, not half-empty. I think that, in general, if I try hard enough, most things will come right. "It'll be fine," I say, often, when I haven't worked out the details yet but am pretty sure I'll be able to do it to everyone's satisfaction.

I suppose that's why, when things go badly wrong, I'm really very shocked. I lose my way for a while and it feels like the end of the world. But then, I gradually come out of it. I'm not thinking of anything in particular here - that's just how I always react to bad news. Of course, how long it takes depends upon how bad the news is.

I suppose we're all like that to some extent: it's just that, in my case, after a while, I go back to my usual "It'll be fine" setting. I feel very sorry for those people who don't.

Some people just seem to have been born expecting everything to be terrible. Others, of course, have come to expect it from various things that have happened to them over the years. Yes, I know I've been fortunate in very, very many ways.

And, of course, some people seem determined to make things go wrong no matter how well everything's set up for them, so that they can triumphantly claim disaster at every possible opportunity.

Optimist? Pessimist? I think a lot of it is just down to personality. And I think that those of us who were born optimists are very lucky indeed.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Here Comes the Sun - - though a bit late

It was a lovely day in Roundhay Park, Leeds, yesterday: an ordinary day, blue skies, green grass, blue water:

The trees still are in late-summer mode:

Until you look closely. And then you know it's nearly autumn.

Acorns, sweet chestnuts and - my favourites - conkers, all nearly ripe.

The summer of 2007 produced one of the most beautiful British autumns ever. In 2007 we had terrible flooding in June. This year we've had rain, it seems, almost every day throughout July and August. I've noticed a lot of the leaves on the horse-chestnut (conker) trees are turning a strange, crinkly brown around the edges. It doesn't look like the usual autumn brown. My theory is that the poor trees are so waterlogged that they're drowning.

The sunshine this last couple of days is all very well but it's too little, too late. This year we just haven't had that heart-lifting cheer of a few weeks when we need the fan switched on in the office to keep cool and can sit outside on the lawn with our sandwiches at lunchtime.

Where am I going in a few weeks' time? I'll just mention it again, shall I? Oh yes, Florida. Yes, if summer won't come to me I'm off to find it elsewhere. I've never been abroad in the winter and heading off to find sunshine in November still feels like cheating.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Hut of the Day

And now, folks - - Hut of the Day!

What is it about dens and huts and sheds and the like that makes them so very pleasant? Small secret places! Mine, as a child, was the hay loft in our garage. (No, I know cars don't run on hay. It used to be a stable.) The hay loft is still there but sadly is not safe to stand in now. But when I was ten, it had a carpet, and seats, and books, and many a picnic lunch.

Anyway, here is what is very possibly Cumbria's Finest Hut. It used to be the ticket office for Furness Abbey in Barrow-in-Furness, which is why it has a certain faded grandeur.

I wanted to pick it up and bring it home, but it wouldn't fit in the car. Not even if we took out all the pebbles from the beach.

Back in 1984

I don't know why I was thinking about Ward 9 when I woke up this morning, except that the autumn's always a bit of a strange time of year for me, and although it's a beautiful sunny day today there's a definite twinge of autumn in the air.

My first baby, was born on October 14th, 1984, prematurely, and died three weeks later. I won't tell you his name.

I was very ill afterwards with anaemia and, through a series of doctors' mistakes, fell through a medical black hole and the anaemia prevented me from eating more than the occasional carrot from mid-October until early December. until finally I turned an interesting shade of green and was carted off to a specialist who looked at me, turned nearly as pale as I was, and said I was to go directly to hospital and not even think about going home first.

So, paying close attention to his instructions, I insisted on going home to wash my hair. And then I ended up in Ward 9 of Chapel-Allerton Hospital, Leeds.

The hospital was built to look after soldiers who were casualties of the First World War, and then expanded just before the Second World War, in anticipation of more casualties. They built some long Nightingale wards - those old-fashioned ones where there were long rows of beds - and Ward 9 was one of these.

In Ward 9 they very quickly gave me a massive blood transfusion which saved my life: I went from hardly being able to move and not being able to eat at all to being ravenously hungry.

Perhaps because it was a small hospital, the food was great, it really was, and the kitchen staff seemed to take great pleasure in trying to feed me up, because I was rather startlingly thin, too (yes, hard to imagine now, I know).

They hadn't been quite sure what to do with me, and so I was in was a ward for people with chronic illnesses.

I was twenty-eight. The nearest person in age to me was seventy-four. The rest were older. Some had Alzheimer's. It was all rather interesting, though very strange. I made friends with Kath, the seventy-four-year-old in the next bed, and kept in touch with her for some time afterwards.

On the other side was Brenda, who was a bit bonkers and spent the day putting on very thick make-up and then removing it and starting again.

Across the ward was a very old lady whose name I forget. She was always accusing everyone else of stealing her things, whilst simultaneously wandering around and leaving them everywhere. At the same time, she would rummage through everyone's lockers, thinking they were hers: of course "locker" was not a very accurate name, since they didn't lock.

She died in the middle of the night and I remember them trying to take her out without waking everyone up, and dropping something and making a very loud noise.

I was in that ward for what seemed like ages - perhaps it was only about two or three weeks - and then went home, looking forward to Christmas dinner like I'd never looked forward to it before (and it's still my favourite meal of the year).

In the Mansion, the main part of the hospital, some people were putting on a Christmas show for the patients and my first longish walk was to that part of the hospital to see it.

The day after the pantomime I was allowed to go home: but unfortunately I developed a blood clot in my leg which then moved to my lung, and a few weeks later I ricocheted straight back to Ward 9.

I don't think being in Ward 9 was particularly good for me in some ways as I'd gone from being a young expectant mother to being in what was, in effect, a geriatric ward, all in the space of a few weeks and I think I found it very hard to deal with that side of it.

However, the care I received in that little, old-fashioned hospital was superb, because everyone - the doctors, nurses, kitchen staff, cleaners, everyone - all made me feel that they cared about me and my recovery.

The ward I was in has now been demolished and there's new housing there. The old mansion, the original hospital, still exists and now looks like this. It's astonishing for me to see it in that state as it seems hardly any time since I was there - - and it's very nearly twenty-four years.

I think Ward 9 will always be with me and I'll probably think about it every autumn. But, although most of the memories of the lead-up to my arrival there are bad ones, I'll always be grateful to the staff of Ward 9 for saving my life.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


As part of my work, I have to send out vital bits of information about forthcoming acting work. We have several email lists for different purposes.

One actress found out, via her boyfriend who's also on our lists, that she hasn't been receiving emails from us.

She emailed me to inquire why she wasn't on the lists.

I replied to say that she was. The lists had not changed. Perhaps her computer was putting emails from me into spam, because they were from a group mailing.

In case she didn't get the email, though of course it was sent just to her, I emailed her boyfriend with this news too.

A few days later she texted me to ask me to put her back on our lists. I texted back to say she is STILL ON OUR LISTS.

She texted me again with her email address. I checked it. It's the one we've got. I texted back to say she is STILL ON OUR LISTS AND THE ADDRESS IS CORRECT (okay, I didn't shout).

Then she got her boyfriend to email to ask me to put her back on the lists because she isn't getting any emails from us - - -

Fearing that this could carry on for ever, and ever, and ever, I rang her and explained that it's entirely possible that her system is putting emails from us into spam and could she please check?

She said she would check, but that it didn't before, and why should it now?

I don't know, is the answer. Because the computer is a contrary beast, is another answer.

No, I know, it's not a very exciting story, but I have four hundred or so days of work to sort out and am in the process of finding actors to fill them, and things like this just make me sighhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

The Last Harebell In The World (Maybe)

Years and years ago, The Communist, who was also The Pharmacist, owned a chemist's shop in Halton, Leeds.

Sometimes my mother would take me to visit him and one memorable lunchtime we went for a walk and found a grassy embankment leading down to an old railway line.

I picture it in my head as a rather idyllic scene from the wonderful 1970 film of E. Nesbit's The Railway Children (and whilst we're on the subject, do you remember the scene where Jenny Agutter stands in a cloud of steam and sees her father getting off the train and says "My daddy! My daddy!"? Well, if you can watch that without crying you have a heart of pure stone and my heart swells with pity for you).

The afternoon that I remember was in the early sixties, probably, well before the film: but anyway, there was the railway line, a tunnel entrance and, on the grassy bank, harebells, a pretty and delicate flower of August grasslands. There were masses of them, and they made the whole place magic for me. Halton was very much in the city, and suddenly I felt that I was out in the countryside, and I loved it.

I've seen harebells most summers since. But I don't think they like too much rain, and this summer we've had little else.

Last week we visited Furness Abbey in Cumbria.

There, on the sandstone, amongst the moss and lichens, was one solitary harebell.

It's the only one I've seen this year. I miss them. Has anyone else seen some?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Land of Dope and Tory

The Communists and my mother have a lot of strange little rituals. Grumbling their way through The Last Night of the Proms is one of them.

Of course, The Communist is now living in a nursing home so I expect he did his Furious Grumbling on his own.

Every year they watch it. Every year they complain like mad.

This year's conductor was Sir Roger Norrington, who was an amiable, frightfully-British, uncle-like figure. If his life is ever filmed, he'll be played by Jim Broadbent, I can tell you now.

Now you know the kind of thing that's going to happen in The Last Night of the Proms. If you don't like it, don't watch it.

You get a big crowd of people feeling that, for one day of the year, they're allowed to be patriotic and the audience is a mass of waving Union Jacks. (They're probably not called Union Jacks. They're probably called Union Flags. I never know what to call them. My Dad's a Communist.)

I went over to their house and found my mother watching the bit with Vaughan Williams' Sea Shanties, which I like. So far so good.

But then we were on to the traditional finale and the complaints started.

On came Bryn Terfel and sang Rule, Britannia, to the accompaniment of madly waving flags.

My mother loves Bryn Terfel but didn't think he should be singing this. "Imperialist nonsense," she said, as she says every year. I could hear my father thinking it from his nursing home a mile away.

Oh yes, on to the Pomp and Circumstance with the crowd joining in enthusiastically.

Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the free, How shall we extol thee, Who are born of thee?
Wider still and wider, Shall thy bounds be set, God, who made thee mighty, Make thee mightier yet - -

"So hollow," said my mother in tones of contempt. Me? I just like the tune and wanted to sing along and wave a flag, even though "extol thee" is a really rubbish rhyme for "glory". My father would be singing along in his nursing home, with his alternative version beginning Land of Dope and Tory.

And then Jerusalem! And did those feet in ancient times - -

You'd think my mother might like this, since William Blake wrote the lyrics and she heartily approves of him, but no! It reminds her of the Women's Institute as they always sing it, and she doesn't like them - she thinks they're a bunch of stick-in-the-mud old ladies, and she's never going to be one of those, even though she's eighty-four.

Finally, on to the British National Anthem, God Save the Queen.

Here are the words, as sung by millions of Brits throughout the country.

God save our gracious Queen, long live our noble Queen, God save the Queen.
Send her victorious, happy and glorious, long to reign o'er us, God save the Queen.

So far so good, even though "o'er us" is a rubbish rhyme for "glorious".

But then we go on to the second verse, which goes like this:

Ba ba ba ba baba, Aab aab aab aab aba

Ba ba ba ba. Aab aab aab aab baba, ba ba ba ba baba, aab aaby aaby aab ba ba, Baba aab ba ba.

You look in any gathering and you'll see that this is exactly what's being sung. For nobody has a clue about the second verse except we know it has some vague idea about doing away with Johnny Foreigner. In fact, very probably the only person in the whole country who knows the words is Amy, visiting from Barrow, who was taught it as a child and can sing every verse. Mum and I marvelled at this, though Mum of course managed to throw in a cry of "Dreadful, dreadful lyrics" on the way. (Mind you, she's right of course).

The thing about my parents is they take their political beliefs very seriously, and they really disapprove of all this show of what they'd call "warmongering patriotism": though, of course, they like the music! I find their constant complaints all rather exhausting. Sometimes, over the years, I've thought oh! it would be so much fun, just for once, to join in, sing my head off and not think too much.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Freitag on a Tuesday

At the age of fourteen I won a school prize for my hand-sewn buttonholes.

Thank you - your applause is appreciated.

I think they actually weren't that good - just not quite as bad as the zip I'd put in or the blouse I'd made. I hated sewing generally, though it was quite fun on the old treadle machine that was worked with your foot. With the treadle, the sewing was fun: the nearest we got to a theme-park ride in those far-off Seventies days. However, the initial results, at least, were rubbish,

Anyway, perhaps they hoped that rewarding me for my hours of forced labour in the buttonhole department might spark a lifetime interest in such things. Instead, I resolved that this was it. End Of. Never again would I wield a needle, except maybe to turn up the occasional pair of trousers.

Today I met someone whose skills in all things textile are at the other end of the scale from mine. I visited Katrin Freitag's textiles studio.

There I found machines which even I recognised and could work out that they were intended for sewing things together:

The green spiky things in the background are called plants, I'm more confident identifying those.

Then there was this:

I didn't have a clue but apparently it's an overlocker. I used to do that kind of stitching by hand at school. Very, very slowly and with great resentment.

Katrin demonstrated how to do it very fast and with excellent results.

She makes unusual, interesting and beautiful things - textile jewellery, bags, slippers for example - and is in the process of setting up a website and an online shop to show them and to sell them.

I liked the pile of delicate, ethereal brooches:

They're made of tulle (my guess - I forgot to ask Katrin!). Each one is different and they're all beautiful.

If you'd like to know more you can contact Katrin here. It's great to see work that's original, interesting and looks good too!

Photography and Pepperpots

In the little town of Ulverston, Cumbria, there is a Victorian monument on top of a hill.

Its official name is the Sir John Barrow Monument but it is known locally as The Hoad, (scroll down a bit for a photo if you click on the link) and the hill it sits on is known as Pepperpot Hill because of the Hoad's resemblance to a pepperpot.

So far so good. On the way from Barrow to Leeds the road goes right past this hill, but there's nowhere easy to stop. I thought I might be able to get a photograph of The Hoad as Silverback, who was driving very smoothly as usual, drove slowly past it.

The thing is, I don't have quick reactions. If I have to take a photo which requires me to keep the camera still, that's fine, as I am a human tripod. I press the button and the camera has gone Cerllllick before I've noticed, let alone moved.

But taking a photo in a split second from a moving car was never going to be easy. Still, I've been taking photographs since I was five, so I mustered all my accumulated photographic skill. And here's the result.

Yes, not many people could have got The Hoad so perfectly aligned behind that pole.

Here's my second attempt:

Who cares about the top, anyway? Take it from me, it looks like a pepperpot. Should the Ulverston Tourist Board approach me, wanting to include my photos in their brochure, I'll be happy to give them permission.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Happy Birthday to the Communist

Today is the Communist's birthday and he is eighty-five.

Here's a photograph I took of him yesterday. He'd been brought back from the nursing home for lunch. My brother Michael couldn't come over from Amsterdam for his birthday but Deborah, his wife has come over and is doing a great job.

The Communist didn't know I was taking it the photo for once, and hence didn't give his usual "I own the place" smile. Wherever you took a photograph of him - on the Lake District hills, or outside a stately home, or at the seaside, he always looked as though the whole place belonged to him.

Now he looks very old and frail: it's a year since he had his left leg amputated. He's recently had a detached retina in his left eye and hence lost the sight in that eye. He can't sit for long because of what he describes as "My Sore Bottom." But he's still got his mental faculties, and he's still got lots of spirit, and because he doesn't believe in God he's not going to give in and leave this planet just yet.

After lunch Deborah went with him in a wheelchair taxi back to the nursing home, and he needed the loo, and all the staff were busy, and some stupid cow loomed in front of him and shouted three inches from his face in a loud voice reserved for conversation with the deaf and very stupid, (and he's not either, and even if he was, how dare she speak to anyone like that?) "Well, you should have gone this morning, shouldn't you?"

And this is in what we're constantly told is one of the best nursing-homes in Leeds. So, do I trot down there on Monday to complain to the ever-smiling manager? Or, if I complain, will they take it out on The Communist? Certainly, when I was in hospital years ago and my mother complained about my treatment, they took it out on me. So I never know what to do for the best. But I expect I'll complain. Again. The Communist would want me to, and hang the repercussions.

But it won't do any good because we don't think enough of our old people to pay care assistants enough, even though the nursing home is costing the Communist nearly six hundred pounds per week (yes, you did read that right) from his hard-earned savings.

So he's ending his days in the uncaring "care" of stupid people. No, not all of them, of course, some of the staff are great: but enough of them, take it from me. If they can behave like that in the relatives' presence what happens when the relatives aren't there?

Happy Birthday, Dad. I wish things could be different.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Saturday Night Elephant Movie

Here's a baby elephant, for no reason except that I like them.

I found this one on Cute Overload: I wrote about my very secret Cute Overload habit in one of my earliest blog posts back in April 2006.

I can add nothing to this post: looking at Cute Overload is still something I do late at night when I think nobody's around. Okay, if you think you're so tough, try watching this video without saying "aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaw".

Foreign Parts

Stephen's been in Helsinki, Finland this past week for a Technical Planning Workshop for the company he works for, which is a Finnish-Swedish IT Services Company (you notice how casually I wrote that, just as though I understand what it means). He is, as previously mentioned, Half Man Half Computer, and so he does understand such things.

They booked him into a hotel for the first couple of nights but he had to set off without knowing where he was staying after that. Finland were playing Germany in Helsinki and every hotel room in the place had been taken.

So for the third night he had to travel about 100km outside Helsinki to a place called Lahti. And this, dear reader, was the name of the hotel he stayed in.

How dodgy does that sound for overseas business trips?

Here's its website if you happen to be passing through Lahti.

Which you probably won't be. Because it isn't near anywhere. Except St Petersburg. It's not too far from Russia and Stephen said everything felt much closer to Russia than to the rest of Europe.

But hey, I've been travelling too. I've been to Rotherham this week. Twice. And Barrow-in-Furness.

In case that Finnish story made you feel homesick for Britain, here's Amy's very comforting, very pretty garden in Barrow. (Click on it to enlarge the photo)

Amy was my mother's best friend from school and married her first cousin, and we've always been very close. She's eighty-four, like my mother, and, like my mother, remarkably fit and very resourceful.

Her neighbour put an ugly concrete wall at the bottom of the garden, and she didn't like it. So she found two large mirrors from an old wardrobe and put them at the bottom of the garden, thus blocking out the concrete and reflecting the garden - if you look very carefully you can see the mirror at the bottom of the garden in this photo.

It looks great - - the only thing is, if you wander round the garden, from time to time you will notice a pair of disembodied legs doing the same thing. It can take a while to work out that they're your legs.

Travel, eh? Amazing the things you learn.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Beside the Sea

I'm just back from a lovely couple of days in and around Barrow-in-Furness, that much-maligned town at the End of the World, Cumbria.

Some of my favourite relatives live there - in fact we kidnapped one of them and brought her back to Leeds with us for a bit. She seemed happy about it.

More about it all tomorrow, but meanwhile, here's a demonstration of why I love being beside the sea: it never looks the same twice.

Here's an old boat, in a photo taken on February 13th this year, a couple of days before Emily and Gareth's wedding:

Here it was yesterday, in the same place:

Here's the walkway down to where the little Piel Island Ferry goes from, with Piel Island in the distance, back in February:

Here it was yesterday:

No animals were harmed, or Photoshop used, in the making of these photos - it just shows how different the weather conditions, tides and light can be.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Apples, Roses, Coke and Chilli Sauce

In one of my roleplays today I was playing a woman called Sally. The drugs that Sally was on had been changed. She had previously been on 8 milligrams of Pterodactyl and it had been changed to 10 milligrams of Stegosaurus (all names have been changed to protect the innocent). The change had been made purely because Stegosaurus was cheaper, though the two drugs were supposed to have identical effects.

One of the questions I, in role playing Sally, asked was this:

"But the two drugs can't be the same. If I was on 8 milligrams of Pterodactyl and it's been changed to 10 milligrams of Stegosaurus, then surely Stegasaurus must be a weaker, inferior drug, because I have to take more of it."

This, I knew, was not the case. It's perfectly possible to have two drugs in the same family of drugs which require different dosages to have the same effect- - but it was a perfectly logical point from Sally's point of view and the doctors had a really tricky job explaining it.

One of them had a bold try with something about apple pies made by Asda and Sainsbury's, but she quickly got into deep verbal trouble with it and ground to a halt.

Then it all started getting a bit poetic.

"Look at Coke and Pepsi," said one. "They look the same, they taste the same, and yet the ingredients may be slightly different."

All that this led to was a heated debate over whether Coke and Pepsi taste the same, with fans of both drinks fighting their corner as to which was best. This didn't really help Sally with her drugs.

"How about roses?" said one doctor. "Roses can look and smell very different, but they're still roses."

"Apples," said another, following on from the pie theme. "A Cox's Orange Pippin and a Granny Smith's look and taste quite different but they're both just as good for you, and both contribute to your five-a-day."

It was agreed that this was getting nearer.

A group of male doctors got into a huddle and had an earnest conversation. After a few minutes, they emerged triumphant.

"Chilli Sauce," said one, in tones of great pride. "Some chilli sauce is stronger and you have to use less of it than other chilli sauce. But the result is still the same."

So there we have it. Drug doses explained with clarity. It seems like a trivial point - and they did have fun trying to come up with examples - but explaining things clearly is crucial for doctors, of course. And it was encouraging that these doctors were prepared to keep trying until they found a way that worked.

Embarrassing Ailments

Have you got anything wrong with you that's really, really embarrassing? Something that makes your toes positively curl and if anyone you knew found out you'd die of shame?

Well, I'll have done a roleplay about it then, for the training and/or assessment of doctors or student doctors. Even if you're a bloke, and it's something in a place you're too embarrassed to even think about, I'll have been married to someone who doesn't want to talk about it either, in a roleplay.

Because it's good to present doctors with a lot of challenge in their training, especially the ones who are already qualified.

Because of this, I'm used to talking quite openly about things that make most people wince and hide under the table: I'm just not embarrassed at all.

Today and tomorrow I'm involved in a course quite a long way away (which is why I should be asleep in bed - I have to get up at six to go and do more of it) and my roleplay topics are all topics which might be considered rather harrowing or thoroughly embarrassing.

I pride myself on keeping totally in character, on making it as real as possible. But honestly, when you're doing twelve half-hour roleplays in a day it's quite a lot, and it's hard to keep concentration.

But I did. Just. Even though, when I did a roleplay which involved me asking for a cure for my constipation, one candidate said "We need to delve more deeply into your constipation." NO, Daphne, I said to myself, not one flicker on your face, thank you very much.

And I still didn't crack when every single candidate said, completely without thinking, "We've got to get to the bottom of this."

I've got to do it all again tomorrow. And if they all say it again, and I still manage not to smile, I think I should get some kind of Oscar.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Particle Physics Made Simple

I've always been rather suspicious of physics. Our teacher at school, Mrs Dack, was forever giving us demonstrations that didn't work.

"So I'm sucking all the air out of this tin can and now we can all watch it collapse."

It didn't collapse. It just sat there.

And, because we were good girls, we all slaved one weekend over the springs. If you put a weight of, say, an ounce, on the bottom of a spring, and it stretches three inches, how far will it stretch if you put two ounces on it?

Well, you'd think it would be six inches, wouldn't you? But we had inferior springs which just lost all their springiness and stretched out completely so they were about a foot long.

We knew this wasn't the right answer. "Try it at home with rubber bands," said Mrs Dack, who clearly didn't know that a rubber band doesn't quite behave like a spring does.

The whole of North Leeds was phoning a friend and trying to come up with the correct answer. In the end she didn't mark this homework - she decided it was too difficult or something - and I didn't really forgive her. Or physics, for being so tricksy.

It's because of this lack of faith in physics that I'm a bit worried about the end of the world on Wednesday.

On Wednesday they press the big switch on the Large Hadron Collider, which is the world's largest particle accelerator, in Switzerland. You want any particles accelerating, this is the one for the job.

They're hoping to find the Higgs Boson, or God Particle. It's very small, apparently, so it's just possible it'll be lying around on the floor somewhere after they've finished colliding things. What if they miss it and the cleaners mop it up? Has anyone thought of that?

Anyway, it may just go a bit wrong, like Mrs Dack's experiments. The good news is that, if it does, we won't know much about it. The bad news is that that's because it may just create a black hole that will eat the whole Earth.

If that happens on Wednesday, I'll be really cross because I'm supposed to be going to Barrow in Furness on Thursday, and I'm looking forward to it.

I've told you all you need to know now. To sum up, if you were planning a trip to the supermarket on Wednesday, I'd leave it till Thursday if I were you, just in case it turns out to be entirely unnecessary.

If you want to know more, this video's quite fun.

Sunday, September 07, 2008


Everyone thinks it's strange, but I've never been abroad in the winter. This November - as I may perhaps have mentioned before (!!) and I may perhaps mention a few dozen times more before I go - I'm going to Florida for two weeks.

It feels really naughty. It feels like cheating. Escaping from the season you were born into, Daphne! That isn't for the likes of you. Whatever next!

I was born into a grey, gloomy postwar Britain. Ridiculous though it sounds, that's where I still am, in my head.

In 1964 a series of documentaries began on British television with the title "Seven Up" - based on what the Jesuits said: Give me a child until he is seven years old and he is mine for life.

The clothes, the look of it are so very familiar to me from my childhood and yet - oh! it seems so very long ago.

It's always fascinated me, because the children in the documentary are the same age as I am: they were all born in 1956 (yes, I am that old). Here's a lad who was in a children's home, who doesn't like greens, and I don't blame him, because I bet the greens were cabbage which had been boiled for about a fortnight, because that's the kind of thing we ate in 1964.

I do hope that he managed to avoid matrimony with the tyrannical greens-feeding wife he so fears.

The film-makers went back to film the children every seven years. The next video shows the beginning of the documentary when they were all forty-nine: it starts with showing them when they were seven.

Accents in Britain have changed a bit since those days. What would have been called Standard English, or Received Pronunciation, or just plain Posh, is different now.

In this clip you'll see a little Posh Boy who says "My heart's desire is to see my Daddy". But he pronounces it "Deddy". That pronunciation, common in old British films such as the splendid Brief Encounter, has now almost completely gone.

I sound Posh to many people these days because I have a girls'-grammar-school-in-the-Seventies accent. But my accent's got nothing on some of this lot, believe me.

I always rather liked the Posh Boy whose heart's desire was to see his Deddy; but there were three public-school boys in the film who seemed to me to embody the class-ridden Britain of the times, and I loathed them, particularly John.

Of course it's not John's fault that I want to slap him - he's a product of his class and his times, as we all are.

I'm going to end this piece with a slightly longer video about John. Just when you - oh, all right, I - want to hit him repeatedly for his accent and his attitudes and his privilege and his expectations - - yes, he reminds me of why, all those years ago, the Communist thought that Communism might be a good thing - - he then starts talking about all the charity work he does in Bulgaria. And redeems himself somewhat. Though part of me hates that "rich-bastard graciously helps out the poor-folks" too. Damn! This is why I can never join any political party - nothing's ever clear-cut to me.

But one thing this programme shows is that if anyone thinks that Britain has changed, that the class system doesn't exist now - - well, they're wrong. All the children in this documentary are now fifty-two. They're the ones who are running the country.

Here's John. Are you more tolerant than I am? Or do you, too, want to hit him by the time he says "Trinity Hall"?

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Peas in Pods

I think I've said before on this blog that I absolutely love eating raw peas. I often buy a whole bagful of peas in pods from the supermarket and just eat my way through them a few at a time.

For goodness' sake, stop looking at me like that! There are stranger habits! There are worse things to eat! In fact I'm sure that, as snacks go, they're pretty healthy. I don't smoke. I don't drink. Everyone's got to have a guilty pleasure. Mine is raw peas, okay?

I'm glad we've cleared that up.

I was pleased to discover from her blog that Jay likes them too. And so does her dog. So it's not just me. So there. Oh, stop looking at me as though you'd just found me poring over nude photos of Bernard Manning, will you?

Anyway. The last couple of times I've been in a supermarket - let us call it Coste, good name eh? I have arrived at the checkout with my bag of garden peas and sundry other items which did NOT include the Naked Bernard Manning Photo Book.

Checkout Assistant stares at my bag of peas in puzzlement.

"So what's them, then?"

"They're peas."


"They're garden peas."

"Like how d'yer mean?"


"You sure?"

"Yes, I'm quite sure. They're garden peas. In pods."

She sighed and gave me a look of deep distrust mingled with incomprehension. Ah, so far from Nature have we travelled!

And could I just point out that this conversation happened not once, but twice, on subsequent visits to The Supermarket I Shall Call Coste.

I give it five years before this conversation will take place:

Checkout Assistant: "So what are these, then?"

Me: "Can you guess? Clue's in the colour."

Checkout Assistant: "Yerwha'?"

Me: "What colour are they?"

Checkout Assistant: "Like how d'yer mean?"

Me: "What. Colour. Are. They?"

Checkout Assistant: "Orange."

Me: "So what do you think they might be?"

Checkout Assistant: "Yerwha'?"

Sometimes I long for the days when the Greengrocer's Lad brought your order round in his bike basket.


Strange things, memories. I have a good memory and I rely on it rather too much, I know.

Of course, many of my memories are of important events - weddings, funerals, or other big family occasions - that kind of thing. But out of the mass of memories, sometimes there's one that I would not, perhaps, expect to have stuck - - and yet it has.

Walking with the Communist, me very small, in what seems to me now, thinking about it, to be an industrial wasteland somewhere in Leeds. Patches of rather dried-up grass with broken bits of brick buildings on them. The Communist was wearing a long coat. I was holding his hand. I don't remember why we were there. My mother wasn't with us, and that was unusual - perhaps that's why I remember it.

We spotted a sweet shop - one of those dark, old-fashioned ones with lots of bottles and jars in the window. We saw a box of liquorice allsorts, always one of the Communist's favourites, and I liked them too, so we headed towards the shop.

The Communist always had a song for every occasion and so he started singing to me: a song that he'd learned from his father.

Pop, pop, poppity pop, in the popular Poplar lollipop shop:
The population round about, they all pop in and they all pop out
Poppy's the name of the girl in the shop, who sells the ginger pop, so -
Pop in and see pretty Poppy one day in the popular Poplar lollipop shop.

We went into the shop. A conversation followed that I couldn't entirely follow and then the Communist explained to me that they didn't actually have any liquorice allsorts in the shop. The box in the window was only for show - it was empty and they had run out.

I think we bought some other sweets but I can't remember what they were.

I wasn't particularly disappointed about the lack of liquorice allsorts. I was, however, very, very puzzled that a shop might have an empty box in the window and none of its expected contents in the shop.

Off we went, heading for wherever we were heading, nearly fifty years ago, still singing:

Pop, pop, poppity pop - -

"This is a very strange world I'm in," I thought.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Tom, Dick, Harry, Bob and Bob

They were, perhaps, as wedding presents go, slightly unusual.

They came, along with some more conventional presents, from the delightful Ginny and Russ who run the wonderful Silent World aquarium in Tenby, South Wales.

Four Baby Giant African Land Snails in a little plastic box. They just needed to be kept warm and damp and fed on dandelion leaves and unwanted bills and other paper items.

So they were named Tom, Dick, Harry and Bob in, perhaps, a slightly sexist way. But since snails cover both genders anyway they didn't seem to mind.

Sadly, Bob failed to thrive. He never grew properly and finally, one day, there he wasn't - he'd gone to that big dandelion pasture in the sky, leaving only his little shell behind. Aaaaw.

But then we all went back to Tenby for the summer and found a huge tank of Bob-replacements in Silent World.

Two were chosen and both called Bob, for simplicity.

Tom, Dick, Harry, Bob and Bob grew, and moved into a bigger tank.

Here's Bob last night, on the glass of the tank, waving cheerily to you. You're looking at his underneath so you can't see his shell, but you can see his little mouth at the top.

Now that Tom, Dick, Harry, Bob and Bob are six months old they have been learning about the Facts of Life. And testing them out.

So, yesterday, we found these.

You're looking through the tank: on the bottom is a layer of damp compost with some leaves and melon rind on top - the snails like this too.

But the little white things that look like eggs - - well, they're eggs. Snail eggs.

Tom, Dick, Harry, Bob and Bob are going to be parents.

Are they happy? It's a bit hard to tell.

Here's Harry, and you can see a bit of his shell too. They're all about four inches long now, these snails, and may get bigger.

Now we've got to think of names for the babies.

No, since you ask, our family is not perhaps typical of The Average British Family. I could hear you wondering.

Go on, watch this video and you will have an endless topic of conversation for dinner parties. Though possibly fewer friends.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Wit Rediscovered on Television

I'd nearly forgotten about Lost in Austen, because I'd looked at the advance publicity and I thought it might be terrible. There was, of course, always the offchance that it might be excellent instead, but I wasn't sure how likely that was.

Okay, quickly, in case you don't know - - a couple of hundred years ago there was a writer in England called Jane Austen, who wrote six novels. A lot of people think they're probably mushy romances because they tend to be about young women who tend to get married by the end of the novel.

However, I don't like romantic novels in general, and I don't like mushy ones in particular. I can't give you many examples because I've never read more than a few pages before losing interest. Even the slightly better ones - the Catherine Cooksons for instance - - oh, no no no.

But Jane Austen is different, because her plots are beautifully constructed, and her writing of them is wonderful and has two elements that I particularly like, and they are these:

Good one-liners, and wit: two of my favourite things in the whole world.

In 1995 Jane Austen's most well-known novel, Pride and Prejudice, was dramatised for television in a superb adaptation starring Colin Firth as Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth.

Lost in Austen, which had its first instalment last night (and you can watch it on t'interclacker here if you missed it) is about a Pride and Prejudice-obsessed young woman, Amanda Price, who somehow finds Elizabeth, the heroine of the novel, in her bathroom, and then goes through a secret door and ends up in Longbourne, the house where the novel is set, where she meets all the characters from the novel, and has some trouble explaining why she's there and Elizabeth isn't.

So while Elizabeth Bennet is in Hammersmith, Amanda Price is back in the eighteenth century, in the plot of Pride and Prejudice: and finding that her very presence is altering the story in all sorts of worrying ways.

And - - oh, hurrah! - the whole thing is written with the sort of wit of which Jane Austen would be proud. The writer, Guy Andrews, has captured Jane Austen's style of dialogue perfectly. The series manages a neat tribute not only to the novel but also to the 1995 television adaptation.

Profound, world-changing drama? No. Fun? Oh, yes, especially if you know Pride and Prejudice and the television version too. And, like the very entertaining back-to-the-seventies series Life on Mars, it does manage to highlight the idiosyncracies of both our time and Jane Austen's time. I'm looking forward to next week's episode, and that's not something that happens often with television dramas these days.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Gloriously Embarrassing But A Long Time Ago

The day before yesterday I wrote about how I sent an email to the wrong person, and how relieved I was that it hadn't been much worse.

In the olden days, before the invention of t'interclacker, we had to discover our own ways of making our toes curl with embarrassment.

In 1978 I was doing a postgrad year at the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff, South Wales. The director at the time, whom I shall call George Simpkins, wasn't very popular: in fact he was deeply unpopular.

One day two of the students on my course decided to have an in-depth discussion about him in the lighting box, listing all his failings and analysing each one with gusto.

I was in the theatre, washing the stage, as I was stage-managing some play or other at the time. I enjoyed listening to this conversation as it came booming over the sound system.

Unfortunately the two students concerned had not realised that, firstly, the sound system was switched on, and that, secondly, it was on the setting that broadcast loudly and clearly to every room in the building. Including George Simpkins' office.

The repercussions carried on for some time and were enjoyed by all, except perhaps the two students involved. Ah! Happy days.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Reaching for the Moon

I have written on this blog before about my cousin Colin and his wife Cath's daughter, Helaina Stone, who was one of the Woman's Own Children of Courage last year.

She is fourteen and suffers from Costello Syndrome, which is a very rare genetic syndrome causing multiple medical complications including a tendency to cancer, which Helaina has had twice.

Granada Television made an excellent documentary about her recently, which so far has only been screened in the Manchester region: here's a picture of her watching it on a dvd at our house on Sunday:

And here she is in the documentary in the process of giving one of her renowned ear-to-ear smiles:

Everything that's every been written about a so-called "handicapped" child being an inspiration to others is true of Helaina, who has come through numerous operations and retains her sunny personality and wicked sense of humour.

Her parents have never accepted any doctor's insistence on her limitations "she'll never walk" "she'll never talk" etc - - well, she does both. It's hard to tell how well she can read, but she spent about three hours at our house looking at books, very carefully.

Anyway, it was lovely to see Helaina and her family. She's involved with the Caudwell Children's charity and, through them, has met a lot of celebrities.

I'm not generally impressed with the idea of celebrity in itself, but since I've always been interested in space travel, I was delighted to hear that one of the people she's met is Buzz Aldrin. And Helaina, Colin and Cath all said he was lovely.

BUZZ ALDRIN! I'm related to someone who's met Buzz Aldrin who's been to the moon!

(By the way, do you know what Buzz Aldrin's mother's maiden name was? Yes, it was Moon.)

Oh go on then, let's play the music.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Nearly, but Not Quite

I heard a song a while ago with the chorus,

"I sent a text message to the person the message was about".

Which, when you come to think about it, could lead to any manner of terrible things.

Today I nearly did something that could have been the worst thing I've ever done in this job.

There are only a couple of people whom I have regular dealings with who are difficult to deal with - mostly because they don't pay up on time, and don't seem to think that actors need to be paid.

So I spend inordinate amounts of time chasing payments from these people, and, from time to time, get very stroppy. Patronising Cow From Hell is my best description of my money-chasing persona. It's never failed, but I hate having to do it.

One of the Difficult Ones asked me a question this morning and I didn't know the answer. So I wrote a quick, chatty email to our Finance Person to ask her, saying I didn't know what it was, saying I didn't know what to tell the person concerned and asking her to enlighten me, and signing it my usual signature Dxx.

And, just as I pressed SEND, I realised I'd pressed Reply rather than Forward, and hence sent it to the very person who had sent it to me.

As fast as a very fast thing having a complete nightmare, I clicked on Sent Items to see what I'd said. And, apart from being a bit too casual, it wasn't too bad, because I am careful what I write in emails anyway.

But instantly I was shaking. What if I'd put ANYTHING of all the things I think about this person? Noooooooooooooooooo.

It haunted me for the rest of the day.

The only time I've ever done this for real was when a theatre company sent us a casting breakdown. (If you're new to this blog, I work for an actors' agency: a casting breakdown is a list and description of the characters that a theatre company, or television casting director, is looking for for a particular play, and I would then suggest actors who could then play these roles.)

I had known of the company for a long time and knew only bad things of them. I tried to forward the breakdown to our actors with a little note.

"Anyone want to work for this lot? Probably a lousy play, and they won't know what they're doing so it'll be all-day, take-your-shoes-and-socks-off auditions, and lots of messing around, followed by terrible living conditions and getting paid a pittance that arrives several weeks late."

And then, you've guessed it, I pressed REPLY and sent it back to the theatre company instead of out to the actors.

That caused me a few moments' worry followed by quite a lot of amusement.

This morning's would have been far, far worse. Phew.