Thursday, July 30, 2009

Italiano, per favore

I read the first book in the Harry Potter series and loved it. Then I didn't read any of the others.

When I was a small child I went to Italy three times, and loved it. Haven't been back since.

When I was at university I studied Italian for a year, and loved it. Never used it since.

Do we detect a pattern here? Am I saving all the things I like for another life? What on earth is the matter with me?

So, having belatedly realised that this is what I do, over and over, I'm trying to change the pattern - - in fact, never mind trying, I'm jolly well going to change it!

So, at the end of August I'm going to Italy, with Stephen and Silverback, and I'm really looking forward to it. And therefore it seemed a good idea to re-learn my Italian.

I bought a couple of cds and they were quite useful for brushing up on tourist vocabulary. Of course, I learned Italian when Hadrian was still building his Wall, so my course didn't cover "Is there wifi in this hotel, and is it included in the price?"

Then I found a free cd in a newspaper, and it was an introductory course from Michel Thomas.

I'd heard his name, but didn't know anything about him, or about the Michel Thomas Method.

His story is fascinating - the link above tells you more - but basically he was a Polish Jew, brilliant at languages, moved to France to escape Nazi persecution, - changing his name to Michel Thomas - and fought in the French resistance. All his family died in Auschwitz. After the war he moved to America and started a language school, and published many cds teaching different languages.

As soon as I listened to the first cd I knew this was what I wanted. He explains the grammar as you go along, in his calm voice with its indeterminate accent, and everything's very relaxed - he insists that you mustn't try hard to remember it all - he says that is up to the teacher, not the learner. He's working with two "students" who tend to make the same mistakes that you do, and he corrects them.

He builds the language from the bottom up - - suddenly he gives you a long sentence to say, and, to your astonishment, you find that you can say it.

So I bought the eight-hour foundation course on Amazon, and I'm loving it. Of course, it helps that I learned Italian before as it keeps coming back to me, but even so I know that this method would work for me in other languages.

Michel Thomas died in 2005, and I feel rather privileged that he's teaching me Italian. Perfetto. Benissimo.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Never in July

Here's my Fast Porridge recipe:

Bung half a mug of oats in a bowl with a whole mug of milk and a gloop of water. Put in microwave for two minutes forty-five seconds. Don't bother stirring it or doing anything with it - the waiting time is just long enough to feed the cat.

It comes out very hot: then I add frozen raspberries which cool it down, taste good too and are one of my five a day. Hurrah!

Here's how it looked before I stirred the raspberries in:

On an apparently unrelated topic - but I'll draw them together in a moment so please bear with me - here's the Communist's old Canada Life policy: it was Manulife in those days and it has "Now Canada Life" written on it, in his writing:

Having finally got the Grant of Probate, I spent the morning following what I hope is the recipe to get what the Communist always referred to as The Money I Get When I'm Dead.

Well, he's been dead since December and I'm hoping to get the money for my mother now, at long last. So I put the Grant of Probate in an envelope with the claim form and a Death Certificate which says Primary causes: Pneumonia. Stroke. Secondary causes: Type 2 diabetes. Cardiovascular disease. Epilepsy. It took a lot to kill him as, having no religious beliefs, he was determined to stay alive for as long as possible.

As well as the claim form and the Death Certificate and the Sealed Grant of Probate (which is an official-looking piece of paper stamped with a seal to say he's dead and the will has been proved), I had to send back the original insurance policy.

So what's that about then? Why do they need the original policy eh? THEY sent it to HIM. Surely it wouldn't have been too much trouble, back in 1977 when he started it, for someone to make a little note with a quill pen in a ledger somewhere to say that the Communist had started a policy for The Money I Get When I'm Dead?

And it's JULY, for goodness' sake. High summer. July should be a time of long grass and lazy rivers and sunshine and country walks and paddling pools out on the lawn and birdsong and berries and sand in your suncream.

Nobody should be eating porridge in July. Nobody should be having to do paperwork in July, especially not the distressing sort that shouts YOUR FATHER'S DEAD at you with every moment you spend on it.

And today, I've been doing both, whilst looking out at the rain. If this is summer, I think I want a refund.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

July 28th - a memorable date

This date is a significant one to me in several ways.

Firstly, it was my Grandma's birthday. She was born in 1898 so would have been 111 today. She died in 1991, age 93, and, like my mother, was very fit until at least her late eighties.

Secondly, it's my second cousin Frank's sixtieth birthday. A very Happy Birthday to him - - though it's worrying when people whom I remember as children are suddenly sixty. I hope that Frank and his lovely wife Lesley will have a great day.

Thirdly, Honey, whose blog Honey Letting Off Steam I've read for some years now, is having her baby Pema today, ten weeks early. I got to know Honey slightly through her blog - she was living in Belgium at the time - and then to my astonishment found out that she's a friend of Gareth's mum!

Sadly, it's not an ordinary birth as Honey is extremely ill with cancer and has been writing about it, very movingly, on her blog. She has a fairly new partner and young children too. I can't imagine what it must be like for her, and I wish her, and her family, all the very best. I'm thinking of her a lot at the moment, and particularly today.


Now we have Swine Flu spreading like crazy, what we need is a helpful website that will give us all the answers.

And this one isn't it.

Funny though.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Stealing Food

So! They say the young have no morals, and I have the proof, right here, in this song.

It's by a York-based singer, Jay Foreman, who is in the old Jake Thackray tradition of Man with Guitar.

I should just like to point out that this blog does not endorse any of the views put forward here. Oh no. We are a responsible adult. Or something.

It made me laugh though. And the tune's extremely catchy. My favourite line is "Run awaying without paying puts me in a good mood". Can't stop singing it now. All together now - - - - "Stealing Food - -"

I hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Nobody Drownded

Remember that couplet from the comic verse Albert and the Lion, about the famous seaside place called Blackpool?

There was no wrecks, and nobody drownded
'Fact nothing to laugh at at all

There was nobody drownded on South Beach, Tenby, yesterday. But there so easily could have been.

Of course, Tenby is one of my very favourite places and here's a photo of the beautiful South Beach, on a sunny summer's evening:

One of the things about the Tenby beaches is that they are safe for swimming - as long as you swim in the marked places.

We take our sea swimming seriously in this household. I have always loved it, and so do my mother and Olli.

Stephen is not so keen, partly because the sea is often cold and, more crucially, because his father was drowned in an accident, aged 42, swimming in Cornwall. Stephen was eleven. Stephen and his brother were both swept out to sea too, but survived. Stephen's mother, a non-swimmer, watched the whole thing from the beach, and actually I don't think she's ever got over it.

Can you imagine the horror of it? Stephen's mother didn't cope very well afterwards. His brother, then three years older, went "off the rails" for a while. Stephen had to become "the man of the house" at a very young age. The ramifications of this terrible accident have lasted until the present day in many ways.

So we don't take any chances whilst swimming in the sea.

Yesterday, a party of thirty-six teenagers from deprived parts of Wales, on a team-building exercise, were walking backwards, fully dressed, into the sea on South Beach, Tenby, as the tide turned - the most dangerous time of course. A sandbank they were standing on collapsed, and suddenly they were all out of their depth, fully clothed.

You can read a fuller report of the accident, plus see some videos about it, here.

The trouble is, if you take teenagers from inner-city areas they'll have no useful knowledge of the sea, so they are reliant on the people in charge of them.

One of the videos shows the leader trying to justify it all. He's wrong. Yes, it's good for young people to go in the sea - in very, very small groups - not the groups of eight that he mentions - very closely supervised, when the sea is calm, the weather is warm, the tide is coming in and they're wearing swimsuits.

Otherwise, forget it. The time between having fun and drowning can be just a few short minutes. It's not worth the risk. If I sound like a killjoy, it's because I have some knowledge, from Stephen's experience, of how terrible such an accident can be.

Jay Walking on the Lawn

I looked out of the window and saw this:

It just looked like a strange, brownish blob. Closer investigation revealed that it was a bird, in fact a young bird, judging from the way it just looked helplessly at the bread I'd put out and fluttered its wings.

It was quite a large chick, too.

Only when its parents turned up to feed it could I work out what it was - it was a baby jay. The adults are much more colourful, of course - in fact one of our actors once saw one out of the window and said "There's a tropical bird in your garden!"

Jays are supposed to live in woodland - - but there's a path across the road from our house that leads down to the woods, and there are plenty of big trees in our garden. So I expect that the jays think that our house is woodland with added bread, seeds and nuts.

Also on the lawn were some wood pigeons, which are large and round and really just there as target practice for Wendy the Teenage Kitten, and the magpie family - parents and two large, nearly fully grown chicks.

As the magpies strode purposefully across the lawn, I wondered this: Why do some birds walk and other birds hop? I think we should be told.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Remembering Augusts

As Silverback and I were waiting on the coach to set off back to Leeds, I noticed a man on the coach next to us.: a bald man with a white beard. From a back and half-side view, he looked astonishingly like the Communist used to look. I couldn't take my eyes off him for several minutes until the coach pulled away. I knew it wasn't him, of course, but actually it was really good to "see" the Communist again. It's over six months since he died, but I can still hear his voice.

Most people move further away from their parents than I did - I moved to Cardiff, came back to Leeds with Stephen, and ended up living next door. It has worked very well for the past ten years.

The Communist could never imagine that the family might go on holiday separately, so for many years we all went together, usually camping in France. For several years we went to a site in Brittany called Domaine de Kerlann which was near several lovely beaches and interesting places to visit.

So, in August, I always feel I should be living in a place like this: - here's how things were ten years ago:

And yes, we got all five of us - my parents, Stephen, Emily (as Olli was then) and me to France in that Polo.

Here are the Communist and my mother playing a ball game on the beach - a beach that can be seen on the Domaine de Kerlann website, I notice. In those days they were bright young things of only seventy-six or so.

Given the choice, Stephen and I would probably have picked somewhere quieter than Domaine de Kerlann, which is large and lively, but my parents loved the evening activities - dances and concerts - and I think Emily enjoyed it all too.

The strange thing is, when I took that photo above - and all the similar ones I've got - I knew, of course, that things would change - - and they did.

But, in spite of knowing it, something inside me thinks that, in August, I should be in a caravan in France, and is finding it hard to get used to the fact that I'm not going to be. By the end of two weeks I'd be thinking that I lived there - - and finding it hard to go home.

However, of course, all those years doing that meant that we missed out on other places. So I'm really looking forward to going to Italy at the end of August.

I'm trying to move forward, remembering the good times of old, and making some new good times happen. As Silverback said in his post yesterday, I'm a glass half full kind of person. But sometimes, in early August, when the sun shines, I feel a great longing to be back there, and this year, with no Communist, those memories will be linked to the loss of him, and to great sadness.

For, to me, a January will never be a proper January without the Communist saying "Daphne, where are we going this summer? We'd better get it booked."

Friday, July 24, 2009

Outside the Embassy

I had a much better time of the waiting than Silverback did.

He was attending an appointment at the American Embassy to renew his tourist visa for another ten years. I was accompanying him in order to distract him from the worry of it all by talking at him non-stop all the way on the four and a half hour journey from Leeds. It was a tough job, but someone had to do it, and I think I managed it with some triumph, all things considered. I had carefully planned it so that, no matter how tough the interview would be, he would find it a blessed relief in comparison. I'm kind like that.

You can read an account of what went on inside the Embassy in more detail on his blog here.

Meanwhile, I knew I had a long wait ahead of me and was quite happy with this as long as the visa interview was successful.

So I sat in the sunshine in Grosvenor Square and took a photo of the eagle on top of the Embassy (can I point out that I saw a real Bald Eagle when I was in America? Just mentioning it).

And I wandered about in front of the Embassy and took some photos - - the chap sitting down was one of the twenty or so outside, like me, waiting for friends and relatives.

I took a photo just to remind myself where I'd been:

And, after sitting in the sunshine for a long and enjoyable time, I went and had a drink in a pleasant local pub where I found this strangely enigmatic sign:

The writing says: "Once upon a time a bookshelf with a secret door stood here - - The End!"

A group of American tourists arrived and said "Oh no - - it's gone! It was there when we were here ten years ago!"

I wandered out again and found, to my astonishment, that the sunshine had been replaced by a torrential downpour, which had now stopped. I had been downstairs with no windows and had missed the whole thing. Dripping tourists squished miserably past the pub.

Since the forecast had been "SUNSHINE" I had not taken my waterproof jacket. So I went and bought a cheap umbrella - there were lots of these for sale on Oxford Street which says a lot about the summer we've been having - just in case it did it again.

Of course, since I'd bought the umbrella, there was no further rain and I made my way back to the Embassy. Several hours had gone by and, from talking to others, I reckoned that Silverback wouldn't be much longer.

I knew that he would emerge with a solemn face whatever the outcome, because he has worked out that I believe everything he says, damn it. And sure enough, out he came, looking solemn - - but it didn't take long to fathom that he was in fact telling me what is known in Cockney rhyming slang as a Porky Pie. I did contemplate hitting him with the umbrella but couldn't bring myself to do it since I was so pleased that all was well!

Still, we had a four hour coach trip back to Leeds ahead of us, for me to get my revenge. I know a lot of very dull poetry and a lot about Flowers Adjoining the M1 Motorway. Pretending to be asleep - or even unconscious - cuts no ice with me.

Seriously, a Grand Day Out with an excellent result.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Back from the Smoke

Silverback and I have had a very long, enjoyable and successful day in London. And now we're back in Leeds. I'll tell you more about the actual day tomorrow but I must say that the coach, though it took a long time, was fine and astonishingly good value at £10 each return compared with something like £84 return each for the train.

Off to bed now since I got up at about ten to five this morning!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Off to the Smoke Again

I'm off in the morning to the City of Smoke and Swine Flu - - - London, that is, accompanying Silverback on his trip to get a visa for America.

I hope it will all go smoothly. I have promised not to talk too much to him about Flowers To Be Found Next to the M1 Motorway, or I may find myself landing hard on the tarmac somewhere near Watford Gap.

Because we have to get a coach so early tomorrow that it'll nearly be still today, I'm going to bed soon, at a time that's really unheard-of for me.

So a very short blog post today! We should have some free time later on to do a bit of sightseeing - to see all those chirpy chimney sweeps and Paddington Bear and Bob Cratchit. More will follow in due course!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Breaking the Chain

In the Olden Days, before the invention of t'interclacker, there were Chain Letters. Very common when I was a teenager - - they would arrive asking you to send them on to a certain number of people and this would bring you good luck. Of course, if you didn't, you foolish thing, you ran the risk of lots and lots of bad luck.

Many people were very frightened by these and spent a lot of time and money sending them on.

And now, they arrive by email.

Yesterday, it was horoscopes. Let's have a look at the one for Cancer, shall we (that's me, by the way).

CANCER - The Protector (June 21 - July 22)
Moody, emotional. May be shy. Very loving and caring. Excellent partners for life. Protective. Inventive and imaginative. Cautious. Touchy-feely kind of person. Needs love from others. Easily hurt, but sympathetic.

Well, if you know me, you'll know that, as a matter of fact, a lot of that is accurate about me. And that's why I tend to say: "I don't believe in this astrology nonsense. - - Mind you, I'm a typical Cancerian."

But just because it happens to be fairly accurate on this occasion doesn't mean it's not a load of rubbish in general.

The friend who sent me the blasted thing in the first place sent it because he says he "fitted the Aries model so much, it's a bit scary."

So let's have a look at Aries, then, shall we?

ARIES - The Daredevil (Mar 21 - April 19)
Energetic. Adventurous and spontaneous. Confident and enthusiastic. Fun. Loves a challenge. EXTREMELY impatient. Sometimes selfish. Short fuse (Easily angered). Lively, passionate and sharp wit. Outgoing. Lose interest quickly - easily bored. Egotistical. Courageous and assertive. Tends to be physical and athletic.

Yes, well it might fit the chap who sent it to me like a glove - - but my husband Stephen, quiet introvert and Geek King, is also an Aries and although some of it may fit him the rest is so far off as to be hilarious. For example, he has endless patience (not that he needs it, being married to me, obviously).

So let's face it, some of it's right, some of it's wrong - - it's all hit and miss and even if you believe in astrology - which, as you may have guessed, I don't - a horoscope is never going to work as a one-size-fits-all.

But, if you don't forward the Cancer forecast, it offers you this:
16 years of bad luck if you do not forward.

And if you DO forward the Aries one, you get this:
16 years of good luck if you forward.

I don't know what happens if you fail to forward the Aries one. It doesn't seem entirely fair, does it?

And then there's the other kind. Today I got one of those "Forward this to all your friends including the person who sent it to you and you will see how many friends you have" soppy ones.

That's blackmail, in a way - - if you don't send it back to the person who sent it to you, will they think you're not their true friend? Well, d'you know what, O Person Who Sent It, I am your true friend - - and that's why I'm not sending it back to you, because it's a load of bollocks. (I know, I don't usually swear on this blog, but really!)

These are the modern-day form of chain letters and I heartily disapprove of them. And I am a protective Cancerian, see above. And I'm protecting my true friends from this guff by refusing to send it on to them.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Forty Years Ago Today

It was forty years ago today that it was a small step for Man, or for a man, depending upon your interpretation of Mr Armstrong's words, and a giant leap for Mankind.

Silverback's post today gives - - er - - a more complete - and certainly more enjoyable - transcript of the exact words that were said as Neil climbed down onto the Moon. Very pleasing to know that Mission Control had been watching Thunderbirds.

I didn't see it live. I was asleep. I was thirteen, and I had a geography test the next day, and I was at the kind of school where you didn't risk getting a low mark in a geography test for a tiny thing like Man walking on the Moon.

I've always regretted it. I wish I'd seen it live. I saw it the next day, of course - - but it's never been quite the same. I wasn't very good at putting my foot down when I was thirteen.

Where Credit Is Due

I've just been watching one in the series of Wainwright's Walks on television - Julia Bradbury climbing Helvellyn in the rain and mist. I must say the views looked fantastic - - at least the ones taken from a helicopter, on a day when it wasn't raining or misty, were. Poor Julia could only see about ten feet in front of her.

I nearly started to climb Helvellyn once, led by someone from Stephen's work who had organised a weekend trip to it. His method of leading the group - which consisted of a strange assorted bunch of people of all ages and levels of fitness - was to shout "Come on, everyone!" and set off at top speed.

Now I know that Helvellyn is a difficult walk, particularly going the way that he was going, via Striding Edge - - rocky walk with a huge drop at either side - - and I thought actually, no way am I doing this walk - or any walk - led by him.

So I turned back, and had a pleasant afternoon wandering around next to the glorious Ullswater.

Pretty soon just about everyone else turned back, too, having been unable to keep up with the so-called leader.

But, d'you know what, this wasn't what this post was going to be about.

Just before the programme started, we saw the last few moments of a 1981 adaptation of John Wyndham's famous novel The Day of the Triffids. I remember seeing it at the time and really enjoyed it.

Watching the ending again, it was great to be able to look at the credits and go "I think that was John Duttine - - yes, it was - - and oh, look, Gary Olsen - - wow, 1981, was it that long ago?"

That kind of thing.

And we can never do that now, can we? Because the credits whizz past faster than Apollo 11 went to the Moon, don't they? And much of the time they're squished into half the screen. And you get an announcer talking over them about something completely different.

It annoys me for two reasons - firstly, because I work with actors and really I think the least that they should get is their names in the credits, so that they can become better known. And secondly, because I really want to know, a lot of the time, who was in it and who wrote it and who directed it. Speeding through the credits like that does the audience a real disservice and is a definite change for the worse over the past few years.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Squashed by a Comet

Last night, a comet fell to Earth and landed on teenager Gary Boggins, killing him instantly.

Actually, it didn't, and it's been a bad day for Gary as I invented him and killed him off in one sentence.

However, here are extracts from the newspaper reports:

"Gary was a very average pupil," said Lydia Dustbin, (46) Head Teacher of Cleckmanthorpe High, where Gary was in Year Eleven. "Actually, I am having a bit of a problem trying to work out who he was - - oh, hey, wait a moment! Not THAT Gary? Ye Gods, I'm glad we've got shut of him at last!"

"To be honest," said Benedict Carter, (38) Gary's form teacher, "I think we'll all be glad that he's no longer with us. Bloody annoying little pest. Not even annoying in an interesting way - he wasn't creative enough for that. The kind of kid who was always blowing bits of chewed-up paper through his pen. I felt a quiet surge of joy as I crossed him off the register this morning."

"Yeah, he were all right," said Gary's friend Wayne Higgins, (15). "Bit selfish, mind. Always nicking my stuff and never giving it back."

"I'm a bit cut up about it," said Gary's mother, Annette Curtain, (32). "Mind you, I'm glad it weren't our Jimmy - he's the clever one. Or our Michelle. Or our Jade. Or our Brian. Or little Melanie."

"I attended the scene this morning," said PC Arthur Mow, "and I think it's fair to say that, by all accounts, Gary was someone who only a mother could love. Even she didn't seem too keen, mind - said she'll be glad of the extra space."

- - - No, you'd never get a report like that, would you? Because when someone dies in a tragic accident, the thing we do is concentrate on their warm wonderfulness. The reporters round up family and friends to say how great they were, how unselfish, how much they did for others, how funny they were, how popular they were, how much money they'd raised for charity - - and I'm wondering why.

Is it done out of politeness, because when someone dies like that there isn't much to say? Out of a wish to make the family feel better? Just because it's traditional, and our convention, that we do that? The old taboo "Don't speak ill of the dead" is as strong today as it ever was, it seems. Even writing the above I felt uneasy, as though it's wrong. "Don't speak ill of the dead" must be very strongly ingrained in us all, I think.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A New House

For my birthday Stephen bought me a new house and here it is:

It's quite small - less than a couple of feet long, though better built than some: the roof is double skinned for insulation and it has a raised timber floor to keep damp out.

The cats rather like it but they can't get in as the entrance is too small. It has a little tunnel as an entrance.

So, who would live in a house like this?

It's for a hedgehog. We've quite often found hedgehogs in the garden and they're very good for the garden of course as they eat lots of slugs. I don't like using slug pellets as they're not good for wildlife so I'd far prefer this natural pest control. (There's also my mother, late at night, armed with a pair of scissors, cutting slugs in half ewwww - - but again, they then remain edible!)

The idea is that you stow the house in a convenient bit of undergrowth (we have lots) and hedgehogs can use it for hibernating, nesting, or simply to keep out of the rain.

One year we did have a nest of hedgehogs in the garden and the mother followed by her three babies looked SO cute. So I'm hoping that this little house will provide a safe habitat, and that the hedgehogs will like it. I was delighted with my birthday present but I bet if I'd asked "Guess what Stephen bought me!" then nobody could have guessed.

Interesting Jobs

I've been on my own in our office for the last couple of days - there are usually at least two of us.

So I've been rather busy, but enjoyed it.

I think you know, in your heart of hearts, what you think about your job by the way you feel as you approach your place of work.

In the past, years ago, I've worked in offices that were so boring that I felt the weight of them descend on me as I went through the door. When I was a teacher, I worked in schools where I had to take a deep breath as I went through the gate. The last school where I taught was a really tough inner-city school and there were plenty of things there that I enjoyed - - but whenever I pass it I still feel my heart lurch a bit, as I never knew what each day there would bring.

Of course, now I work from home, mostly, and I can honestly say that I've never not wanted to go into the office on a day when I've planned to work. I really enjoy time away from it - - but I never have a feeling of dread when crossing the threshold, more one of challenge along the lines of "We've got the actors they need and I'm going to SHOW those casting directors that!"

I do a fair amount of work in Communication Skills at the University of Leeds, too. I hadn't worked there for a few weeks until quite recently.

I drove in past the man at the barrier, who recognised me and was chatty and friendly.

Then, as I rounded the bend to the car park, I felt a real rush of pleasurable anticipation, and realised how much I enjoy my work there.

I don't earn a fortune - - but I do enjoy my work. And I remember, when I was temping in a particularly dull office, years ago, that I said to myself that I must remember that being bored at work is just terrible, and I must avoid it.

I'm never bored at work. I'm really fortunate.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Here Comes the Sun

A Midsummer Night's Dream, one of Shakespeare's best and most loved comedies, performed in a wood, with a huge old tree forming part of the set, on a sunlit summer's evening with dappled sunshine casting a warm glow over the audience. Lovely.

Well, we had most of this for Theatre of the Dales's production of it tonight - - except for the sunshine. Firstly we had drizzle. Then we had that fine rain that goes right through you. The leaves of the massive tree protected us from most of this, right until the moment when the rain changed into that utterly vile wet stuff that hurls itself out of the sky in bucketloads.

It requires a mental adjustment, and then you're okay. Well, sort of. You go from "oh, a bit of drizzle, good job I brought my mac and the tree's keeping most of it off me" to "Actually, the person next to me has an umbrella and that's collecting the rain and tipping it down my neck. That's really rather annoying" to "Okay, I don't care any more, I'm going to get soaked to the skin and that's why I wore these old jeans, and it's not cold, and I'll have a hot bath when I get home."

The actors, clad in Sixties dress, all white tights and miniskirts (that was the girls, by the way), ignored the rain completely and just got on with the play, extremely well. Three of the actors were from the agency that I work for: Will Tristram as Bottom, Helen Kennedy as Helena and David Robertson, the company's founder and director, as Peter Quince. And they were excellent. (Yes, I know, I would say that, wouldn't I - - - but they were).

Will was a younger Bottom than usual and was very funny, and his youth made perfect sense of the fact that he's been cast as the lover Pyramus in the workmen's play. Helen, who's a stunning-looking actress, was a convincingly gawky Helena, also very funny. And David - - well, I first saw David play Peter Quince for Wales Actors Company, in the early Nineties, in a beautiful part of Pembrokeshire, on a sunny summer's evening just like tonight wasn't. And he was excellent then, and was again tonight.

It was a strong cast altogether and a tremendously entertaining production, interspersed with Shakespeare's words set to Sixties songs, which I greatly enjoyed. The final song was set to Daydream Believer, one of my very favourites, and it was great to see them singing it with such gusto in the rain. The huge round of applause from the dripping audience was very well-deserved.

You can see it in Dagmar Wood, Headingley, Leeds tomorrow night at 7pm and then on Saturday at 3pm and 7pm - then it goes on tour and leave me a comment if you'd like to know where!

Other news: My son-in-law Gareth has been job-hunting as his current company has had to cut down his working hours because of the recession. Today got a job that he really wanted, with a large rise in pay too. He's had such a tough time this Spring with a really slow recovery from a somewhat botched appendix operation.

Congratulations to him. Here comes the sun, at long last.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Somewhere in England on St Swithin's Day

'Tis my birthday today and what better way to celebrate than to get up extraordinarily early and go and take part in an exam for medical students?

Yes, I know, a few people said that. "You're doing WHAT on your birthday?"

My part of the exam was testing the students on their ability to break bad news. So I was playing a patient who had to be told that I had a very serious illness.

It's a strange thing, breaking bad news. Students who aren't naturally good at doing it with sensitivity can be taught techniques of how to do it, some of which are:

find out what the patient knows already

fire a "warning shot" such as "I'm afraid that I have some bad news to tell you" so the patient can prepare

tell the news clearly - - none of that beating about the bush with "it might be something nasty" that doctors tend to do because they don't want to actually say the name of the illness

don't give false hope - none of that "I'm sure you'll be fine" when actually, you're sure they won't

check the patient's understanding

offer a further opportunity to ask questions when the news has sunk in

That kind of thing. Of course, there are some students, and indeed some doctors, who do it instinctively and what's more have such a great "bedside manner" that they can make the patient feel cared for even whilst they are telling the most frightening of diagnoses.

The trouble is, the weaker ones often know the "rules" - - but because they lack sensitivity, or maturity, or experience, or all three, they just don't know how to apply them.

Suppose the exam "station" was about a patient with a possible brain tumour (it wasn't - I am protecting the guilty).

Out of the many students I saw today, a few were brilliant, so much so that I wanted to fling my arms around their necks and cry "Will you be my doctor when you qualify?" (No, I didn't).

Many were - - well, okay - - - - if I'd been that patient I would have known what the diagnosis was, but they missed out crucial bits - - so they never found out, for example, about my tricky family circumstances, because they never asked.

And just a few - - well - - they did things that made me want to hide under the table.

They had to read the results of the patient's tests, put them into accessible English, and tell the patient that I had a brain tumour.

There was one who just read the results out to me.

"Tell me if there's anything you don't understand - - it says here that you have a Z10 squibulous gonzanoma - - I'm not sure what that means actually - - mind you, I know it's very bad indeed"

There was one who bounced into the room and said,

"Hello, Mrs Boggins, welcome to the fast-track brain tumour clinic!"

It took quite a lot of me going "What - - you mean I've got - - a brain tumour?" for her to realise the gaffe she'd made.

And then there was American Cowgirl.

"Well, howdy ma'am, how ya doin'?" - - - To be fair, she did improve greatly after this somewhat shaky start - - and she was actually American - - and I did find myself looking for the Stetson and the boots.

Many of them have taken the "don't give false hope" so much to heart that they did exactly the opposite.

"So, Mrs Boggins, do you understand what I've said? That it's a BRAIN TUMOUR? Do you know how very serious this is? And that we can't cure it? Do you want to know how long you've got to live?"

The best ones do this very tricky and complicated task so naturally that they appear to just be having a chat.

The worst ones show that, even if you give someone a set of careful instructions to follow, it can still go horribly wrong.

Some are apparently effortlessly good at it. Some can, with a bit of help, move from adequate to good, or from good to brilliant.

And one or two in every year group - - well, you think - - why on earth did you want to go into medicine when you appear to have all the sensitivity of a slab of concrete?

Anyway, after a very long morning being given this grim diagnosis, I came home and worked in the office for a while.

And then, in the evening, we went out for a lovely meal, with great food and great company. It's been a strange birthday, perhaps, and, d'you know what, all interesting, all rewarding, all enjoyable.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Fourth Plinth

I'm probably the last person in the whole world to know about this, but in case I'm only the second to last, I'm letting you know.

Sculptor Antony Gormley had an idea for the empty Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, London.

For a hundred days, a different person will stand on the plinth for an hour, changing every hour, twenty-four hours a day. And it's all on a webcam and you can see it here.

Antony Gormley, of course, was the man who created the Angel of the North, which I rather like: it certainly adds interest to the drive up the A1.

The idea of the Plinth Project (as I've just called it, I'm not sure what Antony calls it) is to create a "portrait of Britain" - so he says on the accompanying video on the site.

The only thing is, it only creates a portrait of some of those people in Britain who want to be up on a plinth for an hour. You have to apply and the Plinthers are selected by being pulled out of a hat, or its virtual equivalent.

I keep on looking - - - it's an interesting idea. At the moment we have Clare, who is hula-hooping, which is quite interesting to watch - - though not, perhaps, for an hour. Clare is young, blonde and pretty so I'm possibly not the target market to be fascinated by her hula-hooping.

The problem is that, as far as I can see, not many people seem to have thought out what they'll do if they are chosen. And therefore quite a lot of it is like watching Big B rother, but on a plinth. (Yes, I know a lot of people do like watching Big Brother, but I'm not one of them.)

Perhaps some people are seizing their moment to change the world, or sing their song, or paint their picture - - I haven't seen enough to know. Sadly, all the ones I have seen have been - - er - - dull. There are a fair proportion of eccentrics - - but even they have to do something to be interesting for an hour.

The cynic in me thinks Mr Gormley could have entitled it BRITAIN - STILL BORING AFTER ALL THESE YEARS.

I'll keep watching, in hope.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Return of Wimpy

In the dull grey smog of the early 1960s, when family dinners were all embroidered table-cloths and I had to say "Please may I leave the table?" at the end of every meal, suddenly I discovered a whole new world.

It was before Ronald McDonald was born, at least in the UK. But someone took me to a Wimpy bar, and I loved it. It had a slight air of un-Britishness about it, at the time when a curling ham sandwich was regarded as the only proper British fast food. Hamburgers! Chips! They were never "fries", they were most definitely British.

For me, for years, a trip to a Wimpy bar was a very occasional treat with a few disapproving "tuts" coming from my parents' lips throughout.

I thought that Wimpy bars had all gone, replaced by McDonalds and Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Hadn't seen one for years.

And then, at a service station near Chester on the way home from Tenby, we came across one and tried its produce, for old times' sake.

And I still loved it. A burger in a brown bun (trying to add healthiness, presumably!) with a bit of salad and a slice of processed cheese. There are times for this kind of thing, and this was one of them. The chips weren't bad, either.

Apparently they haven't been called Wimpy bars for years and years: nowadays they are just called Wimpy. Though not by me, oh no. To me, they will be Wimpy bars for ever.

Even though the staff were clearly trying to kill us by overdosing us on salt. Here's a photo of the salt that we were given for four people, inside the wrappings with our burgers:

Perhaps they've been infiltrated by McDonalds and this is their Cunning Plan to get rid of all Wimpy's customers, and do away with Wimpy bars for ever.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Not Dead Frog

There are lots of strange creatures in the wonderful Silent World Aquarium in Tenby.

One of them is this.

It's an African Clawed Frog. Xenopus Laevis if you like Latin names. It means Really Boring Frog. Okay, it probably doesn't, but it should do.

For some reason the school I went to had a small obsession with these and there were always a few in tanks in the biology lab. Somehow I became the proud owner of one for a while. It was a very dull pet.

The photo above might as well be a video, because this is what the African Clawed Frog does, mostly. It hangs there in the water, motionless, with an air of deadness about it.

So lifeless does it look that Silent World for a while had a notice next to it that simply said "This frog is not dead."

However, it does have one claim to fame - you can use it for pregnancy testing. And indeed they used to, right until the 1960s. If you inject a female African Really Boring Frog with the urine of a pregnant woman, it will spawn spontaneously within eight to ten hours, apparently. Not pregnant = no spawn.

All very well and I'm sure that many women have been either thrilled or horrified by such spawning.

What I'd like to know is - - who first had the idea that this might work? And how did they think of it?

"Darling, I think we might be hearing the patter of tiny feet soon. The Curse is two weeks late."

"Oh, poppet, how wonderful! But how can we be certain? Oh look, there's an African Clawed Frog that your Cousin Tristram brought back from his latest expedition to the Dark Continent. Perhaps that might come in useful to help us to find out."

"Oh, what a frightfully good idea, darling! Now then, what should we try? - - "

It's a good job things have moved on. I'm glad that when I was pregnant with Olli, I didn't have to pop down to the chemists to buy an African Clawed Frog.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Where We Were

I'm back now from a delightful week staying in Tenby - and we explored some of the surrounding area too.

As some of you may know, this was not my first visit to Tenby - I've been there every year since I was nine and that's - - er - - quite a few years now. Over thirty. Okay, over forty, since you insist. Always to the same hotel, the wonderful Park Hotel with its great view of North Beach and Tenby Harbour and its friendly staff.

I have a lot of photos of course, but tonight I'll just post a few to give - I hope - the flavour of this lovely part of Pembrokeshire, South Wales.

You can click on any of the photos to enlarge them.

Tenby Harbour in evening sunlight:

The beautiful wide beach and sand dunes at Freshwater West:

North Beach, Tenby - always "my" beach since childhood - all other beaches have to work hard to match it, because of its scenery, clean sea, golden sand and safe swimming:

Here's a house that I've always fancied on Caldey Island, just three miles from Tenby, and the view is towards Tenby:

The view from Park Hotel:

and the same view at night with a full moon - it's dark I know (unsurprisingly) but if you click to enlarge it, it looks very pretty:

It's been a lovely week and many thanks to Silverback for his excellent company too. I don't usually publish photos of people on my blog, but for once I'm going to break that rule and I hope nobody minds: here are all the great people I was with:

So, from left to right: Olli, son-in-law Gareth, my mother Joan, husband Stephen and our friend Silverback.

Friday, July 10, 2009

High Things and Boat Trips

I think that it's only when I'm away from home and at leisure that I find out what I really like to do, and two of those things are seeking out high places and boats.
Heights? I love them. I love the views. Hence I love all the cliffs round here even though they can be a teeny bit tiring to climb.
And this morning, when I looked out at the shining sea and saw it was almost completely flat, I immediately suggested a boat trip around the nearby islands, and it was Grand.
When I get home - which will be tomorrow, sadly - I'll post some of the photos I've taken. There are several hundred so I promise I'll be very selective.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

A Good Kind of Tired

I'm often tired at home - a tangle-headed kind of tired when I've been doing too much or worrying too much.
Last night,here in Tenby, I was tired too - but a different kind of tired. We'd been to Caldey Island, walked a lot in the sunshine, watched some seals which were sunbathing on the rocks, I had two swims and then we had a good walk in the evening round the harbour. All this and good food too!
Eventually I just couldn't keep my eyes open.
I like this kind of tiredness. I am a different kind of tired person when I'm here.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Cards Again at Last

It's been years since I last played cards. It was when I was in the Civil Service temporarily and we played every break and lunchtime - a never-ending game so the numbers of tricks were well up in the thousands. It was great fun - but I've never played since.
This evening, sitting outside looking at the lovely evening view of Tenby, Silverback introduced us to an American card game, Uno, which he had brought back with him.
It was highly enjoyable - Silverback, Stephen and I played and thanks to my immediate and thorough grasp of the rules, plus superior strategy and ability to memorise every card, I won by miles.
Of course I cunningly hid my superior skill by such ruses as dropping my cards and never appearing to know whose turn it was. In fact I must say that both gentlemen (HAH!)were inclined to mockery.
Let's just remind ourselves of who won, shall we? Was it ME? Yes, it was. Excellent game.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Slightly Pear-Shaped

A few things went a bit wrong today - the person supposed to be manning our office in Leeds arrived with no key and couln't get in - and then the server went down so there was no internet!
This would normally be an event of great significance but I'm in Tenby so I went for a swim instead of panicking.
Silverback has joined us and it's lovely to be able to show him round this favourite place of ours - it's great that he's here.
Later, Stephen mended the server remotely from Tenby using strange Geek Magic in which he excels.
So a good day involving swimming, walking,scenery, lots of good food, good company and fresh air.
One of the best kind of days in fact, to be remembered with pleasure on some future grey November morning.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

in the Sea

My litttle mantra, as I sit on any beach looking at a cold-looking sea is, "Remember it's always worth going in the sea". Whenever I've gone in, I've never regretted it.

It's been a day of sunshine and showers here in lovely Tenby - more sunshine than showers, but at the time I was on the beach it looked as though it might rain.

"Go in the sea," said Stephen, "You know you want to."

This morning Russ, from the delightful Silent World Aquarium, said that there are lots of little jellyfish about at the moment and indeed we did find lots washed up on the beach at nearby Waterwynch last night.

"But they're harmless," he said, though my faith in his judgement on this was rocked slightly when he followed it up with, "Mind you, I don't swim in the sea. I don't like being surrounded by water."

Yes, well, I think you'll find that even a Great White Shark is harmless just so long as you stay out of the sea.

Actually it's not the little jellyfish that I mind. It's that wiggly thing that happens under your foot when you tread on a flatfish. Ewwww. Hate it. Not enough to stop swimming in the sea though, obviously, because I just love it.

So I went in the sea, and it was wonderful - lots of big waves which is how I like it, and the sea was much warmer than usual because of the recent hot weather. The sky was a bit grey and as far as I could tell, I was the only person in the sea on the whole of North Beach.

Oh, apart from my eighty-five-year-old mother of course, who was doing backstroke and jumping the waves right beside me, and then came with me afterwards for a swim in the hotel open-air pool.

Damn! If I hadn't told you that, you might have admired my bravery and resilience.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

In Tenby Hurrah!

Here I am, by the sea in Tenby on my Eee - - poetry!

We crossed the M62 motorway really rather early, having left the house at ten past six this morning. We were aiming for a great cafe, Caffi Beca, twenty miles from Tenby, for lunch, and indeed got there in time. It's 250 miles from Leeds to Tenby which is a long way on winding Welsh roads - but the scenery's glorious so that makes up for it.

I love rediscovering all the Welsh names for villages on the way down and today my two special favourites were Pontybodkin and Ffos y Ffin. Glorious!

The weather ignored the forecast, luckily, and we encountered a few showers on the way down but here in Tenby it's hot and the sun is shining. The hotel's outdoor pool is warm too - even Olli - who is very slim! - thought so. Though "warm" is a relative term and it's perhaps best to remember that I was brought up to swim in British seas in April, for example, so most pools feel like a warm bath to me.

So, having had a walk into the town and a swim, I feel I've earned my Park Hotel dinner. Well, that's my excuse, anyway. I'll write more tomorrow.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Home Again to Tenby

It's hard for me to believe that it's a year since I saw this view:

Tenby, Pembrokeshire, South Wales.

I had my tenth birthday there. And my eleventh. And my twelfth. And my thirteeenth. My fourteenth was in Llandudno, where we spent a week - - then travelled to Tenby for the following week.

Lots of people have said to me "Tenby - - ahh yes, we used to go there when I was a child, I loved it."

In our case, the difference was - - we didn't stop going there, just because I wasn't a child any more. We kept right on going, one week every year. We went to other places too, of course, but we always went back to Tenby. I met Stephen and he came too. Olli was born, grew up, met Gareth - - they both came and still do. Special friends have joined us there over the years. Olli and Gareth got married there in February 2008.

This year I have travelled more than I have ever done in my life - - Paris, Barcelona, Florida, Normanton (which wasn't the highlight, I can tell you). I loved them all (except Normanton) and my top thrill was finally to go to the Kennedy Space Centre.

So why go back to Tenby, pretty little old-fashioned seaside town a long way South and a long way West?

Well, firstly, because there are lots of things there, or nearby, that we like. Beautiful beaches, safe swimming, lovely scenery, castles, historic buildings, castles, museums, boat trips, seals, lovely scenery and castles.

Here's Priory Bay on Caldey Island, three miles from Tenby, which you can see in the distance in the photo above:

But it's Park Hotel that has been crucial to our return.

It's impossible to describe, really - it's been owned by the same family since the late nineteen-fifties and probably the best way to describe it is "old-fashioned charm" - - which is what the people on Tripadvisor seem to have picked up on. What's best about it? I just asked Olli. "It smells nice".

Well, yes, it does actually. It's always beautifully clean. The food's lovely - fresh ingredients, beautifully cooked. Glorious desserts. Splendid breakfasts. Friendly staff, many of whom have been there since Olli was a baby or before. It has a lovely outdoor pool - very simple, no gimmicks, but lovely and clean and a pleasure to swim in. And it has this view.

The Communist loved it too. He couldn't come with us last year, as he was too ill, and of course he died in December - - but I'll be thinking of him as I look at all the places he loved there. My mother, of course, will be with us, still swimming in the pool before breakfast, no doubt, because she's done it every year, and it's Tenby so who cares if she's eighty-five! "Tenby magic" my mother calls it, and she's right.

The first year we went to Tenby was in 1966. In Tenby I feel - - well, ten again! After nearly forty-three years, I'm still excited to be going back. Tomorrow! For a week! Wooohooo!

Park Hotel's motto is "Where our guests leave as friends".

Some of us never really left.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Bonkers Benefits

My son-in-law Gareth, as you may recall, is still recovering from an appendix operation performed by the Butchers of York nearly two months ago.

He's not having a good time at the moment. The company he works for has now put him on a two-day week because of the recession. So he's applying for jobs, and fortunately interviews are coming in, so we hope it won't be too long before he's offered one of the jobs.

He went along to sign on, just to see if they could by any chance give him any financial help, since he's now earning very little indeed. Let's face it, none of this is his fault and he's doing his very best to get a job.

He is earning £5 too much a week to get jobseeker's allowance.

He is working one hour a week too little to get the working person's tax credit.

My brain hurts.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Price of Strawberries

How much are strawberries?

Half price, that's how much. Has a punnet of strawberries ever been sold, at any time, in the universe, ever, that wasn't marked "Half Price"?

Well, legally they're supposed to have been sold SOMEWHERE at whatever they're claiming is the full price. Normanton, probably, or Goole, or a very small Tesco Express three miles north of the Arctic Circle. One Tuesday morning, very early, in May. Between the hours of two and ten past.

After that it was "Quick, get all the half price stickers out and slam them on every strawberry in the land."

Of course, I wasn't fooled. I knew they weren't really half price. I just bought two punnets because I like strawberries.