Saturday, October 31, 2009

In Tenby

It should be out of season here, surely!

In Park Hotel they are putting up the Christmas decorations this weekend and it's a tremendous amount of work for the staff. All those greens and reds and golds go very well with the general decor of the place and it looks wonderful.

But outside, it's so mild that I've walked all round Tenby today with no jumper or coat or anything. I've walked along all the beaches. I've sat and looked at the sea. The tide was so far out that I could wander all round the harbour looking at the boats.

Then I went into the town itself - it was just as busy as it is in July, with all the cafes doing a roaring trade. I know it's been half-terrm week, but even so I was surprised to see it so busy.

It's good though, to see it bustling like this. Lots of places are decorated for Hallowe'en. And the beaches are as lovely as ever.

It was a beautiful drive down through Wales yesterday. The standard of driving deteriorated rapidly after Manchester Airport but I think that could have been because Silverback got out of the car to catch his plane to Florida, and I had to take over.

There was hardly any traffic in mid-Wales, though I kept hearing on the radio that there were terrible jams elsewhere. All I saw were sheep, mostly, and lovely scenery.

I'm typing this on my little Eee which is fine in some ways but I can't just rattle away on it like on a full-size machine, so I'll stop now and have a rest before dinner.

Silverback's safely in Florida, I'm glad to say, with the blue skies and the palm trees. Though I'm looking at palm trees too. There are lots in Tenby - I think that's where my love of them came from originally.

Roast turkey for dinner tonight - -- Christmas decorations everywhere- - really I have no idea what season I think it is. But I'm going to do my best to enjoy this stolen weekend of Summer.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Will Always Be Playing

All my life - well, ever since I could read, which is very nearly all my life - I have found the last few sentences of A. A. Milne's The House at Pooh Corner very moving. My copy's a very well-read 1960 reprint with my name written in it by my mother.

At the end, Christopher Robin knows he's growing up and is telling this to his bear, Pooh.

"I'm not going to do Nothing any more."

"Never again?"

"Well, not so much. They don't let you."

And the book ends:

So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.

I was thinking of this today whilst walking in Golden Acre Park, just outside Leeds.

Beautiful autumn trees:

There were children playing under the strange little bridge which doesn't have a stream under it.

The Communist used to play there in the 1930s. I used to play there in the 1960s. Olli used to play there in the 1990s.

There were children hiding in the rhododendron bushes.

The Communist used to hide in those bushes in the 1930s.

I used to hide in those bushes in the 1960s.

Olli used to hide in those bushes in the 1990s.

I like this kind of thing.

Now then, tomorrow I'm setting off with Silverback to travel to Manchester Airport - he's flying to his winter home in Florida for six months. Then I'm continuing to Wales to spend the weekend at my favourite Park Hotel, Tenby (have a look at their snazzy new website). One of the actors whom I work with, Sonia, is in a play, Reminiscences of Childhood, at the Dylan Thomas Centre, Swansea, and I'm going to see it.

We've had some really great times with Silverback this summer and a fantastic holiday in Italy, and I wish him a wonderful winter with Debby and Dennis who helped us to have such a fantastic time in Florida last December.

And I like to think that, although Silverback will be in sunny Florida and we'll be in rainy Leeds, somewhere in Tuscany there'll still be Stephen, Silverback and me, looking at views like this.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Julie On My Mind

Today I was playing Julie in a teaching session for healthcare students - two students get the chance to do a roleplay with Julie, as if it were a real consultation with a real patient. The others watch and observe - - what went well? What could be done differently?

These sessions have been very well-designed (not by me, I just help to deliver them) - the students list their learning needs at the beginning, and then the two facilitators and the roleplayer do our very best to address them in the session, tweaking the roleplay as necessary so that we do.

One of the students who did the roleplay with me was a health visitor - I'll call her Fiona though that's not her name - who'd been out of this work for a while and was now coming back into it, so she was quite experienced and that showed in everything she did - she was great.

Julie's a woman with many different problems - - children, ex-partner, mother, housing, lack of money - - - it's a very challenging roleplay for the students and today both rose to the challenge so well that I cheered for the future of healthcare! If the student is good then I can make it a bit harder for them as I know they'll have the skills to cope - - today I did this by crying and the health visitor coped with it really well - many people can't.

At the end, just before I came out of role and was introduced to them as myself, this health visitor was asked what would happen after such a meeting in real life.

"I'd know I'd be visiting Julie for weeks - perhaps months or even years," she said. "We get to know everything about them. Even such apparently little things as whether they'd had a wash that morning or changed the sheets on the bed. Once they get to trust me, they'll tell me everything, and it's a big responsibility."

She continued,

"And after a meeting like this I wouldn't remember driving home, because I'd be thinking about Julie and her problems and what could be done. The first I'd know about it would be my key in the door and my own children greeting me and the big dirty dog jumping up at me. And you can't let it interfere with your own life, so then I'd be back into making the tea and talking to my husband and my children. But it's hard to cut off your feelings like that. I'd still have Julie on my mind."

If I were Julie - and I'm so glad I'm not - it would be such a privilege to have Fiona as my health visitor.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Another Career Door Slammed in my Face

I know it may be considered a tad late, but I still haven't decided what I want to be when I grow up.

However, apparently I'm not going to be an air hostess for KLM, no matter how much I crave this. And apparently I already can't be a pilot. Though, to be fair, having terrible eyesight and very slow reactions could have something to do with the pilot thing too.

The reason for the air hostess ban (and yes, I know they're called stewardesses now, but I just don't care, they won't let me be one so I'm sulking) is because I have Type 2 diabetes.

My brother Michael works for Radio Netherlands Worldwide (he lives in Amsterdam) and I found an article on their website which explains that all diabetic stewarda and stewardesses for KLM won't now be able to fly. Pilots with diabetes already can't.

Now, I can understand that if a diabetic pilot goes into a coma whilst flying a plane it's generally not going to be good: though actually, with today's good control of diabetes, it's really not that likely, especially for Type 2 diabetes.

But I think that it's just overdoing it to say that diabetics can't be stewardesses. Why on earth not?

Actually I don't really see why anyone would want to be one these days, so there. It used to be considered rather glamorous - - fly to Kenya, wait six weeks or so for the plane back again - - I suspect it's not like that now. To me it always seems to me like being a waitress in a very claustrophobic restaurant where you can't even get the manager to throw stroppy customers out. With the added possibility of an occasional scary incident where the passengers get restive or one of the wings falls off.

But anyway, that's it, apparently, my air hostess career is over before it began. Anyway, I'd hate the uniform and all that make-up they seem to wear.

So I'll go back to wondering what to do when I grow up, and I think my current favourite might well be looking after orphaned baby elephants, or rhinos, because I think they're very cute and I think I'd be good at it.

Your loss, KLM.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tax Advantaged Premier Lifestyle Endowment Policy - or, the Bigger Doll Fund.

When I was little, money was easy. I got sixpence a week pocket money and that would buy one of a selection of tiny dolls from the Post Office. Then it went up to a shilling. Two dolls. Heaven. But, more often, I just saved it to amass enough to buy a bigger doll. I kept it in a piggy bank.

From time to time I would have a birthday, or it would be Christmas, and kind relatives would give me a ten-shilling note, and into the piggy bank it would go.

And then - oh joy! sometimes I would take it all out and see if there was enough to buy the Bigger Doll. If there was, I would be taken to town and choose one. Bliss!

I didn't buy sweets, ever, with my pocket money - I didn't like the idea that they'd be gone and I'd have nothing to show for it (and I have a feeling that this argument is one reason why I never started smoking).

No, it was dolls. I think I still have them all. I didn't do that combing-hair and dressing them that lots of little girls do. My dolls took part in imaginary adventures, mostly involving building dens in the garden or exciting trips to foreign countries, usually located at the bottom of the garden.

So that was it for the financial decisions. Easy.

Then I grew up.

This instinct to save money for a Bigger Doll has stayed with me. But in adulthood it has translated into buying such things as a mortgage and life insurance policies and Critical Illness cover and pensions - that kind of thing.

And we've bought lots of them over the years. No sooner does money hit our bank account than it's spirited away into a dozen different Bigger Doll policies.

Our Financial Advisors are coming on Tuesday (two of them, I think it's for protection from me) and so I decided to try to make sense of all these. Now, I'm the kind of person who does put things in files - - but even so, sorting them all out and making a comprehensive list is tricky bordering on the impossible.

For one thing, all the different companies keep changing their names. A few years ago just about everything in the world became Zurich - - though it's still coming out of our bank account as Allied Dunbar or whatever it was before.

And all the policies have very similar names. They're all called something like the title of this post. And whenever I see meaningless jargon like that I just want to go to sleep and never look at it again. So the only way to distinguish them is by their policy numbers and those are all very similar too. They're all called something like ZQX11320940WP which is vastly different from ZQX11320940VP.

Trying to work out what each policy is for is really tricky. I knew at the time of course - - why didn't I just write myself a three-line explanation then, whilst it was in my head? "This is to pay for the cost of inheritance tax so Olli won't have to pay it out before the house is sold when we die." Well, let's face it, because once I'd filled in the form and signed it all I'd just had enough and never wanted to see it again.

And now, even reading the original blurb that accompanies any policy, it's very hard to work out, simply, what the hell it is. They are all couched in so much legal jargon that I just want to set fire to them.

I could devote the rest of my life to trying to make sure that insurance companies write stuff in clear English. But I don't think I'm going to. I'm engaged in a crusade to stop student doctors speaking in jargon, and that will have to do, I'm afraid.

I have typed the whole lot of policies into a long list, with as much information as I can find about each of them, and I have sent them to the Financial Advisors with some exciting questions.

I'm not looking forward to the Financial Advisors' Visit on Tuesday evening. But I think it could well be worse for them than it is for me.

I hope there's going to be enough to buy a Bigger Doll.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Christmas Yet to Come

I've always liked Christmas Day. Last year, however, it was very difficult in some ways as the Communist died on December 8th and I think I went through the whole thing on automatic pilot: I took some photos so I know if all happened but I really don't remember much about it, which is unusual for me.

I love Christmas Dinner - it's my favourite meal of the year with many of my favourite foods in it. Turkey! Cranberry sauce! Roast potatoes! Peas! Parsnips! Sprouts! Sweetcorn! Broccoli! I love them all. I love Christmas pudding too, though I can't really eat it these days because of my diabetes.

I don't drink alcohol - - okay, two lagers one evening in Italy and I was really rather merry - but that's because I hardly ever drink because of the tablets I'm on. So I don't tend to drink at Christmas either - - well, perhaps a couple of glasses of Bailey's but sometimes not even that.

What I like is getting up early to put the turkey on - - watching everyone open their presents - - getting dinner ready and eating it - - perhaps a walk if the weather's good - - an evening in front of the television.

In recent years there have usually been the Communist, Mum, Olli, Gareth, Stephen and me.

But my mother is more sociable than we are. And, since the Communist's death, she doesn't have to stick around for Christmas if she doesn't want to.

And she doesn't want to. She wants to go to Park Hotel in Tenby where there'll be lots of liveliness and dancing and even a swim in the sea on Boxing Day if she fancies it (which she well might, and I certainly would if I were there.)

So I said to her tonight, that if she wants to, she should go. She wants to do a lot more socialising than we do: in fact I really don't want to do any this year. But in Tenby she could get slightly tipsy and chat to all the guests and all the staff and dance the night away and everyone would think - - what a wonderful old lady! And the guests will all think she's about seventy-five, though very well preserved - and actually she's eighty-five.

I don't know what the trains will be like though - that may prove tricky. I'll start investigating it. Tenby is 250 miles from Leeds, though she's done the journey on her own several times now.

She'd like us all to go, of course, but it's simply too expensive at Christmas.

"And you won't feel I'm abandoning you, then?" she asked.

"No, of course not, Mum. I think you'd have a much better time there. I think you'd love it."

"Yes, I think I would."

I think she would. Though there's a tiny bit of me - and she's never going to know this - that thinks hey, my MOTHER! ABANDONING ME! AT CHRISTMAS! WAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

But I shall put my inner five-year-old to one side and ring the hotel.

Politics Made Simple

No, I don't do politics on this blog - - but my old friend Marcus sent me this most entertaining link to British National Party boss Nick Griffin on last night's Question Time.

I still don't know if it was the right thing to do to let this neo-fascist on the programme - all publicity is good publicity etc. However he came over very badly - - kept denying he'd ever said things and the others on the panel would say "Well I've seen a video of you saying it" and he'd laugh nervously and look uncomfortable.

At one point they pointed out that he'd been on a platform with someone from the Ku Klux Klan and he said something to the effect that this particular branch of the Ku Klux Klan wasn't violent in any way, implying they were sort of cuddly and loveable, in fact. So that's all right then.

We must not underestimate this lot, though. They are evil people who give patriotism - which, in the right sense, is a Good Thing - a bad name by co-opting it to their cause. We underestimated the Nazis for ages, right through the 1930s. Peace in our time, and all that.

If you didn't see Question Time last night, this tells you all you need to know. And if you did see it - - well, it still tells you all you need to know.

Okay, that's it with the politics for a while. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Different Kinds of Tired

My favourite kind of tired is after a long walk or a long swim. Sitting in a pub or a cafe that does good simple food, eating lots of it, having felt I've earned it. That's a great, relaxed kind of tired.

In some jobs I've had a frazzled kind of tired - after a long and tricky day's supply teaching in the secondary school where I taught twenty years ago. The classes ranged from the pretty difficult to the almost impossible. The first achievement, with some of them, was getting them all into the classroom. Step two: get them all sitting down. Step three - - get them doing some work - - - and when I managed this, it was actually very rewarding - - but my stress levels were through the roof.

I worked there for three years, on supply - I was actually there most days of most weeks but hardly ever knew I was going to be. They used to ring me at twenty past eight and I'd be in front of a class by nine, blagging my way through and pretending I knew more than I did about the class and their work.

But I liked the fact that I didn't have to come back tomorrow - if I came back, it would be because I chose to. So something in me liked the challenge of trying to tame the hordes, knowing that I could leave at any moment.

Mostly I did chose to come back. One day, however, I chose not to, and never did again because I found a soothing job as a proof-reader for the European Patents Office soon afterwards.

The kind of tired that I had in that teaching job, though, was like no other - it left my brain completely tangled, with a longing for peace and quiet.

Some of the temp jobs I did in my early twenties left me absolutely exhausted but feeling I hadn't accomplished anything of much use at all. Stuffing envelopes with leaflets all day, that kind of thing. That "I've been bored all day" kind of tired is, for me, just as bad as the tangled-brain tired.

In the actors' agency where I work, I sometimes have an exhilarated kind of tired at the end of the day - if someone gets a role that they're just perfect for. It leaves me buzzing all evening.

Tonight I'm a different kind of tired. I've been working at the White Hart in Harrogate - a very civilised and comfortable hotel and conference centre. It's been a very long and intense day working on some training materials for doctors.

And tonight, I'm really tired - but it was a rewarding and very interesting day.

So - I love relaxed-tired. I love that-was-difficult-but-interesting tired. I love exhilarated-tired.

But I hate frazzled-tired. And I know that I'm so lucky in that I haven't had bored-with-my-job tired for many years now.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Particle Physics Made Very Simple Indeed

Physics and I have never got on. Not since the days of school physics, with our teacher, whose name wasn't Mrs Duck but so nearly was. I have cunningly hidden her identity but you may be able to work it out if you're really clever - you remove the vowel in her surname and replace it with the first letter of the alphabet.

Anyway, she made us do lots of experiments with distance-time graphs and velocity-time graphs and ticker-tape trolleys. I'm falling asleep just thinking about it.

However, about a year ago there was a big fuss about physics as some scientists had built the Large Hadron Collider somewhere in Europe with mountains. Briefly, it's a big roundy thing and the idea is that very small particles go round and round it very, very fast and eventually, if things go right, they may find a tiny particle called a Higgs Boson, and this will tell us more about the Big Bang and the beginnings of life, the universe and everything.

Some people were worried that, if it all went wrong, it would create a black hole into which everything would fall. Yes, absolutely everything. The whole planet. As we were all sucked in we'd hear distant cries of "Oops!" from the direction of Switzerland.

Other people said that the Collider wouldn't create a black hole and everything would be fine, apart from all the normal things that aren't fine, which would remain not fine at all.

Anyway, it didn't have the chance to create a black hole, because they plugged it in about a year ago and pressed the "On" switch, and it had barely begun to hum and glow red when there was a kind of little bang and a small phutttt sound and it all stopped.

And it's never started again since, even though they've changed the fuse and everything.

Now then, two scientists have come up with a theory that the reason that this Collider won't work is because it's being sabotaged - - drum roll - - FROM THE FUTURE! Somebody somewhere who knows about time-travel doesn't approve of it and won't let it happen.

Splendid theory. I think it's applicable to other things, too.

There is a reason why I haven't sorted through all the junk upstairs. I keep starting it, and then somehow I just don'f finish it.

My junk-sorting is clearly being sabotaged from the future. Something in the future just doesn't want me to get it all done. Perhaps there's a Higgs Boson or two lurking somewhere amongst the piles of old papers and 1970s clothes. And the future simply doesn't want them to be found. Yes, that'll be it. I'll stop trying to do it and watch a bit of David Attenborough on telly.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Low Hum

I was in a lecture, somewhere in England, with a couple of hundred student doctors today.

There were two speakers - - one was better than the other but actually both were interesting, and the topic was directly relevant to the students' course.

I became aware of a low hum. It was caused by students talking to each other - not all of them all the time, but just some of them, all the time.

I looked round and saw a few texting on mobiles and one or two who appeared to be taking their study of anatomy to the next level, using each other to experiment with.

I wasn't in charge of the lecture and I'm new to working with this year group on this course so it wasn't really my place to do anything about it - - but it was driving me nuts. I felt that if we allowed it to continue we're simply training the students to think that this behaviour - very rude, to my mind - is completely acceptable.

I honestly don't think they were doing it on purpose - they're just used to being in environments when it's okay to talk, such as when watching television.

So when I got to my small teaching group afterwards I explained to them how rude and annoying I'd found it, without blaming them specifically. Because actually, this group are great - thoughtful and hard-working - and I think they took my point.

I don't know what I can do to stop the Low Hum for next week - - because I'm just the new kid on the block on this course. I'm a bit scared that I'll suddenly turn into Crazed Schoolmarm from Hell and leap up in the middle and yell at them all to shut up! I'll have a think about it.

I used to teach in schools, of course, before the days of mobile phones. I think if I were in a secondary school now I'd be dropping mobile phones into buckets of water at the rate of about one an hour, and getting myself sacked in a very short space of time.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Swimming Again

I set the alarm for half past seven and didn't much feel like getting up when it went off.

But I'd packed my swimming stuff the night before and really wanted to try out the early-morning swimming on a Sunday to see how crowded it was.

I'm hoping to do the Great North Swim next year and I love swimming anyway - - so I thought it would be good to do it regularly.

I've always been rubbish at most sports. I'm short and not built for running. I used to be able to hit a tennis ball with reasonable accuracy - - but if it was then returned, I could never run fast enough to hit it back again. I used to be able to do a pretty good handstand against a wall, but never one in the air - I simply didn't see what would stop me going over flat on my back, and indeed that would probably have happened.

I could never do a headstand. Never in a million years. I could do quite a good crab. I could skip quite well but that was mostly because I spent hours and hours and days and weeks and months and probably years of my childhood skipping.

I always liked the idea of the equipment in the gym, but could never climb a rope, or indeed anything else, much. I used to watch sadly as almost everyone else went over the vaulting-horse - I just didn't have long enough legs - - or enough spring.

So PE lessons were always really dull and depressing for me as I just wasn't any good at anything. It didn't help me that my mother, and her mother before her, had both been sporting sensations - my mother was Captain of Leeds University hockey team, and had been training for the Olympics in swimming until Hitler bombed Barrow-in-Furness swimming baths. Both grandparents on my mother's side were terrific amateur gymnasts - my grandma was always the tiny one on the top of the human pyramid.

But all these genes passed me by - except for the swimming. Even so, I'm not fast at it - - but my stroke's not bad. And one thing I do have is stamina: I tend to rely on that rather too much in all aspects of life!

I got to the pool by about twenty past eight and there were three or four people in the changing room. There was a metal grid keeping the pool closed but at half past eight they lifted it and we all went into the water.

I usually do forty-two lengths (just over a kilometre which is forty lengths) but the Great North Swim is a mile across a very cold Windermere, in the Lake District. So I thought I'd better increase the distance a bit to build up to a mile in the pool, which is sixty-four lengths.

The pool was set out for swimming lengths, and for a while more and more people kept coming - the lengths swimming goes on until half past nine. For a while I was stuck behind someone who was slower than me - not that I'm very fast! - but she just wouldn't let me past! Whatever direction I went in to try to overtake, she swerved in the same direction. After a while she got out and I was rather selfishly grateful.

When I'd done thirty-five lengths I was a bit tired but after another couple of lengths my body seemed to work out that it was going to swim for a while more yet - - and suddenly it all became easier. My stroke seemed better and I seemed just to glide through the water more easily. Then I realised that almost everyone else had got out - - because the family swim starts at half-past nine and parents with children were beginning to arrive.

But there weren't many of them in the pool yet, so I just kept going. I got to forty lengths and thought I would do another ten. I got to fifty lengths and thought - hey, I'm not tired, I'll just keep going. I got to sixty lengths and thought - - well, I might as well do the full mile now.

As I finished the sixty-four lengths I felt really pleased and then thought - - what if I've counted wrong? I didn't think that I had, but I did an extra couple, just in case.

I was going slightly slower than my usual rate of a length a minute - which sounds fast but really isn't if you watch a Proper Swimmer! - and it took me exactly an hour and a quarter to do the mile.

I came back home all full of energy, but I expect I'll be tired later. I loved every minute of it though. I'll be doing it again as soon as I can.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Filling in Forms

I'm self-employed and am fortunate enough to work for several different employers.

In order to claim my fees and expenses for the roleplay and teaching work that I do, I have to fill in forms.

The forms all tend to be different, and the people I work for pay different mileage rates, and although it's a bit tedious, I can live with it and I'm grateful to have this interesting work.

But some of the work I do is for a University, which is located Somewhere in England.

Every time I make a claim, I have to fill in a form. Because I'm lucky enough to work there quite often, I can sometimes put the claim for several different days' work on one form. However, I work for several different departments and I have to fill in different forms for each.

Every time I fill in one of these, it wants to know my name, my date of birth, my personnel number (if known - and I DO know it) my National Insurance number, my gender, my bank sort code, my bank account number, the name on the account, whether I'm an employee of the University, whether they should deduct tax, whether they should deduct National Insurance, whether I'm a student, my nationality, my ethnicity, whether I'm disabled or able-bodied, the details of what the fee's for, the amount of the fee, the details of the expenses and the names of my Giant African Land Snails.

Okay, I lied about the names of the Giant African Land Snails, though I'd be happy to give them.

Now then, every form that I fill in from the University is sent to the person who employed me and they send it to Finance.

And in the fullness of time I get a pay slip from Finance. This comes at the end of the following month - - so if I send in a claim before the September deadline - which is towards the end of September - I will get paid at the end of October.

The pay slip tells me my payroll number and my National Insurance Number and then gives me the following explanation of what they're paying me: - I've made up the figures but this is how it looks:

R Fees 195.00
R EXP - TAX 29.82

TAX 45.00

Total deductions 45.00

Net pay 179.82

So I rang the Finance Office and asked if the R EXP - TAX bit meant that they were taxing my expenses, and if so, then why? - - She didn't seem to know if they were, or why they were, if they were. Could anyone else help me? Err - - no. I sighed gently and gave up.

Two things.

Firstly, all my fees get lumped together and it's nearly impossible to check whether they're paying me the right amount, or deducting the right amount of tax. Why can't they list the jobs individually? Or, since every claim form has an individual number and I keep a record of these, why can't they give me the numbers of the forms that the pay relates to?

And secondly, since I work for the place very regularly and indeed have a personnel number, wouldn't you think they would have a computer somewhere that's capable of remembering that I am white and able-bodied and female and have custody of some Giant African Land Snails?

Surely my National Insurance Number would identify me? Or my Personnel Number? So why on earth do I have to fill in all this stuff, every single time?

Just occasionally a form gets lost somewhere of course, but it's very hard for me to track down if it has, or if I've been paid the correct amount. A couple of times when I've checked very persistently, I haven't been. Was I overpaid or underpaid? - - I think you can guess.

I suspect that every self-employed person working for the University has at least one lost form a year, and I think that this is saving the University a small fortune. I wish they'd use it to update their computer system.

I love the work though.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Learned My Lesson Well

I heard the song "Garden Party" on the radio yesterday and thought that I've always rather liked it - - - but didn't have a clue what it was about.

In fact I didn't have a clue what it was called either - - I guessed it was called All Right Now - - but thanks to the wonders of Youtube it didn't take me long to track it down:

Ricky Nelson - - and, again, I really didn't know anything about him. Then I found this cover version which explains the whole thing - I don't know how accurate it is, of course - - but I certainly found it interesting.

I didn't know any of that. But then, a lot of things seem to have passed me by in the early 1970s, probably because I was busy doing my homework (or, on occasion, putting off doing my homework and watching Star Trek instead). I was totally focused on exams to the exclusion of almost everything else - I was at the kind of school where it was all "I got 84%, what did you get?"

It established a habit in me of working most of the time and feeling really guilty at any time when I wasn't. I still feel that way, in general. Before exams I was always nervous to the point of terror. Ridiculous. I never failed any - probably because I was so terrified that I worked like crazy - and so I never learned that if I did fail, it wouldn't be the end of the world.

But it's all right now, I've learned my lesson well - well, with regard to exams, at least. When I passed my driving test, age thirty, I thought - that's it for the exams in this lifetime. No more. And I've stuck to it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Ghosts of Buses Past

If you asked me "What colour is a Leeds bus?" I'd probably say green.

Well, I'd say the older ones are dark green and the newer ones are light green.

When you get on the bus it's always a bit smoky downstairs, because the smoke comes down from the top deck.

On the bottom deck you sit on one of the green seats. After a while the conductor comes along and you tell him you want to go to Gledhow School (my local stop) and he tells you it's a shilling, and gives you a ticket. You have to hang on to the ticket in case the Inspector gets on.

If the bottom deck is full then you have to head for the top deck where there are gangs of teenagers and lots of people smoking. You can barely see for the fug of it. There are often old men in corners reading the Yorkshire Evening Post.

When I was a student I'd hang around at my friend David's flat in Hanover Square (yes, he's still my friend I'm delighted to say) until about quarter to eleven at night and then run through town to get the last bus at ten past eleven: it was touch and go a few times but I never missed it. Yorkshire Ripper? - - Oh, yes, he was about then and I'm afraid I never gave him much of a thought as I pounded along the pavement.

Well, those are my bus memories, anyway: I'm always surprised when I go on a bus and it's not quite like I remember. I suppose I still see buses a lot but I don't exactly notice them - - so when the other day I took this photo from the top of a Leeds multi-storey car park, I was surprised to see a bus in it. It was one of those "there's a ghost in my photo" moments.

And it's not even green. It's PURPLE, for goodness' sake. The times they are a-changin'.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


For once, yesterday I didn't post to this blog. The reason for it was simple - - work! In the morning I was in our office: in the afternoon I was facilitating for some medical students: and I went straight from there to do some Gloomy Roleplays for an exam for some doctors - and I must say that the subject of the roleplays was gloomy but the doctors were excellent.

But it all finished at about quarter to ten at night, so I was rather tired when I got home. A good day though - it was a bit too much work, but I neverthless enjoy the "buzz" from days like that when they go well.

This morning I was again working for the NHS somewhere. Some of the male medical students yesterday were commenting on how women all go off to the toilets together and chat about things.

And today, in the toilets, I overheard this.

There was a very smiley girl and a girl with very, very red hair.

Smiley Girl: "I've got a present for you."

Red Hair: "Oooh, what is it?"

Smiley Girl: "I'll bring it round later. Are you all right? Why are you washing your face so much?

Red Hair: "Someone spat at me on the bus. Right in my face".

Smiley Girl: "Why?"

Red Hair: "He was a fruit loop. He had a Roy Cropper shopper. Nobody of his age should have one of those. You know, on wheels. Like my Nana Renee had one. But she was old. In fact she's dead now. I think he didn't like my hair."

Smiley Girl: "Why not?"

Red Hair: "Too red, he said. Then he spat at me. I ducked and it went all over the woman behind me. But then he tried again and it got me. So I'm washing my face a lot. Ewwwww."

And one of my colleagues today told me that she overheard the following exchange yesterday:

Mobile Phone Salesman: "Is it Miss or Mrs?"

Customer: "Ms, actually."

Mobile Phone Salesman (suspiciously): "Oh, we had one of those in the shop earlier too."

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Soaps of Life

Soaps are a kind of accompaniment to life.

Now then, by "soaps" I don't mean the television ones - - the Coronation Street, Emmerdale, Eastenders kind of soaps.

I mean bars of soap, for washing with. I tend to favour the traditional kind - - Palmolive, Pears, Camay, Coal Tar - that kind of thing. They've been with me all my life and I find those traditional scents pleasant and comforting.

The Communist was also the Pharmacist; and soap, in my childhood, just appeared in boxes from his shop - we didn't exactly choose our soap, more looked in the box to see what the Communist had brought back for us.

I've never changed to shower gel: I've tried it sometimes in hotels, quite liked it, but always returned to soap.

Sometimes I try clever new soaps with oatmeal in or that exciting Seventies innovation - soap on a rope! But I always return to the old favourites. As with all smells, they are evocative of happy times, good times, ordinary times, times past.

Last week I bought some Cussons Pearl soap - the first that I'd bought for twenty-five years, almost exactly to the day.

How on earth would I remember that?

Okay, the tricky bit.

In October 1984 I was pregnant with my first baby: I went into premature labour and he was born on October 14th, and died three weeks later. I always find this time of year a bit tricky. It would have been his twenty-fifth birthday on Wednesday this week. Twenty-five! I can hardly believe it.

The week before I went into labour I had bought some Cussons Pearl Soap - I don't know if it was new at the time but it was certainly new to me and I really liked the smell.

When I was taken into hospital, I got a lot of stick from some of the staff because I didn't have a ready-packed going-into-hospital-to-have-a-baby bag. The reason, of course, which they didn't appear to understand, was that it had been far too early in the pregnancy for such things.

So Stephen brought me some things into hospital, and the Cussons Pearl Soap was one of them.

I had a truly, unbelievably horrible time in that hospital. The unspeakably awful way in which I ws treated - not being believed, being treated as though I was stupid - led me in a very direct line to the work in Communication Skills that I do today.

And through it all, there was the smell of Cussons Pearl Soap.

I never bought it again. Sometimes, in the supermarket, I'd smell it to see what I thought - - and no, what I thought was the horror of that time, of that ward, instantly.

Last week, I bought some. I'm trying to move on.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bonding and Fighting

We watched the Bond film The Quantum of Solace a couple of nights ago and I really enjoyed it. The plot was - - well, James Bond - - and some baddies - - Bolivia - - oil - - water - - well, that's about it, I knew more at the time but that was two nights ago so I've forgotten and it doesn't matter anyway.

Guess who won? - - Yes, you got it in one.

I don't mind violence in films if it's either justified by the plot, or - as in Bond films - that kind of slapstick violence which just isn't real. A bit of you knows, as Bond jumps from a tremendous height onto a moving bus and then jumps off that onto a building, and then has a fight with Baddie on top of the bus and is punched and falls off that - - well, you know that he would have been dead about ten times over in one sequence - - but you don't care, you know it's not real, but it's exciting, and probably cathartic too.

As for the "justified by the plot" point - well, yes, but sometimes, if I know the plot would be too distressing, I just wouldn't watch the film in the first place. I would never, for example, want to watch a realistic film where the viewer is supposed to take vicarious pleasure from watching someone else being tortured. To me, there's a big difference between the fantasy violence of a Bond film and that kind of thing.

Thinking about it, I know that the kind of film I'd find hardest to watch is any kind of realistic hostage drama. I can't bear being trapped anywhere myself and I can't bear to watch others in that situation. It's the kind of news story that I find hardest in real life - for example, when terrorists took a whole schoolful of children hostage a few years ago. Unbearable.

So I once saw The Crying Game, for example - an excellent film, but I don't think I could see it again.

Here's a song about The Quantum of Solace which makes a lot of interesting and very funny points about how Bond films have changed over the years - and I think that the video is put together brilliantly.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Last Dandelion of Summer

It's a lovely, sunny - though slightly chilly - day today. Even though it's Saturday, I seem to have lost the ability to sleep in so we set off at about ten for Hetchell Woods, just off Wetherby Road north of Leeds.

The last dandelion of summer was putting a brave face on it. When there are lots of dandelions about, I hardly notice them as individuals - - but here it was, the last dandelion, all cheery in the sunshine.

Everything else was autumnal though. Rose hips on the bushes:

dead willow-herb, colourful in the sunshine:

fungi on dead branches:

and the fields were pretty, but in an autumnal kind of a way.

There were still a few policemen's helmets though:

I like these - if you touch the seed cases they explode and it's FUN. Another name for them is "touch-me-not". But I'll always touch them, oh yes - it's amazing to see how far the seeds will scatter.

It's definitely autumn, and although autumn can be beautiful, it means, of course, that winter's on its way. Brrrrrrr.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Brilliant - - but I'm not sure - -

Someone sent me the link to this group, the Voca People, today.

Brilliantly clever and their vocal ability could certainly put most X-Factor contestants to shame - - but do I like it? Do you like it?

When you watch most singing groups you like to feel you can get to know them a bit, their voices and their personalities - - and look forward to seeing them again.

But for some reason this lot are all dressed - not to beat about the bush - like those sperm from the Woody Allen film Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask. (I saw it when I was very young. It obviously made a big impression on me. Well, I remember the sperm, anyway).

Anyway, the end result is that they all look the same. And yes, what they do is really incredibly skilled. Even though I hate that "here's-a-cute-little-fella"-type voice on the introduction.

But I wouldn't want to watch a whole evening of them, unless they got rid of the Sperm Suits and started dressing like real people. And saved the look-how-clever-we-are showy bit for the end of the concert.

I think they're a bit Marmite - - love them or hate them. What do you think?

I'm always wary of writing that. I think I'll get NO COMMENTS and feel like Daphne-No-Mates. We'll see.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

A Coincidence In My Life

I'd been working with some dental students this afternoon and as I walked across the campus back to the Hideous Though Useful Multi-Storey Car Park, I started idly humming the Beatles' song In My Life. I've no idea why it came into my head.

Actually I did not, in fact, even know what it was called. I was trying to remember the words but could only remember the occasional couple of lines "for I know I'll never lose affection - - for people and things that went before - - " - - but more than that, no. I remember the introduction, and the tune, and the closing bars - - but actually, it's not a song that I know well, and it's not one of my Beatles favourites, though I do quite like it.

Anyway, as I unlocked my car I got to the last, musical ending - - "Dee dee deedle dee dee, deedle dee dee!" and sang it out loud, like you do in your car when you think nobody can hear you. (Well, I do. If you don't you'll be thinking "She does WHAT?" and I now look like a fool. Oh well, too bad).

So as I triumphantly sang the last note, I pressed the button to switch on the radio.

It played "Dee dee deedle dee dee, deedle dee dee!" and then Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr all started playing and singing the identical song.

It really freaked me out!

If I'd been half way through singing it, and then switched the radio on, and the radio continued playing it, then I would have assumed that I had, unknowingly, heard a snatch of it on someone else's radio somewhere, and that was why I was humming it in the first place.

I didn't even drive off, just sat there in the car until the song had finished. Then afterwards the presenter - Steve Wright, I think it must have been, at that time of day, though I was too confused to pay much attention - - said that it was In My Life by the Beatles.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was a coincidence, I conclude. But of all the songs in all the world - - oh, it was weird.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Tax Made Simple

I was, as you probably know, brought up on a diet of near-constant politics with Communist meetings in the house and strange people greeting me with "Hello, Little Comrade".

The result of all this was a lifelong (well, so far) lack of interest in party politics.

But I thought I'd better explain to a waiting world all about Gordon Brown's proposed tax rise for the rich.

From next April anyone earning over £150,000 a year will have to pay 50% tax.

There are four views on this and here's what they are:

1) Anyone who earns less than this, and knows they're never going to earn as much as this, thinks "Rich bastards! Seventy-five grand a year's plenty to live on and they probably got it by crooked means anyway. Excellent! Let them make a proper contribution to everything."

2) Anyone who earns less than this, but hopes they might one day get to a hundred and fifty grand a year or even more, thinks "Those people got there by their own hard work! Everyone has the opportunity to succeed and if they do they shouldn't be penalised by these huge taxes."

3) Anyone who earns a hundred and fifty grand a year or more thinks "It's not fair! I've worked hard for this lifestyle, I deserve it and if those lazy people at the bottom of the heap are critical of me, well they should pull their fingers out and work harder."

4) Anyone who doesn't exactly earn a hundred and fifty grand a year, but who just happens to have it because their family is very, very rich, thinks "I've no idea who Gordon Brown is and now I'm going out to talk to the horses. Yah!"

If you have any doubt about which category fits you, here's something that might help you to make up your mind.

Remember Tracey Emin? Heroine of the Britart movement, she of the perennially sulky expression? - No?

Well, she's the one who exhibited her unmade bed to show us that, according to the picture of it that I've linked to, "she's as insecure and imperfect as the rest of the world".

D'you know what, Tracey? I don't care! From time to time she produces some adolescent-type badly-written diary saying what a bad time she had as a teenager - -as opposed to every other teenager who had the best time of their lives. Stunningly ground-breaking, eh?

Quite why she's so famous - or so rich - I don't really know. My rough test for Art, even if I don't like it, is "put it in a field and see if it still looks like Art". Does the unmade bed? - - Er - - no.

If Gordon Brown brings in this new tax rate, she says, Ms Emin's seriously considering leaving Britain.

So, whatever you think about the new tax rate, it's not all bad then.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

And Now, Some Music

It's been a busy day which included some great second-year medical students. But I'm very tired now so here's some music.

I heard a song on the radio the other day and thought - - hey, that's Abba. Now then. I've always liked Abba. I liked them when it was considered cool to like them, and also when it was considered deeply uncool. I'm not sure now if they're so cool they're nearly uncool or so uncool they're cool. No idea. Don't care. All together now - - Dancing Queen - -

But this song's always sounded a bit different, to me - and I just found out that it was the last song that they ever recorded, which is probably why.

It's strangely haunting, and unusual, and I love it. So here we are, back to 1982.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Two Truths and a Lie

Very respectable, me. That's probably what you'd think if you met me. Middle-aged, motherly, respectable - - that's how I come over.

But - partly, at least - it isn't how I feel. I don't actually feel respectable at all. Or middle-aged.

Somewhere in England today, I was working with a group of first-year student doctors and decided to try to use people's perception of me to try to get across to them that people aren't always what they seem. This is, of course, a useful thing to know, as it might help to stop them making snap judgements about patients.

As part of the introduction to their first session, I asked them each to think of two truths and a lie about themselves. They would say each of these, and then the rest of us had to guess which was the lie. It's a good exercise and helps people to find out a bit about each other, and generally helps a new group to feel at ease with each other.

So I started it off - - - and here were my two truths and a lie:

In no particular order:

1) Before working in the field of Communication Skills, I trained as a journalist.

2) When I'm not doing this job, I work as an actor's agent, getting auditions and work for actors.

3) I've always been interested in space travel, and last year achieved one of my life's ambitions with a visit to the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

Which one was the lie?

They were quick to weigh in with their votes. Do I look like someone with Showbiz Connections? - - er, no. Clearly, the one about the actors' agency was the lie.

"No, that one's entirely true," I said, to their surprise.

Okay, they said - knowing that Middle-Aged Respectability in front of them wouldn't be interested in space - the one about the Kennedy Space Centre must be the lie, then.

And, of course, that one's true, too. So the one that they were all certain was the truth - that I trained as a journalist - - was the Big Fat Lie.

So, my beliefs about how people perceive me were confirmed - - but still, it's good to keep students on their toes. And they were a lovely group, too, I'm looking forward to working with them again.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Strange Case of the Lawyer's Wig

Oh all right then, I admit it, it seems to be Autumn. I looked down by my feet in the park this morning and found a bit of a clue:

And another big clue is this, growing out of our drive:

So what does this look like to you? (Just stop it now, you lot on the back row. I said stop it).

Yes, you're absolutely right, you guessed it first time. It's a Shaggy Ink-Cap. An Autumnal fungus. As it grows it gets - well - shaggy at the sides and is also known as a Lawyer's Wig.

It's edible, apparently, though for some reason I didn't fancy it with my fish fingers this evening.

People get all romantic about Autumn - - look at John Keats with his season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. All that about "to bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees."

All very lovely as far as it goes, but I think he might have squeezed in a description of a Shaggy Ink-Cap somewhere, if only out of pity for those doing English Literature exams.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

A Day of Visitors

It's been a day of visitors today, and very pleasant too.

This morning Jenny and her husband Keith came over and we met them for the first time - they were en route to Bradford from their home in North Wales and called in for a cuppa and a chat (yes, I know, Leeds isn't exactly en route to Bradford but you know what I mean.)

Silverback came over too. He's met Jenny before, when he was on the way to join us on holiday in Tenby in July, but I had never met her.

As I've mentioned before, when I started writing this blog in early 2006, I didn't even know whether there was anyone out there who might read it - let alone that I might make new friends through it. It was lovely to meet Jenny and Keith and of course it's always great to see Silverback. My mother came over, all the way from next door - she is very sociable and loves meeting new people.

Then Olli rang me. Saturday is Olli and Gareth's Games Group's meeting - - the games in question are Dungeons and Dragons-type fantasy games. A group of up to six of them usually start at about two and go on until about midnight. Usually they play in their friend Luke's shed, but today all his family were away, so they couldn't use the shed. Could they use our living-room?

This games group has been running every week for four years now and Luke's family kindly built them the shed primarily for this purpose, after they'd played in our living room for a year or so. "Shed" is a bit of a false description of this centrally heated sofa-covered venue, but they seem to be coping fine in our living room today in spite of the fact that it's smaller. There are four of them today. Apart from Olli and Gareth, there's Jo who is a student and Guy who is an engineer - - and they seem to be having a good time: there's a lot of laughter coming out of the room.

So we've just ordered most of the contents of the local Indian take-away to feed everyone.

I've never been a fan of the formal, dinner-party type of entertaining, but on the other hand I love it when there are friends in the house and I always want them to feel at home. So it's been a very enjoyable day, with some lovely people.

Friday, October 02, 2009

At the Deep

Silverback, Stephen and I went to The Deep today - it's an aquarium in Hull. Stephen and I had been before a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it, and if anything we both enjoyed it even more this time, because we spent more time looking and taking photographs: we spent about six hours there.

I put my superb wildlife photography skills into action and captured this stunning shot of the rare Blurred Sea-Horse, which hides from predators by, er, being very blurred so you can't see it properly. Amazing.

They have everything there from cute little fish:

to this species known as the Only Slightly Blurred Shark, which is huge.

The big main tank is vast and we watched divers feeding the fish - which include very big sharks, rays and swordfish - and this was really interesting to see.

It's beautifully clean, the fish are in excellent condition, there's lots to see and I'd definitely recommend it for a Grand Day Out.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Misadventure Aggravated by Neglect

I quite often see people I know on television - - but that's because a lot of people I know are actors. So I don't usually see them as themselves, I see them playing a role.

Last night I saw someone I know on television, but it was on Panorama, and she was most certainly being herself.

She's Bren Neale, who is a close friend of my friend David. I don't know her well but have always liked her and I thought she came out of the programme really well.

A couple of years ago, her fiance John Hubley needed an operation to have his gall bladder removed. Cholecystectomy, in fact (I know this fancy term because of all the medical roleplay that I've done - I once spent a whole day playing a patient with gallstones!)

Although he was having the operation under the National Health Service, they sent him to have it in a private clinic in Bradford, which was policy in order to cut NHS waiting lists.

It's a routine operation, but, of course, sometimes routine operations can go wrong, and this clinic was not prepared for such an eventuality. Though it appears that they actually met the standards required at the time!

To cut a very long story short - he started to haemorrhage during the operation and needed a blood transfusion.

There was no blood kept at the clinic and they sent the hospital porter off in a car, through the heavy traffic, to fetch some from a nearby hospital. It took ages.

They were also lacking other equipment needed - even swabs were mentioned - along with equipment to warm the blood when it finally arrived.

Sadly, John Hubley died during the operation.

Bren Neale said that she doesn't blame any individual for this - but it was a definite failure of the system, which the coroner described as "Mickey Mouse".

The programme highlighted several other such cases, where patients who had been sent to private hospitals for NHS operations had died because the private hospitals just were not well enough equipped.

Bren has done a great job in helping to bring this to public attention and I hope that changes will be made as a result.

Private hospitals can be great for patients. It's a big boost to recovery if you're in pleasant surroundings. I'd be the first to say that some of the wards in the NHS are places where nobody would want to be - grubby, lacking in privacy, lacking in attention for the patients. It's so much better psychologically for patients to be in a pleasant environment where they feel like they are being treated as individuals, and private hospitals can most certainly provide that. Some of the dreadful geriatric wards that I saw when the Communist was ill should have been closed down.

All the pretty decor and private bathrooms in private hospitals are no use at all, however, unless the medical facilities are excellent too - and in some private hospitals, they are. But it's most certainly not a case of private hospitals necessarily having higher standards.

Given the choice between a private hospital without an intensive care unit and an NHS hospital with an intensive care unit and all the equipment, I know which I'd be choosing.