Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Shorts Story

"So", I explained to the doctor, "although I can swim and walk perfectly well, my right leg is always on the edge of getting cramp. And if I do quite a long walk, and then drive, it always does get cramp, and it's agony. My screams and cursing may be heard as far away as Lancashire."

She examined the evidence. My right leg, of course, was the one that had the deep-vein thrombosis in 1984 and I've always limped a bit, especially when tired, ever since.

"So why do you limp, do you think?" asked the doctor.

"Well, my right leg just feels heavier than the left one, I think it's that," I said, "and it makes me walk slightly awkwardly, I'm always conscious of it."

"Have you ever had physiotherapy for it?" she asked.

"Er - - no," I said.

"Right, I'll refer you then," she said, "because I think it could help."

And it was then I remembered the Story of the Shorts.

I was last referred for physiotherapy in 1984. I wasn't in the best of states. I was twenty-eight: my first baby had died: I had been very ill: I had had a thrombosis in my right leg. I was very thin, though not in a good way. I had recently come out of hospital in a ward where my life had been saved, but the next person in age to me had been seventy-four. And indeed Kath and I had become good friends, since we were the two youngsters in the ward.

So I was thin, and sallow-skinned, and generally looked terrible. And, because of the DVT, my right leg was much fatter than my left one. It's still a bit fatter now, but not nearly as much.

So I turned up in the gym at St James's Hospital and it was full of fit, healthy young men with sports injuries. I felt about a hundred and thirty-three.

Out bounced the physiotherapist, who was a fit, healthy young man a bit older than I was.

"Right," he said, "you need to go and put your shorts on."

I was totally taken aback. "What shorts?"

"You need to wear shorts for this."

It had said on the information that I could wear shorts or track-suit trousers, and track-suit trousers were what I was wearing.

"I don't own any shorts. I don't wear shorts."

He just gazed at me. "Well you need shorts."

I gazed back. Finally I decided to spell it out. "I have just had a DVT and I have one leg fatter than the other. I've been really ill and I feel terrible and I don't want to wear shorts. I don't own any, and I haven't brought any. It said on the information that I could wear track-suit trousers, and I am."

"Oh no," he said, "you need to wear shorts for physiotherapy."

"So you are saying," I said carefully, "that without shorts I can't have physiotherapy?"

"Yes," he said.

"Is this for any health reason?"

"No, it's just policy."

"Right," I said, "I can't have physiotherapy then."

And I turned and left. He made no attempt to stop me.

Of course, I should have complained: firstly to the hospital and then to the press. Or I could have gone back and punched him, and then told the world why. But I was just feeling too fragile. I went home and I didn't have physiotherapy.

But hey, he was one of the many reasons why I've got into helping to teach Communication Skills to healthcare professionals. So not all bad, then.

I have never worn shorts since, and I never will. I will go for physiotherapy. And if any mention is made of shorts this time, there'll be Trouble with a capital T.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Delays Possible

I've grumbled about Bradford before, and now I'm going to do it again. Sorry.

It's always a bit dark and gloomy, consisting of a lot of old stone-built houses in a dip full of traffic. Actually, I like old stone-built houses but a lot of the Bradford ones are rather run-down. Or the ones are on the route I take, anyway.

To get to Bradford Royal Infirmary, where I was working today, you go along the ring road, through Calverley (ah yes! Very pleasant old stone-built houses, here) and then turn left, straight on for a bit, wiggle about on some narrow roads going left, right, right, sort of leftish, bit of a nearly right, across a mini-roundabout, down a steep hill - - that kind of thing - and there you are. The satnav knows the way and all is well. Provided you avoid Death by Articulated Lorry, which actually, I nearly didn't.

I was at the end of one of the very narrow roads, at a junction, waiting to turn right with a queue of cars behind me, when the driver of the longest articulated lorry in the world decided to turn in front of me. He was in the road to my left and just decided to turn right, going down the road I'd just come up, if you see what I mean. (I am beginning to see why accident reports have such potential for comedy).

But the road was too narrow and the junction was too narrow and as the lorry turned it became very obvious to me that I was about to be Squished by the side of the lorry going straight into my car. And I couldn't back out of the way because of all the cars behind me.

So I found the horn (not easy as I'd never needed it before so had forgotten where it was, if indeed I ever knew, which I doubt) and hooted like a crazed woman, and Articulated Lorry Man stopped, and all the cars behind me went backwards, which took about as long as it took for human beings to evolve from microbes. And then I went backwards and Lorry Man completed his turn.

Then I got to the hospital and found a bit of good luck in the form of the last parking space in the hospital car park.

I had a lovely afternoon working with some excellent young doctors and then, as I drove out of the hospital grounds, I remembered the other problem with Bradford.

"Turn right" said the satnav, which was entirely wrong. For some reason, she doesn't know the way back. Once she's got there, the route she came by is completely lost to her. As indeed, it is to me as it's so windy and wiggly and all the roads look the same.

I knew that turning right was wrong, so I went straight on for a bit but she wasn't having any of it. "Turn right" she insisted, with a bit of "Perform a U-turn where possible" thrown in for added interest.

"Shan't! So there!" I said. Defying the satnav always gives me the manners of a two-year-old. So I went straight on, hoping she would get her act together and realise that this was the way I had come.

But no. She decided to take me to the M606 and I know from past sad experience that what she does then is wait till I'm on the motorway and then confidently tell me to take an exit which leads into an industrial park and nowhere else.

So I just wasn't having it. I spotted a sign for Leeds - not exactly the way I had come, and indeed I knew it would take me through Bradford City Centre in the rush-hour. But I preferred it to the satnav's way and sure enough when I turned onto the road the number of miles to my home dropped from eighteen to twelve.

I came to a sign. "Roadworks in City Centre. Delays Possible." Really - - how could they tell? Rush-hour traffic in central Bradford is always verging on stationary anyway.

Did I mention that it was raining? Has anyone ever been to Bradford when it hasn't been raining? I don't think I ever have, except once when it was snowing.

It took me an hour and a half to get home. Thirteen miles. But hey, I'm a cup-half-full kind of person and here is my Cheering Thought. There will be some people who have to do that journey every day. And I don't. By the time I have to do it again, I will have forgotten how bad it was. And I did love the work when I was there.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Tenby in the Spring

Tenby (which is in South West Wales just in case you don't know) looked gorgeous this past few days. Of course, it always does - but I've usually seen it in the Summer and never before in this Spring light, and I loved it.

So here are just a few photos. Here are some Tenby daffodils (they're a separate sub-species or something) with the harbour in the background.

Here are some waves on South Beach in the sunshine. In the background is Caldey Island, where there's a Cistercian monastery. In the summer you can have a boat trip over there - it's just three miles and the boats are very frequent - and the island's delightful: the monks make perfume and chocolate and shortbread and there are wild flowers everywhere and seals on the rocks.

Some houses round Tenby harbour in the evening light:

And this one, below, I think is my favourite of all the ones I took this time, partly because I've never been able to take quite this shot before. There was a very low tide and most of the wet sand here is usually under water. If you click on it to enlarge it, you can see all the colours and I just love them.

Grateful thanks as usual to all the Park Hotel staff who are great! I'm looking forward to going back again in July!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Wet Feet and Blue Skies

It's been one of those stunningly beautiful sunny Spring days here in Tenby, all sunshine and daffodils and blue skies and blue sea and white waves. Just gorgeous.

First thing this morning (and by "first thing" I mean "after I'd eaten a massive breakfast") the tide was really low. So I set off to walk from Park Hotel, which is at one end of the North Beach, to the headland at the far end of South Beach. I suppose it's about three miles but, like a lot of miles round here, there's quite a bit of Up involved, and a certain amount of Down too, though the Up seems to be harder.

When I set off at about half-past nine, I was the only person on North Beach. I walked along to the harbour. The tide was so low that I found myself outside the harbour wall, which doesn't happen often.

I walked past all the boats lying on the sand in the harbour, went up the slipway at Harbour Beach and then down to St Catherine's Beach and so to South Beach. Tenby, of course, has several beaches, and each is lovely in a different way. North Beach is pretty with cliffs and a lovely view of the harbour. South Beach is a long expanse of sand with a beautiful headland at the end.

So on and on I went, stopping fom time to time to take photos. I was quite a way from the sea, though I knew the tide was coming in. Hearing a skylark singing above the dunes, I turned to see if I could see it.

Ah, no, you can't go taking your eyes off the sea for a moment. It knows.

The next thing I knew I was up to my ankles in water. The tide had suddeny decided to come in rather fast.

Of course. my first thought was - - - did anyone see my ridiculous look of surprise?

Luckily there was nobody about. So I tipped the water out of my walking boots and put them back on. My right foot, which is - unsurprisingly - attached to my right leg, which once had a thrombosis, always tends to feel a bit hot when I'm walking so actually it rather enjoyed its cool bath.

My left foot wasn't so impressed but would just have to live with it.

Of course, I was brought up to think that walking with wet feet was a sure and certain path to Heaven, rather sooner than intended. A bit like walking on Ilkley Moor baht 'at, as the instructive song lyrics tell us.

So I could hear my Grandma's ghostly voice whispering in my ear "Turn back! Turn back! You'll get pneumonia!"

I'm sorry to say that I ignored her completely and squelched my way up onto the headland. It was wonderful. Sand dunes and stunning views across to Caldey Island and St Margaret's Island. There was only me there, and the seagulls and the skylarks.

After wandering about for half an hour or so, I set off back again. By now I was used to my wet feet and they seemed quite contented with their state of wetness.

I enjoyed the walk back just as much - glorious sunshine, lovely scenery.

In spite of the massive breakfast I had taken an apple and a bar of chocolate with me. I'm diabetic and always take something that will give me a quick burst of sugar.

But I don't get a lot of warning about my blood sugar getting low. So I walked quite happily until I got to the bottom of the steep cliff path up to the hotel - - - and then suddenly I just couldn't go another step. So I ate first the apple, in case that was enough - - it wasn't. I set off up the cliff but just didn't have any energy. So I ate all the chocolate as I staggered my way up the path.

I had rung Park Hotel from the headland and asked them to make me some sandwiches for when I got back, as I knew I'd be hungry, and sure enough these were waiting for me along with some crisps. After I'd scoffed that lot, I began to feel a lot better. Finally I took my boots off and examined my wet feet which seemed to have suffered no ill effects at all.

I had a hot bath, and then fell fast asleep for an hour.

I woke up and looked out of the window. Being on top of a cliff, Park Hotel has a wonderful view of the harbour and the town. Tenby was bathed in afternoon sunlight. The tide had come right in and North Beach was covered in sparkling blue sea.

So I put my boots back on again and walked back down to the harbour, and took about a million photographs.

It's been a wonderful day. But if I wake up tomorrow with pneumonia, I'll know it was entirely my own fault. Sorry, Grandma.

Friday, March 26, 2010

On the Beach

I am sitting on a rock on the beach in the sunshine, watching the tide come slowly in towards my feet.
This morning I have walked and walked, all over Tenby and on its three lovely beaches.
In a while, when the tide gets to me, I will walk up the cliff path back to the hotel. But, meanwhile, I am sitting in the sunshine watching the white breakers. This must be one of the most pleasant and relaxing things to do in the whole wide world..

Thursday, March 25, 2010

To Tenby

I woke at four-thirty this morning so thought I might as well get up and go.
The traffic round Manchester was busy, but bearable, and it was raining.
Once I got to North Wales,there was a transformation. Hardly any traffic and the sun came out to warm the little groups of lambs gambolling round the fields.
There was still snow on the high mountains of mid-Wales and they still looked wintry. There were still snowdrops in flower on the verges, but the daffodils were coming into flower - my favourites!
There are daffodils all over Tenby too. I've never been here in Spring before! Apparently Tenby has its own species of daffodil, called, unsurprisingly, the Tenby Daffodil.
Park Hotel was warm and welcoming as usual. Kt who was on reception said I looked tired - well, it could be because I got up so early and drove 250 miles! I know that may not be far to some, but it is to me! Or it could just be caused by Old Age and Poverty as the Communist used to say.
I've been for fish and chips with Sonia, who's in the play, which is Noel Coward's Still Life, better known as the film Brief Encounter.
And now I'm blogging from my Blackberry in thE foyer before the play starts.
Kt said I won't look so tired after a couple of days here. But I've only been here a few hours and I feel better already.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Gadding Off

I've had two very busy days in our office, with lots of invoices to do. Now, however, they are almost all done.

Tomorrow I have two roleplays. In the morning I'm playing a character I have been playing every Wednesday for several weeks now, to help to train nurses in counselling skills. In the afternoon I am helping to demonstrate a roleplay about autism at a medical conference, to show lecturers who will then - I hope - encourage the students to attend the sessions.

And on Thursday I'm going to Tenby.

The last time I was there, at our favourite hotel, was back in the beginning of November. My mother was with me: we were setting off to see a play and then my car developed a slight fault, so I called the AA, just in case.

My mother was convinced that the AA man would never find us, even though I had told him that we were waiting in the hotel's reception. So she insisted on going outside to look out for him, in spite of my pleas for her to sit down and that he would come to us.

And it was then, of course, that she fell on the hotel steps and broke her shoulder. The broken shoulder was not at all noticeable at first because she had also banged her nose which was pouring blood everywhere.

We missed the play, of course. My mother ended up in hospital and was perhaps the worst patient in the history of the whole world ever. The whole episode has left me thoroughly shaken up because I now know what she'll be like if she ever does have to stay in hospital for longer. She discharged herself this time, of course.

And now she's much, much better - - the shoulder's not perfect by any means, but she's been swimming with me for the past three days and I can see her swimming improving by the day, which is great.

But it's been a long and difficult winter. So I'm going to Tenby, and I'm seeing the same actress in a different play, and then I'm staying until Sunday, all by myself, just to walk on beaches and look at the sea and wander all over the place.

I am so looking forward to it.

And, of course, I'm going on my own this time. I know I have to. I know that if Mum were to go then I'd spend the whole time worrying about her, and I know I really need a break. I asked Stephen to tell her about it, because I knew I couldn't bear her her initial reaction. I knew it would be "I can go too!" And it was. I would, of course have replied "Yes, of course". Stephen said "I'm afraid you can't: Daphne needs a complete break."

So, I know I'm doing the right thing in not taking her, and I'm grateful to those who have encouraged me in this, and she does seem to have accepted it.

The Communist always expected to go on holiday with us wherever we went, and in those days it was Mum who thought we might occasionally like a holiday without them. So now, I can hear the Communist's voice in my head. "So you're not taking your mother? Why on Earth not?" And I feel really bad about it. I feel like the worst daughter in the world, and I know it's wrong to feel like that, but that's how I feel.

But I'm going, and I will put these thoughts aside, and enjoy it, because otherwise there'd be no point in me going. I will get there, and my heart will lift, like it usually does.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Art of Sums

I don't like Maths. I don't really care for algebra. I don't like anything involving a mathematical concept, really. Especially calculus. Hated it. Really, really hated it.

I didn't mind simultaneous equations because I could actually do those. Sadly I never worked out HOW. This put me at a big disadvantage because I would do them by the Staring-At-Them method. "Daphne, you must show your working". How could I? I just stared at them for a bit and then the answer came into my head and I never knew how.

Sadly that was the only bit of mathematical aptitude that I had, really. Wouldn't you think that a maths teacher would want to know how I might be getting the answer? - - but I didn't know and she didn't investigate. She just told me to steer clear of them in the O-level exam if I couldn't show my working.

No, I may not have much aptitude or liking for Maths. But I'm pretty good at Sums. I spent years of my primary-school life doing Sums. Pounds, shillings and pence. Long multiplication. Long division. If three men take half an hour to fill a bath with water, what time does the train from Normanton arrive? That kind of thing.

Every bit of maths that I have ever needed in adult life, I learned before the age of eleven. We even did decimals, though they were a strange and alien concept in those days.

I was happy with my Sums though, and when I was given a Slide Rule to use, I thought this was great. You had to do a rough estimate so you didn't get the decimal point in the wrong place, and then you were away. I thought my Slide Rule was magic. I still have it, of course, with my name written on it in ink, and a bit of graffiti drawn by my friend Sarah.

In exams I always went for the Slide Rule questions because once you knew how to use it, and how to do a rough estimate, there was no further thinking involved, and I liked that.

Then they invented calculators, Not whilst I was at school, though.

(Really, the more I write this the older I feel. I've got to feeling about a hundred and thirty-eight now.)

After calculators, the ability to do Sums, with working or without, in your head or on paper, with a slide rule or without one - - well, it just wasn't so important.

I have a deeply suspicious mind, though, and for years I never trusted calculators. What if the battery was flat? So I used to check everything afterwards, by doing Sums, on a piece of paper, with a pencil. Everyone laughed at me.

Today in our office, I've been doing invoices all day. I quite like doing invoices - - they are like bait you send out to catch money.

And I realised, as I added up each invoice, that I still don't believe the calculator. I add it up with the calculator - - and then, very quietly, telling nobody, I check it using Sums, and often counting on my fingers. And then if I agree with the calculator, then that's fine. And if I don't agree, then I add the whole thing up again, and check it. If I didn't, then I'd feel I was being disloyal to my eleven-plus teacher. Old habits die very hard with me.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Some Honest Answers

I haven't seen one of these meme thingies for a while - Jennyta found this one in The Independent newspaper and put her answers on her blog, and I thought I'd have a go. But I'm going to give you my first answers, rather than the carefully-considered ones that I'm tempted to give, so they may be a bit brutally honest, we'll see.

My parents were - - - rather eccentric, great campaigners and a long way ahead of their time, in some ways. My mother still is, in many ways, though the Communist died in December 2008.

The house I grew up in - - - is the house where I live now, though there have been others before we moved back here in 1999.

When I was a child I wanted to be - - - a vet. But then the grammar school I went to didn't have a biology teacher. It was a rather stuffy girls' school and I think they thought that biology was a bit rude.

If I could change one thing about myself - - - I would be more confident.

You wouldn't know it but I'm very good at - - - speaking to people - audiences small or large - about something I care about and think I know about. Yes, it doesn't seem to go with the previous one, does it?

You may not know it but I'm no good at - - parties or similar kind of occasions. Actually you may well know it, I go on about it enough!

At night I dream of - - the voices of lost children calling out to me. A bit melodramatic, I know, but sadly true, again and again and again.

What I see when I look in the mirror - - - oh, I try hard not to, because I am always surprised when I don't look eighteen any more.

My favourite outfit - - - HAHAHAHAHA! Jeans and a T-shirt. Occasionally, in the summer, a long skirt. But I think "outfit" is taking it a bit too far.

My house is - - - Victorian, large, welcoming - I hope - and always needs more attention than I have time to give it.

My favourite work of art is - - - usually a landscape with a breath of fresh air in it. But sometimes a portrait too where the person seems to come to life.

A book that changed me - - - The Countryside Companion, a very old book from the Twenties owned by my parents when I was a child. It made me realise how much, even at a very young age, I loved being out in the countryside or at the seaside.

Movie heaven - - - Recently I really enjoyed Avatar. I want to see more films, because I still don't see enough.

The last album I downloaded - - - oh, don't be silly, I've only just given up on gramophone records. But I do have an MP3 player now! I don't listen to music enough, really.

My greatest regret - - - I don't think I tend to regret things I have done, more things that I haven't done. I regret not travelling more in my youth but there were good reasons why I didn't. So I want to travel more now.

My real-life villain - - - Fred Goodwin, of course, that seriously wicked man who's getting a pension of nearly three hundred and fifty grand a year for wrecking the Royal Bank of Scotland. And we're letting him keep his title "Sir"? (Not that I'm going to use it, you notice). When I'm in charge he'll be living on basic state pension on the worst estate that I can find. Boo! Hiss!

The person who really makes me laugh is - - - Silverback. Quick-witted and great comic timing, in person as well as in writing.

The last time I cried - - - well, I can't remember. But I well up with tears quite easily. Probably most days, in fact. It's not always because I'm sad, though.

My five-year plan - - - to enjoy my work, as indeed I do now, but to spend more time travelling and to try to relax a bit more.

What's the point? - - - I don't actually believe that there is one. I believe - though sometimes wish that I didn't - that we're here by accident. But my values - I hope - are what are commonly called Christian values, even though I'm not a Christian. I think we should be kind and caring to each other, just because it's right - - - and also because we should want to be!

My life in six words - - - Six words are not enough to

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Grand Day Out

Stephen and I have been on a coach trip today to Bletchley Park, the code-breaking centre from the Second World War. It's near Milton Keynes. We went with the British Computer Society. I didn't tell any of them that my rule is only to learn one new button a year. I thought it was best to keep that one quiet.

It was a fascinating day out.

One of the things I learned today was that during the War Britain had a clutch of interesting double agents whose job was generally to fool the Nazis by pretending, for example, that the D-Day landings were going to happen in an entirely different place from where they actually did.

These double agents set up a whole team of entirely fictitious sub-agents who - quite fittingly - sent entirely fictitious reports back to Nazi Germany of Britain's supposed war plans.

What's more, the double agent got the Nazis to pay a salary to each of them and here's a list from 1945:

The thing I especially liked was that, having told the Nazis that Agent Four - who didn't actually exist - was ill, the double agent who had supposedly hired these sub-agents, also hired an entirely fictitious man to clear fictitious snow from the fictitious house of the fictitious Agent Four, and then charged the Nazis for the fictitious man to do it.

Glorious! Makes me proud to be British.

I'll be telling you more about Bletchley Park, I warn you now. Fantastic.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Going Backwards On Your Back

There's lots and lots of water on this planet and it's a good idea to be able to swim. Breast stroke, front crawl, butterfly - - yes, all those I can understand. But backstroke? Never.

Human beings did not evolve in order to swim backstroke. If we had done, we would have eyes on the top of our heads. Goggles would need longer straps. Eyes on the tops of heads would, I agree, be great for backstroke - - but they'd be really, really rubbish for everything else.

"It's raining. And I know that because it's dripping straight into my eyes."

BANG! "Ooh, sorry, I walked into a tree. Again."

So, we should take that as a cue. We just weren't meant to swim backwards, lying on our backs. It's a ridiculous idea.

Rolf Harris was the 1946 Australian junior backstroke champion and then moved to England and, very sensibly, left backstroke behind and moved into doing huge paintings and playing the didgeridoo. His new catchphrase became "Can you see what it is yet?" which replaced his earlier one which was "Oh, damn it, I banged my head again."

There are, even now, a few poor souls who think it's worth investing the time to get good at swimming backstroke. Here is one of them.

He should, perhaps, consider showing this video to any group of Atlantic Grey Seals. They would laugh so much they'd fall off their rocks. Are seals good at swimming? You bet. Do they lie on their backs and try to swim backwards? No. Why? Because it's a very stupid idea. I expect from time to time you get one that thinks it'll give it a try - - and it swims backwards, straight into the waiting jaws of a killer whale, thus ceasing to be a Backwards Swimming Grey Seal and starting to be a Delicious Lunch.

In swimming pools the people who swim backstroke are always either very bad at it or very arrogant.

So we have Delicate Oriental Lady. She swims in the fast lane. Slowly. Backstroke. What's that all about? What she's doing is some kind of approximation of back crawl but where her arms should go closely past her head, skimming her ears, they don't. Instead they are right out to each side and they revolve, mind-bogglingly slowly, in a tiny little circle. This way she can take up most of the width of the lane.

All the rest of the swimmers in the fast lane spend their whole session trying to get past her but whenever one comes up behind her she gently drifts out into the middle. The Proper Swimmer moves in the other direction to get past her and ohhh look, she drifts back again. There is a small collision. Oriental Lady apologises gently, with a serene smile on her face. She knows she can't really be held responsible, because she's swimming backstroke, and so, of course, can't see where she's going. So she can then go back to blocking the whole of the lane with a clear conscience.


And then there is Old Lady Backstroke. I'm afraid that my mother does this. When you've been swimming just about since you could walk, and you get to your mid-eighties, a strange thought comes to you. You have swum nearly the length of the pool, breast stroke, but when you're about five yards away from the far end, you have a sudden idea.

"I know," you think, "I'll turn over and swim backstroke, shall I? Oh yes, good idea. Swim, swim, swim - - "

I spot her from the next lane.

"MUM!!! STOP!!!"

Everyone in the pool stares at me.

"MUM!!! STOP!!!"

But no. On she goes. BANG.

"Oh dear," she says, "I banged my head again."

So the next time I try the Lecture. "Mum, please, promise me you won't swim backstroke. I just spend the whole time waiting for you to crash into the end."

"Oh, don't worry, I won't do it again."

HA! No, you won't, will you, not until you're five yards from the end and you get that sudden thought - - "I'll turn over and swim backstroke, shall I?"

Don't get me wrong. She'll be eighty-six in a few weeks and I'm so glad she's swimming again. And I have been known to do a bit of backstroke myself. Ten or eleven strokes. In an otherwise empty pool. And that's where backstroke should stay. It should be a solitary pleasure, with slight feelings of guilt. And nobody should ever feel able to do it in a crowded swimming pool.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Spring at Last

Righto, it's officially Spring.

Well, maybe not officially but I think it is Spring. It's got a lot warmer. Crocuses along the sides of the roads. Daffodils in jam jars (the Communist always called any vase a "jam jar") on the dining-room mantelpiece and in the kitchen. When I got up to go swimming this morning, it was light. When I came home from the University this week, it was still light.

The days when I wondered whether I'd be able to go swimming, or whether there'd be too much snow to drive through on the way, seem a world away. Arriving at the swimming-pool in the misty, orangey sunrise and being careful at every step because of the ice seems a long time ago now. Coming home from the University in the pitch dark seems like another world.

It's been a long, long hard winter. The grass, which spent a lot of time covered in snow, is a sad greyish colour that I don't remember seeing before. As I've mentioned previously, there are far fewer birds about and I hope they can make up the numbers in the coming breeding season.

Winter was all very picturesque when it snowed - - but I know what I like and it's this kind of thing:

Sunshine, warmth, Spring flowers, green leaves, a path leading to a great view (and a pub lunch afterwards). And I'd like it to be around the end of May, please - as this was - with congenial company, glorious weather and all the Summer to come.

And then, my cup runneth over. Oh, hurrah for the coming of Spring.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Watching and Learning

Today was my last session with the medical students this Spring.

I have other work with healthcare professionals booked, but this Spring I've been working with the second-year student doctors, facilitating their first sessions where they learn to interview patients and the beginnings of consulting skills.

"Oh, it's just common sense" was something I used to hear quite often. Hmmm. I'm sure that everyone reading this blog will have an example of dreadful communication skills from their own experience of doctors or other healthcare professionals - - which is why the "Oh, it's just common sense" approach really doesn't work.

When I taught in secondary schools, I did a lot of work with the lower-ability teenagers. Dragging them kicking and screaming up to a higher grade at GCSE. Even with the ones who were motivated to learn, it often took them weeks to learn something. They'd know it one week and have forgotten it by the next week.

Then you'd get the Sullen Resistance. "I always spells it like that, Miss."

Sometimes it was rewarding: you could see the light dawn as they finally understood the mysteries of the apostrophe. But, in the schools where I mostly taught, the teenagers had more immediately important things going on in their lives - poverty, for example.

But I'd always enjoyed the company of many of these so-called "ordinary" teenagers. Okay, a few were a nightmare - either because they were born that way or, more usually, because life had made tham that way. But most, when I got to know them, were likeable, good-humoured kids trying to make the best of the none-too-great hand that life had dealt them.

And therefore I was shocked when I heard a university teacher say "I enjoy working here rather than in schools because I just prefer working with intelligent people".

I don't think I would ever have said that - - but perhaps she was just being honest. I've never worked with students of great academic ability in schools, but I think - certainly I hope - that I did my very best to help those I taught to make the most of the ability that they did have.

And hence it's true that, to me, it's been a bit of a revelation working with these very academic students. They tend to have lots of A-levels at top grades, of course, and they do learn fast, and I'm not used to that.

Really, with the roleplay sessions, rather than saying "do it like this", we are helping them to work it out for themselves - - because that way they learn much better. Though, of course, there are things that they need to be taught as well.

So it's a mixture. Four students practise talking to a patient (actually a simulated patient - my fastest explanation of this term is someone playing the role of a patient, improvising but working from a detailed brief). The students do the roleplay one after the other, with discussion in between each one.

Because they are clever and very fast learners, they tend to learn from each other. They learn from what the preceding students have done - what's worked well, and what's not worked so well. I have loved watching the process where the one at the end of the afternoon has incorporated lots of the good things done by the preceding students, and changed the ones that didn't really work.

I'll just give you one example. "So you eat a healthy diet, then?" invites the answer "Yes", rather than the - perhaps more truthful - "No, I live on Pot Noodles". So it's best to avoid leading questions.

They also learn that you can't tell what you're going to say until you hear the words coming out of your mouth, and that's why medical students need to practise exactly the best way to word a sensitive question, for example. If you don't do this then your tongue may trip you up.

"Do you smoke, and have you ever smoken?" asked one student today, rather interestingly. Both he and the patient laughed.

I must say that these students - in groups of four every week since January - have been an absolute delight to work with. Committed, hard-working, fun. For me, watching the fast development of their skills has been wonderful. I hope I'm asked back to do it all again next year.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

On Mothering Sunday

Gareth got up early and drove more than two hundred miles to surprise his mother on Mothers' Day. I think she probably liked this - I hope so.

I took my mother swimming. Many eighty-five year olds sit around in old people's homes or day centres - - - well, my mother's social club is the swimming pool. She just loves talking to strangers and befriending them. Every time I paused at the end of a length, if she wasn't swimming she was talking to someone. She had a great time. And the pool was very warm, which she loved - it was too warm for me, really, it made it tricky to swim.

I bought her some flowers yesterday - a mixture of roses and other flowers. My mother's completely lost her sense of smell so I went for bright colours instead, and also bought a pot plant with an orange flower - I'd never seen anything quite like it before, but I liked it and so did Mum. In fact she seemed delighted beyond measure. Hurrah.

I sent some flowers by Interflora to Stephen's mother but I don't know if she received them. Sometimes she'd ring, but sometimes she wouldn't, so it's hard to tell. I find it hard to ring her and Stephen finds it impossible. The reasons go back a long way and I don't think I can write about them here, even if they were clear-cut, which they're not. She's eighty-something (but we don't know what as she never told him her age) and lives near Norwich. It's sad and I wish we were closer but she and Stephen just don't seem to have much in common.

From time to time someone looms out of the darkness and says "You must make Stephen talk to his mother". HAH! Well I did a lot of the communicating between them for years, and then when the Communist became ill I stopped as I had too much else to do and to think about. I feel bad that I didn't continue - - - and yet I get cross when people assume - as many tend to - that it is all Stephen's fault, and therefore, by delegation - since I'm supposed to be the one with the communication skills - my fault.

Olli gave me a card and some sugar-free ice-cream, which I will enjoy greatly since I hardly ever eat ice cream.

I feel uneasy about the whole Mothers' Day thing. I often do about all kinds of special occasions. I like days with no big fanfare, no big underlining, no big expectations. I like ordinary days. I like my work. I like going for a walk. I like swimming. I like travelling about. I like seeing new places.

But special days, such as Mothers' Day, always make me feel inadequate and guilty and just a little bit rubbish. My mother wants to be twenty-five again and all the bunches of flowers in the world aren't going to achieve that.

Thank goodness for an ordinary Monday tomorrow.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Flowers of the Forties

Yesterday I had a long gap in between my roleplays, so I visited Leeds City Museum.

It's both fascinating and free.

The cafe's good too - I had a baked potato with cheese and salad and then a scone.

The museum's been converted from the old Leeds Civic Theatre, and though I was sad to see that go, I'm glad Leeds now has a proper museum - it did have one when I was a child, but it mostly consisted of some ancient Victorian badly-stuffed animals and the famous Leeds mummy, which was apparently blown out of its case when a bomb landed during the war.

I always liked the stuffed tiger and I still do. It's a bit odd-looking, having spent a good number of years as a rug before being resurrected into a tiger shape, but to me it symbolises Leeds like nothing else and I think it should be adopted as the symbol of the city. I think a slightly wonky tiger would be a symbol of both Leeds's civic pride and its citizens' sense of humour.

After lunch I wandered into the huge oval room that used to be the theatre. There was a big screen on which a film was playing on a loop. It was a series of clips from Leeds Camera Club's cine division, all filmed in - I'd guess - the 1940s, and it was of the good people of Leeds tending their gardens.

It sounds dull but wasn't: it was fascinating. We never usually see film of ordinary people in ordinary streets and it was wonderful to see all the hairstyles - those rolls that they had in the 1940s, and the women in floral frocks. The men were generally in white shirts and the boys, of course, in shorts.

There was one very staged-looking scene in which a dozen or so schoolboys were all tending a garden in immaculate white shirts, ties and grey shorts. In those days boys wore shorts until they went to secondary school, at least. I don't know why - perhaps the fresh air was held to be good for their legs, or for other parts of their anatomy. Certainly this practice lingered until the late sixties - all the boys were in shorts when I was at primary school.

There was also some footage of the infamous Quarry Hill Flats, a massive housing complex at the bottom of the Headrow in Leeds. The link gives pictures of both the grey and extraordinarily ugly flats, and the housing that they replaced.

The flats opened in 1938 and were very well-known - I always found them rather scary-looking. But in this film we looked inside the complex itself - I never went there - and there were dozens of tiny, brightly-coloured gardens. The flats were considered very modern at the time, and a vast improvement on Leeds's slum housing: but the steel frame covered in concrete fell to bits with remarkable speed and the flats had to be demolished in 1978. However, my mind's eye is a bit slow to cotton on to things like that and I still see them for a second when I drive past, even though the West Yorkshire Playhouse has been on the site for years.

I found it very moving to see all those long-gone gardens. They looked pretty but very old-fashioned and I was trying to work out why - I think it was the mix of all the old varieties - lupins, hollyhocks, dahlias. But to me, the most interesting thing was to see the people. In Quarry Hill Flats we went past an elderly couple. She was wearing a long dress and an apron. He raised his cap and smiled for the camera. They reminded me of my grandparents.

Just to see all those long-dead people with their trowels and spades and forks, smiling with pride in their gardens, made me feel rather emotional.

Then I came out of that room and went into the next exhibition, where I found a Silver Cross pram, just about identical to the one that I travelled about in when I was a baby. So now I felt both rather emotional and rather old!

I left Memory Lane and went out into the sunshine for an afternoon of medical roleplay up at the University.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

It's the Climb

When the climber Alison Hargreaves died on the 28,000 feet mountain K2, in 1995, it made a big impression on me.

She was thirty-three and just a short while earlier had become the first woman to climb Everest, alone and without oxygen.

Then, three months later, she climbed K2 - which is, apparently, much more dangerous - and was blown off the mountain and died on the way down. Her body was never found.

The thing that got to me was that she had two small children, age six and four. In 1995, Olli was six at the time, too, so it really made me think.

There was a lot of fuss in the press at the time. Was Alison Hargreaves right to continue climbing mountains when she had two small children?

Her husband was totally supportive of her decision and I remember seeing a documentary in which he took the children to K2, where she had died.

Now their son, Tom, who is 21, is about to climb K2 himself. He is quoted in this article as saying:

"It's no different to if she had died in a car crash. I would still then travel around in a car. I think I need to climb mountains, it's inside".

Hmmm - - - part of me thinks - - well, he would think that, wouldn't he, because of course he's really loyal to his mother's memory. He couldn't even begin to think that what she did might have been wrong.

So - - is it okay for women with small children to take part in dangerous sports? Apparently if you climb one of the great peaks unsupported and without oxygen then the chances of dying are about one in four. Is that acceptable, if you're a mother with small children?

And is it worse if it's a mother than if it's a father? If it had been the children's father who had died in such circumstances, there would have been far fewer scandalised opinions in the media afterwards.

Of course, in 2010, it should - theoretically at least - be the same for both parents. If the father has the right to climb a dangerous mountain when he has two small children, then so should the mother.

But actually, when I look at that photo in this article of her with her two children, all I think is that, really, rights don't come into it, in any way. It's a question of love, and of responsibility.

If they were my children, I wouldn't want to do anything that might jeopardise my ability to look after them until they were grown up. I just couldn't bear the thought of it. I couldn't bear the idea of leaving them. I think of Olli, when he was six, and the very thought has me in tears.

I think that, once we become parents, we should do our utmost to stay alive and to look after our children as well as possible.

So it's fine for Alison Hargreaves' son Tom to climb the most dangerous mountains in the world as much as he likes, if that is what he wants to do. And he should do it now, whilst he's young and has no children.

But if he has children, I hope that he will stop.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Still Swimming

I'm still swimming in the early mornings. Some days, of course, I have to travel for work and then I can't - but otherwise, I swim. This week I've been on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.

This is actually the first time that I have been four days in a row - usually a job stops me and the most I've done before is three.

I've been doing this now since early December. Every time I go I swim at least 64 lengths, which is a mile. So, what difference has it made?

Of course, I am hoping I will become a size 10 by the summer though sadly this is most unlikely - my back is just too broad, for a start. I don't seem to have lost much weight - just a few pounds. But I do seem to have become a bit slimmer and my favourite pair of black cords won't stay up now, which nearly provided some free entertainment for the students yesterday as I walked across the campus.

I do feel fitter, definitely. I've always got out of breath very easily when walking uphill and - - let's face it, I still do. But a bit less than before. And it helps me to sleep better.

The main thing I've noticed really is a feeling of "wellness". Not that I really felt exactly ill before - - just that I never felt absolutely well. So I do feel better.

It's also helped me to feel I'm taking charge - at least to some extent - of my own health. The Communist had cardiovascular disease and had a triple heart bypass because of it. He was also diabetic - and so am I - and he had one leg amputated in his old age because of diabetic ulcers that just wouldn't heal. Both my parents have had strokes and in fact it was a stroke that caused the Communist's death.

So all that's a bit scary, to say the least. And I know that exercise should help to prevent many of the problems caused by the conditions above. I think it's having a stroke that I dread the most.

So I'm hoping that all this swimming will help to keep me in good health.

One thing I have noticed is that it relaxes me. I am one of the world's biggest worriers, I'll freely admit. This is in some ways a good thing - if I'm working on something it means I'll think of all the little details. But it also means that I worry a lot to no good purpose.

And, of course, I really enjoy swimming. Perhaps that's the most important thing of all.

Monday, March 08, 2010

A Cunning Plan

Gareth works in Technical Support.

A chap in a company he was supporting technically sent an email asking Technical Support to add a dummy user to the software and to call it Vendor.

Gareth explained that this was not company policy - they don't add dummy users.

A few minutes later the chap had a Brilliant Idea swiftly followed by a Cunning Plan.

He emailed Technical Support again asking them to add a user called Mr V. Endor to the software.

However, using his incredible powers of perception, Gareth saw through this. He is still working on what to write back.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Sublime Sunsets

I do love sunsets and saw some fantastic ones when we were in Florida (oh yes, I've been to America, you know). Here's a sunset reflected in a Florida beach, November 2008:

A beautiful evening in a stunning location.

Here's another one:

Lovely sunset, isn't it? I hope it doesn't spoil your enjoyment if I tell you that Stephen was driving round the roundabout where Wetherby Road crosses the Ring Road in Leeds, on Friday evening. I spotted the sunset, pulled the camera out of my bag at top speed and clicked and this was the result. I can tell you it's a bit of a miracle that the horizon's reasonably straight, since I most certainly wasn't.

I've always loved places with hills and whenever I'm somewhere really flat it feels slightly strange to me. I remember the poet John Betjeman wrote about the "wide East Anglian sky". And if you cross the North Sea from East Anglia to Holland you find an even wider sky. The word for "countryside" in Dutch means "flat land", my brother once told me. No hills at all. Weird.

But where there are no hills, wherever in the world we may be, it's always good to see more of the sunset.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

A Birthday in Bronteland

It may be March, but the Yorkshire Moors near Haworth today were still looking like Winter with no trace of Spring:

Snow still lurks in all the shady bits. It'll be there for a few weeks yet, no doubt. It's the old stamping ground of the famous Bronte sisters of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre fame and there seems to be a rule that any business in the area must be named after them. Bronte Garage. Bronte Butchers. That kind of thing.

We were at the excellent Dog and Gun, Oxenhope, to celebrate my friend Connie's ninetieth birthday. It's not actually until Wednesday this week, but with Connie's track record we're all expecting that she'll still be around then, and hence we felt justified in celebrating slightly early.

I met her a long time ago. On my first day at Leeds University, which was October 2, 1974, we were all put into little groups for Fresher's Week.

In the group I was in was a very very tall chap called Charles, who was also from Leeds. and we got on well and were friends all through university. And we've been friends ever since. I met his mum, Connie, a few times and always got on well with her. She lived with her sister, Winnie, who was ten years older to the day. They ran a draper's shop called Jennie's Wool Shop - - - though I suspect that there never was a Jennie.

In the mid-nineteen-eighties, Winnie became ill and sadly died. I went round the following week to see Connie, and thought I'd take her out to lunch to give her a change of scene.

We had a lovely time: I went back the next week - - and every week after that for years and years. When Olli was little, Olli would come too of course. Now I'm so busy working that I can't see Connie every week, but I do see her every two or three weeks. We go out for lunch, or to a garden centre: or even to a garden centre for lunch. Sometimes my mother comes too, but actually Connie's my friend more than my mother's, as Connie was the quiet, less extrovert of the two sisters and is more like me in personality than like my social, extrovert mother!

She's one of those people it's easy to take for granted, is Connie. Always friendly, always delighted to see me, always ready to fit in with whatever I suggest we do. She's a very intelligent woman, an ex-pupil of Leeds Girls' High School and her working life included some admin at Leeds University and painting airoplanes during the Second World War!

I tend to assume she'll always be around, because she always has been. From time to time she goes to the doctor for a check-up and they declare with some surprise that there's really nothing wrong with her. She's got a bit slower, and her eyesight's not brilliant, but her mind is still as sharp as ever and I was noticing today with sadness that, in comparison with Connie, since her fall and broken shoulder, my mother is getting very forgetful indeed.

There are some things that Connie will always say. Anyone who she considers to be a bit above themselves is invariably described as "Very bay window, very cut glass". And she has two comments about the weather. She's been saying "It was that fine rain that goes right through you" since before the comedian Peter Kay - who brought the phrase to public attention - was born! To my delight, she said it again this lunchtime. And any kind of weather, no matter how glorious, always has the gloomy corollary "Mind you, there was a cold wind."

So this lunchtime, Charles and his wife Jacqueline, and Stephen and me, and my mother, all went out with Connie for lunch, to celebrate her ninetieth birthday.

The food was superb. I had melon with Parma ham and then pork with cider and apple and when both of these arrived they had a strangely familiar look to them. This was, I instantly realised, because I had made the very same choices when we were last there two years ago. We were supposed to go there for Connie's birthday last year too, but there was thick snow so Charles and Jacqueline - who live near Haworth - couldn't get out of their village, the Dog and Gun was shut and we took Connie to the excellent Wellington in Leeds instead.

Charles and Jacqueline had brought Connie some "Happy Birthday" balloons and they gave her two stunning patchwork cushions which Jacqueline had made, plus a big bunch of flowers. Connie seemed well pleased. I will see her on the actual day and give her our presents then.

Happy Birthday, Connie. I hope we'll all be at the Dog and Gun in March 2020, when she will be a hundred. I'm already looking forward to the melon with Parma ham and the pork with cider and apple.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

And Juliet is the Sun

In the Communication Skills work that I do, everyone's always going on about "body language" - the way that how you sit, or move, and the way you make eye contact with people, can really help or hinder communication with them.

I know the basics and use them a lot, and can pick them out in other people.

But last night I saw a glorious shining example of body language experts at work! And I'd never thought of it in that way.

Gareth's lovely sister Jo took me to see Northern Ballet's production of Romeo and Juliet.

I'd had a long and tricky day (grateful thanks to those who helped to make it less tricky and more bearable!) and I knew I'd enjoy Prokofiev's music - - but I wasn't sure if I'd enjoy the ballet itself. I do like ballet but I know Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet - the play - so well that I sometimes think I never want to see it again, though I expect I will one day.

So I thought I might quite enjoy it - - though I wasn't sure how much.

Of course, some dance - in fact some ballet - is there just to be fun and entertaining to watch. This was slightly different in that it was telling a story.

And that was what amazed me - the way these dancers could tell a complex story - with all its subtle nuances and emotions - with no words. Those Capulets were thoroughly nasty pieces of work - and you could tell this in every movement.

I'd really never thought of ballet dancers as being able to capture such subleties of meaning through movement alone. It was stunning and every moment held my attention completely. The sets reminded me of our wonderful holiday in Italy, too, which was a bonus.

So this morning I was saying to the medical students "You want to know what body language is? Go and see the Northern Ballet!"

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

At the Hairdresser's

You thought I'd never do it, but I did.

I was going to check on Silverback's house the other day and he'd mentioned that there was a hairdresser's near there.

So I looked along a nearby parade of shops and there was one. And it didn't even have one of those Hairdresser Names - - like Clipso or Cut and Dried.

I peered inside and it looked clean and the walls were plain white and grey - - no mauve anywhere. There were quite a few customers having things done to their hair.

So I went in. A twenty-something woman came over and smiled at me.

"Could I book an appointment for first thing on Tuesday, please?"

"Yes, of course."

So this morning off I went and when I got there I was welcomed by another smiling lady.

She didn't say any of those things that hairdressers have said to me over the years. When I was in my twenties it was always a disapproving "Who did your perm?" Those curly perms, with very tight curls, were then in fashion, and my hair was like one that hadn't quite worked.

Other hairdressers have complained that my hair is too thick, and too curly, and too dry, and said that I really shouldn't go swimming as it just makes it drier. Often they have tried against all odds to blow-dry it straight, because they have hated its curliness so much. This has not made me feel good about it, because as soon as I was out of the door the curls were back with the force of a coiled spring.

Then, when I was twenty-four, I found the hairdresser David, who was my hairdresser for many years. He knew I didn't want to talk about my hair or any of that stuff that hairdressers think you want to talk about - - have you any holidays planned? What did you do at the weekend? We talked about all sorts of things, except my hair, whilst he cut it.

Then one winter he fell on some ice outside his shop and - because he was a heavy smoker - got gangrene in both legs and had to have them amputated. He never really recovered. A couple of years later, he got a chest infection and died. I miss him - we got on well.

The only reason I drifted into having my hair cut by Mad Barbara was because she moved into the shop next door to where David had been. That, and the fact that I just don't like to think about having my hair cut, because I've always hated it so much, until it's too late to do anything about it except sigh and ring her.

But I'm trying to do things a bit differently these days. I'm very good at planning ahead with most things - - why not with haircuts?

The lady this morning didn't talk to me much. The salon was quiet. She washed my hair, and cut it, and didn't blow dry it because I told her I never do because it only goes frizzy.

My appointment was for nine o'clock and I was out of there by twenty-three minutes past.

There was a lot less excitement than there generally is at Mad Barbara's. Nobody shouted at anybody at all.

I've done it now. I've left Mad Barbara. I won't be going back.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Terry, Ken, the Tremeloes and the Concrete

Terry and Ken were two students were walking through Leeds University campus, sometime in the 1960s.

"What on earth is that going to be?" asked Terry.

"I've absolutely no idea," said Ken, "but it's hideous. Turn the transistor radio on, will you?"

Terry turned it on.

"Ahhhh," said Ken. "The Tremeloes. Groovy, baby".

And thus we have Daphne's Theory of the Nineteen-Sixties. Why was the music so good? It was actually a government-sponsored plot to distract the population from the buildings that were going up at the time.

"By 'eck!" said Prime Minister Harold Wilson. "Have you seen those blocks of flats they're building? Vile, aren't they? Get me Brian Epstein and tell him to get another Beatles album out before anybody notices. Call in the Hollies. Get the Stones back in the studio, quick! Give Dusty Springfield a ring! Hey, what's that American band that teenagers like? Bring them over here. Hey hey we're the Monkees!"

These days, of course, we're not Daydream Believers any more. And we're stuck with the unspeakably horrible Sixties buildings.

Here's a walkway that I go along a lot. I went along it when I was a student in the Seventies, and I go along it at least a couple of times a week.

I ask you, has it any redeeming features? - - - and before you have a chance to say anything at all, the answer is NO. Let's look to the left, shall we?

So are we supposed to look at that twisty bit on the outside and think it's a thing of aesthetic beauty? Well, I'm telling you that it's NOT.

I spent three years looking at this lot, because the School of English was in a temporary home next to Genetics. Whenever I see the word "English" now I picture "Genetics" below it.

And although it was temporary, it wasn't for me. I was stuck with it for the whole three years I was at University. And I hated every moment of looking at it. Once there was a fire and I hoped that there was nobody in the buildings and that it would spread uncontrollably. Sadly it didn't. It's the old joke - - you could drop a bomb on the place and do several million pounds' worth of improvements.

At least a couple of generations of doctors and dentists have been trained in the building at the end of that walkway. I love the work that I do there.

Of course, the buildings function reasonably well - - if you don't mind lots of soulless, windowless rooms and endless gloomy corridors. And of course, they couldn't justify pulling them down and rebuilding them, because it would cost squillions - the buildings are absolutely huge.

But when I'm In Charge, I'm going to have the whole lot razed to the ground. And then I'm going to rebuild them, probably using - for starters - bonuses appropriated from bankers in a Robin Hood-type manner.

Some people would say it doesn't matter, as long as the buildings work. But I think it does. I think they're depressing, and dispiriting, and inhuman. And I don't think it's just that times have changed - I think they were like that since the day they were built.

The Sixties. Marvellous music. Bloody awful buildings.