Saturday, February 26, 2011

Round and Round the Square

After a long day in our office, I set off to drive to Sheffield for my roleplay the next day. Because it was scheduled to be a long day - 8am till 6pm - and many of us were travelling from over forty miles away, we were invited to stay at the Novotel the night before.

So far so good. Now then, my memories of Sheffield are that it's a really tricky city to drive round - - but so, perhaps, are many cities, Leeds included.

I have a few dark memories of getting hopelessly lost in Sheffield. But that was all before the invention of the satnav. I did know how to get to the venue where we were working - because I've been there many times - and the Novotel was just 2.4 miles from it. How hard could it be?

I usually print out an exact streetmap of where I'm going but on this occasion I didn't bother - - there was less than two and a half miles that I didn't know and I had a satnav to instruct me.

But I'd reckoned without Park Square Roundabout.

"Take the sixth exit". Well, here's the photo of it.

I came in from the top. The picture on the satnav showed me going right round the roundabout and back on myself. The numbers written on the roads bore no relation to the numbers of the roads the satnav was showing: but I tried it anyway. Huge wide road, lots of lanes, dark, very few signposts. I found a bus lane in front of me so took a guess and took the right- hand lane. It took me round in a huge loop - a mile or two - and back to exactly where I started.

So the sixth exit must be the one to the left of it, even though the satnav said I should go further right.

So I tried that. The satnave took me round in a huge loop - a mile or two - and back to exactly where I started.

I came off at the exit even before that one. What happened next? - -- - You guessed.

I thought it must have been correct the first time. I tried that one again. This time as soon as I reached the end of the photo on the map it told me to turn right, so I did. It took me round in a huge loop - a mile or two - and back to - - well, you know.

This time I went very slowly, looking for signposts, but there weren't any. Even though it was by now about quarter to nine there was still a lot of traffic on the roundabout and so I couldn't go THAT slowly.

So I tried the fifth exit again. The map on the satnav was insisting that it was either the fifth or the sixth - I couldn't tell which.

It took me round in a huge loop and back to where I started. I was getting slightly cross by now. In fact more than slightly. I was quelling a mixture of blind fury and a desire to burst into tears.

So I decided to go off at an exit that was obviously far too early - the one before the bridge with a curved kind of metalwork over the top. My new plan was that if this didn't work, I would drive back to Leeds and go straight to the venue in the morning, since my plan for a restful evening at the Novotel had clearly failed and my blood pressure was soaring above measurable levels.

I went off at that exit. "Continue straight" said the satnav confidently. Yes, well, I've been conned that way before, I thought.

Until suddenly - - there was the Novotel on my right. Amazing.

I told this exciting story of my six circuits of the roundabout to some of my colleagues, expecting that they'd point out that I'd made some simple error.

Instead they just looked at me gloomily. "Yes," they said, "we know. And you won't be able to get back to the venue for tomorrow without following one of us, because they've put in new bus lanes and the satnav just takes you round in circles."

In the morning, the others tried to wait for me to follow them - but the volume of traffic meant that they had to set off.

One of the others came in the car with me. He couldn't really help with navigation, but he was at least able to ring the venue to say that we were lost. They didn't seem at all surprised.

Still, it only took us 55 minutes to complete the two and a half mile journey. The rest of the day was composed of some of the most difficult and prescriptive roleplay that I do, but I am here to tell you that it was a breeze compared to the journeys.

So - - - what do I conclude from this?

It wasn't the fault of the satnav, which had been updated very recently. However, wouldn't it be good if there was a button on the satnav for "This way no longer works. Find me a different way". I know that if I'd time, and a map, and if there was anywhere to stop and work it out, then I could have done this myself. I did have a basic road map - but no time to puzzle it out and nowhere to stop to do it!

So - whose fault was it, then? Whatever department deals with Sheffield traffic. And, especially, whoever redesigned the roads in Sheffield, introducing bus lanes that are forbidden to motorists - and if you drive into one by accident apparently they take a photo of your number plate and fine you! Whoever did the redesign clearly didn't bother to put in any clues as to what he'd done.

So I would like to find him and punish him. His sentence would be to drive round and round and round Park Square Roundabout, all day, every day for a year. Great. And then to put up a big sign renaming it Groundhog Day Roundabout.

I'm back there next week. Same Novotel, same venue. I loved the work. I am already dreading the travel.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mark Sparrow, Dispatches and Hospital Food

I've just seen an excellent television programme, Dispatches, about a journalist, Mark Sparrow, who had to spend ten weeks in hospital and found the food so bad that he set up a blog, Notes from a Hospital Bed, about it all.

Back in 1984 - Daphne's Year of Horrors - I was stuck in a hospital bed for some considerable time, in a side ward, pregnant but knowing I was likely to lose my baby, and more miserable than I've ever been before or since.

From time to time a meal would arrive on a tray. Sometimes it didn't arrive at all, because they forgot about me, what with me being kept in a side ward away from other pregnant women who tended to have a more hopeful prognosis.

Anyway. When the food did arrive, I just couldn't eat it. I simply couldn't tell what it was half the time - and I'm really not a fussy eater. I do remember asking a nurse if she had any idea what a particular vegetable was supposed to be - - and she didn't.

So, of course, I just got rather weaker and more malnourished, which set me up nicely for my forthcoming year of illness after losing my baby: I had a deep-vein thrombosis, a pulmonary embolism and very nearly died.

And in those darkest days, on my own in the side room, with nobody to talk to because they simply didn't know what to say to me and so kept well away, I thought - - this is ridiculous! I am pregnant: all the information about pregnancy emphasises the importance of good nutrition, and yet they are feeding me food that is almost entirely vitamin-free.

So one of the things I did when I finally escaped and began to recover was to complain about the food. I can't remember now what lousy excuse they fobbed me off with, but I was too busy trying not to die to pursue it further.

Nearly twenty-seven years later, hospital food is still, in many places, terrible, with serious health implications for the patients. Loyd Grossman said, on the programme, that a hospital is not a good hospital until it has good food.

He's right, isn't he? Anyone disagree?

Many different ways have been tried to improve the food - - and yet, with 43% of hospitals cutting their food budgets, I'd say it's not a priority, is it?

However, through my work as a Simulated Patient I have hit on a solution.

I have attended very many training courses for doctors and the food is generally good. The best food tends to be on courses for surgeons. So: why's that then? Surgeons have status and can insist on decent food - and actually, they work long hours in a difficult job and why shouldn't they?

So here's how to improve hospital food for patients. A law should be brought in that the same food should be offered to patients as to consultants, surgeons and all senior staff.

Does that make sense? Of course it does! Is it likely to happen? - - - Well, I leave you to think of the answer to that one.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Standing and Staring

I've been rushing about non-stop ever since I got back from our delightful Christmas in Tenby.

Because I thought that Stephen was going to be made redundant, I accepted every bit of work that was offered to me for January and February - and I know I'm jolly lucky to have been offered it.

Even when it's been the weekend I've always worked apart from very occasionally when we've had visitors.

As I have said many times, I love all my work, and it's true. I got some lovely feedback on it yesterday that really gladdened my heart.

But I know I need to stop more. Next week is not so busy - - and today I've stopped.

There is masses of housework to do, and I'm jolly well not doing it - apart from a few loads of washing and they're not particularly difficult to do. Oh, and I fed the birds.

The weather is truly lousy - this morning it was snowing, and now it's thawing like crazy. It's misty and beginning to get dark. I didn't feel like going out at all and neither did Stephen, whose dislike of cold days is even stronger than mine.

I'm waching a flock of long-tailed tits in the bushes in the front of the house. I have watched several episodes of Coronation Street. "What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare?" wrote WH Davies (the rest of the poem gets a bit cumbersome towards the end but he makes an excellent point!)

Usually my mother drives me slightly nuts by urging me to leave all my jobs and have a rest. She's been saying this since I was doing my homework in my teens!

Today I'm obeying her. I am standing and staring. And I'm looking forward to Spring.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Shut That Door!

The Communist was always good in a crisis. Calm and efficient. However, he was much less good in a non-crisis. Small things would infuriate him. One of these was the shutting - - or non-shutting - of the lounge door.

He would come home from his chemist shop in York and invariably eat his tea at a trolley in front of the television. (Don't get started on tea being a drink. It's "tea"that's the evening meal in Yorkshire - - forget any of that "dinner" nonsense. "Dinnertime" is when poshos have "lunch". Glad we've got that sorted.)

There would be a meat-and-two-veg kind of meal, cooked by my Mum, and then some Pud, such as Fruit with Pink Splonge. I think the commercial name is "Angel Delight" or "Instant Whip" but in our house it was Pink Splonge, although sometimes, confusingly, it would be brown Pink Splonge or yellow Pink Splonge. Ahhh - - the Seventies were E-Number Heaven.

After the Pud would be Hardboard Biscuits, as the Communist called them, sometimes with a bit of cheese. "Hardboard Biscuits" was a generic name for any kind of supposedly healthy, Ryvita-like crackers that you could put cheese on.

Whilst all this was happening, there'd probably be news on television - the Communist liked any kind of news, especially the kind that would make him shout at the television.

And my brother Michael and I would go in and out of the lounge, fetching things and carrying things and doing our homework and just generally going in and out in that purposeless way that children and teenagers do.

More often than not, we would fail to close the door properly and off we'd go down the corridor with the Communist's voice ringing out behind us with instructions about the door and lively commentary on the news. "Shut the door! Can you hear me? Call himself a Prime Minister? How dare he! What about the workers, eh? CAN YOU HEAR ME? SHUT THE DOOR!"

This kind of thing didn't happen often. No more than ten times every evening for a decade or so.

When the Communist, however, shut a door it stayed shut, sometimes for ever. If it didn't fall off its hinges with the force of the shutting, it would embody the essence of Shutness.

Of course, the Communist had been a miner during the war and was incredibly strong. And he didn't know the difference between "to shut" and "to slam with all the force at your disposal."

In the Sixties we had a new car - a Cortina Shooting Brake. Green and cream, it was. It was like an early form of hatchback with a really big back door that opened very high. My mother couldn't reach to close it.

The Communist, however, could close it. And we would forget. We'd all be in the car ready to go on holiday, chatting excitedly, and then the Communist would lock the house and come out to the car and, with no announcement of intentions, hurl the boot shut with the force of a large metor hitting the Earth.

After a few days' holiday and a bit of counselling we'd begin to get over the shock - - - and then we'd forget all about it until it was time to set off home again and the whole thing would be repeated.

"Have you ever had a burst eardrum?" asked the nurse, some years later. "Almost certainly," I replied, "in fact probably twice every time we went on holiday."


A few months ago the lock on the back door broke and was replaced with a whole new catch and lock which requires more effort in its shutting.

Nearly everyone who leaves the house pulls it to, and thinks they've shut it, and the only indication that they haven't is of a cruel blast of wind, directly from the Siberian Steppes, howling through the house.

I try to resist but just occasionally I find the words brimming up and bursting forth. "SHUT THE DOOR! WHY CAN'T YOU SHUT THE DOOR? JUST SHUT IT! THE DOOR! IT'S OPEN! SHUT THE FLAMING DOOR, CAN'T YOU? NOW!"

I am, in many ways, my father's daughter.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Too Tired to Write

Of course I'm not really too tired to write. Too tired to write coherently, perhaps!

I've had another busy week but I have managed to go swimming in the morning yesterday and today, so that's good.

When I wake up I think - - ohhhh no, I can't drag myself all the way to the pool. And yet, once I'm there, I love it. The first ten lengths are always harder going but after that it's great. I am doing seventy lengths (rather than sixty-four which is a mile) on Sundays, because I have more time then. I want to build up to a hundred.

But during the week I've generally only time for a mile - and, let's face it, for several weeks recently I've just been too busy and had too many early starts to swim at all during the week.

The swimming really perks me up for the next few hours. Today I had to rush straight from swimming down to the University for a meeting about one of the students' exams. I know a lot of Simulated Patients and there were a whole group of them waiting to go and work on a different course from the one I was there for. It was good to see them but slightly confusing - I'd made the transition so fast from pool to medical school and was conscious of my still-wet hair!

After my meeting I came back to our office and plunged into compiling, typing and sending lots of invoices. I rather like doing that - it's a self-contained job that feels worthwhile - - like sending out bait to hook money for the actors!

But by the evening, the swimming has made me so relaxed that I can't do anything, much. So I've slonked in front of the television and now I'm wondering if half-past eight is too early to go to bed. Tomorrow I'm working with third-year medical students all day so I'll need my wits about me.

A busy day - - but I've enjoyed it. Whilst this dreary February weather is drizzling along, it's good to have interesting things to do.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Trip to Sweden

"And Sunday, Stephen," they'll be saying in Stockholm tomorrow, "was the day before you came here."

Yes, when you work for a Scandinavian company, as Stephen does, foreign travel is the name of the game. Another town, another train. That kind of thing.

I'm taking him to the airport in the morning, of course. "Does your mother know you're not going swimming tomorrow?" asked Stephen. "Yes, I said to her: Mum, knowing me, knowing you, we'll probably go on Wednesday instead. Wouldn't want to miss it."

Stephen's a bit worried that he might meet his Waterloo in Amsterdam as he has a very quick change there. Then, once he arrives in Sweden, he has meetings all day Tuesday. From 8am to 7.30pm. "Mamma Mia!" remarked Silverback in horror when I told him about this ridiculously long day. For some reason, that exclamation inspired me to write this blog post. I'm not sure quite how, but I am grateful to him.

Stephen's back on Wednesday - I'm going to meet him at the airport. I'll be in our office and it'll be busy and I do tend to lose track of the time but he'll just have to take a chance on me remembering. If he greets me with "I've been waiting for you" I'll know I should have set off earlier.

It's an important trip, with big contracts to discuss and competitive tendering. The winner takes it all, of course, as usual.

Stockholm does look interesting and I'd love to visit it in the future. Meanwhile, I've been trying to remember what it is that Sweden's famous for. Volvo cars, I think.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Birthday

It doesn't seem THAT long ago.

I was playing out in the garden, and I was four. For the benefit of any youngsters who may be reading this, "playing out" was what we did in the ever-sunlit days of childhood in the Olden Days. "Mum, I'm playing out." Off into the garden - - or later on, off on my bike or my roller skates, sometimes with friends and sometimes on my own. Sometimes with a skipping rope, sometimes with a ball, sometimes with a whip and top, and sometimes in a den. Playing out.

And then my Grandma came and called me. "Jo's got a little sister."

Jo was my best friend, four months younger than me. Our fathers had been at school together and remained best friends until the Communist died in 2008.

Jo and Deb and I are still close friends and see each other often when we swim. And she still has a little sister, Deb - - well, "little" in that at four feet eight inches Deb is not very tall. However, that February day must be longer ago than I remember - because this week is Deb's fiftieth birthday.

Her husband Danny organised a surprise party today for her. Some friends took her out and meanwhile hordes of her friends and family snuck into her house and then we all shouted "Happy Birthday" when she came back.

Deb handled it very well - - didn't faint or kill anyone at all. She was a bit puzzled though. "So why's Jan here? I didn't know Jan was coming up."

Jan is Deb's cousin, who lives near Cambridge.

"Because it's YOUR BIRTHDAY!"

It was a lovely, friendly occasion with great food - everyone had brought something and a lot of it was home-made.

We're all rather older than when we were last all together. Even our children are mostly grown-ups or teenagers. I spent a lot of time marvelling at these delightful adults who used to be toddlers what seems only like about twenty minutes ago.

Jo and Deb's parents - always known to me in childhood as Auntie Ruth and Uncle Syd - were there today too. Syd is the same age as The Communist of course but still seems the same as always - - still talking both politics and pharmacy! It was lovely to see them both. Ruth was so kind to me in my childhood and fed me many hundreds of delicious meals when I was round playing with Jo.

What a lot has happened since those days of skipping ropes and sunshine, when the most important concern in our lives was which Sindy doll's outfit we would get for Christmas.

Fifty years. Wow. Happy Birthday, Deb.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Alive as You or Me

Dreams are, I suppose, a way of sorting things out in your head. I don't believe that they have any meaning other than that, but they are rather powerful sometimes.

Last night I dreamed that I saw The Communist's ghost in an old kitchen. I knew it was his ghost, because the kitchen had changed rather since he died. He was quite old and scuttled in a rather guilty fashion across the floor, looking guiltily behind him as though he had no right to be there. When he got to where the door handle used to be, he turned an invisible handle, went through an invisible door and started to go off to the right.

I wanted to catch him up. I didn't think I'd be able to hug him, since he was a ghost, but I was going to have a very good try. To my surprise, I did manage to give him a big hug. "Dad," I said, "I love you." That was it - - he was gone.

My parents were great Paul Robeson fans. My mother once shook his hand at a concert and marvelled ever afterwards at how big his hands were.

The Communist had a lovely bass-baritone voice - not as deep as Paul Robeson's but with a rich, rounded quality to it.

He used to sing the ballad Joe Hill, having heard Paul Robeson sing it.

After my dream, I woke to the remembered sound of The Communist singing it. The lyrics of the first verse rather got to me.

Not surprisingly, I couldn't get back to sleep so I got up a good half-hour earlier than I intended to! Ghosts, eh?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

On Not Shoving My Oar In

When I'm out of my comfort zone, I often just can't speak.

This used to cause a lot of problems in my childhood.

"Daphne can count in Italian, can't you Daphne? Count to ten to show this nice Italian man that you can."

Silence. O Ground, Open Up and Swallow Me.

Somehow, I just couldn't speak. Too shy. Nooooo.

There are things I just won't do. I'd find it very hard to complain about food in a restaurant, for example. I could probably do it if I had to - - - but I'd hate it and in fact I can't ever remember having done it.

But when I'm in my comfort zone - - talking about things I think I know about! - then you can't shut me up and I'm very prone to shoving my oar in.

One of the areas that I think I know about is Communication Skills for healthcare professionals.

Today, my task was simply to watch a course for doctors, because I'll be taking part in it in the future, as a Simulated Patient.

(If you're new to this blog, then a Simulated Patient is someone who plays the role of a patient, working from a brief, to help with the training or assessment of healthcare professionals of all kinds).

My job was just to watch the Simulated Patient at work today. I've been trained in the course already so this was the final part of my training. It's quite demanding work for the Simulated Patient as all the scenarios on this course are created on the spot based on whatever the doctor wants to practise - - and they are usually demanding, "heavy" scenarios involving strong emotions.

So I had to sit at the back, watch and keep quiet - - and I was sure I wouldn't be able to, that I'd want to chip in and say something, and find it very frustrating that I couldn't.

But actually - -- I found it really liberating. When there was a point that I wanted to make, I just had to sit there and see if someone else made it, and wonder how they'd get round to it.

The people running the course - the facilitators - were excellent - and all the points that I wanted to make were eventually covered, so I was happy! It was great to watch a good course running well, and I could see that the doctors were learning a lot from it too.

It was in a lovely old hotel, and there was an excellent lunch too. My life has been so fast-paced recently that just sitting, watching and learning, was wonderful.

And I'm there again tomorrow, doing more watching and learning. My oar will stay relentlessly not shoved in. Bliss!

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Forty Years Since Forty Pence was Three and Fourpence

Forty years, it's been.

Forty years since the half crown, the florin, the one shilling piece, the sixpence, the threepenny bit, the penny, the ha'penny all went and were replaced by what they then called New Pence.

For a while the New Pence were abbreviated to NP or np so you'd get price labels that said 10np but finally the "new" went and the abbreviation became p, as in 20p.

The day after it all changed I was involved in a Bun Sale at school - it was the sort of charitable event that took place quite frequently. The buns at the time were usually priced at sixpence and I was deeply shocked that after decimalisation suddenly they were three new pence, whereas the old sixpence would have translated exactly as two and a half new pence.

There were many such steep percentage rises as either ignorance or greed caused prices to go up.

I mourned the loss of the old money. I used to love the fact that from time to time you would find a nineteenth century penny with Queen Victoria's head on it. It was always worth looking through your change. My cousin was quite a serious coin collector and built up a valuable collection mostly by checking her change every day.

You could buy a lot more with the old coins, of course. My pocket-money purchase of choice when I was very small was a small doll, about two inches high, from a collection of many different ones, and they cost sixpence each. Oh! the joy of each Saturday as I chose my doll from the newsagent. And if I was given - as I sometimes was - a ten-shilling note, or even a pound note, on my birthday, I felt really rich.

You can see all the old coins here.

For me, any sentimental attachment to the British Pound left me in February 1971 and I'd be quite happy to change over to the euro now - - though I expect that, as with the change to decimal currency, prices would rise. But it would be great to be able to go to mainland Europe and not have to change pounds into euros.

The old pounds, shillings and pence are still hard-wired into my brain, though, as I found out the other day when telling some medical students about some Government food vouchers that are given to poor families with children and may be exchanged for fruit, vegetables or milk. They are woth £3.10 each.

"They are called Healthy Start vouchers and they are each worth three pounds and ten shillings," I said confidently, before realising what I'd said and being overcome with laughter.

The students thought it was both funny and amazing that someone who still appeared to have all their own teeth and be able to walk should come out with this phrase from the Olden Days. Forty years, eh? Wow.

Friday, February 04, 2011


The car radio is broken at the moment, so I have to amuse myself with my thoughts instead. This is not necessarily a good thing.

As I drove down Roundhay Road in the wind and the rain this morning on my way to the University, I was following a large, black car, which I swiftly realised was a hearse.

Of course this took me back to the Communist's funeral, which was the last one that I went to, and I found my eyes welling up with tears. Even after two years, whenever I think about the Communist, I feel he's so close that I could nearly touch him.

The Communist, of course, was an evangelical atheist - if there can be such a thing - and had no believe in the afterlife. But hey, I thought idly, perhaps he's been proved wrong.

"Okay, Dad," I said assertively. "If you were wrong, and you're out there somewhere, please give me a sign."

I rounded the corner into Barrack Road and there, ahead of me, stretching across the road, was a massive rainbow.

Very impressive, I thought, but unfortunately, I'm not easily convinced. I might have been more convinced had it not been raining at the time.

"Good try, Dad," I said, "but you know I'm not good on symbols. Give me a sign in words".

Then I noticed the number-plate of the hearse.

It was HE5IRCE.

What??? A hearse with a personalised number plate that nearly - but not quite - spells out HEARSE. Who thought that was a good idea? I imagined the owners' conversation.

"Hey, there's a personalised number plate for sale. Let's get it for our hearse. It spells out - - well - - not quite HEARSE."

"Yes, that's a great idea. Tasteful and yet hilarious. Fantastic. Everyone will love it. What larks!"

Unfortunately, even though I had asked for a sign in words, I still couldn't take this seriously as a message from the Communist. He'd have chosen a little rhyme, I know. Something like "RON IS GONE" spelled out in flowers. He always wrote a little rhyme on Christmas or birthday cards.

From the idea of a little rhyme I moved on to a little song and as I drew up at the entrance to the University car park I was singing, loudly, to the tune of D-I-V-O-R-C-E, "And when I'm dead I'm gonna ride in a H-E-5-I-R-C-E."

Luckily I remembered to stop singing as I wound down the window to pay the man at the entrance for my parking.

I do hope that our car radio will be mended soon.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Eyes Wide Shut - - and a bit blurry

So, off I went, bravely, to face a close encounter with the Drops of Doom.

Stephen came with me cos I'm not that brave. And after the last time I had the drops, when I fainted, I thought I might need someone to pick me up off the floor.

I was the first to arrive of the batch of us who had appointments at 11am and I didn't have to wait too long before a nurse called me into a little room. Stephen came with me in case I needed reinforcements.

"So, you refused the drops last year?" said the nurse.

"I hate that word refused," I said. "I just wanted to discuss it and nobody seemed able to tell me anything."

I told her about how I'd fainted on the floor of the reception area and felt ill for about an hour and a half.

"Yes, that's a possible side-effect," she said. "It's on this leaflet here. Sometimes it lasts much longer, though."

This was the first time I'd seen a leaflet with "my" side-effect on it. I felt vindicated.

"They changed the rules in 2008 so that if you don't have the drops we can't take the photograph," she said.

I know that this was to avoid lawsuits caused by photos, taken without the drops, possibly not being of good enough quality to detect the Diabetic Retinopathy.

I decided to have the drops and see what happened. They are Tropicamide and Phenylephrine. They cause your pupils to dilate so that a clear photo of your retina can be taken that will show up any changes caused by diabetes.

She put one drop in each eye and it just felt like water. Ahhhh, that wasn't too bad, I thought - before realising that she was about to attack me with a second drop in each eye.

The second ones stung a bit. "Oh yes," she said cheerfully, "if you didn't have the first drops before having the second ones you'd probably never dare open your eyes again!"

Out of the little room we went to wait for them to take effect. It was supposed to be about fifteen minutes. I felt a bit woozy but nowhere near as bad as last time.

Pretty soon I was called in for the photos to be taken. "Just put your chin on here." It only took a few minutes.

"Your pupils do go extremely large," he said.

I explained that my pupils are always large, even when they haven't been dilated by drops, and this is, I'm told, why salespeople and members of strange religious cults think I look gullible. I also mentioned that I once tried contact lenses but by the time they'd made them big enough to fit over my pupils, they were bumping into the sides of my eyes.

"Yes," he agreed, "I can see that would happen."

I could have added that I have excellent night vision and yet can't see a thing in bright light - - but hey, I'd guess that he could have worked that one out.

He pored over the photos for what seemed like ages until he finally declared that my eyes are fine and that there are no signs of retinopathy. Hurrah!

I asked him why I'd fainted the previous time, but not this time. "Yes," he said, "it can have different effects on different days."

We went home and I still felt woozy, and my vision was blurred. It was like someone had coated my eyes in Vaseline. I kept wanting to clean my glasses.

I typed a couple of emails to report back to friends. I couldn't see what I was typing at all but I realised I have a skill that I didn't know I had - I can type perfectly well with my eyes shut. I have touch-typed for years but I hadn't realised I that don't actually need to look at the screen. I noticed myself making a typo, backspacing over it and correcting it without looking - I just didn't know I did this!

Actually, I realised that I find my way around the house and do all sorts of everyday things without looking much. Stephen's always maintained this - he puts it down to the fact that in early childhood I really couldn't see much at all but nobody had realised: so I got used to doing a lot of things by just knowing where things are!

Gradually my sight unblurred itself. I do feel a bit tired but otherwise fine. I was very impressed with the Manny Cussins Diabetes Centre at St James's Hospital - I'll be back in a year's time for my next check-up!