Saturday, April 30, 2011


Okay, I have unbuntified my blog now the Great Event is over. If you were hoping for a few Union Jacks strewn about, plus some loud and really persistent patriotic music, then I'm afraid you will be disappointed.

It all seemed to go off well - nice frock and a few people turned up to watch. One or two people thought it was fancy dress: William came as the Bald Prince of Ruritania, the Queen came as a canary and I'm not sure what Beatrice and Eugenie were doing - perhaps they were quietly sending the whole thing up, similarly Tara Palmer-Tompkinson. You can see a photo of her on Silverback's blog.

Even though I'm not a royalist, (though I hate the idea of replacing them with some dreary politician so don't really know what I'd replace them with) I do like historical events so tend to remember where I was when they happened. As Charles married Di in 1981, I was kissing the Blarney Stone in Ireland. As Wills married Kate, I was doing a pile of ironing. I think I need to plan a bit more excitement in my life.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Compulsory Buntification

As I expect you know, it is currently compulsory for all British websites to have bunting and patriotic music in honour of the fact that one of Princess Diana's sons (the one who looks a tiny bit like Prince Charles and not the one who looks exactly like James Hewitt) is getting married tomorrow.

In a frantic bid to acquire the Common Touch that his father so blatantly lacks, the one who looks a tiny bit like Prince Charles but really mostly like Princess Di, is getting hitched to a woman whose parents are called, in a commoner way Carole and Michael. In the Olden Days of mediaeval paintings, all commoners were depicted standing with their mouths open, and I expect Carole and Michael will have been instructed to stand like that all day tomorrow.

I was invited, of course. Oh yes. Didn't make a fuss about it - just quietly declined as I have a bit of work to do in the office tomorrow and some junk to clear. I expect they'll struggle on without me.

Anyway, I got this bunting from Olli and Gareth's friend Tom Scott and I'm extremely grateful because, without the bunting, I'd be under threat of losing my British citizenship and perhaps even my Tesco Clubcard.

So I hope you're enjoying both the bunting and the music. Yes, I know the music is a bit persistent. Patriotic music is like that. If you can hear a strange whining sound in the background, it's the sound of the Communist spinning in his grave.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hearing the Sound of a Barrel Being Scraped

It had to happen sometime.

As the locum GP called Stephen's name I looked at him and recognised him.

For I had met him before, somewhere else, in a different part of the country, in amongst a group of candidates training as GPs, doing a mock exam.

He was one of a couple who - the examiner had told me at the time - had not been expected to pass. He stuck in my mind because of his particularly poor communication skills.

And on this morning's showing, I really don't know how he did pass.

Stephen has had an extremely painful shoulder and arm for a long time. He has been waiting for a scan and some physiotherapy. Because it's got even worse, we had gone to the doctor to try to speed things up. I went in with Stephen because I speak fluent Doctor.

It was just as well, because this doctor didn't speak fluent anything. He was from overseas and sometimes overseas doctors struggle because of a strong accent or inappropriate vocabulary.

That wasn't the case here. He just had inappropriate everything.

One of the strange things he did was insert the word "whatd'youmacallit" before every noun.

"So you have pain in your whatd'youmacallit? shoulder and it goes all down your whatd'youmacallit arm? and you have it almost all the whatd'youmacallit? time?"

Okay, in a better doctor this would have come over as a strange verbal tic and might not have been so crucial. But in the case of someone who was bad in everything else, it was just the opposite of icing on the cake.

No introduction. Very poor eye contact. Very dismissive. He diagnosed it - almost in passing - as osteoarthritis, without apparently understanding any of the implications of this for the patient.

"So it's just wear and tear caused by ageing. There's no point in having a scan because that's all that it will show. You're too young for surgery so there's nothing much you can do about it. Just take some paracetamol or ibuprofen."

Stephen was forced to explain, for the second time in several minutes, that actually, the pain is not just mildly annoying, not just very bad, but absolutely agonising and he didn't know how he can live with it.

Finally Dr Whatd'youmacallit, clearly pushed way beyond the limits of his abilities, prescribed another drug that he thought might help. We'll see.

Stephen has a week's supply of these new tablets and after that he'll go back and see a different doctor and start again.

I don't know how this doctor passed his final exams to become a GP. They have five years at medical school, then two years in a hospital, then three years to train as a GP.

I'm not sure how this chap passed any of it. He must have had an on day.

Monday, April 25, 2011

High Force

When I was fourteen, we went on holiday to Northumberland.

One of the places I liked, and which stuck in my memory, was a walk along a steeply wooded valley to a huge waterfall.

Apart from that, I couldn't remember a thing about it. Over the years, I've tried a few times to find where it was but never managed it.

Last weekend, when we went up to Northumberland, on the Friday evening we just wanted to get there as fast as possible. So we went up the A1 and turned left - - there wasn't too much traffic and we made good progress.

However, coming back on Sunday we weren't going to be so pushed for time. Realising this, Silverback, sitting under a palm tree in Florida, worked out a route for us.

He suggested we should try the B6277 - a much smaller road. He had looked at it on Streetview and it looked very scenic.

We decided to try it.

The scenery was indeed beautiful, verging on the stunning. We came out of Northumberland and into Teesdale, a part of the country that I don't know at all.

Then, driving along, I spotted a car park and a big sign "High Force". I didn't know what it was but it looked interesting: I knew it must refer to a waterfall.

"Stephen, can we stop?"

We parked the car, crossed the road, and headed down the path through the steeply wooded valley with the fast-flowing River Tees below:

And then, there it was. High Force. The highest waterfall in England.

Beautiful in the evening sunlight.

Apparently you used to be able to walk to the top of the waterfall but Health and Safety have stopped that in case you are too stupid to realise that the top of a waterfall can be really rather slippy.

And we also had to be told that if you decide to swim at the bottom of such a big waterfall, it won't be so much swimming, as drowning:

Sighhhh. Sometimes I wish we could replace all such notices with "Go on! Show off to your mates! Have a swim! Byeeeeee!"

It's a beautiful spot with huge cliffs too. If you click on the photograph below to enlarge it, you'll see some people sitting right at the top:

It's a fine balance, isn't it, this Health and Safety lark? As long as they were careful, they were perfectly safe. If they weren't careful, it was a long way down.

We were very grateful to Silverback for working out the route for us - it made me realise it's a part of the country that I really want to go back to.

But still the penny didn't drop.

The following day, I was telling my mother about High Force and how lovely it is.

"Ahhh yes," she said, "now you say the name, I remember it. We went there on the way back from Northumberland, when you were a teenager."

Yes, my glorious waterfall. Found it at last.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


My mother, who is now 87, is not on a lot of medication, for someone of 87.

She is on a low dose of aspirin to thin her blood, because she's had a stroke. She's on a low dose of statins to lower her cholesterol. She's on a water tablet to stop her ankles swelling up. And that's it.

Today, suddenly, I noticed that her ankles were hugely swollen.

"So, Mum, have you been taking your water tablets?"

"Errrr no. I don't think I have any."

I looked. She hadn't. She hasn't any statins either. She hasn't had any since - well - January.

I have, from time to time, chased the pharmacist about this. They say it's the doctor's fault.

I have, from time to time, rung the doctor's. They say it's the pharmacist's fault.

Sometimes my mother tries to go and collect her tablets and comes back without any and can't remember why she hasn't got them.

Sometimes I try to collect them from the pharmacist and they say it's the doctor's fault.

The woman from the Memory Clinic says that my mother should have her tablets in a dosset box, all ready counted out, every week, because she can't remember whether she's had them or not.

Memory Clinic Woman said she'd suggested this to the doctor. Actually the person who suggested it first was me. But for some - as yet unexplained - reason, this hasn't happened.

I have had enough. My mother is supposed to be going to Amsterdam with my brother - who has come over to collect her - on Wednesday - but at the moment I rather doubt that she'll go. She will use the hugely swollen ankles as a reason but the real reason is that she no longer feels able to cope with being away from home.

I have had enough. I am sick of getting fobbed off with nonsense about why they haven't got a prescription for my mother and so can't give her any tablets. I am sick of the doctor saying they DID give the pharmacist the prescription.

I have had enough of this grey haze of forgetfulness that my mother is in - it's not so grey or so hazy that she can't live on her own yet, but it is getting that way. And then I don't know what will happen, because of her abject terror of hospitals or anything involving old people.

I have had enough of the fact that whenever I try to discuss any possible plans with her, she just says "Oh, I'll walk into the sea" and that's the end of it. It's not her fault: she hates to think about a time when she can't cope on her own - and who can blame her?

Because I have - as I have mentioned once or twice - had enough, I am going to go into the doctor's on Tuesday and sort it out. And if they say they can't sort it, or that it's the pharmacist's fault, or could I come back tomorrow, or any other such nonsense, I will probably scream the place down.

Because, dear readers, I have had enough.

Friday, April 22, 2011


Manchester in the sunshine! Well, that's something that you don't see every day.

In fact these are probably the first photos of a sunny Manchester that have ever been taken.

It's a Grand Northern City, all right, and very proud of itself.

Lots of big imposing buildings, both Victorian and ultra-modern (like the one I was working in, where you couldn't get through any door without an electronic pass card):

There are lots of hidden corners, too, which I like.

"What date is it?" asked the man I was working with.

"April 20th," I said. "I know because it's Hitler's birthday."

He looked at me quizzically, clearly wondering if he was sitting next to some kind of neo-Nazi.

"Actually, I know that because April 20th is also my mother's birthday, and she's always been furious that Hitler had the same birthday."

Hitler was born in 1889. My mother was born thirty-five years later, in 1924. She's always liked the symmetry of her birth date. 20/4/24. Twenty. Four. Twenty-four.

We took my Mum out for a meal the night before her birthday, to the Scott's Arms in the lovely Yorkshire village of Sicklinghall (great village, horrid name). It was recommended to us a while ago by Silverback and has become a favourite haunt of ours - great food in a lovely setting.

So, here she is, awaiting her meal at the Scott's Arms, about to be eighty-seven.

She may be rather forgetful, but she looks really well at the moment. Just don't ever suggest to her that she dyes her hair - it really is natural and has only gone slightly grey. Her mother, who was a redhead, was the same. I may well be too - I think my hair is only slightly grey round the edges - - but I keep dying mine so I don't know!

She seemed to have a lovely evening - she had a starter and then a dessert as she always complains that all portions are too large for her tiny appetite. And then, on her birthday, she had some of her favourite visitors (thank you, David).

She lives next door to me and I always feel that, although I see her every day, I don't do enough for her. But I hope she'll have many more happy days.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My Lovely Cheque

You know how when you start a new job they take tax off at a rate that's far too high? Well, because I work for several different employers, and sometimes as self-employed too, this tends to happen to me a lot.

When I submitted my tax return in early January, my accountant got in touch and said he'd worked out that, because of all this, I was owed a rather decent refund of about two and a half thousand of our British pounds. Splendid!

So I waited for the cheque to arrive, and it didn't.

To be fair, I assumed that it would take ages. They have a dual standard operating, don't they? Whereby if you owe THEM money they want it yesterday, with interest.

However, if they owe YOU money it takes ages. Interest? You've got to be joking.

So when my lovely cheque didn't arrive in January I thought - - sighhh. But I wasn't surprised. I thought - - well, perhaps it will come at the end of the financial year then. I will put it out of my head until then.

And I didn't think of it again at all. Well not more than several dozen times a day, with increasing bitterness and frustration. "WHERE'S MY LOVELY CHEQUE?" I roared at the heavens, which gave a deafening silence in reply.

So early April arrived, and with it a lot of unseasonal sunshine. The daffodils flowered, and faded, and the leaves on the trees burst their buds, and no cheque-bearing envelope came through the letterbox of the spanking new porch, damn it.

So finally I got in touch with my accountant, trying to sound all casual and not as though I had thought of little else since early January. "You know that - - um - - cheque - - for my tax refund, that was mentioned to me in January? I just wondered - - idly - - er - - WHERE THE HELL IS IT?"

Back came the reply. The Inland Revenue claim they sent it to me in early January, as soon as they got my tax return.

Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather. Except that I was already on the floor, beating my fists on the carpet. "MY CHEQUE! MY LOVELY CHEQUE! O VERILY, WHERE ART THOU?"

I got back to my accountant, once I had calmed down ever so slightly. "Could you chase it up, please?"

She did. She got back to me today. They are going to cancel the previous cheque, and send off a replacement.


How long will this take?


I ask you, please. HOW CAN IT TAKE SIX WEEKS? What is there to do that can possibly take that long? Find cheque number on computer. Press cancel. Get out cheque book and a nice new biro, and write new cheque. Pop to the Post Office for a stamp. Buy an envelope whilst there. Address it to Daphne. Put it in a post box. HOW HARD CAN IT BE?

Sorry to shout. It's just that I WANT MY LOVELY CHEQUE!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Where We Stayed

Here's where we stayed: Holmhead Guest House. It's not just near Hadrian's Wall: it's where Turret Number 46A used to be, and hundreds of years ago some of the stone was used to make this house.

Behind the house are the ruins of Thirlwall Castle: this photo was taken from the bedroom:

A delightful bed and breakfast - friendly, characterful though well modernised, very clean and with a superb breakfast.

Lovely views in all directions:

I did like it when, out walking, we saw "our" bed and breakfast on a sign:

Just below Thirlwall Castle, along the red dotted line which is the route of Hadrian's Wall, is a building and that's Holmhead Guest House where we stayed.

It's a glorious part of the world, Northumberland: and, being rather a long way from many places where there is so-called "civilisation", it isn't too well known.

I'm looking forward to going back there as soon as I can.

Meanwhile, tomorrow I'm working in Manchester. That'll be different.

Monday, April 18, 2011

On Hadrian's Wall

We spent much of the weekend walking along some very picturesque bits of Hadrian's Wall.

In case you don't know, the Roman Emperor Hadrian decided this massive Wall should be built to keep those wild and scary Scots out. It stretched 73 miles (80 Roman miles, since you ask) from East to West in the North of England.

They built it in six years, from AD122 onwards.

Six years! I bet it would take longer than that now even with all the modern equipment. It was huge: it used to stand six metres high.

The way they built it was this. The Roman Army was divided into lots of little units, all rather complicated but basically incredibly well-organised and with strong discipline and, it has to be said, very little regard for Health and Safety. And they set one unit against the other.

"Come on lads! I know that our lot can build our bit a lot better and faster than that lot down the valley. Let's show them what proper soldiers can do!"

So they built it incredibly fast and incredibly well. And the wild lawless primitive Brits watched whilst they did it, shivering, gnawing on twigs and from time to time muttering things like "Wow! They're really - - well - - advanced, aren't they, those Romans? But what did they ever do for us?"

And then, after a while, the Romans finally worked out that the climate of Italy was lovely and warm and the climate of Northumberland was, in general, cold, wet and windy.

Off they went back to Italy where they invented the deckchair, covered their beaches with the things and never looked back.

Meanwhile, the Brits spent a few centuries muttering to each other "Have they really gone?"

Once they decided that this was indeed the case, they looked round furtively, and then sneaked up to Hadrian's Wall and nicked large quantities of it to build houses with.

Even sheep can climb over the Wall now.

Well, the mother could. The baby just kept hurling itself against the wall in a sad and futile bid to reach its mother. Baaaa - - SPLAT! Baaaa - - SPLAT!

Those of you of a tender disposition will be pleased to know that finally the mother sheep gave up the idea of crossing the wall and returned to her lamb. Awwww.

Even depleted in height as Hadrian's Wall is now, it's still impressive.

The Wall is fantastic, the scenery is stunning and even the weather was glorious.

Many thanks, Hadrian. We had a lovely weekend.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Heading Up North

It's been such a busy week since I got back from Plymouth!

Finally, after a long and exhausting winter, we have managed to arrange a short break away, for no other purpose than to rest and enjoy ourselves. Stephen and I are off a hundred miles due north, to the fine and relatively undiscovered county of Northumberland tomorrow, and we are staying in what looks to be a great bed and breakfast in the Middle of Nowhere next to Hadrian's Wall, near a village called Greenhead. Although it's in Northumberland, it's very near the Cumbrian border. To me, Cumbria is home territory and Northumberland is here-be-dragons land.

It's very near to the Roman fort at Vindolanda . I have been there before, though it was a long time ago. I think there were a few Roman builders standing around, pleased with their handiwork, and the paint was still wet.

Well - - perhaps not THAT long ago. But probably forty years - it had just opened to the public.

We have been told that the food in the local pub is excellent and that's my kind of food! Our plan is to walk a lot and then - - well - - eat a lot. And then walk some more. We may visit Vindolanda. I hope it doesn't rain. I'll let you know when I get back. I'm not sure the Emperor Hadrian installed wifi near his Wall: we'll see.

I'll leave you with a photo of a Plymouth eating establishment. I didn't actually eat there - - but I liked the name.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Spring in the South-West

I heard on the radio, whilst driving back to Leeds, that bluebells have been flowering earlier than usual. I already had photographic evidence from Plymouth:

There was lots of blue about elsewhere, too, in the sea and the sky. Here's the Art Deco walkway on the front - I do like the colours!

Some children were splashing about in the sea and I really wanted to be in the sea too, of course.

And finally, one of my favourite things - - palm trees!

It was glorious. I hope I'll be back there.

Friday, April 08, 2011

On a Plymouth Wall

Rather unexpectedly, I found myself in Plymouth this week, working there from Tuesday till Thursday. It was all very last-minute and a Top Secret Mission, and I really enjoyed it. Anyway, more of Plymouth tomorrow but meanwhile here's a man sitting on a wall, with his mate watching him.

So. Lovely views across Plymouth Sound and the Hoe from there. ("Hoe" means "High ground near the sea" since you asked).

Actually, I don't think Wall Man and Mate were interested in the views. They were interested in showing off their high testosterone levels and general courageous nonchalance, in the hope that any passing teenage girls would rush towards them in awe and admiration, removing items of clothing with every step.

Here's the rest of the wall.

Yes, one slip and they'd be firstly squished on the rocks below and then bounce into the sea and drown.

I'm quite surprised that Health and Safety haven't fenced off this wall, but it cheers me somewhat as I think that eventually they'll be fencing off everything. I mean - how can a teenager be expected to know that if you fall off this wall you're likely to encounter a slight dose of Death?

So: is it

a) These boys are brave young things and showing an adventurous spirit. Sir Francis Drake - who, if you remember, famously finished his game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe before trotting away to see off the Spanish Armada - would be proud of them. Hurrah!

b) These boys are idiots. And if they fell off some poor person would have to go and collect up the bits and it wouldn't be a fun job. Would you want to do it? - No, me neither.

c) Evolution in Action. This is why most of us wouldn't go and sit where he's sitting. Most of the ones who did have died out before they had a chance to breed. There are only a few left who did manage to reproduce, and these two are their offspring.

Your opinions are welcomed.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Hopping Glad

So there we were, enjoying a walk round Swinsty Reservoir last weekend, and I spotted this ditch.

And it's then that I realised that, in spite of all appearances, I'm still about ten.

Many - perhaps most - grown-ups would think "Oh, a ditch filled with water". That's if they thought anything about it at all.

Whereas I thought - - heyyyyyyyyy - this looks perfect frogspawn territory! A long pool of water, not stagnant but clear and fresh: lots of cover round about. And then I felt the old excitement coming back as I looked.

It's hard to spot, frogspawn, but I am (ahem!) a bit of an expert in this field. Or even in this ditch. So it only took me a couple of minutes before I saw the familiar bobbly surface.

It's in almost the exact centre of the photograph.

And then, getting nearer - -

Every Spring I'm delighted when I see frogspawn. As a child I would always collect some, rear it into tiny frogs in our little garden pond, and then release lots of them back into the wild.

Some froglets always stayed in the garden, of course - and as a result, their descendants live on. There are still lots of frogs in the garden, and, every year, home-laid frogspawn in our tiny pond.

Here's how to do it:

The frogspawn should have black dots in the middle, or else it's not fertile. They gradually elongate and wriggle, and then emerge from the spawn and cling to it. Then you need some pond weed for them to eat, and they'll cling to that for a while, with external gills - little frilly things - on the side of their heads.

Then they lose their external gills and begin to breathe air. They get bigger. At this point they need to eat meat. Tiny bits of raw meat are good, but you have to fish them out before they go bad and contaminate the water. It's fun to watch all the tadpoles cluster round for lunch.

They get their back legs, both together, and then their front legs come out, one at a time - usually the left one first, but not always. (This, I hasten to tell you, is not from any book about frogs, but from my own observation!)

Then the tail gradually gets shorter and at this point the froglets need to be able to get out of the water, or they will drown. And they find drowning easier than just about anything else that they do, so you have to keep an eye on them. I suppose this is what stops the whole world being overrun with frogs.

Finally their tails disappear, and they are tiny frogs, about the size of a fingernail, and they are very cute indeed. I used to feed them with tiny bits of meat, dangled on a piece of cotton. You swing it just past their field of vision and then they'll grab it. If it's not moving, they simply don't notice it.

And then, finally, off they hop into the moist undergrowth, to live their froggy little lives.

Other handy tips: if the spawn is in a blob, it's frogspawn, if in strings, it's toad spawn. Toads have drier, warty skin and they walk, whereas frogs hop. But rearing them is very similar.

When people ask me - as they have occasionally done - what is my main area of skill, they are often surprised when I reply "Rearing tadpoles into frogs." But, dear reader, I suspect this is the absolute truth.