Sunday, October 30, 2011

Game for a Laugh?

I hate all practical jokes.

Okay, perhaps there might once have been one somewhere that was mildly amusing but I have never found it. I think practical jokes are unfunny, and cruel, and all about the enjoyment of the people planning them. I hate them.

There used to be a television programme Game for a Laugh? where practical jokes were played on members of the public. Some of them were very elaborate - - someone came home from work to find that, apparently, someone had set fire to their car - - whereas in fact their car had been taken away and the one going up in flames was one that looked just like it!

Hilarious, eh?

At the end of the programme the presenter would reveal himself, explain that it was all a jolly jape and the poor victim would then be expected to show that he had taken it all in good part - - because he was "game for a laugh". Of course, if the victim then picked up the presenter, punched him in the face and threw him into the embers of the blazing car, that was considered really bad form - didn't he have a sense of humour, for goodness' sake?

I know myself well enough to know I would never be "game for a laugh" in such circumstances. I'd be a weeping, furious heap, totally out of my own control.

A few years ago, I was involved in planning a surprise birthday party for a close friend. The "surprise" bit was not my idea and in fact I found it very hard to take, and very hard not to tell him - because to me, any kind of "surprise" like that is equivalent to a practical joke - - and I hate practical jokes.

This week Derren Brown's latest show set out to demonstrate how an audience can quickly take on the characteristics of a mob. The audience thought they were watching a new gameshow where - anonymously and wearing masks - they had to choose repeatedly between a couple of alternatives of what would happen to an unsuspecting "victim" - would he win a prize or be accused of shoplifting, for example? Whatever the audience decided, then happened to the victim, with the other roles played by actors.

We saw an interview with Chris, the victim, at the start, where he was set up for us not to like him much - - he cheated on girlfriends, he played lots of practical jokes on others. He had been interviewed for Derren Brown's show but then told he hadn't been chosen - - but oh yes, he had.

The audience thought the show was about Chris - but it wasn't. It was about them. Derren Brown constantly validated their decisions: and their decisions became more and more cruel. "Excellent!" he said, again and again, laughing and encouraging them. Each was pressing a button anonymously, of course, so they didn't think there would ever be any comeback.

Of course, knowledge of this mob behaviour is not new and neither is the fact that, when encouraged by someone in authority, people will go much further than they think they ever would. Even so, it was fascinating - in a very disturbing way - to see.

Only a very shocking ending - which I won't describe in case anyone hasn't yet seen the show - finally brought the audience to their senses. They removed their masks and looked genuinely shocked and bewildered. One woman fled the auditorium.

I'm not even going to get into the morals of showing all this - I'm not really sure what I think about it. Perhaps, disturbing as it was, it might have made a lot of people aware of how easily a group can become a mob, and that might be a good thing.

And then, I find myself wondering - - if I had been in that audience, what would I have done?

Because I hate any kind of practical joke so much, I think I would have left in the early stages, when we were voting on whether Chris should be falsely accused of pinching a girl's bottom. I found it disturbing enough to watch from my living-room - I'm not sure I could have stood it from being in the audience.

Stephen, however, suggested that I might have stayed and pressed the "nice" option each time, just to try and counteract the majority vote for the "nasty" option.

Possibly. That would, perhaps, have been more brave. I think I would have fled.

I cannot honestly think that I would have stayed, pressed the "nasty" button and laughed along with it all.

But, d'you know what, I bet there were some people in that audience who would have said the same, and yet were swept along with it. I'm hoping I would not have been one of them.

Friday, October 28, 2011

My Failure in Ballet

We went to the ballet quite often when I was little. I saw lots of the big traditional ballets: everything from Swan Lake to La Fille mal Gardee, where the Fille in question's suitor comes on stage in the middle of a dance involving lots of bales of hay, and then suddenly bursts out from the hay. I never did work out how they got him onstage, but I loved it.

I was learning ballet myself, oh yes, at Miss Carr's ballet school above the Clock Cinema at Oakwood.

So, there we were, me aged only four, at the Grand Theatre in Leeds, watching a big spectacular ballet - - something like Giselle. I'm sure I didn't understand the plot, which is slightly over-dramatic to say the least, but I did like the look of it, and I enjoyed the music. And then I heard the grown-ups talking about tutus, a word I had never heard before.

"The tutus are wonderful," said my mother.

"Yes, beautiful," said my grandmother.

"They're lovely," said my father.

They all looked at me expectantly, waiting for my comment.

Well I hadn't a clue what they were on about. I didn't like to say "I'm only four, I have not yet mastered all of the English language, I have no idea what this strange word means."

So I adopted the strategy which has served me well on most occasions ever since. It is to pretend I understand and hope that all will become clear in the future.

I leaned back in my seat with what I hoped was an all-knowing air.

"Oh yes, the tutus are simply delightful. Marvellous." I said.

Everyone sighed with pleasure. I had clearly said the right thing.

Sadly, though, they never referred to them again. I went home muttering "tutus, tutus, tutus" to myself in the hope that the meaning would reveal itself.

Having pretended that I knew, there was no way I was ever going to ask what the word meant. Oh no. Far too much pride for that.

It seemed like decades later, but was probably only a few months - time passes slowly when you're little - and I had bought a copy of one of those girls' annuals in a Bring and Buy sale.

And there it was! A photograph, captioned "Margot Fonteyn, ballerina, wearing a white tutu."

So that was what it was! A sort of sticky-out frock of the kind I had coveted since - - well, forever.

Finally, I knew what it meant! I longed to grow up, become a ballet dancer and wear one myself.

Sadly, although I did match the ballerina height requirements, that was as far as it went. Broad back and short legs and even shorter arms do not a ballerina make.

Other girls, I could see, could jump higher than I could, and with a lot more grace. "All together now - - spring points! One - - two - - one - - two - -" Some girls landed like feathers, and I landed like lead. And then we had to sit on the floor with our feet together and knees out and try to get our knees flat on the floor. Some girls could do it easily. I couldn't do it at all. My balance wasn't great either. I would stand on one leg and fall over. Arabesques were going to prove tricky, I could tell.

I had one thing in my favour: I had a lot of stamina, and still do. But even at the age of five I could tell it wasn't going to be enough. I put all these lack of skills together in my head and decided it was a no-no. Nureyev was going to have to dance with Fonteyn, and never with me.

I hung up my cute pink pair of ballet slippers. I never did get to wear a tutu.

It's a source of lasting regret.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Workmen of the Nineteen-Sixties

Two workmen arrived today to start a huge job - removing the old render from the outside of the house and replacing it all. The house is very high and they are expecting to take up to a month over it. There are lots of associated jobs, such as replacing all the downpipes. It's all going to cost more than our first house - but it needs to be done, because damp is getting in. Once it's all done and the house has dried out properly, then we can start the next job, which is redecorating. Sighhh.

Although these two seem to have got a lot done today, I don't have very fond memories of some of the workmen in this house, though some have been great.

Amongst the worst were the ones who built the extension, in 1964.

My mother was pregnant with my brother, so there was a lot of change going on anyway, and I wasn't sure about it.

Although the house already had four bedrooms, my parents decided to make it larger. My grandmother - my mother's mother - was living with us, and they decided to add two extra rooms. One downstairs - now the office where the actors' agency is based - and one above it, which became my Grandma's bedroom.

They did it by filling in two sides of a square and moving the back door to what used to be the pantry. I didn't like this. I liked the pantry, and I liked the old back door, even though I once fell down all the stone steps outside it. The steps are still there, hidden under the extension.

The builders weren't very good - a lot of builders weren't, in the nineteen-sixties - and the new flat-roofed extension was totally out of character with the rest of the house, which was built in 1896. But the Communist, born in 1923, hated anything to do with the nineteenth-century - he didn't think there was anything appealing in it at all. Like a lot of people at the time, he thought that the sooner every trace of it was gone in housing and decor, the better.

I didn't like the workmen. I was shy and very bookish and wore glasses. Whenever my parents or my Grandma weren't around, they would tease me for being a swot - the kind of teasing, ironically, that in spite of the fact that - let's face it - I really was a swot, I never really encountered at school. I hated such teasing and had no idea how to deal with it.

I used to read a lot, when I wasn't playing out. One day the workmen found me reading Alice in Wonderland when they arrived in the morning, and then a different book when they had their afternoon tea break. Or one of their tea breaks. I remember a lot of tea breaks.

"So what happened to the book you were reading this morning?" asked Nasty Workman One.

"I finished it," I said. I was aware that, whatever direction this was heading in, it wasn't a good one.

"You can't have." he said. "You'd only read a bit of it when we saw you this morning."

"I read fast," I said.

A more useful answer, of course, would have been "FUCK OFF AND LEAVE ME ALONE, YOU ASSHOLE, OR I'LL TELL MY DAD YOU'RE A PAEDOPHILE." But, in those innocent days, I had not yet encountered three of the words in that sentence. So I stuck to "I read fast."

"You can't read that fast," said Nasty Workman One.

"Nobody can. You're lying," said Nasty Workman Two.

I wasn't lying. I did read fast. I still read very fast. To this day, from time to time, people say to me, "What, have you read that already?" I used to get into trouble at school because teachers thought I hadn't read books properly, until they tested me and found that I had. My son Olli had the same problem with teachers for the same reason. If anything, he reads faster than I do.

"Well, go on then," said Nasty Workman One. "Prove it. Read aloud to us."

And so it was that, in April 1964, age seven-nearly-eight, I found myself sitting on the settee in the lounge reading Alice in Wonderland to two men who should have been busy building the extension to our house.

I knew that whatever I did, the result would be bad. If I read quickly and with no problem, then I was that dreadful thing, a swot. But if I read slowly and with hesitation, I was that other dreadful thing, a liar.

I read fast, and I read well, because I was a swot, and they found that very amusing. They hated me.

I hated them.

I still hate them.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Shortest Swim Ever

It's always a bit of a pain getting out of bed to go swimming on a Sunday morning but once I'm in the water I love it. So I always have to keep reminding myself of this as I get ready to go.

And so it was this morning. Get up, feel dreadful, hate it, eat porridge, get ready, drive there (only eight minutes or so), get into the pool - - bliss!

Swim a length - - swim back again - - two done, sixty-eight to go - -

"WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!" A loud klaxon sounded.

"THE pH OF THE POOL IS TOO LOW. YOU'LL ALL HAVE TO GET OUT! NOW!" shouted the swimming-pool attendant, in the manner of an officer tending a prisoner-of-war camp.

I find this about swimming-pool attendants. I think they are all thwarted PE teachers of the kind who enjoy blowing whistles and making small children stand about in lines on freezing playing fields.

"YOU'VE GOT TO GET SHOWERED OFF!" yelled the Camp Commander. "THE pH IS TOO LOW!"

An apology would have been nice, I thought, but none was forthcoming - - people who thrill to their ability to blow whistles and shout a lot don't tend to do apologies.

So, reluctantly, we all clambered out, and had showers to get the nasty alkaline water off our skin, and - in my case - texted our friends to tell them not to bother coming this morning.

The receptionist is friendly though and as I went out she said "I'm really sorry you've had to get out of the pool," which definitely helped. Why don't people realise that a "sorry" is such a good thing?

One of the managers was standing next to her and he explained that it will take a while to sort out. At the moment the pool is too alkaline and so would at best irritate the skin and at worst dissolve the swimmers. But it's easy to make it too acidic and if that happens apparently it's much harder to restore the correct balance. So they will have to increase the acidity a bit at a time. (Gareth suggested later that they'll squeeze lemon juice into the water, a few drops at a time. That kind of thing.)

See? There's a lot to looking after swimming pools. And there was I, thinking that all that they did to keep it in its usual state was to go round first thing and chuck in a few used sticking-plasters and a scattering of pubic hairs.

Ewwwww. I wish that I hadn't written that last sentence. Too late now. Sorry.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Raw Nature in the Suburbs

I was driving through one of the posher Leeds suburbs today, on my way to visit Silverback for a cuppa.

Suddenly, right ahead of me, I saw a Squashed Dead Thing by the edge of the road. I couldn't work out what it was - perhaps a squirrel that had been run over.

Next to it was a large crow, happily pecking away at this free lunch.

I slowed down to watch the crow - and then something amazing happened.

Out of nowhere, a huge bird of prey dropped like a stone onto the crow, which never saw what hit it, but nevertheless staggered clumsily for a couple of steps and then flew off, chased by the much bigger bird. The crow was very unsteady in the air - it was clearly thinking "WTF?" And in fact the bigger bird had droppped so fast that I hadn't seen it coming either.

I recognised the big bird: it was a red kite. I have occasionally seen them in the area as there is a breeding colony at nearby Eccup Reservoir.

They have very wide wings - a five-foot wingspan! - and a forked tail and this makes their shape very easy to identify. Once I saw one above the parade of shops at Moortown Corner - it looked very incongruous, this huge bird of prey gliding above Marks and Spencer's!

But today, the red kite was just a few feet in front of me as it swooped down on the crow: I've never seen one up so close and it looked absolutely huge. Of course, when you just see the silhouette in the sky it's hard to tell the scale. I knew they were big but it made the crow look like a sparrow in comparison.

I had stopped the car - I was going slowly anyway but don't remember stopping so it's a good job there wasn't anything behind me! As the red kite took off again after landing on the crow I could see its forked tail and the red on its wings very clearly.

Once it had made quite sure the crow wasn't coming back - - and believe me, the crow certainly had no intentions of ever coming back, in fact it's probably still flying in the general direction of AWAY - then the red kite did a rather fancy turn in the air, came back, landed on the Squashed Dead Thing, took a large beakful and then flew away.

The whole incident took much less than a minute - - perhaps only thirty seconds.

What is it about birds of prey? They always give me a little frisson of excitement. And the suddenness of it all, coupled with the size of the red kite and its closeness to my car made it a thrilling thing to have seen in a Leeds suburb on a Tuesday afternoon. All over in less than a minute - and yet I know I'll always remember it.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Target reached - - and some wonderful pools

Some of you were kind enough to sponsor me when I did the Great North Swim back in June. The contributions from this - over £500 - helped towards my friend and colleague Sally Womersley's bid to complete the funding to buy a “Zeiss ApoTome” imaging system: a state-of-the-art microscope to help with the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis.

Sally herself has organised two Charity Balls and a zip-wire ride towards it and raised many thousands of pounds. The machine costs £80,000 and when I met Sally this week she told me that the zip-wire ride has completed the funding needed and the machine can now be bought.

So I'm delighted that my swim helped towards it and am very grateful to everyone who sponsored me. Although MS perhaps doesn't receive as much publicity as some long-term illnesses, I know several people who have it and it's a cause dear to my heart.

So a very big THANK YOU! And congratulations to Sally for all the very hard work she's done in fundraising for this machine.

I'm still swimming of course! I haven't been able to swim for a couple of weeks because I've had a cough but it's finally gone so I went swimming this morning. I've been quite tired recently - possibly because of the cough, and I know I've been working hard as well, and I know that diabetes is supposed to make you more tired.

So I got up at half-past seven, grumbling and wanting to stay in bed, but repeating my little mantra to myself which is "Daphne, you have never regretted going swimming so just get on with it!"

The pool opens at half past eight but I need to get up an hour earlier in order to eat a very large bowl of porridge to give myself energy to swim!

It only takes about eight minutes to drive to the pool on Sunday morning. As soon as I'm in the water all tiredness goes and today I swam my usual seventy lengths with no problem at all.

The first ten lengths or so are not exactly difficult but always harder than the rest: and after that my body seems to go "Ahhh SWIMMING! THAT's what I'm doing! Why didn't you SAY so?" and the rest is really enjoyable.

Of course I don't imagine I'm in Fearnville Leisure Centre, oh no.

In my daydreams I might be in this pool, in Buttonwood Bay, Florida, which I swam in during our holiday in November 2008:

Or I could be at our friends Graham and Christine's glorious place in Burgundy, which we've visited several times now, including this summer: do look at their website: Maison Creme Anglaise:

Here I am in their pool:

and another one:

or in this beautiful pool at Mas Pichony, the farm where we stayed in Provence this summer:

Oh I've been lucky to have swum in some lovely swimming pools this year, not to mention the sea and Windermere!

But for everyday swimming, I'm still very, very grateful to have a municipal swimming pool very near to me. And thanks again to everyone who sponsored me.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

At Land's End

As I watched Richard Wilson, on the television programme Britain's Best Drives, approach Land's End in Cornwall, I remembered it with sudden clarity. It's the most south-westerly point of England. What I remembered most was the scent of the grassland, and all the little flowers in the grass.

There are cliffs, and wild seas, but actually I don't remember those at all - - just the approach to them, and the grass, and the flowers.

It's not really surprising that I don't remember the views - I wouldn't have been able to see them. This was nearly a couple of years before anyone knew that I couldn't see very well at all. But I've always remembered the smell of the grass, and those mysterious words "Land's End" which sounded both pleasing, exciting and faintly scary.

We were on holiday in Penzance, and I was three.

The approach to Land's End is one of my three memories of that holiday.

The second one is of visiting what must have been a gift shop. It sold donkeys and carts made out of pottery. It was a low-lying, stone building and they had lots of the same ceramic donkey-and-carts of different sizes, in greens and pinks. Some were as big as me - or that's how I remember them, anyway. My grandmother - my mother's mother - bought me one, a little one. Of course I kept it for - - well - ever. I'm not sure where it is now, exactly, but I'd guess it's in this house somewhere: it was quite chunky and I don't remember it ever getting broken.

My third memory, however, is not so happy.

It's nearly four hundred miles to Penzance from Leeds if you take the quickest route by motorway.

Of course, in 1959, there was no motorway route. I expect it was well over four hundred and fifty miles, and never very fast.

So we stopped on the way, in Bath, at one of those old-fashioned boarding houses.

In those days, our family was made up of the Communist, my mother, and my grandmother, who had come to live with us just that summer. It was the summer we all moved into this house, the house where Stephen and I live now. Grandma had moved to Leeds from Barrow-in-Furness, because her husband had died a couple of years earlier.

So that summer was the first time she'd ever come on holiday with us.

All went reasonably well I think - though I can't remember - until the boarding-house in Bath.

Somehow the Communist lost the belt from his trousers. I have absolutely no idea how.

Grandma was one of those women who thought of men as a separate species - useful in some ways, but perhaps a bit dim. She had herself been very happily married. Grandma was a ferociously intelligent woman who had never been out to work but who was very much in charge at home.

She and the Bath landlady joined forces in finding the Communist's missing belt absolutely hilarious and mentioning it with tremendous hilarity every ten seconds or so throughout breakfast.

The atmosphere became more and more tense. I remember crying and being taken out of the room by my mother. I was aware how upset the Communist was at being the subject of such teasing, and how the two women wouldn't stop laughing.

I think the events of that breakfast cast a long shadow over the future years. Grandma lived with us for the next thirty-three years and the relationship between her and the Communist was never easy - they tolerated each other, but that was about it. Grandma always made lots of little digs. Every day when he came home from work, she would say "Oh, is there a man here?" in such a way that it was very nearly a joke - - but not quite.

I loved my Grandma, and I loved the Communist of course, and I often felt torn between them. I think it must have been difficult for my mother.

Whenever I have heard people, in the company of small children, say something like "Oh, she's too young to understand," I have thought of this incident. Of course I didn't know exactly what was going on - - but I knew it was horrible, and I hated it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Some Memories for Jeannette

Yesterday, JeannetteLS left a comment on my post about Kirkby Lonsdale. She mentioned that England has many lovely place-names and mentioned Bourton-on-the-Water, in the Cotswolds. Although she's American, she had visited there forty-four years ago and remembers it very clearly.

Well, I was there just last year and I thought that Jeannette might like to see some photos of how it is now. Which, I'd guess, is much the same as it was then.

Buildings made of lovely warm Cotswold stone:

Gorgeous gardens:

The water and bridges that gave the village its name:

Lovely old pubs (we had a very good lunch in this one)

Children playing in the river:

It was the essence of "Englishness" on an idyllic summer's day.

I hope that's brought back some good memories for Jeannette and for everyone else who's been to this beautiful part of England.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Kirkby Lonsdale

All my life I've travelled to Barrow-in-Furness quite often - though not as often as I'd like! My mother's from there and some of my favourite relatives live there, and it has some of my favourite beaches.

To get to Barrow-in-Furness from Leeds, the best way is along the A65. Though tell that to my satnav! For some reason which I've never quite fathomed, she thinks the best way is along the motorway - the dreaded M62, always incredibly congested. Whereas the A65 is a pretty country road, much shorter and hardly ever busy.

Even when we instructed the satnav to favour motorways a bit less and country roads a bit more, she just wasn't having it. "Turn around when possible" she says, repeatedly, until you're nearly halfway there. Then she sulks, thinks to herself for a bit, and finally decided that okay, if you MUST go that way, she'll reluctantly give you directions. And the distance suddenly jumps from about 130 miles (because she wants you to go all the way back to the M62 and start again) to about 55 miles. Pah! I think whoever devised the satnav programming must have had a hated relative who lived along the A65.

You travel along the A65 until you cross the M6 motorway, and then you travel west for what seems like forever, and you reach Barrow. It's one of my favourite journeys.

On the way, just before the M6, is Kirkby Lonsdale. All my life I've liked it! When I was little, and the drive to Barrow took a lot longer (it seemed like days, but it was about three hours for a hundred miles in those days) I used to do the "Are we nearly there yet?" thing that is a necessity for all proper children.

Eventually, my parents realised that "Look out for Kirkby Lonsdale, because when we get there, it's not that far to Barrow" would keep me quiet for a while.

And what a lovely name. Kirkby Lonsdale. Along with Cark and Cartmel and Nook and Cow Brow - - ahh, there are some lovely names you pass on the way to Barrow and round about there.

By the river in Kirkby Lonsdale is a favourite meeting place for bikers, and my biker cousin Robert from Barrow often used to drive out there. He died from cancer in 2008 and I always think of him when I see all the leather-clad bikers meeting by the river there.

And the river's always worth a look if there's time to stop.

Last time I drove through Kirkby Lonsdale was when my mother and I took our cousin Amy back to Barrow, in early September - she'd been staying with Mum in Leeds for a while.

It had been raining. A lot. So I thought that the river might be rather full.

I sometimes use an application on my phone called Glympse, which allows friends and family to follow your route and see where you are - it's good fun and can be useful too of course. I'd sent a Glympse before setting off from Barrow.

Even so, I thought it was very amusing to get a message from Silverback on my way home which said "You're standing on the bridge at Kirkby Lonsdale taking photographs, aren't you?"

Of course, the Glympse just says where your phone is located - - you need a bit of insider knowledge to work out what I was up to. Did he guess right? It's a fair cop, guv. Guilty as charged.


Monday, October 03, 2011

On the Naughty Step

I once saw a survey that showed that, of Britain's major cities, Hull was the one that most people couldn't place on a map. This is probably because nobody is ever passing through Hull. It's way out on the East Coast. It's remote and different and actually I rather like it.

Unfortunately, it wasn't until Saturday morning that my son Olli remembered that he had a hospital appointment in Hull this morning, ie Monday. Well - - probably. But he wasn't certain.

The trouble was, he didn't have a letter of confirmation and there was no way to check.

He did try to check - - but the hospital in Hull said that there was no way they could find out on a Saturday. The only way was to ring at eight-thirty on Monday morning and ask the department then.

Ahhh yes, but that was a bit of a problem. If you're in York - as Olli is - and the appointment was in Hull first thing - - and Olli knew he would have asked for it to be first thing as he starts work at midday in York and would need to get back from Hull in time for work - then eight-thirty this morning wasn't early enough to have confirmation, because that would be too late to set off from York (in the middle of the North) to Hull (on the East Coast).

And he would have to get back in time for work, because he hadn't thought to tell them that he might be late, because it wasn't until Saturday morning that he realised he had an appointment at the hospital. Or might have.

Furthermore, the trains from Hull to York are such that he couldn't get back from Hull by train, and he hasn't yet passed his driving test. Gareth was working today, driving lorries. Stephen was on his way to Helsinki for a meeting.

So I looked to see who everyone was looking at; and oh yes, it was me.

Well I'd been working all weekend, because it was the agency meeting and I had a lot of financial work to do for the agency too. But still, what a fun idea it could be to get up at quarter to six on a Monday morning and to drive to Hull, collecting Olli from York on the way.

So, whistling a merry tune of pure happiness, off I went in the cold and the dark to drive the twenty-something miles to York to collect Olli, and then the subsequent thirty-something miles to Hull.

(Though, damn it, it then got all warm and sunny and turned into a beautiful day. And the drive to Hull that way is much nicer than the M62 and took a shorter time, so that's good to know for the future, and it was jolly pleasant to spend some time chatting with my son, too. Please don't let Olli read this paragraph, though, because I want him to dwell on all the unpleasantness he's inflicted on his saintly mother.)

When it got to half-past eight we were nearly at the Hull hospital and thought we might as well turn up and see if Olli did have an appointment, rather than ringing. If they told us to go away I thought I'd try my look of shocked innocence - which I've perfected in many a medical roleplay - and just see if by any chance the consultant would see him anyway.

Yes, yes, I know, that's impossible, hospitals just doesn't do such things, I was being ridiculously over-optimistic. Appointments with consultants are like gold dust and if you miss one you can have to wait months for another - - which is why we didn't dare risk missing it in the first place.

"Hello," said the receptionist, with a friendly smile, "Can I help you?"

Olli said that he thought he had an appointment today, but didn't know what time. After a bit of searching, Friendly Receptionist looked confused.

"I'm sorry, you do have an appointment, but it's on October 24th at 9.40" she said.

I was getting all ready to do my Shocked Innocence acting followed by How Many Miles I'd Driven acting - - but she was ahead of me, and smiled.

"I'll see if the consultant can see Olli today," she said.

Five minutes later back came the news that the consultant would indeed see him.

Five minutes after that, Olli was called through to see him. The appointment was very necessary, but it didn't take long.

So, a coffee and a bun in the very pleasant cafe and we were on our way back to York (and, in my case, then to Leeds, of course, I wouldn't want Olli to forget the extra twenty-something miles). As I dropped Olli off at work he was beginning to wonder - - - if he didn't have an appointment at Hull hospital today then - - um - - where DID he have an appointment? I don't know if he ever solved that one.

In conclusion: I love the National Health Service in general and this hospital in Hull in particular. Oh yes, and I love my son too.

As for Olli getting the appointment date wrong - - well, Olli is very very clever (don't deny it Olli, or it'll be all your exam results on this blog next) and doesn't usually forget things. So he knows I won't mention it again. Well, not until tomorrow, anyway. And the next day. Oh yes, and several times a week for the next few weeks.

He did think that he was in line for a suitable punishment for making his poor mother drive a hundred and seventeen point seven miles (I just happened to notice the total) very early on a Monday morning and, at twenty-two, he's twenty years too old to be made to sit on the Naughty Step. But he hit on a self-punishment that would suffice.

"Okay, Mum," he volunteered in tones of resignation. "In return for driving me to Hull, you can blog about it."

Saturday, October 01, 2011

On a Hot October Morning

The Communist loved Roundhay Park, Leeds' huge Victorian park. As a child his family used to have day trips to the park from the slums where they lived and it was the Communist's ambition to live near it. He achieved this at the age of thirty-six, when my parents bought the house where we live now, and he never wanted to move ever again.

The Communist visited the park every week or so. But in his whole life he never experienced a day like today, because there never was an October day as warm as this in his lifetime.

The people of Leeds were making good use of it this morning.

Walkers in the dappled sunshine by the lake:

Ducks and geese being fed until they could barely stay afloat:

Keep-fitters on the grass:

and others running up and down the hill which used to lead to the open-air swimming pool which closed in the Seventies (sighhh! I'd have been swimming in it today!)

Children in kayaks on Waterloo Lake:

and others learning how to fall out, and then - hopefully - how to get back in again:

The beautiful, mature trees that I've known all my life, and that the Communist knew all his life:

The tranquil walks by the lake:

And, in the dappled sunshine, the seats where the Communist, in his old age, used to sit for a little rest on his slow stroll round the lake. "Shall we stop for a while, Daphne? I'm not as young as I used to be, you know."

I missed him there this morning.