Monday, December 26, 2011

In the Winter Sunshine

Last Boxing Day I swam in the sea, doing the Tenby Boxing Day Swim, with snow on the ground and everything very cold. I loved it!

Sadly, not being anywhere near the coast, I couldn't swim in the sea today although this year's swim seems to have gone very well.

So today we went for a walk in the winter sunshine, at Hetchell Woods near Thorner, just outside Leeds. It's not a very well-known walk but delightful, nevertheless. No matter what time of year it is, I do love a sunny path stretching ahead of me.

The path goes through Hetchell Woods and then out the other side, where it runs alongside a field and becomes, after any kind of rain, a track of pure mud.

We knew it would be muddy there - it's always muddy at that spot. It was just like being in our garden at home after the building work!

But we are experts at getting through mud now, so on we squelched. Then you loop back along an old railway line - one of the ones axed by Dr Beeching. But at least it makes a good walk!

After a while you have to climb down a muddy bank to reach a muddy path at the bottom. It's always a bit tricky, this, but today there was the added possibility of the whole thing becoming a mudslide. Those bits of rope were really useful!

Then you go on a winding track past some very old tumbledown cottages which fall down a bit more with every year. I always find myself thinking of the people who might have lived there, in a relatively remote spot when Leeds would have been a day-trip away.

Then the landscape changes: the mud turns to sand and you find yourself walking along some little hillocks.

A disused quarry, says the internet. Disused from before 1950, was the most I could find. Now it's a haven for wildlife and very pretty too. The little hills are fun to climb. Here are our shadows, waving to you.

I don't think anyone knows that much about this place. "Roman?" people mutter when asked. The Communist always called it "Pompey Cali" in a kind of strange Latin. "Why Dad? Why's it called that?" "Because that's what it's called." And, sure enough, there are a few references I can find to "Pompicali" but no explanation.

It was a lovely winter walk: blustery, but sunny and very mild.

And it isn't even January yet: but I felt that Spring is on its way. And I have evidence.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Days

I think I've been very lucky this year.

I was, quite honestly, dreading Christmas. The Communist died just before Christmas in 2008, so that Christmas passed in a bit of a blur.

Christmas 2009 was not good - I was thoroughly miserable and am sure I spread it round everyone else. It felt just like all previous Christmases, ever since we first moved into this house in 1959 when I was three - - except it was without the Communist.

The Communist, Jewish by birth and atheist by belief, absolutely loved Christmas: all the family together, the food, the presents - - and I used to love it too, but since his death - - well, I just haven't.

Last year was different - we went to our favourite Park Hotel in Tenby, where they treated us wonderfully well, and where I did the Boxing Day Swim in the sea, and loved it. But hanging over the whole thing was that Stephen was going to be made redundant in January and it was so VERY scary.

However - - Stephen wasn't made redundant, his job was saved, he has a new boss who really seems to appreciate him. Hurrah!

But I was still dreading this Christmas. How would it be?

A pall of gloom hung over me whenever I thought about it.

Then, quite unaccountably, a couple of weeks ago, I cheered up. I think it was something to do with the fact that we had to have Christmas Day early, on 22nd December, so Olli and Gareth could go down to Gareth's parents for Christmas. That kind of took the pressure off. Also, I gave myself a sound kicking and decided I was going to jolly well enjoy it all, for the sake of everyone else, especially my mother, since it's her 88th Christmas and who knows how many more she will have?

So we had an early Christmas, and Gareth and Olli and Alex cooked the meal - a vegetarian one - and it was absolutely delicious, and the presents were lovely, and it was altogether a Good Do.

Then today we did it all over again, with a turkey, and just Stephen, my mother and me.

Here it was, on its way into the oven, covered in bacon:

Whilst it was cooking, Stephen and I went for a brisk walk round Waterloo Lake in Roundhay Park. There were very few people about - we didn't see a single child in the usually bustling park! - but there were a lot of very hungry birds, as there were fewer than usual visitors.

Fortunately I'd remembered, just before we set off, that we had a stale loaf in the house, so Stephen kindly fetched it and these birds devoured it, though I saved some for the crows at the other end of the lake, because I always like crows.

We didn't say anything to these birds about the turkey cooking in our oven. I didn't want to worry them.

So, home we went, and the meal all went very well, and my mother really enjoyed it - for one thing, a gentleman neighbour who's been visiting her recently brought her a silk scarf and a poem!

And we have the Christmas tree up, with the oldest fairy lights still working in Britain, probably.

I took this photo before we'd opened the presents, on our first Christmas Day on the 22nd December. Sadly you can see why we had to spend a small fortune recently on recoating the house - - look at the damp on the wall!

Finally, here's the old Communist, sitting next to the tree.

Of course, this photo was taken in 2007: his last Christmas at home, when he was eighty-four.

He's the Ghost of Christmas Past, all right. Though if he was there in spirit today, he'd be VERY cross, because he had no belief in life after death at all.

I've missed him, of course, this year, as I do every day: but this year I've been able to bear it. I suppose that's human nature - - we grieve, and then we move on slightly, although we don't forget.

I can hear him now. "Is this for me? Oh good! What time are we having dinner?"

Thank you, as always, for reading my blog, and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Cat that Wants to be Watched

There are two cats in our house.

Wendy is young. She rushes about and chases anything that moves, and spends a lot of time exploring everywhere.

Froggie, on the other hand, is old. She was a stray who came to live with us in 1999, and I don't know how old she was then.

She used to rush around like Wendy but now her life is more sedate. Sometimes she sits and looks out of the window:

Sometimes she just sits, in Powersaver mode:

Often, she sleeps.

She's tiny - the story we were told was that she had kittens at a very young age and never grew any more - and good-natured, and thoroughly adorable.

But she has a strange characteristic, that I haven't known in any other cat.

She insists on being watched when she eats.

When she first came, I put some food down and left her to find it. I came back into the room to discover that she had found it, and was simply staring at it. However, as soon as she saw me, she gave me a look that said "About flaming time too!" and then she started eating.

And ever since, it's not enough to put food down. Oh no: you have to watch her while she eats it. If you try to sneak away in the middle, she will turn and stare at you until you come back.

If she's hungry, she doesn't go into the kitchen to eat. She comes to find me, or Stephen, and insists that we follow her to the kitchen to watch her.

Over the years, she has trained us well. Visitors sometimes think it's strange when we say "Sorry, I've got to go into the kitchen. The cat wants me to watch her eat."

Here she is eating some Christmas tuna this morning.

I took several photos, all with flash. Was she distracted from her food by this? No, because she had my full attention, and she knew it.

Is there, I wonder, any evolutionary purpose to this behaviour? Perhaps it demonstrates to her that she is still Top Cat, because we let her eat first and don't try to steal her food, like the Top Lion in a pride.

Or perhaps Froggie's just a very strange cat. Though she's theBest Cat in the Whole World, of course. Wendy knows she's very cute, but she knows her place and it's Second-Best Cat in the Whole World. Froggie may be old, but she is most definitely Top Cat.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Jeremy Bamber and the Murders in 1985

It's all very well in detective stories. The way that they generally go is that the police are failing to solve the crime: along comes Maverick Detective Adam Strong. He infuriates all the local police with his quirky methods and is threatened with being taken off the case - - and then he finds the key evidence which helps him to find the real murderer, who goes to prison. The End.

I think I must have known all this since I was very small. I invented Adam Strong the Detective and wrote a story about him when I was something like nine years old.

Maverick-detective stories are very satisfying to read, or to watch - many, perhaps most of television police dramas are roughly along those lines.

In real life, things are a lot more complicated and one of the complicated cases that I've thought about quite often over the years is the murders of the Bamber family in 1985. The case is so strange that "you couldn't make it up" is putting it mildly. It's as though the whole thing was put together, rather clumsily, by an aspiring crime novelist.

Nevill and June Bamber were very wealthy and they lived in Tolleshunt D'Arcy in Essex. They had two adopted children: Sheila Caffell - a slim, fragile-looking former model known as "Bambi" - who had six-year-old twin boys, and Jeremy Bamber.

Police were called to the house one day in 1985 to find that the parents, Sheila, and her twin boys had all been shot dead.

Initial suspicion fell upon Sheila, who was a schizophrenic, and for a while it all seemed cut and dried. She had apparently shot all the family and then killed herself.

But then Jeremy's girlfriend, Julie Mugford, said that he had confessed to her that he had killed them all, even though police records seem to show that there was still movement in the house when Jeremy was actually outside with the police.

There are lots of conflicting bits of evidence, any one of which is capable of making you think, firstly "Oh yes, he did" and secondly "Oh, no he didn't."

You can read all about it here.

Sheila Caffell was a schizophrenic with a history of delusions. In those days, schizophrenics were frequently regarded as likely to display violence, although I understand that most schizophrenics are now regarded as more likely to harm themselves than others. But that doesn't mean that she didn't do it!

Jeremy Bamber is well-spoken and was a good-looking young man: he sounds very plausible. LinkBut that doesn't mean that he didn't do it!

One fact that everyone seems sure of is that there was a lot of confusion on the day itself - hardly surprisingly - and that the police investigation was very badly mishandled. See more by watching the video here. But that doesn't mean that either Sheila or Jeremy didn't do it!

In the end Jeremy was convicted and was eventually told that he will serve his whole life in jail. Is the conviction safe? He is the only person in the country serving a whole-life sentence who has constantly protested his innocence.

The thing that always grabs me about this case is that I absolutely hate any kind of miscarriage of justice, and that's what haunts me about it too.

When the murders happened, Jeremy Bamber was twenty-four. Now he's fifty, and he has been in prison all that time.

If I think back to 1985, I was twenty-nine. If I think of all the years - - all the things that have happened - - all the places I've been - - so much of my life has happened since that time.

I think that many people would say that the ages between twenty-four and fifty are the prime of life.

I don't, of course, know whether or not there has been a miscarriage of justice here.

But what if there has? What if he didn't do it? What if he's innocent, and all his family were killed, and then he was locked up for life?

I think it's impossible for any of us to imagine how that would feel.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Mammogram I Have Not Had

Well it's not very festive, I know, but today I'm going to tell you about my mammogram. The one I haven't had, but should have had over a year ago.

In case you don't know, a mammogram is a screening test to detect the early signs of breast cancer. They tell you it won't hurt but may be a bit uncomfortable and then squish your Upper Lady Bits into something resembling a sandwich toaster, left to right, up to down, one side at a time. It's really not very pleasant or indeed very dignified - - but it's a very good idea.

Now then, because my mother was given a drug called Stilboestrol when she was pregnant with me, I am supposed to have annual mammograms as it has increased my risk of breast cancer.

(Don't start me on Stilboestrol - - evil drug, supposed to prevent miscarriages, but actually causing womb deformities in the children, which is why - being a child of a woman who had it - I lost my first baby).

Anyway, in Blighty there's a screening programme where women over 50 have a mammogram every three years. All very well but I'm supposed to have one annually, because of the Evil Drug.

My last mammogram was in November 2009. So early this year, when I had received no summons for another one, I mentioned this to the doctor and asked him to refer me for one.

Then, a few months later, when I realised I still had received no appointment, I assumed that the doctor had forgotten and asked again.

By November this year, I realised it was now two years since my last mammogram. So I rang the surgery and asked the receptionist, very nicely, what was happening about it.

"Oh yes," she said, "the doctor referred you in September. You should have heard by now. I can give you their telephone number so you can chase it up if you wish."

What I wanted to say was, "Look, sunshine, why is that MY job? YOU chase it up." But hey, I could hear the sound of a buck being passed so I took the phone number and rang them.

"Ah yes, your doctor referred you in September, and before that in January," said the woman who answered the phone.

"So why haven't I had an appointment then?" I enquired.

"Well this is a Well Woman breast screening service. We can only screen people every three years. You had a mammogram in November 2009."

"Yes, but because of a drug my mother was given I'm supposed to have a mammogram every year," I replied, with rather excessive politeness. "That's why the doctor referred me."

"Yes, but this is for women who are well. We only screen people every three years."

I suspect a teensy little bit of "NOW LOOK, STUPID!" was creeping into my voice as I replied, "As far as I know I AM well. I am trying to STAY well. In order to do this, I am supposed to have a mammogram every YEAR AND NOT EVERY THREE YEARS."

"Oh, no, we can't do that here. We haven't the funding."

"So," I said with elaborate politeness, "HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO GET MY MAMMOGRAM THEN?"

"Well you'll need to go to Leeds General Infirmary, of course," she said and I could tell she was thinking "Doesn't everyone know that?"

Look, the NHS is wonderful. It's just that there are idiots who work in it, as everywhere. When they received the two referrals from my doctor, wouldn't it have been good if they thought "How odd, when it's not been three years since her last mammogram. Why does he keep referring her? Let us speak to him, using this modern device known as a telephone, and find out."

Mind you, when I had my last mammogram, ALL THAT TIME AGO, the woman who did it wasn't exactly great in the communication skills department.

"So, have you found any lumps, then?" she asked me.

"Oh, no, I haven't found anything, I'm just coming for screening."

"Ahh well," she said, as though to a small child, "just because you haven't found any lumps, that doesn't mean they're not there, you know."

D'you know what, I like to think I'm more knowledgeable about medical matters than most people not trained in healthcare, and I know about people who phrase things carelessly because their communication skills are not very good: and I knew what she meant, which was that the screening test is to detect cancers early before they become large - - AND IT STILL FRIGHTENED THE LIFE OUT OF ME!

I did think about giving her some strongly-worded feeback about the way she'd said this - - but since she was about to clamp my boobs into a sandwich toaster-thingy, I decided to keep quiet.

Back to the doctor. I need to tell him to refer me to a different hospital, and what explanation to give. Really, sometimes you need to put a lot of hard work into being a patient.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Mystery of the DIsappearing Tablets

When you can't remember what tablets you're supposed to take and when, the doctor can arrange for them to arrive in something called a dosset box.

My mother has one of these. The pharmacist counts them out into the dosset box, and then delivers the next week's tablets, every Wednesday.

There's one little plastic box for every day of the week and it's divided into four compartments which are labelled Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Bedtime.

So far so good. Simple! But the trouble is, it's not really.

Firstly, the boxes are remarkably fiddly and I'm amazed that nobody's designed one that is easier for elderly hands to use.

Secondly - - well, taking Monday's tablets on the right day relies on you knowing which day is Monday. And the labels such as "Breakfast" don't help with tablets that have to be taken before meals, or after meals, rather than with meals.

So every day I get the little box out for the next day, and put it on Mum's kitchen table, and remind her that these are the tablets for the next day and she must ignore all the others in the big box. Then I close up the big box and put it to one side. I have often wanted to take it into safe custody at our house and just leave Mum the ones for that day - - but somehow, that's another little step away from independence, so I have left the big box there.

She isn't on a lot of tablets - just morning and evening - and she generally remembers the morning ones, as she's more alert then. In the evenings I go over to see her and so I remind her about the evening ones, and get her to take them then, if she hasn't already.

Last week, however, the doctor gave Mum a course of antibiotics: four a day, before meals. Impossible for her to remember, of course, but I have told Mum this about a dozen times, and counted each day's antibiotics into the dosset box, leaving the rest in the packet.

I can't be there for each mealtime - I just can't! - so every day I've counted out the tablets, gone on and on and ON about "the blue ones BEFORE MEALS" and put the rest to one side in their packet along with the "master" dosset box.

I'm not sure whether or not she has taken them before meals, but she does seem to have taken them, at least.

Tonight when I arrived she'd taken three of today's antibiotics, with one left to take, and that was fine - I got her to take it.

Then I looked for the packet to count out tomorrow's tablets. It was nowhere to be seen.

"Mum, where's the packet that these antibiotics came in? Little blue and white packet?"

She denied all knowledge. Had never seen such a packet in her life. Nope. Was I sure that such a packet had ever existed? She looked at me as though I was inventing the whole thing.

So I looked in the obvious places - - the drawers, her handbag - - and a few less obvious ones - - underneath the Radio Times - - in the fridge. Nothing.

"Perhaps I've finished them all," she said hopefully.

"I hope you haven't, Mum, because there's about three days' supply left," I said, whilst carrying on looking.

Then I had a brainwave. I looked in the bin and there was the empty packet.

I took it out of the bin. "Mum, here's the packet. Now where could you have put the tablets?"

She looked at me blankly, as if I'd brought a rabbit out of a hat. Clearly, she had no recollection of ever having seen the packet before in her life.

I was now rather worried that she had somehow scoffed the lot. But then I had Brainwave Number Two (which is not bad for a Thursday evening, I have to say).

She has a little purse which should really be labelled "Ill-Assorted Ancient Tablets Well Past Their Sell-By Date", which she insists on keeping and which I haven't had the heart to take away from her. She was a pharmacist's wife, for goodness' sake! She knows about tablets! - - Or used to, anyway.

Inside the purse were the rest of the antibiotics. Phewww.

I counted out the tablets for tomorrow and put them in the dosset box labelled Friday and explained about taking the blue ones before meals. I stayed - outwardly at least - both calm and cheerful.

"There you go, Mum. That's all you need to think about. Just take these tablets tomorrow."

"What about the rest of the ones in the packet?"

"Well, I think I'll take that back to our house, just to be sure, and I'll bring you some more tomorrow."

Tomorrow, when she's forgotten I took away the antibiotics, I'll be taking away the "master" dosset box. And when she's forgotten that I did that, I'll be kidnapping the purse with the Ill-Assorted Ancient Tablets Well Past their Sell-By Date.

She didn't seem to mind too much, though. Even that's a measure of how she's changing, day by day, week by week. The previous version of my mother would have resisted like crazy. It's a slippery slope, as the Communist would have said. And I hate it.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I Used To Remember Everything

"So, where's my sock gone now?" asked Mum, having shown the doctor her feet, which have thin and peeling skin on them because of what the Communist would have described as "old age and poverty".

The sock had, interestingly, vanished without trace. So had her glasses.

"Stand up, Mum, I think you're sitting on it," I yelled.



"What, on my glasses?" asked Mum.

"No, on your sock!"

As she stood up and found her sock, and then found her glasses in her bag, and then sat back down again, the doctor was looking at the list of ailments she'd brought with her. He was very nice - I see him for my diabetes - but I could tell he was realising that seven minutes for this consultation was never going to do it.

"And my hands don't work properly," said Mum. "And I can't hear, and I've lost my sense of smell, and I forget things all the time. What else was on the list, Daphne? I've forgotten."

The doctor dealt with the hands - some arthritis - and realised how long everything takes, and the amount of forgetfulness that goes on, which is probably caused by the major stroke that she had in 1992, when she was a young thing of 68.

"You should apply for Attendance Allowance," he said. "I think your Mum is eligible for it. All you have to do is fill in a form which is about a hundred pages, whenever you have a fortnight or so to spare."

Attendance Allowance is a non-means-tested benefit of about £50 per week for over-65s who need help with their personal care. And although my mother, who is 87, is physically amazing in some ways - and still busy gardening for several hours every day - I give her a lot of help now with shopping, and remembering things, and finding things, and putting out her tablets, and checking she's remembered to take them - - all that kind of thing. She'd never go anywhere if I didn't take her, except to the Post Office along the street.

If she had Attendance Allowance, she could use it for whatever she likes - and I'm hoping she'll use part of it to get a cleaning lady in once a week. Mum's not doing too badly at the moment on the cleaning front - but I'd like her to have someone coming in now, before she's in dire need of it, so she can get used to it.

So this morning was Filling In the Form day, and Stephen and I decided to do it online. The form isn't quite a hundred pages - - just thirteen pages - but it's a bit gruelling to do. All her illnesses - - date of birth - - National Insurance Number - - list of medications - - supporting documents - -

Also, the form only works with a limited number of browsers, most of which were current in the 1990s. Oh yes, and you can't submit it on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings because the website is out then - - for coffee, or something.

So - - - we logged in to the Government Gateway, and got a username and password, and started ploughing through it all, saving it as we went. Then we couldn't continue because it wanted to know what kind of phone number my phone number was - - and there was no box to say so, and without it we couldn't progress.

So we saved the form, and tried a different browser, and this time there was a handy box to say it was a mobile phone, and on we went.

As we approached the end of the form they said they want a statement of Mum's problems from "the person who knows best what they are" - - but that, apparently, can't be the same person as the one who filled in the form, if someone else has filled it in for her.

Now how many eighty-seven-year-olds who need Attendance Allowance and who are also capable of filling in an online form do you think there are? I'd guess it's a fairly low number, wouldn't you say? But that's the point really - there's only me, the person filling in the form, who sees Mum on a daily basis. But we nominated Stephen to make this statement, and hope that works.

So. After what seemed like as long as single-celled creatures took to evolve into Professor Brian Cox, we reached the end of the form, and then I remembered that I hadn't put "deafness" in her list of things wrong with Mum, so we saved it and went back to that page, and then the whole thing stalled completely and did NOTHING for a very, very long time.

So we logged out and logged in again and filled in all the password and User ID and got to the same place and it stopped again and continued to do NOTHING.

So we thought - - oh, sod it - - and went off to the pub for lunch, and Mum came with us and enjoyed it very much.

After I had eaten the WHOLE CARVERY (because I had swum over 70 lengths this morning, oh yes!) we returned to tackle the form again. Logged in - - passwords - - user ID - - - through the website to the same place - - NOTHING.

So we changed browsers back to the original browser - - and lo! it worked! So I added some information about Mum's deafness (clicking the "Add another illness or disability" box which for some reason amused me greatly).

Then I went to the end of the form, where it said that someone else could fill it in but that Mum herself had to type her signature.

So I enrolled Mum in a Computing for the Over-Eighties course at evening classes, and after a few months she had learned how to type her name, so I got her to type it, all by herself, because of course I couldn't type it for her in any way at all, as that wouldn't be right - - -

And then pressed "SUBMIT" and HURRAH! it worked and gave me a reference number.

It also asked me to send them a copy of my Power of Attorney which I know exists. Definitely. Somewhere. The Communist set it up a few years ago, and kept everything neatly filed - - but now -- who knows? So I will go and look, next time I have a couple more weeks to spare. I do hope it all works and she gets her money.

At the end of the doctor's appointment Mum said "It's not fair. He thinks I'm a potty old lady and I AM a potty old lady. But he doesn't know that I used to be top of the class, and that I got the only scholarship to University from my part of the North-West, and that I was a journalist, and that I was a teacher, and that I used to remember everything."

Old age, as they say, ain't for sissies.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Glorious Mud

It seems like a decade ago, but it was probably only back in October that the House Coating Men set about removing the old coating from the outside walls of our house, and then applying a new coating.

Everyone who looked at it gave a few Tuts and then stared at their boots and muttered "It's a big job."

It is indeed a big job, and it's not finished yet. The house is surrounded by scaffolding. The garden is full of pallets and sacks and ladders and skips and wheelbarrows.

And, particularly, mud.

Three men traipsing across what used to be the back lawn many times a day. Three men walking across the front lawn, and the grassy areas at the sides of the house, over and over again.

You want mud? We have mud. The garden looks like - - - well, the Mud Sea.

This would not be so bad if the mud stayed outside. But it doesn't. It comes in.

In spite of visitors' best efforts in removing their shoes, every entry to the house is accompanied by a couple of gallons of Best British Mud.

And then there's Wendy the cat. We also have another cat, Froggie, but I am exempting her from all blame. It's winter. She's very old, and it's winter. She looks outside with horror, turns round and comes back in. No mud from her.

But Wendy? Ahhhh if Wendy could talk she'd say this:

"OUT of the house! Yessssss! I'm rushing out and round and round the lawn in CIRCLES and now ROUND THE SIDE OF THE HOUSE and ACROSS THE FRONT AND INTO THE WHEELBARROW. Up the pear tree! Down again! Onto the car roof! On the garage roof! Oooooh a bird! I'll chase it! And now - - Wheeeee! Down into the MUD! And - - - repeat the whole lot! - - - - - And - - - repeat! - - And now I'll come into the house, shall I?

Yes - - through the kitchen, on the windowsill, into the dining room, round and round the carpet - -let's look in the office shall I? Oh yes, onto the desk - - some interesting papers here, I'll walk right across them - - and on the keyboard, yes - - and finally - - into the lounge, across the carpet, across the coffee table and onto the windowsill for a little snooze - - ahhhh blissssss."

We have a layer of mud. Everywhere. Inside and out. If by any chance you need any for your living-room, you have only to ask.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Through the Window

I've been working all over the place this week, with medical students and doctors.

One of the things I enjoy is that some of the work is in unusual venues. I'm particularly fond of football grounds where I can be doing a roleplay in one of the boxes whilst, a long way below, someone is rolling the turf.

Today I was in one of the nicest places I ever work in: the White Hart in Harrogate. It's a very old hotel which is also used as a conference centre and training centre for the NHS, and it's delightful.

I worked in various smallish rooms in the hotel. It was very intense, requiring lots of concentration - - - so I got a bit of a shock in one room when I looked up and saw a white deer standing outside the window. This was particularly unusual since we were on the first floor and several yards above ground level.

I was lost in a rather complex piece of dialogue so it took a few moments for me to work out what I was seeing - - and if you click on this link you'll see it too, and you can work out which room I was in. Oh yes, the White Hart - - of course - - !

So then I moved to the next room along for the next session and again I was facing the window. I was listening intently to what the doctor I was working with was saying - - and then suddenly what appeared to be a white net with green inside appeared from below outside the window. Again, it took me a second or two to work out what I was seeing - - and I realised that it was a huge Christmas tree, covered in white netting. Having popped up, it gradually moved first to one side of the window, and then to the other, and finally to the middle.

It did look like one of those Ents from The Lord of the Rings and I have to say it was very Ent-ertaining (yes, I know, groan, I don't care).

All this time I was concentrating on serious medical matters - - and then a pole popped up and poked at the white netting, jiggling up and down to try and remove it.

Nothing - - NOTHING - will ever bring me out of role in a roleplay - - but this tree was absolutely in my line of vision, and yet the doctor I was working with had his back to it so couldn't see any of it at all. I doubled my concentration - there was no way I wanted the doctor to realise that there was anything interesting going on, even though the impulse to shout "It's behind you!" grew stronger by the moment.

After about five minutes of pole-jiggling, the netting finally came off, accompanied by muted cheers from the floor below - - and then a sad little"Ohhhhh noooooo" as the tree slowly and inexorably fell over backwards and vanished from view.

I have to say it was hilarious and I am proud to say that the doctor never noticed any of it.

At the end of the day I was back in that room again. It was dark by now and there was the tree, outside the window, now covered in fairy lights and looking very Christmassy.

One of the things that I love about my work is that it's always interesting. Even though sometimes this is not quite for the reasons you might expect.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Dorothy! Go Back from Whence you Came!

It isn't often that I'm alone in the house at night, but I have been alone this week because Stephen was away, working in Finland. He's back now.

There's been a lot going on recently that feels "different" from usual, I have been doing some very "heavy" roleplays about end-of-life issues and there have been workmen outside the house for what seems like forever - - and I tend to have bad dreams anyway - - so it wasn't entirely surprising that I had a nightmare.

Suddenly I was wide awake. I had woken myself up by shouting, at the top of my voice, in tones of horror that terrified me, "DOROTHY! GO BACK FROM WHENCE YOU CAME!"

I don't know what the rest of the nightmare was about - - something about statues in a cave that needed to be restored - - and I couldn't work out what this loud shout was for.

I've only ever known two Dorothys - - my lovely cousin Dorothy in Barrow-in-Furness who makes wonderful cakes, and the Communist's sister, who died a few years ago.

I don't think it was either of those two. And I don't know where the Dorothy of my dream came from, but I was very scared and I wanted her to go back there.

It's odd after a nightmare. Everything seems different. I was wide awake of course. I had a quick wander round the top floor of the house to check that there weren't any marauding Dorothys, and then read for a little while. Then I switched the bedside light out to go to sleep and switched it straight back on again as everything was too dark and full of Scary Things.

I slept for a while with the light on - - then woke up again to the grey dawn light, and the understanding that the sun was coming up. Another day was here and the unseen terror was gone.

The terror from a nightmare is a terror like no other, a kind of primeval horror that blocks out all sense and daylight. I am still haunted by a nightmare of my childhood about a bent old woman, dressed in black, walking along a country road, who looked up when I asked her who she was.

"The Dead of the Dead" she replied.

Yes, I'm still scared, thinking about it.