Saturday, March 24, 2012

The New King's Cross

Here in Britain we have a new monarch and he's slightly annoyed. Hence the title of this post.

Ohhh all right then, we don't.

I'm sorry that I haven't blogged for a while because of some difficult things going on which I can't write about here. Then all last week I was away, working in London, learning about Coaching for Health (the students were nine doctors - - and me! There's never been a better time for me to be ill - - but luckily, I wasn't!) and then working on a course with some more doctors.

If you get the train from Leeds to London the station you arrive at is King's Cross. For many years it has been the grimmest of grim stations. The concourse was always too small for the squillions of people squashed together on it. It was surrounded by some dull and tired shops and the whole place had a really sleazy feel to it. Whenever I stood there, waiting for the Leeds train to be allotted a platform, I was expecting to have my pocked picked or my luggage stolen at any moment.

When I was last in London, in early February, the station was at its very worst. I could tell they were building a new concourse off to the left of it, but it was impossible to see what it would be like.

By complete coincidence, the new concourse opened on Monday, which was the day I arrived in London.

I was met off my train by a barrage of people with film cameras, covering the opening of the new station and passengers arriving - I'm sure I must have appeared in most of the evening news bulletins throughout Britain!

Then I went to look at the new concourse and saw this:

A huge, tree-like structure covering the whole ceiling, lit by purple light and surrounded by shops and a balcony.

I loved it - it feels spacious and it's beautiful. Judging by the number of people taking photographs, others loved it too.

They have organised the re-opening well - there are dozens of people waving huge placards in the shape of hands with pointing fingers, to take you round to the new entrance.

At last King's Cross is catching up with the lovely refurbishment of St Pancras next to it.

There are still some problems. On my way home yesterday, the departures board was very late allotting a platform for the train to Leeds (apparently it was because they had to change trains at the last minute). So suddenly, a whole trainload of people were trying to get through the barriers where you have to put your ticket in and then catch it again, and there simply aren't enough barriers for such events.

It would have taken all afternoon to get us all through - - so finally they simply opened all the barriers. Everyone pelted across the station to the correct platform. I was in coach B, at the far end of a very long train, and my speed as I ran to get there, carrying a bag and pulling a little case on wheels, astonished everyone, especially me. I felt very sorry for elderly or disabled people who would find the distances involved impossible in such a rush.

The train left about twelve minutes late eventually - - but we didn't know that this would happen. If they had announced that the train wouldn't be leaving on time we wouldn't have had to do the new Olympic sport of the Kings Cross Hundred Metres Sprint.

However, I had a fascinating week working in London, and the new Kings Cross was definitely an interesting part of it.

Friday, March 09, 2012

How Not to Discuss a Biopsy

Now I can tell this story. Now that she has the result, and the result is that it's not malignant.

The story is about someone I care about very much, and it happened abroad, in one of Europe's most civilised countries.

Not, of course, that it couldn't have happened in Britain. There are idiots everywhere, and sadly some of them slip through the net and get to be doctors. Though, I hope, fewer than in previous years.

I will call her Helen, though it's not her name.

Helen had found painful lumps in her breast, and after several doctor visits she had had a biopsy at the hospital. Just in case you don't know, a biopsy is where they take a sample piece of your body and analyse it, usually to see if it is malignant: to see, in other words, if you have cancer. So nothing trivial then.

The biopsy was incredibly painful. Helen tried to explain to the person doing it that she was worried that it would hurt a lot, and the reply was a brusque "Well, lie down, it's got to be done." Perhaps the person who did it thought that they had to be assertive, rather than empathic.

Of course, all this happened in a language which was not Helen's first language, although she is totally fluent in it.

So, a week later, Helen went back for the result. She was, understandably, very frightened about what the biopsy might show, so her husband and two friends went with her.

They had to wait an hour and a half, because the clinic was running late, and then went in to see the doctor.

The doctor embarked on one of those long accounts of the Story So Far, going back roughly to the beginning of the universe.

"So, Mrs Johnson, you first found a lump back in August last year, and you went to the doctor, and he said - - "

When you are waiting for news of any kind this sort of prevarication is never helpful. Although the doctor can justify it by saying that he's preparing the patient for the news to come, I would disagree with this. What he's doing is going on and on and on because he can't bring himself to tell the news: it's not for the patient's benefit, it's the doctor being selfish. The more he goes on, the more you know that the news is going to be bad.

And finally, getting to the point, the doctor said "And I'm afraid that I have to tell you that the news is not what we would want."

So Helen clutched her husband's hand extra hard and waited for the word "malignant".

Instead, she got "I'm sorry to tell you that we lost the biopsy."

And she barely had time to think "WHAT?" when he continued, cheerily, "But the good news is, we found it this morning. But you won't be able to get the results for another week, so you'll have to come back next Monday."

Stunned, Helen went home. The person who had lost the biopsy sent her a bunch of flowers. It didn't help.

So - - - what SHOULD they have done? Well, ideally, not lost the biopsy, of course.

But, having lost it, if they knew before Helen left the house that morning they should have rung and told her, and asked her not to come to the hospital that morning, and apologised like crazy.

Or, failing that, they should have moved her to the front of the queue and got her in to see the doctor early, before she'd had to wait for an hour and a half.

And if none of that was possible, then this was an occasion to go STRAIGHT to the point. When breaking bad news, doctors are trained to deliver a "warning shot" of something like "I'm sorry, but it is bad news" to give the patient that second to prepare themselves.

But this was not bad news. It was NO news. So anything beginning "I'm sorry - - " would make Helen assume the worst.

So what was needed was an initial "There is no news" and then an "I'm so sorry" and then an explanation of why.

But what Helen got was something best described as mental torture.

When I heard this story I was both very sad and filled with rage at the stupidity, the lack of empathy, the lack of humanity in the way that this was handled.

I often wonder what I would do in any given situation if I were In Charge. Because of my work in Communication Skills with doctors and nurses I think I have the right to shove my oar in here - - but honestly, anyone with a shred of human feeling would know that the above was a truly appalling way to behave.

If I were in charge of this doctor, I would suspend him instantly, and indefinitely. Then he would need substantial retraining with particular emphasis on feelings and empathy. And it wouldn't be just tokenism - I would want him closely watched for a long, long time. If he didn't improve, I would sack him.

As it is, he's probably traumatised several women since that particular incident, because it was a few weeks ago now. Stupid, thoughtless, uncaring bastard.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Shock of the Old

It must be strange when you get old and forgetful and people tell you things about yourself that amaze you.

My mother understands everything, just about. Not the Internet perhaps, or how to work a mobile phonel - - but she can watch and follow a play, or a film, and she particularly loves watching football or other sports that go from moment to moment.

She doesn't remember very much, though - certainly not much of recent events, or politician's names, or what year it is - - or any of those things they ask you in those tests that doctors get you to do and then they make a lot of notes.

She still talks so intelligently that it's a bit of a shock to doctors or nurses when they find out that she doesn't know what day it is, or what year it is, and can't remember the words "apple, bicycle, sandwich" three minutes later. She finds all this very upsetting. So, having proved that she does have dementia, manifesting itself as forgetfulness, caused partly by old age and mostly by the stroke she had nearly twenty years ago, I don't want her to have any more tests to prove it to her.

However, sometimes I manage to shock her.

"You need to renew your passport," I said, "if you're going to go and visit Michael in Amsterdam."

Michael is my brother. He sometimes leaves comments on my blog as Michael Communistson. He and his wife Deb and family live in Amsterdam and my mother generally visits them a couple of times a year.

"Oh, yes," said Mum, "it'll need doing now I'm seventy - - something - - er, seventy what?"

"Eighty-something, Mum," I said.

"WHAT?" she said. "I can't be."

"You are, Mum. Eighty-seven."

"Eighty WHAT?"

"SEVEN. You're eighty-seven. In fact next month you'll be eighty-eight."

"No!" she said in amazement. "I can't be. Did you see all the lifting and carrying I did in the garden today? I couldn't do that if I was eighty-seven."

I did see all the lifting and carrying she did today, in the sunshine. Hours and hours of it, with a very nice gentleman friend of hers. Wheelbarrows. Spades. Trowels. Compost.

"No, Mum, you're right. Most eighty-seven-year olds couldn't do that. You're a phenomenon."

She did a little dance and waved her arms about. "But I feel so WELL. I can't be eighty-seven."

Recently she's been spending a lot of time in the evenings with her friend at pub quizzes, or watching football on the big screen in the pub. She's loving it. I can quite see why she can't take this huge number of years on board. I remember the Communist, on his eightieth birthday, looking bewildered.

"How did I get so old, Daphne?" I remember him saying.

"It's great that you feel so well." I said to Mum. I was thinking that there's not a great precedent for how eighty-seven-year olds usually are, as sadly most of them are dead.

I went across the garden from her house back to our house.

"Eighty WHAT?" she called after me, cheerfully.

"SEVEN!" I called back.

Shaking her head in disbelief, she closed the door. Fortunately, by now she'll have forgotten and will be thinking she's in her early seventies, if she thinks about it at all.

There'll be another day's gardening tomorrow. I love my Mum.

Monday, March 05, 2012

A Very Slight Exaggeration

When I watch a television documentary, I generally hope that the researchers have done their research and got their facts right. I'm prepared to take quite a lot of information on trust.

So if I'm watching a programme about, say, Yellowstone National Park, and we see a grizzly bear, and they tell me it's a grizzly bear, then I am prepared to believe that this is indeed what it is, and not some new and strange form of giraffe.

However, I now realise that most of the documentaries I watch - and there are many - are about things I don't know much about. That's why I'm watching.

Suddenly, I realise that they might be telling me a whole heap of nonsense.

The programme that has brought it home to me is called Making Bradford British.

Now then. Bradford is a city in West Yorkshire, known for having a large population of Asian origin. The idea behind the programme is that, in Bradford, the Asian and the white population are known for not mixing very much. So they had the idea of getting some people from different parts of Bradford - some white, some Asian, some with other ethnic minorities - to take one of those British citizenship tests and then get some of them to all live in a house together for a while to see what they learned about each other. (And, by the way, I think that what they learned is that a person's ethnicity is completely irrelevant - you can find an annoying git in any section of the population.)

The parts of Bradford which did the citizenship tests included the Northern suburb of Ilkley and the Western suburb of Haworth.

Aha! If you're from anywhere in Yorkshire you are now going - - "WHOA! WHAT?? WAIT A MINUTE - -- - !!"

Because although Ilkley may have a Bradford postcode, it's nowhere near Bradford. It's twelve miles to the North, out in the countryside. It is a small spa town, very self-contained, almost all white, rather posh - - - and nothing to DO with Bradford.

Haworth is to the West of Bradford. It's the village (not, I repeat NOT, the suburb) where the Bronte sisters Emily, Charlotte and Anne lived. It is a West Yorkshire village with its own identity and if you told its residents that they were living in a suburb of Bradford they'd be amazed (and not, I have to say, very pleased).

At one point in the programme all the residents of the house went on a trip out to Temple Newsam House, described as being "fifteen miles to the East of Bradford". Yes, apparently Temple Newsam House is in an Eastern suburb of Bradford. Which is known to the rest of us as "Leeds".

Ohhh yes. Leeds. Eight hundred thousand inhabitants, 30th biggest city in the European Union, and, now I think about it, with five hundred thousand inhabitants more than Bradford!

Mind you, I can see why they went there - Temple Newsam is a jolly nice place for a day out and I have been there on countless occasions. "Shall we go to Temple Newsam for the afternoon? You know, that place fifteen miles to the East of Bradford?" That's exactly what we didn't say to each other.

Well, you could be reading this in Bradford South, or "Sheffield" as you might have previously known it. Or in Bradford South East, formerly known as "Paris". Or in Far South Western Bradford, sometimes nicknamed "Florida". Whatever.

I shall watch documentaries with slightly more scepticism in future.


Friday, March 02, 2012

Will Tristram and The Magic of Showbiz

As you know, I work for an actors' agency.

One of our actors, the excellent Will Tristram, was recently cast in a series of comedy idents for Bavaria Beer, to be shown before and during the sitcom Benidorm on ITV. (In case you didn't know, an ident is like a mini-commercial shown before or during a show).

Will plays a hunky though incompetent barman with a tendency to ogle the ladies. Here is one of the idents:

Here's another:

There are quite a few of them - you can find more on if you search for Bavaria idents Benidorm.

Of course, to go with the series, the idents take place around a summer swimming pool with suntans and bikini-clad girls.

Now here's the secret. They were filmed around a pool all right - but outdoors in North Yorkshire in February, one one of the coldest days of the year.

Will had to prepare with a fake tan beforehand (not something he's very used to having, it has to be said). He had to take lots of warm clothes to wear between takes. I feel particularly sorry for the bikini-clad girls.

The company who were made it were very pleased with both the results and the way that the perennially good-humoured Will dealt with it all. "Will Tristram was bloody brilliant" tweeted the director afterwards. Splendid.

Now you've seen the idents, here's a short and entertaining film about the making of them.

I particularly like the bit where it starts to snow. Showbiz, eh? All glamour.