Friday, June 29, 2012

Off to Tenby

We first went to Park Hotel, Tenby in 1966, when I was nine and my brother just one.

My mother warned me on the way that we didn't know much about it, really, except that it had its own outdoor swimming pool and there was safe swimming in the sea - - and there seemed to be some good walks round about.  But she hoped we would like it.

We did like it.  We've been there every year since.   So when we go there tomorrow for a week, this will be our forty-seventh year, and the hotel is still owned by the same family.

During the first few years, I would spend the second half of the holiday crying because we'd have to go home soon.

I've grown out of that.  Oh yes.  Well - - nearly.  But I'm still just as excited to be going there.

Here's a clip from the first film I ever saw.  Over to you, Cliff.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Things I Didn't Say

Doctors are taught, as part of their consulting skills, to "gather before you give".  In other words, before you start your long and detailed explanation of the patient's condition, it's a good idea to find out what the patient knows already.  Otherwise your explanation could well be at best irrelevant and at worst thoroughly offensive.

Another way of putting it is "Explore before you explain".

The keen young dentist whom I saw recently hadn't taken this on board at all.

"I'm going to teach you how to brush your teeth!" she said brightly, suddenly dumping a model of a mouth in front of me and waving a toothbrush at me with wild swoops.

If she'd been a bit more clever she could at least have wrapped it up in a tactful way along the lines of how she knows I have been brushing my teeth for over half a century but some new and exciting teeth-brushing methods had been discovered in the last couple of years and would I be interested in hearing about them?

But no - - it was just a standard demonstration of how to brush your teeth, as given to any five-year-old in the land, and it taught me nothing I didn't know, and since I do brush my teeth, regularly, and since they hadn't found anything particularly wrong with them - - well, as a matter of fact, I was thoroughly annoyed about the whole thing, and would have loved to have given her some instant feedback on her communication skills.

But I don't have much - if anything - of a setting in between Calm Compliance and Furious Sarcasm, so I just said nothing and waited for it all to be over.

Then there's that thing they do in the pharmacist's.

In the olden days you just went in and asked for whatever you wanted - - two hundred paracetamol or whatever - - and they sold them to you and off you went.

But now they have to check up on you.  Is this for your own use?  Have you had it before?  Have you any medical conditions?

And yes, yes, I know it's all for my own good.  But I was at school with the local pharmacist, for goodness' sake, and he knew the Communist (who was also a pharmacist) and the Communist looked after his shop when his children were born - - and they know that I'm diabetic and they know that I know a lot about it and that I look after myself well because I don't want to go blind and have my legs amputated when I'm older.

Yesterday there was a new assistant.  I was collecting a prescription and decided to stock up on some Lemsip, which is a comforting cold remedy with paracetamol and decongestant and yes, it's got sugar in.

"Is this for your own use?"

She made it sound as though I'd asked for half a pound of heroin.

"Yes, it is," I said, immediately aware that I should have lied.

"I'll have to check with the pharmacist."

She disappeared into the back for about a hundred years (things are never fast in that shop) and finally came back with an Accusing Look.

"Do you know that this has sugar in?  And you're a Type 2 diabetic, aren't you?"

What I wanted to say was:  "I know a lot about diabetes.  I am very careful with what I eat.  Since the beginning of May the sweet things that I have eaten are, in total, four biscuits and one portion of bread-and-butter pudding.  IN TOTAL.  Since the BEGINNING OF MAY.  Yes, I have a sweet tooth and every day I say "no thank you" to offers of cake, chocolate, sweets and biscuits when I'd much rather say "yes please".  I don't drink, I don't smoke and I do a lot of exercise.  And - - drum roll - -  if I get a cold, and I want a Lemsip, I am jolly well going to have one."

But I didn't.  I just muttered something about keeping some in for the rest of the family, then, and scuttled off.    One of these days, though, I will snap and say what I think.  And THEN there'll be trouble.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Shapeshifting Cat

There's definitely something strange about cats in general and Wendy in particular.  She simply has the ability to disappear.  Sometimes I know she's in the house but she's absolutely impossible to find.

One night she managed to sleep on top of the wardrobe in our bedroom, unbeknownst to me.  I was a tiny bit surprised when I was woken in the morning by the sound of a cat yelling as she flew through the air and landed on my head.

A few days ago she went out and disappeared for forty-eight hours and I was getting really worried about her.  I called and called but she didn't come so finally left her outside somewhere and went to bed.  Then, early the following morning,  I was woken by a cat miaowing outside our bedroom window.  I stuck my head out.


She yelled a VERY indignant miaow.  The cry of a cat that has been cruelly abandoned by its evil owner.  I went downstairs and let her in.  She gave me a look that expressed deep disappointment in me, as she zoomed past me to find something to eat.

She keeps getting herself locked in the cellar.  The other day I was going down there to hang up the washing and was determined to keep her out of there.

Wendy was fast asleep on a shelf in the office.  So I quietly closed the office door so she couldn't get out of the office.  Then I went down into the cellar and hung up the washing.  Then I came up from the cellar and shut the cellar door.  Then I opened the office door slightly so that Wendy could get out.  Sorted!

Later on, I couldn't find her anywhere.  Searched the whole house.  No sign.  Went down the cellar steps.  There she was, asleep in the cellar.  I have NO IDEA how she did this.  I think she simply dematerialises and pops up somewhere else.

Here's another place I found her in recently.  She is a very strange cat.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The British Gas Great East Swim

 Last summer I swam the Great North Swim: a mile in Windermere in the Lake District.  I loved it and wanted to do another one so decided upon the Great East Swim, which is in Alton Water in Suffolk.

As Stephen, Silverback and I drove down there on Friday, I received an email on my phone saying that the swim had been postponed from Saturday till Sunday, because of the blustery weather.  Although this was a real problem for many people, it didn't really matter to us as we had booked to stay in Suffolk for two nights anyway.  On Saturday we had a lovely day exploring Southwold and Aldeburgh (more in a future post!).  On Saturday evening we checked out the swim site which was empty apart from a couple with a tent.  

On Saturday the weather was sunny but with really strong winds.  Sunday was sunny - - but still windy.  The "waves" of swimmers had been put a little bit later in the hope that the wind would die down a bit.

I was feeling nervous, but nowhere near as much as last year, having done the mile in open water once!

The water was colder than the previous year - Windermere was fifteen degrees Centigrade, whereas Alton Water was only thirteen and a half degrees.  Our local pool is usually about twenty-nine degrees, just to compare!

For the Great Swim series they insist you wear a wetsuit, and each wave has a different coloured hat.  Each hat has the swimmer's timer chip on it.  They also write your swim number on your hand in felt tip pen and the unspoken reason for this is so that they can identify the body if you lose your hat - - - but I wasn't dwelling on that kind of thing - - - !

Wetsuits are only flattering if you have a perfect figure and most people, let's face it, don't.  Here are a few from the pink wave:  I suspect that the chap on the left wouldn't normally wear a pink hat.

I looked at the course on the lake - - you swim from buoy to buoy round the course, going outside of the buoys.  Here are the first three, heading off into the distance, going slightly to the left:

I realised, looking at them, that they were much smaller than the buoys in the Great North Swim and that, even with my prescription goggles, with the wind and the waves and my lousy eyesight I'd be hard pushed to know which way I was going.  Luckily there are lots of safety boats about so I resolved to ask the men in the boats!

As each wave prepared to leave we went into a little holding area and then could have a short swim in the acclimatisation pool - a small bit of lake.  I was looking forward to this as last year I was really nervous but as soon as I got in I thought - - ohhh SWIMMING!  THAT's what I'm doing! and I was fine.  So here I am, in the middle with the smile, coming into the holding area:

Sure enough, as soon as I went in the lake I felt much more confident: it was quite chilly but the cold really doesn't bother me, fortunately.  We had a little talk before we set off, warning us that the wind was still strong and to swim outside of the course, especially on the way out, or we might get blown off course.

Then off we went.  I hung right back as the swimmers at the front tend to be really competitive and will swim straight over you.

The first ten minutes or so were quite hard going: my wetsuit is too big and it takes a while for the air to come out of it, so I feel I'm bobbing about on top of the water rather than swimming.  In fact, all the way to the third buoy needed a lot of energy - I seemed to be swimming like mad and getting nowhere because of the wind.

But when I finally reached the third buoy and turned right, immediately it was much easier.  Of course, I really couldn't see where I was going.  I could see the white hats of course but wanted to know exactly where I should be heading.

"Where do I go next?" I asked a man in a safety boat.

"Just head for that buoy" he said helpfully - - but it wasn't terribly helpful as I couldn't see it.  I followed the white hats until it came into my blurred view.  There were quite big waves, too, in places, but they didn't bother me as I'm used to swimming in the sea and actually love bobbing in and out of waves - and of course I wasn't trying for a fast time!  I swim breast stroke these days and although my stroke's pretty good I have never been fast.

One of the swimmers near me stuck her arm in the air - the signal that she needed to be rescued.  The safety boat was with her at top speed - I was very impressed by all the volunteers in the boats.  I think the cold and the wind meant that quite a few swimmers had to be rescued but I'm always surprised that some people don't prepare - the man standing next to me as we waited to start said "I've never swum a mile before" which rather shocked me!

Once I'd done about two thirds of the course I just wanted to stop and float for a moment, to experience being out in the middle of a big lake - - I love that feeling and I can't quite explain why.

Then on I went and I could see the two orange triangular buoys which were the finish - they seemed to come upon me pretty fast and suddenly I'd passed under the beam which signified the end of the course.  As last year, I was surprised by how wobbly my legs were and how hard it was to stay upright - - so it took me a while to notice Stephen and Silverback waiting for me!

I won't be bothering the Olympics any time soon - - I came 967th on the day in a time of an hour and ten minutes, far slower than my usual mile! - but I loved every minute.  Grateful thanks to Stephen and Silverback who were a fantastic back-up team, and to Silverback for the photos and videos he took as well. 

I think I am smiling in every one. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Quick Post about a Quick Chat

I've had a long and busy day today doing some rather harrowing medical roleplay so this is just a quick post.

A quick post to wonder why doctors, medical students and healthcare professionals of all kinds start so many conversations with "I've just come to have a quick chat about - - " and then they follow it up with "the result of your MRI scan" or "what's been happening to you recently" or "your symptoms".

Why "quick" and why "chat"? 

To me, "chat" is an informal kind of conversation, often just for fun.  It's not the kind of conversation that contains such phrases as "the results are unfortunately not what we would want" or "So the bleeding hasn't stopped, then?"

And why "quick"?  Would a surgeon say "I'm just going to do a quick operation on your heart?"  (I hope not, though actually some surgeons do say some very strange things, it must be said.)

With this use of "quick" I think that the doctor or nurse is trying to imply that it won't take up too much of the patient's time - - but hey, a lot of these conversations take place at the patient's bedside so the patient is unlikely to say "Well, doctor, you've got five minutes to go through my test results.  I'm off to the pub at quarter past so make it snappy."

"Quick chat" is also up there with all the rest of that bright-and-breezy Doctorspeak which includes such phrases as "Let's pop you up on that bed and we'll have a little look at your tummy."  Or, as all hospital staff seemed to say to me when I'd given birth, "Hello, Mum, and how are we today?  Let's have a little look at Baby, shall we?"

To me, all these uses of "little", "quick", "pop" and "chat" are ways of hiding - and not very successfully - that something very significant and serious could be going on.  They are words that minimise whatever comes next.  They are cowardly, dishonest words.

"I've just come to talk with you about - - " is so much better.  So I want a mass protest.  I want every patient in the country to ask "If this is an important conversation, then why is it quick and why do you describe it as a chat?  And if it's not important, then kindly shove off pronto and leave me to read this tattered copy of HELLO in peace."

Monday, June 18, 2012

Only You

I was trying to write a post about the Great East Swim, which I swum - and greatly enjoyed - this weekend - - but for some reason Blogger won't let me upload photos at the moment so I'll try again soon. Pah!

So, back to 1983 then, and the Flying Pickets. In those strange days of Thatcher's Britain, the group the Flying Pickets were formed by members of the theatre company called 7:84, whose work I very much enjoyed.

Their title came from the fact that, at the time, seven percent of the population owned eighty-four percent of the wealth. I wonder what they'd be called now? 1:99, probably. The Flying Pickets had a big hit record with Only You in 1983, and I liked it then and I still do! Brian Hibbard, lead singer of the Flying Pickets, died today from cancer, so I've been going round humming this song all day. So, with fond memories of Brian Hibbard and not-so-fond memories of those times, here it is:

Friday, June 08, 2012

Alice in Wonderland

If you asked Tim Burton to make a film of Alice in Wonderland it would turn out like - - well - - Tim Burton's film of Alice in Wonderland, which I saw yesterday evening.

It had a lot of Tim Burton trademarks, such as Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter and a generally creepy, dark, dreamlike feel to it with lots of spiky tree branches.

Of course, this style is actually very suited to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.  I read it many times as a child (and a few times as an adult.) This film version isn't exactly true to the novel - it's a kind of sequel - but it's very much true to its spirit - I always found the novel creepily fascinating.

The first film version of it which I saw was Jonathan Miller's 1966 television adaptation for The Wednesday Play.  I'm quite amazed that I was allowed to stay up to watch it!  It's atmospheric and slow-paced and there was a lot of criticism at the time as the animals of the novel were replaced by human beings - - and yet I think it highlighted Lewis Carroll's satire on Victorian society as well as bringing out the dreamlike quality..

Here's a scene or two:

It's always appealed to film-makers:  here's a snippet from a 1915 version:

Going back even further, here's a 1903 version, made when the ink was only just dry on the original novel!

Of course, there was the famous 1951 Disney film, which I never liked very much:  but I do like this strange version by Pogo, which is bits of the film mashed up and put together:

There's something in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" which has wide, timeless appeal, I think: that dreamlike quality.  I think that most of my dreams are directed by Tim Burton.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Swimming in Ilkley Lido Again - with Ducks

In a couple of weeks' time I will be doing the Great East Swim.  Last year I did the Great North Swim - a mile in Windermere - and was surprised by how very much I enjoyed it.  I've always liked swimming in the sea, lakes and even rivers sometimes but I wasn't sure if I would enjoy such an organised event with big crowds..

But it was VERY well-organised, the lake was big enough to get away from the crowds, and I loved every minute of it.

So this year - - Alton Water, near Ipswich.

Although I swim very regularly in the local, heated pool and do a mile every time, swimming outside is a different thing.  For one thing, for the Great Swim series you have to wear a wetsuit as they can't risk hundreds of swimmers getting hypothermia.

I prefer to swim without a wetsuit and am generally pretty good in cold water.  But I hadn't worn my wetsuit since the Great North Swim last summer.  So I needed to practise.

So off I went this morning, assisted by Stephen, to Ilkley Lido .  It's a big and beautiful open-air pool, built in 1935.  There's a large circular bit with a fountain in the middle, and a long bit for swimming lengths joined on to one side of it.  As a child, I wasn't allowed in the long bit as it's deep, but that's where I swim now.

It wasn't heated in 1935, and it isn't heated in 2012.  It's jolly cold.  Fearnville, where I usually swim, is about 29 degrees Centigrade.  The Lido usually starts the season at about 14 degrees Centigrade.  But because of the rain during the past few days, today it was a distinctly chilly 13 degrees.

There are usually a few hardy souls swimming up and down but at 10am this morning, rather to my surprise, there was only me.  Two lifeguards came out specially when they knew I was there.

It took me a while to get used to the wetsuit again.  It is too big for me and it takes a few lengths for the air in it to squeeze out - until then I feel I'm like one of those water-beetles, skating along the top.

But after that - - ohhh hurrah, I loved it! 

When I'd done eighteen lengths (which is about thirty-six lengths of an ordinary pool) I was joined in the water by two ducks which flew over - presumably from the nearby River Wharfe - and landed quite near to me.  I nearly swam into them a few times but they didn't seem to mind, just swam around preening themselves..

Then a few more swimmers turned up - they were clearly Proper Swimmers and much faster than I am - - but I was still swimming when they'd all done their lengths and got out again.

I stopped at forty lengths, which is a few lengths more than a mile - -  but by now I'd got well into it and felt that the Channel would be well within my capabilities (I can tell you now - it wouldn't!)

Because the water was so cold, my hands and feet were numb and turned absolutely scarlet when I began to warm up. And the worst thing of all - - I couldn't speak for a while as my face was completely numb.  The only bad thing about a lovely morning. 

You'll be delighted to know that my speech is now completely back to normal.  Roll on the Great East Swim!

Monday, June 04, 2012

Sir Paul Who?

As I have mentioned before, ours was a pop-music-free household when I was growing up.  Strictly classical only, with a smattering of Glen Miller from time to time and that was it.

Don't get me wrong, I like lots of classical music but I think it's a real shame that both my parents excluded a whole genre from the house.  It wasn't that it was exactly forbidden - more that I just didn't have my own radio and the Dansette record player was in the lounge and hence everyone could hear anything played on it. 

On the very rare occasions when I tried to listen to something recorded after about 1945, I would give up after the first couple of interruptions - generally from the Communist -  along the lines of "Why are you listening to that rubbish?"

Unlike many teenagers, therefore, I just didn't spend my pocket money on records.  I read about the current stars - David Bowie, Marc Bolan - in teenage magazines, so I could hold my own in any conversation about them without ever letting on that I had never heard the music, except very occasionally at some party or other.

Even now, if I am listening to music and my mother enters the room I will immediately switch it off before she can comment.  Old habits and all that - - though the Communist was the most critical of the two of them in a "they are all long-haired louts and you can't hear the words" kind of way.

This weekend in Britain we have two Bank Holidays for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and it appears that everyone in Britain is suddenly waving a Union Jack (ohhhh yes, I know, Union Flag, please don't correct me because I really don't care either way) and claiming to be wildly patriotic.

Tonight there's been a whopping Diamond Jubilee concert organised by Lord Barlow of Manchester, as he will be in ten years' time, or Sir Gary Barlow as he will be in five years' time, or Gary Barlow as he is now.  Yes, I know.  I'm in a cynical mood.  Too much flag-waving does that to me. 

Mum had the Jubilee Concert on her television and was pleased to spot Peter Kay.  "That Lancashire lad.  I like him."

Then Paul McCartney came on and - to be fair - wasn't in very good voice and squeaked his way onto the high notes rather.

"Let it Be?"  said my mother.  "Isn't that a hymn?"

"No, Mum, it's a song by the Beatles."

"Hmmm."   She looked unconvinced.

She didn't like all the explosions during "Live and Let Die". 

"It's ridiculous!  Far too loud!  Who's paying for all this?  I bet it's us."

She went quiet for a moment.

"Is this nearly the end then?"

"Yes, Mum, it is."

"So why's this chap on last then?"

"Because he's Paul McCartney.   He's probably the most famous musician in Britain."

My mother looked down her nose at the screen, her expression filled with doubt.

"Well." she said, and paused.  "If you say so."