Sunday, November 25, 2012

In Praise of Figs

I've become a little bit obsessed by figs.  They're slightly on the fringe of well-known fruit in Britain.

They are known mostly in the biscuits called Fig Rolls.  These have a hard, rather tasteless outside and a squidgy brown sticky middle.  As a child, I was never sure about them - - but kept right on eating them, in the hope that this would help me to make up my mind.  I didn't know what a real fig would look like and in fact didn't see one for years.

Of course, in earlier times, Syrup of Figs was known as a cure for constipation so people - in Britain at least - thought of them as a kind of medicine and not there for pleasure at all.

Then, about ten years ago, somehow I acquired some fresh figs and wasn't sure about them.  They have an outside that tastes of - - well, freshness I think is the best way to describe it.  There are lots of tiny, sweet, sticky seeds in the middle and the whole thing takes a bit of getting used to.

Whilst I was seeing if I might get used to them, I threw a bit of fig out of the window, because it was a bit too ripe.

I thought no more about it until some time later a shoot with strange leaves appeared.

"Where did you get the fig tree from?" asked a friend of ours who happened to see it.

Ohhhh yes, of course.  Fig leaves.  Mainly known for covering Adam and Eve's naughty bits.

The fig tree grew for several years,  I loved its rather exotic look.  It happened to be in a sheltered spot so managed to survive in these chilly Northern climes.  It was just beginning to produce figs when sadly it was blown down in a gale.

These days, because of my diabetes, I don't eat many sweet things, apart from fruit.  I saw some figs in the supermarket and thought I'd give them a try.

I loved them.  They tasted of hot summer evenings.  Whilst they're in season, I keep buying some every time I see them in the shops.

The checkout man today wasn't impressed with the ones I bought today, though.

"In my country the figs are much bigger than this," he said.  "The ones you get here are the size of cranberries in comparison."

So, of course, I asked him where he was from and it was Croatia.  The Communist helped to build a road there just after the Second World War.  I wonder whether they ate any of these large Croatian figs in the breaks between digging.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Standing Room Only

The 17.07 train from Manchester Oxford Road to Scarborough was late, which meant that lots of extra commuters piled onto it.

This didn't please me, as it was the train that I was catching home after a day working on a medical students' exam in Manchester.

The train was already full and pretty soon it was so full that a few people couldn't get onto it at all.  It looked like those trains in India where people sit on the roof.  Except you'd be daft to sit on the roof of a Manchester commuter train, because it's always raining in Manchester.

The conductor apologised over the speaker system for its crowdedness and pointed out that some passengers would get off at Piccadilly and some more at Stalybridge.

So they did - - but a few more got on.  The train remained packed.  I was crammed into a corner, standing up of course.

I'm not good at standing up for prolonged periods because of my bad leg (I had a thrombosis in it, years ago).  Luckily my leg wasn't too bad as I'd just had a good walk along Oxford Road from Manchester Royal Infirmary where I'd been working.

A pleasant young man tried to get me a seat when one became free but I was the wrong end of the carriage and someone grabbed it.

The conductor, in another announcement, asked anyone sitting who could stand to stand so that others could sit.  Nobody moved - - well not in the carriage I was in, anyway.

The conducter, in a further announcement, said that he would be coming through the train to see if there were any spare seats.  I didn't think that there would be - in fact I knew there weren't! - but nevertheless he came past me a few minutes later, heading down the train.  He didn't speak to me but I knew he'd seen me - I was the oldest person standing.

Five minutes later he was back.  "I've found you a seat," he said.  "It's only one of those folding ones, I'm afraid, but it's the last seat on the train so I hope you won't mind.  I've got someone keeping it for you."

I followed him and, sure enough, there was a seat waiting for me.  So from Huddersfield to Leeds, I could sit.

Hurrah for that conductor who was really working very hard to ameliorate a really difficult situation.  I've been on packed trains before with no apology, let alone help.

The only downside is - - hey, I thought, I must look about a HUNDRED AND FIFTY.  I had been playing a 65-year-old all day (MUCH older than my actual years.  Yes, it DID take all my acting skills, I'm glad you mentioned that).

When I got home I realised that I was still wearing the hospital wristband that the students had used to check my identity in the exam - they had to check my name, date of birth and hospital number, just like in real life.

It gave my name as Mary Johnson and my date of birth as 4 March 1947.

Afterwards I thought - - what if I'd collapsed in a heap on the crowded train and they'd taken me to hospital and found my wristband?  Can you imagine the confusion?  "This woman says her name is Daphne but it says on her wristband that she's Mary.  Shall we just assume she's insane?"

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Not Like My Mother

My mother's not used to being ill.

My grandmother - her mother -  wasn't used to it either.  She never got colds.  If you had a cold she'd be all "Oh, don't worry, you can give me a kiss, I never get colds."  And she never did.  Not ever.  Not once.

She was still out doing the gardening till she was over ninety and finally died at ninety three, from I'm not sure what - - all her component parts all giving up at once, I think.

But suddenly, my mother, who is eighty-eight, is ill.  She got a cold nearly four weeks ago and just hasn't shaken it off.

She had a chest infection, and had two courses of different antibiotics, and the cough got better but actually she's feeling worse.  She's not really eating.  She's not even gardening.  Today I don't think she's even been outside.  This is really, REALLY not like my mother.

She's very cheerful, because her gentleman friend is really looking after her and keeping her spirits up.

Last Friday she had a chest X-ray and on Monday she got the results.  She has fluid on her right lung.  The GP was rather mystified by this and decided to refer her to a chest clinic.

Now then, Mum and her gentleman friend (who is considerably younger than she is and totally "with it" mentally) rather got the impression that this referral would happen very fast and indeed it has been marked "urgent" by the GP.

But it seems to have been put under the legal definition of "urgent" which is for when cancer is suspected (I don't think - though I don't know - that this is the case with my mother).  So this legal definition of "urgent" is "within two weeks".

What that means, therefore, is that she has fallen off the edge of the GP's treatment (because they are baffled) and not yet been picked up by the hospital.  Meanwhile she's drooping around, being cheerful, but getting weaker.

Tomorrow we're going to ring the doctor and ask for a home visit.  She's been out several times to the doctor and I want to draw their attention to the fact that she's eighty-eight and she's ill.  They need to know that cheerful-but-droopy is not how my mother normally is.  They need to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT, before it gets to the stage where they have to admit her to hospital, because she has a phobia of hospitals and being in hospital would not be - to her - conducive to recovery.

This is my mother, who likes walking on the hills and swimming in the sea and gardening and I'm just don't want them thinking "Oh well, she's eighty-eight, no wonder she's ill."  I'm not having it.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

At the Eye Clinic

It's been a while, hasn't it?  Over a month.  A long gap.

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about the flashing lights in my left eye.  I was coming out of the University one day back in September when suddenly there was a little firework display of white light in my left eye.

Eventually it was diagnosed as a vitreous detachment (and here is a very useful article about it).

It's when some of the jelly pulls away from the retina at the back of the eye, causing you to see little flashes of light.  Eventually they stop (or the brain gets used to them and screens them out) but mine haven't yet and are especially troublesome in dim light.  It also comes with "floaters" and I have lots of those - still with my left eye it's like looking through a film of Vaseline.

Although, in the article mentioned above, it says that a vitreous detachment is unlikely to lead to the retina detaching - - well, it can do.  And the Communist had a detached retina in his old age.  A black curtain descends in your eye and then you can't see.  So it was worrying me.

Finally I had an appointment at the eye clinic at the hospital.  It's a gloomy department, built in the Seventies, crowded, with long waiting times (a notice asks you to be prepared to wait up to two hours).  Silverback kindly gave me a lift there and waited with me, which I very much appreciated.

I remembered taking the Communist there, about five years ago, after his retina detached.  It was very difficult as he was in a wheelchair then and there was nowhere to put the wheelchair without blocking a corridor.

Firstly I had some drops put in to dilate the pupils and had a brief eye test and then the waiting began.  Doctors came out of a series of rooms, collected a folder for each patient and called their name.  Most of the folders were very thick.  "Look out for a thin one," said Silverback, "as this is your first visit."  Good point!  Finally a doctor emerged, picked up a thin folder and - yes - called my name.

He peered into my eye, very thoroughly, for what seemed an age.  He shone hideously bright lights into it (I hate bright lights in my eyes.  In restaurants I always sit with my back to the window.)

After a lot of peering (and a very clear explanation of what he was doing, which I appreciated), he went off to fetch another lens.

"I'm just going to anaesthetise your eyeball" he said, putting some drops in my eye.  This, I have to say, is a sentence that doesn't suggest a lovely time to follow.

He got something resembling a contact lens with an instrument attached and stuck it on my eyeball and squidged it about.  It didn't hurt of course - - but it was one of the strangest things I've ever had done and I didn't enjoy it, I can tell you.

Apparently half the gel has detached.  If the rest then detaches cleanly all will be well.  If it pulls some of the retina with it, it won't be well and they may have to operate to pin the retina back.  (All together now - - EWWWWWWWW!)  Apparently people who are very short-sighted (like I am) are prone to this vitreous detachment.

There's not much I can do except wait and hope it all gets better.  I'm going back to the eye clinic in four weeks.

Meanwhile, it's very very annoying.  My eye gets tired very quickly, especially looking at a screen, and I'm finding it a real problem in my work for the actors' agency.  After a little while, my eye just wants to close.

So I haven't been on the computer nearly as much as usual and I've been missing reading blogs and everything.  But at least I'm back to blogging - I've missed it.