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Tuesday, 17 April 2018

The Garden of Tranquility

I cannot believe the fuss and performance made by certain family members about our going to the crematorium today. Perhaps others have had similar experiences. If so, you have my sympathy.

When my father died, suddenly, in Italy, in 1993, mum, my brother and I thought a bench with a plaque, in his memory, was a fitting tribute to him. Our family doesn't have a burial plot. The only graves related to us are in another cemetery - for mum's side of the family - for the ancients - but from 1959 onwards nana, aunties, mum and dad have had their ashes scattered at the crematorium. There is no headstone for any of them.

Last year, after mum died and her ashes scattered, I orchestrated the removal of the plaque on 'dad's' memorial bench so that the wording represented mum too. It took months and many conflicting messages from 'Bereavement Services' to get the wording and the help we wanted. I was horrified at both the cost and the poor state of the finish on the wooden bench after the revised plaque had been repositioned. I offered, to members of our family, to go to the crematorium, sand down the bench and restain it in order to repair the botched job done by someone at the council.

However a couple of family members, referred to as THEY, THEIR etc from hereonin, live fifteen minutes away and THEY went ahead and restored the bench instead. (I live three hours away.)

Today, because we were staying with THEM, we had to purchase a spray of flowers - in secret - as THEY objected to my taking flowers to put on 'mum's and dad's bench'. THEY said the council don't like it and THEY said mum always objected to flowers on benches (first I knew of this but THEY are prone to magnifying a point in order to win some battle or other.)

Having purchased the spray of flowers, in secret, yesterday, I walked past a supermarket coffee machine, which had spare paper take-away cups. I have to admit to purloining one of these as I thought it had been set aside (and would help in my subterfuge).

Now ... how to sneak the flowers, unseen, into THEIR house and put them in water ready for the crematorium 24 hours later? I didn't try ... that's the simple answer. I asked Richard to open the rear door on our car, I placed the paper coffee cup in the rear cup holder, poured water in it from the glass water bottle I had with me ... et voila... mission - stage one - accomplished. The flowers could stay there, in water, safely, unseen, overnight.

Having only ever been to the crematorium in a limousine as a mourner I don't know the route as a driver. THEY printed a street map for me, being helpful, while telling me about all the potholes, roadworks and every other road problem under the sun. For the amount of troubles we would encounter we might as well have been setting off for a trek across the Sahara. 

Today I woke early (6 am) (with my ongoing back pain), washed my hair, went to make breakfast at some ungodly hour but THEY were already up. THEY were unable to cope with making me a hot breakfast drink as I was downstairs much earlier than THEY expected. The fuss my presence created doesn't bear description ... 

THEY told me there was no point my going to the crematorium early as the roads would be dreadful. I said nothing. I, however, wanted to go before 9 am to place flowers and take a photograph for remembrance before funeral parties arrived. It is inappropriate, I feel, to be clicking away when mourners are in a state of distress over their own lost loved ones.

I was, of course,  ready to go to the crematorium as close to 9 am as possible. What happened next was not what I was expecting.

Before I left the house THEY handed me a bag of cleaning materials to do up the bench. THEY said it was in a terrible state. I was perturbed. Did I really want precious moments remembering my parents to be sabotaged by dish rags and detergents?

I was getting somewhat incensed at this point and went over THEIR heads. If THEY could be petty I could go one better. 
        'If there's moss on the bench it'll need bleach or a bathroom spray to clean it. Can you get me some?' I said, as if addressing domestic staff. Reluctantly some bleach, in spray form, was found. 

Thankfully the map THEY had produced for us worked. There was no traffic congestion, I saw none of the horrendous road works THEY anticipated, but because of the fuss and performance about avoiding a dreadful (15 minute) journey, three funeral parties were already at the chapels when we arrived to ... yes ... clean the 'family' bench. Having (badly) secured the flowers (lilies, roses, greenery) on the bench the wind blew and knocked them over straight away. My idea of placing the flowers in the take-away coffee cup with water, and covered with ribbon or similar, had to be abandoned as the wind was so fierce the whole display collapsed and had to be rearranged. In the end, ever watchful for funeral parties who may need to view their family flowers on the balcony where I was 'working', I made a wedge out of a floating ribbon which landed at my feet from another family's floral tribute and stood my flowers up, on the bench, without water. The spray won't last long without water, but what to do? I felt as desperate as Sgt Troy in 'Far From the Madding Crowd' when his pitiful planting of bulbs, in his sweetheart's grave, is destroyed and washed away by a torrent of rain water from a gargoyle sited above her headstone.

I was cross, sad, tired and frustrated that I couldn't have a few quiet moments with my parents at the place of their memorial bench. Mourners from funeral services began to drift out of one of the chapels. For two pins I wanted to abandon the 'clean up' and just pause for a moment, with a sense of dignity. That's why I was there, after all. The mourners didn't come our way, however. I looked at the flower display I'd created. I felt more relaxed and pleased, took a photograph and had a quiet moment. Mission - stage two - accomplished.

Next to our bench was the blasted bag of cleaning materials; latex gloves, sponge wash-ups, cleaning cloths, an apron and the bleach spray. Yes there were tiny spots of moss on the bench, but that's as bad as it got. It's kept outside for other mourners to sit on and is prone to a little moss-gathering. If I sprayed bleach on it would it really help anyone recently bereaved to have a dignified funeral ceremony while smelling noxious fumes as they looked at family flowers and paid their last respects?

The funeral parties from the other chapels hadn't yet made their way to the balcony where the benches are placed. I took a chance. I sprayed the moss, rubbed at it, without fiddling with latex gloves, and removed the vast majority of the 'offensive' moss and mildew. I wiped over the seat and arms of the bench and, remembering what THEY said, disposed of the rags in the waste bin.

Our family bench is the most well-stained, most polished and most attractive-looking of all on the balcony. But does that matter? Surely the spirit of calmness, relection and remembrance are far more important than an obsession with being the perfect bench hosts. 


Back at THEIRs, by roughly 10.30 am, not only was what I'd done to the bench not good enough but my suggestion that I sand down part of the bench and restain it - on another occasion - was met with ferocious outrage.

     'That bench needs completely stripping down with paint stripper. It'll take a whole weekend to do. It can't be done when funerals are on and it needs to be stripped on a dry day. We can't do it ...' (No-one ever asked THEM to.)
     'Then,' the harangue continued, 'the bench has to dry, then be washed down with soap and water, then left to dry again.'

     'I might manage to redo the bench where the new plaque has been put - maybe on a warm summer's day, at a weekend, ' I offered.

      'And then when you've done all that you can restain it. And it'll have to be done the same day. It'll look awful otherwise. AND you'll have to unscrew the plaque and rescrew it tight afterwards.'

     I was so furious with this nagging I poured myself a huge glass of white wine, even though it was only 10.30 am. THEY never drink, of course, and found my behaviour extremely odd.  Good. I went upstairs and packed, wanting oh so much to come home. We had, however arranged to have coffee out and a fish and chip lunch, with THEM, before driving back. In fact having coffee then fish and chips were pleasant enough experiences and by the time it came to leave THEM we were all in much better humours.

But, as for the garden of tranquility, was it ever envisaged to be the scene of such domestic disharmony? Surely going to pay one's respects to one's parents should be a time of peace and quiet contemplation? Not an episode of 'How clean is your house?'



      

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Ordeal by Trivia


Strange, isn't it, that a Sunday evening's TV viewing has to be marred by trivia?
The trivia to which I refer are passwords and the rewriting of classic yarns, whereby the outcome, the whodunnit, is the whodintdoit. 

After several weeks of back pain, please do refer to my earlier posts for the tiresome details, I needed, today, to go for a walk, have a coffee and a read of the Sunday newspapers, ahead of the luncheon crowds, by the river. Richard said I was walking well and later, in our garden, I even managed to bend to do two minutes weeding. 

This afternoon I watched a film without the aftereffects of the weeding playing havoc with my back. After a truly soothing bath I settled down to Sunday night TV. I was feeling better.

As I write my back feels easier than it has for some time and the only irritation I felt tonight was my attempted viewing of an Agatha Christie adaptation at 9pm. I never did rate 'The Night Manager' nor did I like another Christie adaptation 'And Then There Were None' but I know the Denis Lawson and Jane Seymour version of 'Ordeal by Innocence' and wanted to see part two of the new production tonight. If only to compare. However, lurking in the back of my mind was a feature I'd read which stated that the ending (the whodunnit) has been rewritten for this latest BBC offering. And I agreed with the article which suggested rewriting the ending such that the murderer's identity changes isn't the done thing. I do know the sad, hunted 'Jacko' in the Lawson/Seymour adaptation of 'Ordeal by Innocence' ... SPOILER ALERT ... isn't the perpetrator, but the housekeeper ( played gloriously by Alison Steadman) is the murderer. Why alter that?

After enjoying the sunshine of Corfu in 'The Durrells' and the fiestas, intrigue and medical dilemmas in 'The Good Karma Hospital' I decided to lie in bed with my ipad to watch 'Ordeal by Innocence' on the iplayer. Great, I thought, if I'm late for the beginning I can click 'restart'. Easy. 

But no, just because my back is less troublesome, all the irritations of the world don't simply disappear. The iplayer announced my device ( i pad) didn't support the transmission and to retry. I retried and got the same message. I turned to my iPhone 6 plus. It has eaten up my data allowance as I've used it more when lying in bed at the top of the house - for back therapy - where the signal is too poor for my ipad. But today my new monthly allowance starts and I can watch the beeb on it without any problem.

Or so I thought. I tuned into 'Ordeal by Innocence' on my iphone, now ten minutes into transmission, and I got the same 'this device won't...'message. I pulled out my Mac, which was purchased for writing my novel, and nothing else! and tried to open up Google Chrome to find BBC iplayer as I don't use Apps on my Mac.

Google Chrome had to download. Then it had to download on my iphone and ipad too - why? I already have it on those devices. Then I had to find 'Ordeal by Innocence' and begin watching it - 20 minutes into the programme. Ah. Not so fast. 

Not quite yet.

I had to sign into the BBC. I can't remember if I've done this before; the site knew my email address but after three attempts rejected my password. I clicked to change my password, went on to MAIL to receive the link to change it but couldn't understand why no new mail was coming through my inbox. Meanwhile the programme, 'Ordeal', was half-way through.
I clicked a few things on the inbox page of MAIL on my Mac and I was asked to sign into Google - with another password. Fingers crossed I hoped the password was correct. It was. Over 1000 emails swooped into my inbox and low and behold there was the one I wanted.( I told you I use the Mac for writing my novel - hence other installations are redundant or underused. ) I found the email for the BBC link. I clicked it, changed my password, signed on, crossed my fingers again, and found I was on the iplayer page and - yes - my Mac was a device able to show 'Ordeal by Innocence.'

I pressed restart and play and began to enjoy the Agatha Christie retelling. As I said I know the story and find this adaptation slow but whilst I adore Matthew Goode here he is an embittered wheelchair-bound Phillip Durrant and is anything but 'good'. Ten years ago he was an excellent Charles Ryder in 'Brideshead' but I don't recall that the nasty, foul-mouthed, bitter cripple whom he plays in 'Ordeal' was so surly in the Lawson/Seymour version. Yes, he adds drama, and is a brilliant actor but is he just a red herring? Is he there to make us think he was the murderer? He must be, mustn't he, as he's so foul. Except he's suicidal. Maybe it's Calgary, that lonely 'witness' who knows Jack was an innocent, played fretfully by Luke Treadaway. He is sidelined by the living protagonists, the family whose mother is the murder victim, is almost run over by the detective who convicted Jack and, as a scientist, cf Einstein, has unwittingly released an annihilating bomb on the world. Calgary has a world-death fixation. A sad character. And, because I had a thousand emails wanting to show themselves, ancient messages from 'Sky' or 'Majestic Wines' distracted me from following the drama by appearing in the top right-hand corner of my handheld screen.

After thirty minutes watching I tired of the pop-ups and the nastiness and, despite the effort I'd gone to to log on and watch the programme, I switched my Mac off, only to find the programme was now available on 'all platforms'. Pity was, I didn't want to watch it whether it was available on my ipad or not.

My husband won't watch 'The Durrells' because he says it's nothing like Lawrence Durrell's work. I don't like this 'Ordeal by Innocence' because it's nothing like the original Christie and last week a friend of mine watched 'Fahrenheit 451' with me (the Oskar Werner and Julie Christie version) but she didn't like that because it wasn't like the book. I like both the book and the film. Will I like the new 451F film when it's out in May?

The trivia of passwords is always a pain but the details of novels which we know well are more than trivia. In 451F one of the leads in the book dies before the ending but miraculously lives on in the film. Ray Bradbury liked the film's new ending, however, and rewrote her story for his stage version of the book. However 'Ordeal by Innocence' can only have one murderer can't it? To change the whodunnit is surely taking dramatic licence too far? I don't think altering the ending is trivial. But next week, if I decide to tune in, I'll watch it on the box, not on a lap top nor tablet, to fiddle with passwords. 

Oh hang on. We'll be away. And my aunts won't want 'that sort of thing' on their TV on a Sunday evening. Better record it in advance and hope no-one tells me who the murderer is before I've seen the ending. But ... SPOILER ALERT ... it wasn't Jacko ( or Jack as he's known in this production) - perhaps in this version it's the Matthew Goode character - Durrant - who murders the wealthy householder. He's not in love with his wife, and surely only married her for her money. Hence the murder. Or it's Calgary, lonely, unwanted by the family, is a former mental institute patient and is unstable. There. Case closed. I know whodunnit.  I don't need to tune in and endure the trivia of passwords, do I?

And Fahrenheit 451 predicts we'll all be governed by screens rather than by books. Since it was written in 1953 that's strangely, frighteningly prescient. 

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

More on plastic - or is that less?

Cling film has been around since my childhood. As a youngster I was fascinated with the way this clever material took up and enveloped the shape of the bowl or plate of goodies it was covering. And I always had the urge to punch a whole in its skin - stretched as tight as a drum over a salad bowl or a plate of sausages on sticks. But what a pain it can be to unravel it from its cardboard roll. So many times have I scrunched cling film or torn it in the wrong place, leaving strangely-shaped stretches of plastic film which won't fit over a tub of party snacks.

And we don't need it. A paper napkin or fabric coated in beeswax - which is washable and re-usable - does the job, as does a simple tea-towel. Edwardian homes managed to keep party food fresh by simply covering their scrumptious offerings with cloth. No devastating newspaper reports of the 1902 curly sandwiches scandal come to mind!

Empty toothpaste tubes are a devil to recycle and a jar of paste, available at health-food stores, are a perfect alternative, and you don't waste it by squeezing too much out of the tube. Less mess, more fish, less rubbish. Dental floss made from silk will break down more easily over time than traditional materials - that might be a better option for those who love to floss.

Tea bags - who needs them? Nowt wrong with loose tea? It is messier to empty teapots out afterwards  if using leaf tea and you can't drop tea leaves into a cup for a single brew as you can with a tea bag, but there's nothing wrong with an infusion. Or we can simply use tea bags which don't contain micro-plastics - it'll take more effort to read the label on the packet carefully, but  if 40 million of us in the UK alone do this the oceans might have a chance.

A friend of mine is now taking her own container into take-away restaurants for her lunch. And you don't need plastic cutlery if you take your eating irons with you. It's a minor inconvenience but herring gulls are at less risk of filling their stomachs with bits of broken up plastic handles if we ditch throw-away knives, forks and spoons.

Small acts could be the beginning of a change of habit. The end of our relationship with plastics. Who wants to see images of turtles swimming through trails of blue plastic bags? Or fish with throttling scarves of the stuff cutting into their flesh? Seals who have grown up with a cummerbund of plastic that slices into their blubbery skin, creating wounds and pain from a belt which won't move on a notch as the animal grows fatter?

It's getting easier to carry your own shopping bag to the grocers, removing the need for plastic carriers. Such actions can make a difference to our seas and oceanic livestock, victims of man's desire for that wonder material: polyvinylchloride, low-density polyethylene, polystyrene or styrofoam.

Any more for any more? Are you managing a break-away from plastics? Do let me know your suggestions. 🐙🐢🐠🐟🐳🐬🐋🌊 The oceans will be glad of it.

Friday, 23 March 2018

On the subject of plastics

I am old enough to remember being told at school,  'In a few years time we might all be wearing plastic shoes, using plastic bags, buying plastic phones ...' I was about eight when our class teacher told us this and I thought plastic shoes would be very inflexible and tough on the skin. Of course I wasn't sophisticated enough to realise there are many hardness and softness grades of plastic.

Many decades later the sight of mishappen turtles and seals with rings of plastic cutting into their necks has persuaded me to think back to when I was eight and we weren't routinely using plastic as a covering, for bags, for bottles or as wrappers.

In the garden I am putting all my plastic pots out for recycling and will be going back to using clay or terracotta ones. I tend to re-use old plastic bags as liners for bins or seed trays and I will continue doing that. Inside the house I've gone back to bars of soap - rather than liquid soap dispensers - and use glass bottles rather than the plastic alternative. I will use more pencils than plastic biros or felt tips. We are weaning ourselves off ready-packed apples and buying them loose - to be packed - along with other fruits and veg, in newspaper or brown paper bags. However, even biscuits packaged brightly in thin cardboard boxes are doubly wrapped in see-through polythene and black plastic trays. What to do about that is stumping me at present. Similarly washing up liquid and detergents will be in plastic containers until the forseeable future - I assume we wait until 'ecover' ( other brands are available) re-use glass bottles in place of plastic ones.

It's easy to throw out plastic toothbrushes and nail brushes to replace them with wooden bristle versions. But it is the act of throwing out that is causing the trouble. Wash ups can be replaced by cotton dishwashing cloths - and I do recycle my old ones - eventually, though, the plastic ones will have to be thrown out and end up in landfill or in the seas and oceans. I tend to buy cotton clothes and I do recycle or car boot them or donate them. Our pre-loved garments will rot down, in time.And they still make good rags. I try to buy toys for the children I know that are wooden rather than polypropylene but packaging, again, can reduce the effectiveness of trying to have a plastic-free world.

Take out food is likely to be an ongoing issue. Perhaps we should try to sit down and enjoy a drink or bite rather than consuming on the move? But take aways cause problems: 25% of plastic produced globally is packaging. Even without a packet the film around a sandwich or similar is likely plastic. Plastic straws, cups and cutlery go with the take away territory and add to an already enormous problem.

Currently only 14% of plastic is recycled. By 2050 there will be more of it than fish in the sea. Anyone got other good tips for cutting down the use of and the throwing out of this fish-suffocating material?

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

The Oscars, fame and who's up themselves.

Watching the Oscars has got me thinking about fame - and character. The ones who think of others and those who think only of themselves.

I suppose the first time I saw a famous face was when I was a very little girl and The Queen made a visit to the Midlands. I remember screaming like a whirling Catherine Wheel at a sixties pop group, 'The Rockin' Berries' at The Grand Theatre (who remembers them?) and I first saw famous Shakespearean actors on the stage at Stratford and others at Birmingham Rep. But my lasting memories date from the 1970s.

Appreciating fame was a slow burner for me. I was underwhelmed by it. No-one turned my head, it seems. When T Rex was on tour and the gloriously-sparkly Marc Bolan did a gig at our civic hall I was hard-pushed to become a giggling awe-struck chick. I must have been born with an innate sense of superiority - or on a low light - or born with deep self respect as he was merely a chap - wasn't he? He didn't turn my head, as they say. Nevertheless, after all the encores and the crowds had squashed back through the aisles, outside to their hum-drum lives, my friend Helen and I crept up some stairs and found Bolan's dressing room. I've often wondered why there were no queues of adoring fans. Without any ado he gave us his autograph and we were truly pleased with ourselves. Later, whilst we were discussing the definition of the word 'groupie' - and wondering whether the girls we'd seen hanging around Marc Bolan were examples of such an intriguing group - we were only eleven and first year grammar school girls - I realised I'd left my expensive Parker pen with Mr Bolan. We had to go back. There was still no queue of autograph hunters - why not? - and as I held out my hand for my pen - to the famous man - he gave it a kiss. 'I'm here for my pen,' I said, not glowing at all at the feel of his lips on my knuckles. (I did get my pen back. He was clearly used to adoration.)
         
Later David Bowie was touring with Aladdin Sane. I'd always liked Bowie's music but was unimpressed that he was almost an hour late on to the civic hall stage. This time I was with a boyfriend - still on a low light - and I didn't go backstage for an autograph. Just continued buying his records. 

When I was studying for my 'A' levels - physics, chemistry, biology and general paper and I'm not even a scientist - I started listening to radio jazz programmes and spotted the work of a female saxophonist - Barbara Thompson. It was many years later when I got to speak to her as a friend of ours knew Ronnie Scott and put on jazz sessions around Bath. That time I was more star-struck, perhaps because she was not a household name and the chances of seeing her were far more remote than the sight of Bowie. Perhaps. 

Before I left home to study for my first degree I used to go to JB's - a night club in Dudley. In true Midlands fashion the beatifically-haired Robert Plant was ignored as he leant on the bar and ordered a pint. We were there to see the Steve Miller band - Robert Plant was merely part of the audience. But he looked good and wasn't self-admiring. Just part of the gig. Of greater interest that night when chatting in the loos to former class mates - was finding out who'd lost their virginity - and who hadn't - since we'd all left upper sixth.

Since then our neighbour, Justin Adams, has become Robert Plant's lead guitarist. It's a small world.

Once at university the late, great John Peel was DJ for a night - that was fun - but I didn't shake his hand. Is my reluctance to engage with fame because I'm uncertain about what to say? Could be.

For my fortieth a group of us went to London and we were tripping over stars in Shaftesbury Avenue. Neil Pearson was big in Drop the Dead Donkey and he was there in the crowd, off for a drink or a meal or a show. Ewan McGregor sat next to me in the stalls for a revue with Eddie Izzard, Stephen Frost and friends. That was exciting but all I can remember was his conversation about his mother. Rather nice. Everyone clapped when Peter Andre took his seat in the royal box. Why him, in particular? 

We have an active theatre in Bath and I once saw Griff Rhys-Jones rushing along the streets, in full make-up, either out for a swift walk or to purchase something, he was in an awful hurry. Paul McGann stepped out from the underground car park one Saturday afternoon, he was in The Monocled Mutineer and I remember he seemed shorter than I expected. Anthony Head, before he was famous in Buffy Vampire Slayer, was waiting outside the then 'Gemini' Cinema one Saturday evening, for a friend presumably. I don't recall the film we saw. But he was just hanging around minding his own business. 

And at gigs we saw Peter Gabriel several times. One Christmas I was shopping in Waterstones, and bought about three books as gifts, Peter Gabriel was in the same queue with three bags of hardbacks. A lot of people to buy for, it seemed. One other Saturday afternoon, looking at household items in the co-op, I saw John Nettles, before he was known as Barnaby in Midsomer Murders. He was appearing in pantomime in Bath. Prosaically he was wandering around with a few hand towels. He had no shopping basket and looked lost. Had he forgotten to pack properly?

One of the most exciting incidents regarding the famous was meeting Terence Stamp. I'd absolutely loved him as Sgt Troy in the 1967 film version of Far from the Madding Crowd. The day I saw him I was tired and had had to travel back from work by train via Bristol Temple Meads. As we queued for a cab at Bath Spa railway station my fatigue must have shown on my face. I have never forgotten his kindness when he pointed to a cab which had just drawn up. He was ahead of me in the queue but beckoned to me to get in - he would wait for another. Conversely I had a quite different experience at Lucknam Park when Noel Edmonds was staying there as a long-term resident. I had finished my swim in the leisure spa and went to the poolside bar for a drink. While I was reading the paper I heard the big-time DJ ask the bar attendant to put the lights down so he could enjoy the candle light. I protested.
          'There's a woman over there asking for the lights to stay on,' laughed Noel Edmonds.
          'I'm reading a fascinating article about dyslexia, Mr Edmonds, and I need to be able to see,' I said. I was furious at being called 'a woman over there' and his assumption that no-one needed the bar lights on. He was used to getting people just to do.

When I last had a slipped disc I had six months off work as I really couldn't move well, let alone teach and I was in a stupor from taking painkillers. However to get me out walking Richard used to drive us to Dyrham Park and Marshfield. On one such early spring day I saw Jo Brand and her daughters walking along Marshfield High Street. I didn't stop to speak to her as I felt she was enjoying some down-time, but I've always admired her and would have loved to have said so. Perhaps I'm just shy. Perhaps.

After my swim at Bath Spa hotel, I'm no longer a member at Lucknam Park, just as the 2012 Olympics ended, we did pluck up the courage to speak to the great Mo Farah. He was attending an event at Bath University and staying at the hotel. He seemed a very ordinary chap, and at that particular time was merely keen to get something to eat. But I enjoyed shaking the hand of a man who had just won the 5,000 and 10,000 metre races. He was something but didn't show it. 

On another occasion John Hurt sat quietly by himself in the pub attached to Bath's Theatre Royal - when he was appearing in The Seagull. Better, I suppose, for him, than being mobbed. Perhaps.

Similarly, sitting listening to a self-obsessed acquaintance over coffee I noticed Alison Steadman walk past the cafe with her mum. Another famous person just going about her daily business. My self-obsessed friend was so self-obsessed she couldn't even be bothered to look up at the great Alison Steadman. I'm no longer friends with Ms Self-Obsessed but I love Ms Steadman. 

At the Edinburgh Fringe it's easy to be surrounded by comedians propping up the bar at The Pleasance. We saw the then emerging League of Gentlemen there (whatever happened to Mark Gatiss?) and Jenny Eclair just chatting to fans. Stephen Frost, again, was walking along a narrow passage way in old Edinburgh when I spotted him. We've since got to know his brother Anthony, the eldest son of the famous artist Sir Terry Frost, and an artist himself. And they're all so nice and unassuming.

One other time a less famous character actor - Terence Hardiman  - stepped out from the taxi rank and went into the hotel opposite Bath Spa Station. He was awfully kind to a magazine seller and politely said, 'Thank you. I don't need one now.' That's the way to speak to people. It gets the message across without sounding rude.

When I used to go to comedy clubs I saw another famous comedian - he was so brilliant - and still is. (Jeremy Hardy's shortness of height was soon forgotten.) Like Paul McGann we simply don't notice artistes' heights on screen but stature is noticeable in the flesh. And Jeremy Hardy's always on the side of teachers and points out, in the main, we aren't criminals. Great on radio 4 too.

One winter - flu was all around - we were sitting near the comedy stage with our drinks. The show was yet to start and the great Tim Vine, red-nosed, full of a cold, sat and chatted. He said, 'Can I ask one thing?' 
                                      'Not can we do your show for you!' I said. He smiled, did the show, but must have felt wretched. Teaching is bad enough when you have the lurgy but to be well-known and ill and still have to perform in front of a crowd - and make them laugh... Fame isn't all it's cracked up to be.

When it was announced that Fay Weldon was to be my manuscript tutor at Bath Spa University others thought I'd found a pot of gold. 
                                      'Hello, Fay, famous person, I'm Nina,' I said, at our first meeting. She smiled and was the kindest, most supportive tutor I could wish for and invited me down to her house. Goodness knows what she truly thought of my early scribblings but marked my submission as worthy of a distinction - sadly her co-marker didn't agree. I've since had my novel edited by Kylie Fitzpatrick who is equally kind and supportive. Not up themselves at all. There is clearly no need.

Having witnessed, fleetingly, the way that some of the rich and famous go about their lives between shows or book-signings what has struck me is that no-one needs to be rude or self-congratulatory. There is nothing wrong with being polite, however grand they may be. Noel Edmonds is one of the few who has managed to remain in my memory as someone who thought he could treat others in an off-hand manner. I'm sure he's really nice and meant no harm and perhaps the famous can't always be on their guard. Perhaps.

But it's Terence Stamp for whom I will always harbour a secret passion - and he's so nice with it. What a pity we never shared that taxi. 


Friday, 2 March 2018

How to deal with a frozen condenser pipe

Good morning guys, I have had lots of phone calls regarding boilers not working due to their condensate pipe being frozen - this is the white pipe that’s comes out at the bottom of your boiler and in some instances terminates outside your property. If you boil the kettle and carefully pour the hot water over the white pipe this should defrost any blockage caused by ice build up and get you up running. Some of the ice is stubborn, so you may need to tap the pipe with a wooden spoon or equivalent to loosen it. If your pipe is high, maybe try tapping it with a brush handle, do not climb ladders in this weather. You may need to reset your boiler after the ice have melted on some boilers. Please repost this, as it may help a lot of people.

With thanks to Steve Roderick, via Facebook

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How to bath in Bath



Simple - you might say - run the hot water, add some frippary like Molton & Brown gensing with frankincense suds and get in.
Ah not so fast! Not in these snow-drenched days living under enforced house arrest...

Around lunchtime today, just as I was thinking I’d better have a bath and wash my hair - in case the hot water and heating went off - it did just that. The heating and hot water went off. A small boom in the boiler, just above the sofa and desk where I do my writing, sounded as if all was not well. I fumbled with leads and memory sticks, switched off my printer, unplugged my lap top and sat in bed. The boiler didn’t sound well and it might mean we’d be getting cold.

Richard to the rescue.
Yes, we’ve been here before.

Richard came rushing upstairs with a kettle of boiling water complaining that the windows wouldn’t open. What was he talking about? Within moments the windows did open, my study was like a block of ice and Richard was tipping scalding water on the condenser pipes shouting, ‘The hot water’s off!’ I suggested we switched on the portable heaters since if the hot water was off the radiators would likely go cold too.

And not to be outdone in this Heath-Robinson approach to life-below-freezing-point I switched on a brand new kettle - our spare - filled the ensuite wash basin with hot water, turned on the cold tap and mixed some reluctant-to-come-out-of-the-tube shampoo into my hair and washed it. ( I had partially undressed but it was too cold for a strip-wash). 

All was going well. Richard was merrily hanging out of the window, I was helping (?) by rushing up and downstairs with wet hair and the spare kettle to add to the quantities of boiling water being thrown at the condenser pipe. I put my back out moving the portable radiators around. I am recovering from a slipped disc but when it’s cold you need the extra heaters. 

Whilst drying - I won’t say styling - my hair Richard shouted ‘Bugger’ and opened all the doors letting in even more frozen air. I found him outside trying to rescue the lid which had flown away from the old kettle. But he had to give up. (He’d leant so far out of the study window it had dropped off on to the kitchen roof below.)
             ‘Here. Have this stick and pull it off the roof,’ said I.
              ‘I can’t reach it. The snow on the kitchen roof is so deep the kettle lid’s sunk down and I can’t get at it.’
              ‘Would a magnet help?’
               ‘How would that work?’ Richard wasn’t taught any science at Ilminster Grammar School. ‘Anyway have  you got a magnet?’
              ‘Erm... no.’
              ‘I’m not getting a ladder out in this weather and climbing up on the kitchen roof to rescue a kettle lid.’
                ‘Well use the new kettle,then,’ said I.
                ‘Where is it?’
                ‘Plugged in where it’s been plugged in for the last year.’
                  
Once dressed I continued working in bed and heard some gurgling coming from the boiler. ‘This new kettle’s better than the old one.’
                  ‘Yes, it’s new,’ I said, winning first prize in the stating-the-bleeding-obvious-competition.
                   ‘Are the radiators coming on?’
       

The radiators were coming on, the barn doors were closed, the window, which opened and shut fine, was shut and there was hot water. I plugged my lap top back into the mains ( my old lap top doesn’t charge properly - hence the use of the mains lead - but my Mac does. I use my old lap top for writing Word docs.) 

Did I dare risk it and actually have a bath?