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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. πŸ™πŸ’πŸ πŸŸπŸ³πŸ¬πŸ‹πŸŒŠ 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

Saved Photo



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? 

                    

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

The Trussell Trust Adlent Calendar


I first met a rep from the indefatigable Trussell Trust when I still shopped at Sainsburys, other supermarkets are available, before my ailing back necessitated home-deliveries. Outside the front entrance a Trussell volunteer asked ‘Would you mind buying one extra tin of food in addition to your usual shop today? And donate it here?’
            ‘Of course. It’s a good idea,’ said I.
            ‘We teach the foodbank users how to budget, how not to run out of food and make the best choices for nutritious, inexpensive meals. We don’t just give them food without some guidance.’
              I didn’t care about this last, as such. If people are hungry a sense of urgency is needed. Food is what they need, and without delay.
            I do know of some, however, who have complained that food bank users have mobile phones and smoke fags. So what? If I had no food to eat and was worn down by a continual lack of funds, reduced benefits, unemployment and poor housing I’d likely find refuge in a smoke.
            The Trussell Trust has produced an excellent Adlent calendar, which starts today, Ash Wednesday.  For people such as I, unsure, sometimes, what to donate, it’s a checklist of 40 items required by food banks in the run up to Easter. It is easy to save one item, such as tinned fruit, every day for the next 40 days over Lent.
In my slipped-disc state a food-shop delivery is essential and I set about an online order on Monday evening. I would incorporate items for the food bank in my list. Easy.
            
           However by 3:00am that night I had already changed the delivery day and time four times. I had gone through the thirty-plus items I wanted to add to my donations box, felt happy with what I’d ordered, then reconsidered. If I were hungry would I really want all my items wrapped in the same packaging from the cheaper ranges? Did I really want my bathroom essentials to be in the same wrapping as rice, biscuits, long life milk and so on? Wouldn’t I want, when my cupboard was bare, to have something prettily-wrapped to look at?
            By 4:00am I had reordered most of the items I was going to donate and found myself feeling mean. Why should the impoverished do with the cheapest range of biscuits and tinned vegetables? Didn’t they need freshly baked bread and fresh fruit? I was, in my over-tired state, trying hard to empathise with folk who can’t afford to put food in their cupboards nor in their fridge. But I found I couldn’t. I didn’t know how I would feel to be handed a bag of ‘basic rice’ rather than something more exciting. If I were hungry how much would it matter?
           By 5:00 am I had taken pain killers for my back, switched off my lap top and had decided to stop worrying about making food donations. The Trussell Trust have made a list for a reason.They know what’s needed.I certainly don’t, it seems.

In my prep for my second novel ‘The Keys to Peace’, which opens in 1939, I have been looking at Holocaust survivor testimonies. I will also be using my father’s war-time diaries and my aunts’ memories of the black-out in the Midlands for the main beats of the novel. A Jewish escapee from Nazism is part of the plot. In addition to the above reading I have watched the film ‘The Relief of Belsen’, as dad was part of the liberating army which witnessed the horrors of the camp,and the typhus,at the end of the war.
As the film ‘Schindler’s List’ closes, the saviour of 1100 Jews breaks down and wonders whether he’d done enough. He felt he should have done more, and saved, maybe, another thousand from the gas chambers. In the ‘Relief of Belsen’consultants said that what made women feel more like human beings, after the ravages of the ghetto, the camps, humiliations, starvation, constant fear and illness had diminished them, was a simple tube of lipstick. Someone gently applying lipstick to their lips and giving them colour was the faltering beginning of recovery for someone who wasn’t already too ill or dying.

Yesterday  I returned to my online food order and stopped worrying whether I should order more chocolate bunnies for children who hadn’t enjoyed chocolate in recent weeks. I stopped worrying about what size nappies to order, whether for new-borns or five month-olds, and bought jars of baby food for a four-month old and an eight-month old. I stopped worrying whether I should order fresh daffodils for the food bank users. Flowers brighten up people’s lives, but it’s not what the Trussell Trust are asking for. I remember a film by, I think, Bill Douglas, where an impoverished woman, his gran, has displayed some grass bank-picked flowers in an old cup. She has nothing. They are her little luxury.She warms her cold hands on a hot cup.There's no tea in it, just hot water for warmth.

            Later today my supermarket delivery will arrive. When my back allows I’ll pack the essentials for donating to our nearest foodbank, and add a box of non-basic chocolates, and wonder whether to include a tube of lipstick, and then wonder what shade. And I know, whatever I donate, I will think I should have done more.

Which is another reason why the Trussell Trust do such a good job.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Segregation and Bullying

My novel, The Keys to Heaven, which covers the lives of Eliza and her family, from 1918-1939, is part one of two. I have laid down five chapters in book two, The Keys to Peace, and, as it opens in 1939, my characters live through the second world war. One character, Daniel, escapes Nazi Germany and manages to travel to a safer life in England, and is cared for by Eliza's sister.  

But his own sister, Janina, avoids the Berlin Gestapo by hiding with Aryan friends in the city. As Daniel's been moving through Switzerland and France to get the last boat to England, with Eliza's sister, she can't get word to him. Eventually, at the end of the war, he discovers, from the Red Cross, that in 1942, she had been sent by train from GΓΌterbahnhof Moabit (freight station in Moabit) fairly close to Berlin city centre. Here, a platform was used that was separated and parallel to the S-Bahn tracks. The S-Bahn was the city's rapid transit system. But her journey from that platform ended in Thereseinstadt. 

The vile crimes against the Jews during the war are well documented. However I am still shocked by the racism against black men and women in Virginia, USA, which took place as late as the 1960s. I didn't get to see the excellently titled Hidden Figures when it was Oscar-nominated last year. I have recently seen it, however, courtesy of Sky Movies. 

Before 1933, in Germany, wealthy, professional Jews, who were teaching, running businesses and living full, mostly unhindered lives, were, in many cases, masters of all they surveyed.
By 1939 they weren't allowed to walk on a pavement nor sit on a park bench. Jews were segregated.

In Virginia the opposite process took place. People of colour had to sit at the back of public buses, the section was labelled coloreds only.  At NASA, both black and white women were employed but they were segregated. They worked in separate buildings. 

In Hidden Figures an extremely gifted black mathematician was allowed to do the number crunching in order to plan the trajectory of a manned space capsule. But she had to walk miles from her desk to get to a coloreds only lavatory for women. That was only one of the humiliations she endured.

Her friend, equally talented, had to go before a county judge to request that she be allowed to study engineering at a whites-only college. Although such segregation had been outlawed by Washington Virginia kept its racist laws. In fact the gifted, black, female engineer persuaded the court to let her study. She was the first black woman to attend a whites-only college.  But that was on the strict ruling that she went there for night school only. So she worked doubly hard: she worked at NASA all day, but had to work and study hard all night. She wasn't given leave to mix with the whites at college in the daytime. 

In other words the women I mention were as clever as their white, male counterparts but the struggle to get their abilities recognised and become promoted was almost as segregationist as the Judenfrei laws of 1930s and 1940s Berlin.

In Virginia segregation prevented progress for the race that was looked down upon. 
In Germany segregation actively removed opportunities for Jews who were used to being fully integrated and unhampered in the sciences, arts, education and commerce.

Is it worse to be denied what others have by right and stay at the bottom of the heap, or is it more awful to have everything you've achieved and enjoyed ripped away from you?  In the first case if you've never known freedom there is always hope that one day the glass ceiling will crack. In the second case annihilation was too often the outcome. 

The loss of hope, I venture, must be worse. Suicides in Berlin after Kristallnacht meant there were fewer Jews for the Nazis to murder.

The blacks in 1960s Virginia were still escaping slavery. The Jews in 1930s Germany and invaded territories were being forced into it.  Enlightenment and respect for others is a precious commodity and is as valuable as gold dust. 

In an increasingly divided West race may not always be the great divider, although the figures show poverty, generally, is worse for blacks. We are becoming more intolerant of those who have very little. So prejudice is against the poor. Gender issues are not going away either. 

At the BBC bias against women presenters and broadcasters is becoming unfortunately a business-as-usual state of affairs. I wonder who suggested John Humphrys et al took a pay cut? And, who needs to earn £600,000 to interrupt politicians daily, at 6:00 am, thereby sending listeners into a depression before their working day as a bus driver, plumber, banker, teacher or any other job not 'worth' £600,000, has even begun?

I would love to see Today run by people who enjoy life, respect others and don't have to harangue the people they are interviewing. It's just another form of bullying. And such bullying behaviour, as endured in 1930s Berlin and 1960s Virginia, should be well behind us. 

When will the human race become civilised? 


For Holocaust Memorial Day 

Pain and a slipped disc

I cannot believe, after only a month into 2018, I am already having to give up my new year resolutions. I was exercising and dieting regularly, enjoying it, even, when suddenly on Sunday evening I felt my back 'go' as I was leaving the house to go swimming. All I'd done was bend down to switch off a radiator.
The pool was quiet and I did my 'regulation' 25-30 minutes swim without a stop - avoiding breast stroke - the enemy of those with back trouble. Back home I knew I'd have to reach for the painkillers and by Monday it was certain that I'd caused no ordinary 'trapped nerve'-type pain, to which I am prone. It was much worse. By Tuesday I was eating painkillers for breakfast and decided to remain house-bound, rather than aggravate my tender back by causing a painful contracting of muscles, due to the cold weather. By Wednesday Richard bought me a pack of OTC co-codamol, with so many health warnings the back pain seemed preferable to the dizziness, constipation and drug dependency which would rain down on me.

It all felt like the beginnings of a slipped disc - which I suffered 10 years ago - and I quickly abandoned all social and self-sprucing activities. I would not be able to move outside my own front door. Inside I could not get comfortable. If I sat for too long I couldn't leave my chair without pain, if I lay down I simply couldn't move out of the prone position and if I walked about, like a zoo-trapped tiger, I became weary. At most I was getting 4 hours' sleep at a stretch and had to take my pain killers an hour before I got up. If I didn't do this I could not leave the bed, the pain was too severe.

The cat is wary of me as I have grown two extra limbs. One, an extra leg, in the form of a walking stick, the other, an extra arm in the form of a litter picker. I simply cannot walk without support and I cannot bend to pick anything up.I am a sexter-dexter. 

 Thursday was my last day on OTC co-codamol. Hellfire and damnation to those who took those meds beyond three days. In preparation for the avoidance of a new hell I practised waking up at 6:00 am to take my painkillers,  getting washed at 7:00 and dressing by 7.15am But why?

At our GP surgery the walk-in-and-wait arrangements start at 8:00am. In my state I wanted not to have to do my pacing up and down in the waiting room, see above for my inability to sit, so had to be early ie first in the queue to see a GP. That meant getting there dead (?) on 8:00 am. I knew that would take me two hours' prep. 

On Friday, with the surgery in mind, I woke at 5.50 am, ate some ready prepared bread and jam to have with my tablets, took them and dozed while I waited for the analgesic effect to work.At 7:00am, a bit like going over the top, I girded my loins. I had to endure certain pain but had to move my damaged carcass. I managed to roll out of bed on my tummy, grab my extra leg, my walking stick,  and got in to the shower. I even coped with pulling on footless tights and a loose top. I pushed my feet into my boots, avoiding the need to bend, and froze because the heating hadn't come on. 

That's when my back reacted to the cold. It started hurting like no other day this week. I made myself a hot water bottle while the central heating came on and tried to get comfortable. When Richard was ready to take me to the surgery - about 7:40 am, I could barely walk and had to give in. I had simply expected too much of myself and I knew I wouldn't be able to cope with the cold outside and having to twist myself to get in the car. My back went into a mild spasm and I had to stay put. I was not going to be able to get to the surgery. Walk-in-and-wait is for those who can walk and can wait. I can do neither. I needed a home visit. 

A jolly GP rang me while I snoozing; I've had so little proper sleep this week I was glad of it. She knew exactly what to prescribe me and within moments Richard had been to collect the meds from the chemist. She said there was no way I could get to the surgery and made an appointment for me for next week instead. By then some of the 225 tablets I have on my table should have started to relax muscles and work on my back pain.

In trying to get to the surgery I had felt more pain than at any time this week. A simple act like walking into colder temperatures and wearing heavy boots has forced the muscles in my back to tense up. That night, feeling good in warm bath water, I undid all my hard work while trying to look after my back, and foolishly moved and bent badly. This sent sciatic
pain shooting up and down both legs. πŸ’₯ My whole back felt as if it were being pulled and  strained through a spaghetti ladle. Or I was on the rack.  And I had been on much stronger meds since 10 am that day. They should have made me feel better. 

At midnight I realised I was allowed a third dose of valium, for me its a muscle relaxant, not a cure for mental anguish. Mind you...  
That and another dose of stronger co codamol left me feeling more relaxed, but not sleepy. I hoped to doze off and wake at 6:00 am to take a double dose of naproxen, it's a strong ibuprofen, with codeine and paracetamol, and my ready-to-hand breakfast of bread and jam. 
By 7:00 am Saturday morning I anticipated getting out of bed, pain free. πŸ™

My new year's resolution to swim and walk at least four times a week has been obliterated. I can barely walk upstairs. 

The only way I'll lose weight now is by dieting. There's no way I can do any exercise until I'm pain free. Last time I had a slipped disc I was told it would take 6 months to get right. In fact I believe it took a year. Maybe January 2019 is the time for a new year resolution: lose weight and exercise more. I just can't see it happening in 2018. 

And I thought I was trying so hard.


Boo hoo. 😑

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Resolutions? Why it's hard...

I wonder whether, like me, you resolve, this year, to lose weight and exercise more. I have been saying I must lose weight and exercise more for the last ten Januarys at least. I did, in fact, become a thin, healthier person in the mid 90s and kept the weight off for some years. How did I do that? The answer is quite straightforward: I found the time to go swimming at least three times a week. I became the weight I should be for my height and age - around 10 stone 6.

With the glow of success I got lazy. I knew I could lose weight if I wanted to... it was no big deal. But I'd forgotten that it gets harder to stay fit as we age. I didn't factor in that if you lose overall mobility, in my case, in the form of a slipped disc, the body loses less fat. About ten years ago I was flat on my back. When walking I moved awkwardly, was full of painkillers, and found sitting in a car - or even on a plane - most painful. A slipped disc takes between six months to a year to get right. Gradually I could swim again, but, even now, I have to be careful. The disc has repaired itself but I have a permanently trapped nerve. If I go mad at it, usually doing breast stroke, the pain starts.

Long story short: I have put on weight and I need to exercise more. If it means taking paracetamol so be it. The weight has to go.

Since Christmas 2017 I have managed two walks and two swims a week. On top of that I do a brisk walk to local shops once or twice a week and I diet 2 days out of 7 ( ie the 5:2 diet.) This sounds as though I ought to be losing the pounds but it isn't that easy. Last week I was focusing so hard on going out for a swim, preparing myself by putting my chilly-feeling swimsuit on the radiator before I left the house for the pool, that in my rush to get on with my new exercise regime I left my swimming costume at home. Of course I didn't know I had erred until Richard dropped me off outside the pool and was on his merry way to the pub. What was I to do?

a) ring him, knowing full well he was driving and wouldn't answer
b) ring him, leave a message to collect me and head to the hotel bar next to the pool
c) don't ring, just go to the bar
d) ask if they have a spare swimsuit at the desk, thereby sticking to my regime without taking in extra alcoholic calories
e) walk home, thus giving me a burst of exercise, but risk catching my death as I didn't have my winter coat with me
f) wait in the hotel, next to the pool, read the Sunday papers, and have a cup of tea
g) ring the pub where Richard was drinking and leave a message for him?

It didn't take too much effort to decide swimming was still the best option, given my lack of warm winter clothing and the fact Richard would be unlikely to answer my call and his pub might not answer their phone either. At the desk I had to confess my stupidity at leaving my gear at home. Two ladies, who, it has to be said, were more portly than I, were booking facials and exotic treatments and found my predicament hilarious. I was trying hard to stick to my guns...so hard to get in my 25-30 minutes daily exercise, but I was in luck... my spa did have a swimsuit they could sell me for £15. It wasn't my size but hey swimsuits stretch don't they?

After ten minutes in the warm waters I felt immensely holy. I was being very good and exercising like a minor athlete. Then the pain started... Because I was wearing a size 14 swimsuit, the size I should be, the tight straps had irritated my trapped nerve. I kept swimming but stuck to front crawl, minimising the pull on my lower back. I staggered out of the pool like someone drunk and managed to down a painkiller or two.

Tomorrow I had planned to go for a long walk... but the rain is due to pelt it down morning, noon and night. I will swap my Monday regime with Tuesday and do my walk then. Tomorrow I will swim instead. But I will remember my swimming gear. All I have to do now is decide which days I'll diet.Last week I read 'how to keep new year resolutions' in the paper.

thermae spa is for lounging not exercising!


 Easy, the article said, exercising and diet should be as regular a habit as brushing your teeth. Oh really???