On looking after small people.

If I’m not careful the Midget will have written more about this trip of ours than I have. I’m blaming this on the fact that she’s completely trusting me to have everything organised and sorted. Since we’re travelling with only the vaguest of plans (we’re going to be in Prague in 2 and a half weeks) it means that part of my brain is in constant calculation.

The Midget is a solid leader in many situations, as far as I can tell ever single one in which I’m not around. However I’ve spent years brainwashing her into thinking that my way is the best way. Being the big sister means you’ve got to be aware that this youngerling has spent their life following you.

Hence we were the last (bar one) onto the plane out of Heathrow. And hence the twenty minutes of confused wandering just off the wrong street named mariasomething or other in Vienna. And hence the ‘oh dear all the shops are shut on a Sunday – what are we going to eat – dilemma.


And today she missed some of the fishing huts along the edge of the Danube (I have sketches in my diary that I’ll locate when I’ve got a real computer), because I’d worn her out dragging her around viennese parks late last night (yes we almost got locked in – I was too busy prancing around pretending to be a greek goddess). Under the influence of the gentle song of the catamaran engine she fell asleep.

I’m doing ok. As far as I can tell, her biggest complaint is that cake doesn’t constitute breakfast, lunch and dinner. I bought some plums to balance her diet out. It was the first time I managed to find someone who didn’t speak English better than me, it was a lady who only spoke german.

The lady asked me what I’d like, and then a series of would you like that in a bag etc, with me answering first in Italian, Spanish or French and then in English before finally twisting my tounge into German. How do multilingual people cope?

I finally got to “dankeschon” and she laughed bemused uttering a sweet “auf wiedersehen”.

I’m not a natural linguist, although I’m making headway.

We’re now in Slovakia, and since I’m not so lucky as to have learnt slovak, I found myself at that awkward moment of not even knowing how to say ‘thanks’ as we paid for our groceries.

Luckily the very kind man in the ice cream shop (40p for an ice cream…) didn’t mind slowly repeating “dakujeme” until I got it.

[Posted from the tablet whilst travelling]

A rant about doctors, the NHS and my brain

What it feels like when I have a migraine

I had some really bad headaches and a weakness in my arm, so I went to see a doctor, Dr A. She told me that I should visit the optician and have the pressure in my eyes tested. She also put me on some drugs, drugs 1.

The optician said he’d do a pressure test of my eyes, but that he suspected it really wasn’t the problem and that Dr A was going in the wrong direction. He gave me some glasses, to reducing the strain caused when staring at a computer.

The headaches continued, including a rather peculiar incident where I kind of collapsed. So I went to see Dr B as Dr A was unavailable. I said I didn’t want to stay on drugs 1. Dr B said I should stay on them (although I could stop if I chose). Dr B also suggested drugs 2 and 3 and a brain scan.

I have a history of unexplained headaches and weaknesses in various body parts.

So I booked my brain scan on ‘choose and book’ and waited the 70 something days for the appointment. The confirmation letter came saying I had an appointment in neurology, that it could take 3 hours and I should some form of entertainment and/or bring a friend or relative.

So I arrive at the hospital, with the boyfriend, and I’m called forward to see the Neurologist, Dr C. He asks me how I can help. I want to say ‘don’t you already know’ but I politely tell him that my doctor referred me to him for a brain scan.

He seems surprised, and says this is just an appointment. I look at the boyfriend sat next to me and wonder why I’ve dragged him here.

Dr C continues by asking my age, doesn’t he have my date of birth?

I summarise my medical history, focusing on the most recent events, and Dr C tells me that he doesn’t feel a brain scan is going to show anything. He makes me walk across the room.

“My foot is a bit bruised,” I say.

“How come?”

“I fell over when I was spinning in the garden.”

He doesn’t smile.

He bangs my elbows, wrists and knees with his stick, checks I have a pulse and a heartbeat, and that my eyes can follow his finger.

He doesn’t make a single change to his facial expression as he asks:

“Can you lift your right hand and touch your fingers to your thumb.”

I raise my hand and do as instructed.

“And now your right hand.”

He asks me if I’m allergic to any drugs, I say yes and tell him. He asks how the allergy manifests, I say I had no idea since I was identified as allergic when I was a small child and therefore haven’t taken any since.

The allergy is highlighted at the top of my medical record. I’m sure all this electronic health record stuff is very important and very useful, but none of the doctors seem to read it. Since most of my medical history that relates to the brain scan is about events that happened before I was 15 years old, I don’t think I’m a greatly reliable source.

Dr C was concerned that doctors A and B hadn’t taken my blood pressure. He also was surprised that Dr B had suggested drugs 2 and 3 saying that these would be unhelpful and that any of drugs 5, 6, 7 and 8 would be a better option. Drug 1 he said was commonly used to reduce headaches in such situations, but he seemed a lot less insistent that I really needed it, certainly a lot less insistent than Dr B who had said she expected I’d be on it permanently, for the rest of my life.

I’m pretty sure headaches are the symptom not the cause and to me, treating the symptom isn’t a suitable permanent solution. Especially if there’s an alternative.

Despite this, Dr C didn’t take my blood pressure either and he did refer me for a brain scan. It will be in 4-6 weeks.

He’s also referred me to see a heart doctor (Dr D).

And since I’ve moved house I need a new GP, Dr E? Even though the surgery of doctors A and B is on my way to work.

I’m a bit fed up with it all.

The human body is complex. I don’t believe a doctor, any doctor, can in twenty minutes identify how to make mine more reliable.

They certainly can’t if they don’t read the damn record.

The misshapen perspective of a child.

books and reading

So yesterday’s Google UK doodle was for the author Diana Wynne-Jones. It was quite a lovely doodle and intrigued me, so I clicked on it.

She’s dead.

When I first saw she was dead I was worried she’d died tragically young. She was 76 when she died. She was born in 1934.

I’d expected her to be younger. I read Charmed Life when I must have been ten or so years old. It had a shiny new cover and I assumed it was a new book, written in the nineties for children like me.

So, on investigation I was surprised to find that the book was published in the seventies for children like the Father. It’s amazing how much we judge from a book’s cover, not only about the story, but about the author as well.

Of course, I’ve never had a problem reading old books. I devoured the Chalet School books by Elinor Brent-Dyer and the first of these were published in the 1920’s.

The Chalet School books I read are all owned by the Short Aunty and live in the Grandmother and Grandfather’s house above the my bed (incidentally previously the Short Aunty’s bedroom and where on occasion the Little Mermaid now sleeps). The bookshelf is conveniently located just above the bed, and beneath it is a reading light.

When I stayed there during the holidays, I read the chalet school books obsessively. I think I’ve done more night time reading at the Grandparents house than anywhere else. It was the only place I was allowed to lay in the following morning, and the only place you could reach the bookshelf for the next in the series without getting out of bed.

I read the Famous Five, Secret Seven and Biggles books in the same manner.

Sometimes I fear that I was a faster reader then than I am now.

I don’t particularly recall reading any Diana Wynne-Jones books, but I vividly recall the cover.

The orphan boy in Charmed Life is named Eric, but called Cat. I can’t remember thinking this was strange when I was younger, but now, for a girl also known as Cat this is unnerving, it’s like finding out that Cat Stevens is a man.

Why was Cat Stevens called Cat?

He’s now named Yussaf (Joseph), after the well-loved technicolour dreamcoat owner.

Who incidentally, according to the Qur’an, married Potiphar’s wife after Potiphar’s death.

Which gives a completely different perspective doesn’t it? She used to be the evil woman, associated with women like Cruella de Ville and Snow White’s stepmother.

I was already worried about Andrew Lloyd Webber’s identification of the Egyptian King as a Ramesses, of use of the title Pharaoh and that in my study of Ancient Egypt I’ve not yet come across a prison. (And I’ve got a book on laws and punishments of Ancient Egypt).

Maybe it was a Hyksos custom? Which wouldn’t make it all that Egyptian at all. More Palestinian like.


[This was the leading train of thought that took me through Saturday morning. It’s amazing how much time you can lose to Wikipedia.]

The battle wounded tribe: Handstands and cartwheels

doodle of jumping across tree stumps

  • One limp
  • One aching wrist
  • One sore shoulder
  • One nauseous stomach

I’m in a magical house, one where time seems manipulated. It’s full of peculiarities such as a frightening pink and grey bathroom, vast cellars, and a toilet happily stood next to the washing machine in the same room that leads to the garage, just to name a few.

Things are a little topsy-turvy—like the two back doors that open onto the front garden, and the front door that opens onto the lawn.

On the lawn is a wooden swing looking out over the small white fence that prevents small children falling into the stream. You often see ducks and a solitary goose paddling here. There’s rumoured to be a kingfisher, but I’ve not yet seen him. Across the stream is a field with roaming cows.

And there’s a steam train.

Steam train

Somewhat different you might say.

So there we were. A gathering of adults enjoying one another’s company, discussing computing, sport and books like perfectly normal people.

Before I knew it, the Boyfriend was running up the hill, as if he’d been cast in ‘the sound of music’, and all to see a train. The Midget and I were shoe-jousting on the swings. The Noph was leading circus tricks of handstands and cartwheels on the lawn and the Grump had his shirt off—apparently it got in the way when he was upside down.

The Dutch-Kiwi laughed at us as we wheelbarrow raced down the lawn. Not unexpectedly the Grump and the Boyfriend with their average height at 6’2.5’’ beat the Midget and I with our average height of 5’4.5’’.

Deep Thought folded his arms disapprovingly.

Back to handstands, and the men argued over technique in their insistent on perfecting the art. I cartwheeled across the lawn, satisfied that what I was doing was recognisable as a cartwheel. As always, the Noph was somewhat more elegant.

The Grump held the Boyfriend’s legs in the air so he could see if he could do a press-up from a handstand position. He could.

So could the Midget.

I put my arms out and span. The world turned into a blur.

“It will end badly,” the Boyfriend said.

And I fell over with a crunch.

Picnics and protests; explosions and emotions

Didcot Power Station

Protests for ubuntu in Gaza

Yesterday many people marched through London in protest at what is happening in Gaza. I wanted to cross the road and sit on the grass in the shade of a large tree in Hyde Park and chat with some of my tribe whilst eating an extensive picnic. Instead I stood and waited as the hurt and angry protesters marched past with their placards, chanting.

Dust, rubble and destruction in Didcot

At 5am this morning our local power station collapsed in on itself after 180 kg of explosives exploded. The Boyfriend, Deep Thought and I watched from a safe distance. We heard the boom first on the radio, and then louder as the sound wave hit us.

The enthusiastic radio reporter interviewed some of the people watching, and each time they stated how emotional an experience it was.

It was an impressive display of destructive power. I was glad we’d gone out to watch, even if it had meant sitting at the roadside from 3am desperately trying to stay awake (and from time to time failing). I felt that it was something that ought to be witnessed.  It’s a new perspective on buildings, a reminder of the throw-away attitude of today’s society.

Fear, anger and excitement, and nothing

Maybe it’s because I’ve only lived here for two months and the land isn’t really home, but the cooling towers disappearance in a cloud of thick dust wasn’t what I’d call emotional.

And maybe it’s because they’re not my family and friends that I’m not moved to act when it comes to Gaza?

Or maybe it’s because I don’t feel that there’s anything I can do?

Or maybe it’s that the world is so incredibly big, so overwhelming that I don’t know where I’d start if I did act on my beliefs on any scale?

Girl sitting above the clouds looking down on civilisation


The Writing of Clear English: A Book for Students of Science and Technology by F. W. Westaway

F. W. Westaway The Writing of Clear English

In a local charity shop I found a pocket-size blue book, printed in 1926, written by a man called Frederic William Westaway and entitled ‘The Writing of Clear English: A Book for Students of Science and Technology’. The book’s age and the subject, writing for science, immediately made me want it.

The story of my book

On 22 July 1931 my copy of the book was stamped with ‘Marlborough College’, ‘Second hand book department’ in green ink. On this occasion it was bought by a C. B. Grimaldi. On the 24 October 1932, the book was again stamped with a ‘Marlborough College’, ‘Second hand book department’ stamp. This time in pink ink. Who it was sold to is unknown, but it went for 4/8, whatever that should mean.

The book was also owned by a D. S. Robinson, his or her name is scrawled in blue in on the inside cover.

I know little of the author Frederic William Westaway, but that he was, at one point in his life, one of His Majesty’s Inspectors of Secondary Schools.

Grammar and style

Unlike many grammar books, Westaway doesn’t simply give a list of rules to follow. Rules do exist, and they are stated, but the wonder of the book is the use of examples.

The following is an example of careless stopping:

“Rule, Britannia; Britannia rules the waves”.

There should be a comma after the second Britannia, and the indicative should be replaced by another imperative.

[I believe the use of double quotation marks is of its time. My modern copy of Virginia Woolf’s Room of One’s Own, first published 1929, states in the introduction that quotation marks have been changed from the original double to single for clarity.]

Many more of Westaway’s examples come from academic papers, journals such as Nature, and daringly even other grammar books.

Each chapter begins with a couple of quotes about either writing or grammar – a number of which are from Shakespeare.

How to be a better writer

Anyway, Westaway’s advice on mastering the art of writing?

He who desires to write correctly must train himself to review with a critical eye what other people have written. To understand exactly what the different words in a sentence mean, what functions they discharge, what relation they bear to one another, and what the sentence as a whole signifies, all these things are indispensable.

To which end my suggestion would be Reading like a Writer by Francine Prose.



[The photograph shows my desk.]

Picnics, cobbles and the best of the world’s cyclists

Tour de France (in Yorkshire) – Day 2

no mass on sunday

Saturday was a practice. Sunday was serious business. So serious that God was cancelled.

Stereotypically the women in the family made sandwiches and wrapped up cake. I’m not sure what the men were doing. I shuffled fresh memory cards into my camera, poked the Boyfriend who was on the rocking chair and put on my boots. The hill up to our chosen spot was steep. I’m a little worried that when I take my bike up North in August that I’m not going to actually be able to get up it.

The Boyfriend and the Midget led the way, the Grandmother and I followed not far behind.

The team split, the Grandparents and the Father found somewhere for coffee, whilst the Midget, The Boyfriend, The Mother and I took our positions along the roadside at the perfect spot selected during Saturday evening’s reconnaissance mission.

And then we waited.

Ten minutes later I unwrapped my cake. Then the sandwiches. The cake was particularly excellent. I had two pieces, one baked by the Mother, the other baked by the Grandmother. I ate both greedily.

The caravan and the entertainment

Eventually the caravan passed, all except from the gigantic Fruit-shoot bottles and the Yorkshire Tea teapot. Presumably because it was a cobbled road and the incline steep. The Midget stood across the road from me. Every vehicle that drove past threw their goodies at her, much to the dismay of the young man (boy) sat in front of me. When after much grumbling a freebie was thrown at him he missed it. It bounced. Rolled under a car, and he spent the next five minutes hunting a driveway for a piece of plastic rubbish.

Once the caravan had passed, and we’d thoroughly cheered on police cars and advertisements, the entertainment started.

A man, bottom half fairy and top half sheep, who hobbled up and down the hill in his cycling shoes feeling almost as foolish as he looked.

The village idiot led a Mexican wave. He named those at the bottom of the hill Cambridge, ourselves in the middle Yorkshire, and those above Scotland. Then he danced up and down the hill shouting wildly, politely responding to all endeavours to move him off the road, but never actually moving. Occasionally Cambridge got it and the Mexican wave went from the top of the hill to the bottom.

Then the village idiot got his photo with the French attendant, whom he named Maurice, and with the fairy-sheep. The French attendant, responsible for keeping some semblance of order on our patch of the road, took the village idiot in his stride, unlike some of the other road guardians who were less impressed.

He probably had more fun that way.

The village idiot found a man who had recently had a birthday and the street burst out into a rendition of ‘happy birthday’.

Further up the street the Grandparents climbed on chairs to get a good view of the route. My suggestion had been to take walking sticks and behave like they were old and decrepit. Apparently they’re much too young for that.

Narrowly avoiding being run over by the bikes

When the time came I skipped across the road, and crouched with my camera on the curb.

Up the hill in Haworth - Tour de France (in Yorkshire)

Some journalist even took a picture of us.

The bleak North, where everything is grim, but the bikes are shiny

Tour de France (or Yorkshire) – Day 1

Essential preparations for watching the tour

We took the train to Skipton.  On arrival The Mother declared it coffee time. I don’t know I’ve ever been to Skipton before, but we soon found a coffee shop, with seating for all five of us (Parents, Midget, Boyfriend and I). How the Father manages such magic is beyond my comprehension.

When the Midget and the Father are involved, coffee has a tendency to become second breakfast. After three full English breakfasts, two toasted teacakes, three orange juices, two coffees, a tea, a hot chocolate with cream and a ‘Tour de Yorkshire‘ magnet, we returned to Skipton’s heaving streets to watch the caravan.

The caravan

The caravan is a form of marketing in another league to my work. It’s a carnival of big brands, many of them French. Despite both being short and behind a substantial pack of excited Northerners, Midget and Mother got to work at catching freebies..

The best of the freebies were the Haribo, and despite both Mother and Midget catching Haribo, neither offered me a single sweet.

Once the caravan had passed our group split. The parents were less bothered in actually getting close to the cyclists, whereas the Boyfriend was on a mission.

Finding the perfect spot

He led the Midget and I away from the high street, and into one of the fields on the edge of the town. We trekked across this field. Of course I was unprepared and only wearing flimsy pumps. We strode up the hill to find a gate, or rather the Boyfriend strode and the Midget and I tried to keep up. In the next field we weren’t so lucky, whilst we could see the road we couldn’t find a gate. Since we’d vaguely followed a footpath, ish, and as there were people in the next field, we skipped over the barbed wire fence and hopped over a wall.

The crowds were thinner here than they had been in town, but it wasn’t good enough for the Boyfriend, so we continued walking up the hill, towards Leeds and Harrogate. Here we found a roundabout, with enough space that we could quite comfortably sit on the tarmac.

Some small children joined us. Small children can be a blessing as sat in front of us they were small enough to not obstruct our sight, but when a man came and stood in front of us all, blocking our view, I didn’t have any reservation about asking him to please move. The children’s parents, who had been tensing in that protective parent manner, vocalised their support for my gentle persuasion. The Boyfriend rolled his eyes and the Midget gave me a look as if to say ‘only my sister’, but the children enjoyed their front line view.

The bicycle race

mark cavendish tour de france 2014

Mark Cavendish is the blurred man in the middle. My photography skills, like my cycling, are improving, but only slowly. I know so little about bicycle races that I have no clever observation to write here.

After the race – getting home, slowly

Of course, once the cyclists had whizzed passed. And it took all of 20 seconds. We set off back down the hill into Skipton to get the train home. If you saw any of the TV footage you’ll have realised that every Yorkshireman, and many non-Yorkshire men were on the Tour route. The streets were crowded. Every now and again a rogue police car or ambulance tried to make its way through the crowds and catch up with the cyclists. Everyone was suddenly thrown to the sides torn between their desire to hurry onwards and the urge to cheer at every passing vehicle.

I let the Boyfriend and Midget wander off together to watch more of the tour on the big screen in the centre of the town, whilst I popped into a shop and bought some walking boots. We then headed back towards the train station, via the fire station where the Midget and I bought cups of Yorkshire tea. You could also buy plastic fireman hats but they were too small for my head.

By this time the queue to the train station wasn’t too bad. There was a band playing whilst we waited in the sunshine, and railway staff and police handed out free bottles of water to anyone who looked even slightly thirsty.

Back at the house, we met up with the Grandparents who had come to visit for a barbecue and ready to join us for the Tour, day 2…


Did you get to see any of the bicycle madness?

Bicycles, motorways and home

The Boyfriend doesn’t think heather is beautiful. We’ve survived our contrasting opinion on dishwashers, so far, but the Boyfriend’s lack of awe at the stunning and most beautiful countryside—Yorkshire—is frankly problematic.

I was considering calling here home. And then I went back North, and I remembered what home feels like. It’s not Oxfordshire green (or golden brown as the fields now are). It’s a feeling. As I’m driving up the M1, the countryside changes colour. Still green, still beautiful, just a slightly different shade. And my heart tingles.

Then I realise I’m stuck on the M1 driving into a 50 mph zone and I’m going to be there an age.

And I’m not saying that I dislike this southern sort of beauty; it’s like a children’s picture book. It’s just not as good as the North.

Despite his aversion to the bleak grim north (he’s a southerner), the Boyfriend was very excited about last weekend’s adventure up the country. The drive took over 6 hours, but we were heading to the marvel which was the Tour de France –Yorkshire edition. A bike race where some very good bikes were raced by men with some very serious legs that make the Boyfriend look a bit wimpy.

He likes bikes, both with and without engines. Two road bikes live at our house, whilst two mountain bikes and one with a motor are at his parents’. Having spent quite so much time in his company, I’ve picked up some bike knowledge.

For example, when battling a grimy oily bike chain, use disposable gloves. That white handle bar tape gets dirty quickly (he said it was a bad idea to begin with, but he likes having a shiny bike, whereas I like people to believe I use my bike). I also know there’s a screw to be adjusted as your brake pads get worn. That brake pads need replacing every now and again. That it’s unusual to have severely more worn back breaks than front breaks. And that I brake wrong.

Woman on bicycle doodle

But when the sun is shining, your gears are aligned so that they switch fluidly,  and the hills are challenging but you’re confident that you’ve got the strength to get home (or to work), cycling is pretty amazing.

And whilst I still think cyclists are crazy, I’m slightly addicted too.

The next step is to try my bike in the north…

The new house: It’s not a hovel, but what is it?

poppy field
The Boyfriend’s mother thinks opium. I’m thinking seeds for scattering on top of bread rolls.

The Mother requested a blog post. I pointed out that since I hadn’t had the internet for over a month, posting was a challenge. Especially mixed in with all the activity that comes with a new house – like rushing out on your lunch break to get a kitchen bin, or wood-glue.

I’m also uncertain what to call the new house. Hovel summed up my previous home rather well. With the new house I’m struggling. Barn? Stable? Annex? No word seems quite right. In fact the word I’m using is home.

It’s a small house. So small that the Boyfriend quite often walks into the ceiling. I’m not rich, the Boyfriend is not much richer than I, and property here doesn’t come cheap. My inner Yorkshire frugal heart – the one that puts equal onion to mince in bolognaise – quivers at the thought of money in these southern extremes.

It’s also quite isolated. The hovel was rural enough that there were no street lights, but when you stepped onto pavement (with your torch) along the roadside, which itself was big enough for two cars to pass, either way you turned you’d find a pub. Step out in any direction from the new house, and what you find is field, behind which is field. Occasionally there’s a gathering of trees, but mostly the view is field.

We do have neighbours. Those who live in the other converted farm buildings. And our neighbours aren’t lacking in character. In fact the dangerous part in asking to borrow a drop of milk or an egg, is that you’d likely spend as much time listening to a splurge of conversation as it would take to bike into the nearest village and buy your eggs or milk. Probably the time it would take to have a shower too.

The new house does have some history. Before the Hovel was the Hovel, I suspect it was a garage. Before the new house was habitable by humans, it was where the sheep were kept. I’m not convinced a sheep themed name would fit the new house either.

The hovel felt pitied. Its yellow and green flowery tiled floor was worrying. The lime green blind in the kitchen was the best part of the decoration. In other words, entirely not like the new house which is tastefully put together. Simple. White walls, white ceiling, and pale, nondescript tiles on the kitchen and bathroom floors. Boring you could say. Problematic you could say if your eyesight isn’t good enough to notice where the wall becomes the ceiling…

But that’s fine, because I come with stuff. Lots of stuff. Enough stuff to add character.

What we’re missing now is the internet. It’s an overly complicated process. Installing the phone line took the phone line technician multiple days. But once we do have the internet, then the Mother can have her updates back. In the meantime, she’s just going to have to call my mobile.