Monday, 30 May 2011

You'll never guess what happened on 30 May...

So it’s the May Bank Holiday and I’m sitting up in bed sipping a mug of tea (made for me by my lovely Rod.)

I’ve got Charlie on my lap 
(sitting on a silk scarf because I don’t like cat fur on the quilt) 

and Mabel sitting under the dressing table 
(because she doesn’t do laps)

BBC Radio 2 with Miranda Hart and Jon Holmes is making me laugh and then they run a feature on this day in history and...

“Yessss!” I say. Charlie opens one eye in a moderately disinterested way. “That’s what I’ll blog about today!”

And this is it... except that I’ve done a bit of research and discovered some different events so that the BBC can’t complain about me ‘stealing’ their script (assuming that the BBC even know I exist.)

Did you know that on 30th May...
  • In 542 King Arthur died following a battle with Modred (assuming that either men actually existed!)
  • In 1431 Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake in the market place at Rouen, France. (She was only a young girl of 19. Humans can be so cruel.)
  • In 1536 Henry VIII married Jane Seymour. She had been the lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn who had been beheaded just 11 days earlier. (Like I say, humans are cruel.)
  • In 1821 James Boyd patented the rubber fire hose. (Not amazingly interesting but the only item from the Radio 2 programme that was verifiable!)
  • In 1842 John Francis tried to assassinate Queen Victoria. (How different the history of our monarchy would have been if he’d succeeded.)
  • In 1939 the Labour Party had their first General Election win. (In those days many people despised working class men and thought they wouldn’t be able to rule the country. Haven’t we moved on.... erm... have we moved on?)
  • In 1989 Cliff Richard released his 100th single record called ‘The Best of Me’. (No, I’ve never heard of it either but you can see an ever-youthful Cliff singing it on the You Tube link below.)

  • And in 2011 in Leicester UK it poured with rain (which means that Rod’s vegetables are coming on a treat. The broad bean flowers are almost ready to turn into yummy pods. I may even blog about our first home-grown meal of the year.)


Friday, 27 May 2011

4 for Friday: a trip to London

1. A London Hospital

Every six months Rod has to go to London for a two-day series of tests to check on his Amyloidosis. The specialists at the National Amyloidosis Centre were very pleased with his progress following last year’s stem cell transplant. We came away with grins on our faces.

The NAC is a specialist unit tucked round the back of the Royal Free Hospital, which incidentally featured on the National news when we returned home. The hospital had scored badly on its care of the frail elderly. Doctors are having to write out prescriptions for water so that elderly patients don’t die of dehydration. I’ve blogged about this problem here and here. I was featured in the local newspaper and I was interviewed for BBC TV News

I know that I can't make a difference on my own but I'm about to throw myself back into this campaign. There are so many issues still to be addressed and, of course, I'll blog about it.

2.  London Taxis

The cost of using the London Underground is now so expensive that we decided to go for a bit of comfort. There’s nothing quite like hailing a black cab and jumping in. I’m an excited kid again, being treated to a day out by my Dad.

Chatty London Taxi drivers took us from St Pancras Station to the Royal Free Hospital and back with no problems and the added advantage of being able to watch the tourists milling round Camden Market.

But at the end of the first day, when the hospital had finished with Rod until the next morning, we headed for the West End... and, oh my word, the traffic! Admittedly Barack Obama was in town and the Chelsea Flower Show was in full swing but even so! The taxi crawled. The meter ticked. When it clicked above £22 we paid up and walked the rest of the way... and a lovely walk it was too.

3.  London's West End

Street upon street of shops selling all things Union Jack, (I’m choosing to ignore the occasional seedy sex joint,) permanently full eateries and swathes of tourists wandering the streets. I suspect that many of them had tickets for the theatre and were passing their time, just as we were, in the London sunshine. 

We had a drink in a London pub and we ate spaghetti in a London Italian Restaurant. It's all so different from Leicester. Even the spaghetti had more taste... or was it the holiday mood that we'd adopted?

4.  A London Show: The Jersey Boys

People had been urging me to go for ages.

“You’ll love it,” they said. “It’s just your sort of show.”

And they were right. The Jersey Boys, showing at The Prince of Edward Theatre, makes clever used of the Four Seasons’ hit songs to tell the story of their fame and infamy. I never knew about the New Jersey underworld, the debts and prison sentences. I just loved their songs. I still do. The show was brilliant and you can hear some of the music here.


Thursday, 19 May 2011

Ladies who Lunch again... but for a good cause

Yesterday I had a fabulous day out. It was a fund raising event for LOROS, our local hospice. Why aren’t hospices government funded? I’ll never understand that. Without voluntary donations LOROS would have to close down, but with the kind of support they had yesterday they’ll be around for a long time yet. Over 750 of us shuffled our way into The Great Hall at Walkers Stadium for LOROS’ Annual Ladies Luncheon. In fact, The Great Hall wasn’t great enough. There was an overflow in the next room with a video link for the speeches and auction.

The speaker was Ann Widdecombe. For those of you who live outside the UK, Miss Widdecombe is a formidable lady, a retired MP who last year became our favourite Saturday night entertainment. She appeared on Strictly Come Dancing and was continually voted in by the public in spite of the judges declaring her to be a “de-sas-ter, dah-ling!” Her dancing skills may have received record low points, but as an after dinner speaker she scored a unanimous 10 out of 10 with us. She has perfect comedy timing, holding us enthralled in a story one minute and laughing out loud another. What an entertainer!

The food was good too. Here’s my starter...

...but I’m afraid that I was so busy chatting and scoffing that I forgot to photograph the rest of the food. All I can say it that it was delicious, which is no easy task with over 750 to cater for.

LOROS, or the Leicestershire and Rutland Hospice to give it its full name, is a specialist centre providing skilled nursing and medical care, including physiotherapists, occupational therapists and social workers. Lady Gratton, the President, told us that many patients arrive expecting the hospice to be a sombre, serious place but what they find is quite the opposite. The hospice provides emotional, spiritual and social care for both patients and their families. It’s not about preparing to die, but about living for the day.

It sounds like LOROS offer the same high level of care that my mum was given at Harley Grange Nursing Home, the same high level of care that we expect our hospitals to provide... how sad and distressing to learn that in many cases hospitals fail to do that.

Around the time of my mum’s death I had to step back from my hospital campaign. Sadly, but not surprisingly, there are still problems. People are still stopping me in the streets to tell me of yet another appalling case experienced by an elderly friend or relative in hospital. Can somebody out there answer me this one question?

If LOROS can look after our frail elderly with care and dignity, and if Harley Grange Nursing Home can look after our frail elderly with care and dignity, then why can’t our hospitals?

Sunday, 15 May 2011

A half-perfect mini-break

We’ve been away! (Quite an event for us these days!) It was only a tiny mini-break but it was much needed and we hadn’t been on a ‘daughter visit’ for ages, so as Rod had a hospital appointment in London, we booked train tickets to London and then on to Hertford (which meant that I didn’t have any hated distance-driving to do.) Daughter had discovered a lovely new B&B in the centre of Hertford so we gave it a try.

Staying in a B&B can be a bit of a gamble. We’ve stayed in some decidedly dark and dingy ones in the past but I’m delighted to say that this was not one of them. It’s called Rigby’s and it’s only been open for a few months. A lot of thought has gone into the design of the rooms. The bed was snugly comfortable with cushions and bathrobes... 

...and a luxuriously spacious bathroom.

There was a fabulous view from the window...

...and we ate our freshly cooked breakfast in a period dining room overlooking the garden. (Whoops, I'm starting to sound like an advertisement now!)

Walking round Hertford was like being in a pretty seaside town. Even daughter’s cat was on her best behaviour, deigning to sit on my lap (I’m truly honoured, says daughter!) What a perfect mini-break... well half-perfect anyway.

Rod’s appointment was at Moorfields Eye Hospital. His eye sight hasn’t improved since he was on his second course of chemotherapy over a year ago. He’s still not able to drive. His hopes were hanging on the London Consultant suggesting a cure but sadly nerves in his eyes have been damaged and apparently there is no cure. It’s a case of coming to terms...

...but things could be worse. I may hate distance driving but at least I can drive and I did just that as soon as we arrived back. During the train journey home we realised that Rod hadn’t had fish and chips since all those food restrictions that had accompanied his stem cell transplant last August, so I drove straight round to our local chippie and we were soon scoffing fish, chips and mushy peas accompanied by two big mugs of tea. Perfect!


Join a Group and Save your Life

As a result of problems with Blogger some of your much appreciated comments have disappeared. I have reposted my responses to them and only hope that Blogger will reinstate them soon.

I was at my lunch/book group the other day (yes, it’s ladies who lunch again!) and my writer friend, Josephine, said that she’d read about a study which proves that there are health benefits to being a member of a group. I googled it and it’s true (allegedly).

I often go on about the benefits of belonging to a writing group but I didn’t realise it was good for your health as well as your writing. It’s apparently to do with social interaction and mutual support networks.

I do belong to quite a few groups (so fingers crossed this theory works!) The lunch/book group is made up of writers, illustrators and other interested people. We meet once a month to discuss a book... and eat. It’s one of those ‘bring a dish and put it on the table’ type of lunches and the food it always amazing. (One day we’re going to write a book of all our recipes!) And Josephine is right. The benefits of this group go way beyond discussing writing issues or the monthly book chat. We support each other, share personal problems, give each other a boost when things aren’t going too well.

I haven’t done much real writing recently, especially during Mum’s final illness, but I came home from Monday’s lunch feeling inspired. I had a story (8,500 words aimed at 7 to 9 year olds) that was almost finished and was sitting gathering ‘dust’ in the pending file of my computer since March 2010. I opened it up, finished it off and I’ve submitted it to a publisher. It will probably come straight back but, as I’m always saying, you can’t get your work published if you never send it out. So, loads of thanks to my lunch/book group. You’ve helped me out yet again.

Another group that I now feel well and truly a part of are the Bloggers. This week I have been given two awards so thank you to K.C. Woolf from The Woman Condition for the Versatile Blogger Award,

and San from Informed Sharing for the 7 Facts Sunflower Award.

I know, I know, I now have to list 7 things about myself. They’re going to be quick and snappy to here goes:

1.  I love chatting with friends.
2.  I hate driving distances.
3.  I love cats and dogs.
4.  I hate mustard.
5.  I love playing Bridge.
6.  I hate flying.
7.  I love chocolate (of course!)

Now I’m going to pass the 7 Facts Sunflower Award on to some bloggy people who shared those hectic April A to Z days with me:

Manzanita at Wanna Buy a Duck
Sandy Axelrod at Food and Fond Memories
Duncan D. Horne at Our home called Kuantan
Misha at My First Book


Sunday, 8 May 2011

Looking forward to a better harvest

The vegetables that Rod planted last year were ready for harvesting when he was in hospital. He was too ill to eat any of them.

This year he’s in the garden most days, gaining in strength and putting on weight as he digs the earth and plants his seedlings. His peas are coming along nicely. I have to admit they rarely reach the saucepan. We eat them as we pick them but last year, after Rod’s stem cell transplant, raw vegetables were a definite ‘no-no’.

His broad beans are already flowering and there’s nothing creamier than young home-grown beans, but last year he couldn’t face them.

And the potatoes have settled in now that we’ve had a bit of rain. Last year they tasted amazing but everything to do with potatoes made Rod sick.

I must admit my preferred form of gardening is to wander round smelling the flowers. I couldn’t resist sharing with you a red rose that I photographed a few minutes ago. When I was a kid I had my own patch of garden. Dad planted a red rose bush in it for me. Red roses always remind me of Dad.

Rod’s biggest harvesting regret last year were his strawberries. It was a bumper crop but soft fruit was definitely not allowed with his lowered resistance and I hate strawberries so they were left for the birds. This year I reckon he’ll have the bowl and cream all ready and waiting. Roll on harvest time.


Thursday, 5 May 2011

Too Many Choices!

I wouldn’t want to live in a society where I was not allowed to make choices but sometimes the options are so varied that I become a blithering ditherer.

Take books for example. Did you know that over 200,000 titles are published in the world each year? That’s a phenomenal number of actual books leaving the printers. UK publications account for about 10% of that number which is still a whole heap of books to choose from. I go into bookshops and I dither.

Then there’s the TV. To improve our reception we had a satellite dish fitted recently which means we now have over 100 channels to choose from. Need I say more?

As for food, when I was a kid we walked to the local shops every day and Mum bought what was needed for that day’s meals. Recently our local supermarket opened a new extension. I could do with a motorised buggy to get from one end to the other... and I still can’t decide what to have for supper!

This morning I walked round to the local Polling Station and was handed four ballot papers. 

Ballot Paper No. 1: To elect our local councillors I had to mark three crosses on a very long sheet containing 16 names. 

Ballot Paper No. 2: For the Leicester Mayor I had to mark two crosses on a moderately long sheet containing 11 names. 

Ballot Paper No. 3: There’s a by-election here this year so for our new MP I had to mark one cross from a list of 5 names. 

Ballot Paper No. 4: And for the AV referendum I had to mark one cross from the choice of 2, yes or no. 

That makes seven crosses from a choice of 34 names. I have to admit, I stood in that booth and I dithered. 

You see what I mean? Too many choices!


Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Remember the Fountain Pen?

Pen, pencil, ballpoint, keyboard, I’ve tried them all. I’ve always enjoyed writing with pencil. It makes that satisfying scratching sound on the paper but I hadn’t owned a fountain pen in decades. 

At school we had to do handwriting lessons with wooden sticks that had nibs on the end. We had to dip them into pots of ink. The mess!   

I progressed to a pen with a little lever that sucked ink into a rubber tube but the rubber perished so I got a cartridge pen [which is a bit of a cheat] and then came biros, felt tips and even *gulp* gel pens...

...but if you look carefully at the photo top right, you can see that I have returned to pen and ink. I hadn’t really looked at that photo for a while and then Ann Best mentioned it in a comment on one of my posts. She said that she used to use a pen but she’s now glad of computers because her ‘aging hands appreciate them so much’. I find that my aging back prefers writing longhand but that wasn’t why I decided to return to a fountain pen.

Last summer a writing friend, Josephine Feeney, told me that she always uses a fountain pen to do her writing. She said that it has a special feel to it. It inspires her. Being the sort of writer who needs all the inspiration I can get, I decided that a fountain pen was a must. This conversation occurred just before my birthday. How convenient.

My birthday fountain pen is beautiful. [Belated thanks to Rod or Mr A as he’s known on Twitter J] It’s smooth and tactile. I’m writing these words with it now [well, the rough draft anyway] and Josephine is right. There is something very special about writing with a fountain pen.

Of course, ultimately the words have to be typed onto the computer, my back doesn’t escape some discomfort and it takes longer for me to write and then type than it would if I were to type straight onto the keyboard, but this isn’t about speed. It’s about inspiration and given the choice between speed and inspiration I’d choose inspiration every time.


Sunday, 1 May 2011

Highs and Lows of a Difficult Month

High: I’m so glad I chose Leicester for my A to Z. It’s reinforced my love of the City.

Low: Mum died halfway through the month. I still expect her to ring me, still go to ring her when something happens. There’s a big gap in my life.

High: I’m pleased with my decision to restrict my A to Z blogs to 40 words. If I’m really honest [and I know you expect nothing less!] when I’m visiting other blogs I often skip the really long ones.

Low: I’ve had very little time to write my regular chatty blogs. I’ve missed my penned outpourings but they will return... soon!

High: I’ve invented a new word. Quadragintal now means a blog of exactly 40 words. I may even put it onto Wikipedia [or should that be Wiktionary? I will investigate.] J