Blowing my own horn

July 31, 2012

Went to the Proms last night – first time ever! Only lived here 30 years but somehow never managed to get round to it. So we set off in plenty of time to allow fro Olympic traffic, and got there an hour and a half early.

We strolled around the corridors looking at the displays of old programmes and tried to stop getting completely wrecked before the show.

I was surprised at the casual attire of the audience, but husband tells me  the  Proms are for the People- that’s the point. And the tickets cheap. So I took off my tiara. But anyway we settled down to listen to the Aldeburgh World Orchestra and rather marvellous they were too with Mark Eldred at the helm. Some of the modern stuff was a bit discordant for me – I like a nice tune myself so I was surprised to find  enjoyed the Mahler best of all as I have never considered myself a fan of his.

But the evening reminded me of the times I played in a youth orchestra. I played 3rd trumpet the first time I went. I’d never played a trumpet before, but played a cornet in a  small Town Silver Band and the principle’s the same. Just the cornet is squatter, silver and has a more mellow tone. Less brassy if you will. And the first time I went for orchestra practice I was overwhelemd at the size of it. The number of people playing all these different instruments. And all seated in particular positions. I had no idea who anybody was.

Always liked to get my mouth round a horn

But I quickly learnt it was all about the strings. And the violins in particular. Unless you were a first violin in an orchestra you were nobody. The violins all crowd round the conductor, clamouring for attention. And getting it. Those playing the viola are only doing so becuase they weren’t good enough to be first violin, but didn’t want to be second. Then there are the cellos and the doublebasses. Thousands of strings with their bows flailing with self importance.

Beyond the strings, further away from the conductor are the woodwind – the reeds – clarinet, oboe, bassoon and the flutes. Behind them further comes the brass section. Us. Trumpets, french horns, trombones….Only timpani is further away from the conductor.

I look at my music and I see I have 212 bars rest to start with. Yes, that’s right. Doing nothing but counting out 212 bars before I come in with a toot or two.  Then another 50 odd bars rest till the next little tinkle. And so on throughout the piece.  You cannot believe how many times we get to bar 57, bar 100 and return to the beginning. I am not sure I played anything at all at my first rehearsal. But whenever it was that I did first add my contribution to the wondrous sounds we were making ( having counted all those sodding bars religiously …..nine 2,3,4; ten 2,3,4, eleven 2, 3,4; ) and PARP! PARP!  The conductor tapped his baton on his stand and said, “Less volume please brass. Back to bar 168 please everyone.”

I realised then I  was better off playing in a brass band where the point was to be heard  and we didn’t have to play second fiddle to any fucking strings.


Last night we became London tourists and took the tube to Southwark from whence we marched towrds the river and rested awhile at the Globe theatre. The Olympic travel warning had made us decide against driving or cabbing and sure enough the tube was much busier than a standard Saturday evening and by the fact that they meandered rather than strode with purpose, we could tell most people weren’t Londoners .

The sun was shining and we found a table in the theatre tavern where we gorged ourselves on a three course pre-theatre menu whilst I looked across at Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece and the Millenium bridge. This was a vista of content, made glorious by the summer sun and talk.

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Entering the Globe theatre

And so then we made our way to the open air theatre  – looking marvellous with the crowds packing every bench and standing in the centre. An American woman was so enthused as she felt she really was stepping in to the set of Shakespeare in Love. And the minstrels played from the balcony as we awaited the entrance of Richard, brother of the King to deliver those infamous lines -Now is the winter etc.

And there he was. Mark Rylance, who I have raved about before and repeat it now. He is so easy in his role, so at home with it he plays with the words, the intonation, the impediments and of course the audience so that we understand his motivations, his plotting, his conniving and his anger. We laugh with him as his lightness of touch relaxes us and we are in on his jokes. He is brilliant. He plays the physical disability down – there is a hump of sorts, a withered forearm and slight limp, but he plays his twisted bitterness, resentment and anger in a way that lays it open for us.

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Mark Rylance as Richard III

The play is cast using only men – as it would have been originally – and  it is the female parts that also shine as brightly. Particularly the incredibly moving exchange between Richard and Elizabeth (the mother of the two young princes he has had killed) as he tries to persuade her to arrange for him to marry her daughter. She is a wounded tigress fighting in defence of her offspring, as quick witted and sharp as Richard himself. Marvellous.

The first and final thirds are the most riveting, with a dip pre and post interval, but as a fan of the comedies and tragedies rather than the histories, I found this surprisingly enjoyable – and with the whole Globe experience adding to it. An easy four stars.

Huge Danny Boyle fan – loved Trainspotting, Shallow Grave, Millions and Slumdog. Adored Frankenstein at the National. And by all accounts he’s a great guy, so I was hoping against hope that the Opening Ceremony would do him proud. And us.

Woo hoo! Its the Jubalympics!

We cracked open the champagne at the start of the TV build up and had text updates form my sister as she was there. Not only that, we knew our parents would feature in the actual ceremony itself as all ticket holders were asked if they’d like to send a photo of anyone they had recently lost if they would like them to be remembered in the ceremony. And sure enough the photo of them in Venice celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary was part of the photo montage during Abide with me. Have to admit I didn’t actually spot it, but my sister did!

So, how was it? I think it was fabulous in parts but was let down by the BBC coverage.  Let’s not even mention the twatty children’s TV presenter-type who was fronting various bits (apparently he isn’t a kids TV presenter but F1), but Gary Lineker was good – and of course I love love love Michael Jordan and John Macenroe so enjoyed their brief mots juste.

Funamentally, I feel it would have been so much better if Doyle himself had control of the cameras and sound as all of the prerecorded footage was absolutely fabulous. The surprise when it really was  HRH herself when she turned round from her desk to set off with 007. Priceless.  And the Rowan Atkinson/Chariots of Fire montage – brilliant. But we had no sense of the crowd – where was the noise of the interaction with the audience? And often the shots we were shown didnt give us the visual feast Danny Boyle had intended. What the hell were the BBC doing showing us a bizzare angle of the cauldron rather than letting us watch it evolve from all the individual horizontal petals rising up to form the bowl of flame?

I’m not sure we saw all the elements or neccessarily understood exactly what everything represented, but I imagine being there would have been awesome. The transformation of the idyllic countryside in to a belching foundry casting those five glowing rings looking exactly like molten steel was stunning.


But much as I love Kenneth Branagh having seen him perform at the National (mesmerising as Edmund – a New Yorker whose life disintigrates after one seemingly small disagreement. Took my parents only to discover he spends half the time stark bollock naked (and with Anna Friel as a hooker  in similarly minimal attire) which made for interesting interval chat!). Anyway, I digress. I was saying I do love him, but think his role wasn’t big enough or explicit enough to have real impact. The commentators told us he was Isambard Kingdom Brunel ( could have guessed that from the hat, although non UK-ers probably thought it was Lincoln!) so not sure why he gave a speech from the Tempest. I think Shakespeare could have featured a bit more, but maybe he did and we weren’t shown it . I flleetingly spotted WWI soldiers, but then Sergeant Pepper lookylikeys so wasn’t clear what was going on. i would probably have liked a bit more recognition of the military contribution to society.

Enjoyed the celebration of the NHS – the jiving doctors and dancing nurses and those huge beds with fluorescent sheets. The children’s literature  chose darker themes and the BBC didn’t appear to notice the Mary Poppins’ until they’d landed to save the day. The musical montage was great but not sure  I would have chosen Sir Paul to finish the whole event off.  Emile Sande had sung beautifully earlier on  and I would have liked to see a young artist up there with him – ideally of course my fave Adele.

Hardly classy but at least they’re happy

The team parades took forever as usual, but they are the reason we have the Games so it is difficult to moan, but the uniforms were shite. Ours may have been the worst. Nasty white shell suits with gold trimmings. Chavtastic. Other countries too though were disgusting, but Nigeria got my vote for best uniform – plain white with emerald green trimmings. they looked stunning.

The Nigerian team resplendent in white and green

The lighting of the cauldron lacked the dramatic emphasis it needed. We wanted a star to light it but were given the upcoming athlesetes nominated by 7 previous Olympians. The idea was good – handing the baton to the next generation, but it didn’t work. At the very least those Olympians should have been part of that actual ceremony.

So overall I’d give it 4 stars I think as a TV spectacle.  Probably 5 if I  had been there and felt the buzz of the crowd and been able to see everything the way it was meant to be seen, not filtered and fucked about with. And 2 stars for the BBC coverage.

Jargon Jargon

July 26, 2012

I know I posted here about people not saying what they mean in the corporate world but it kind of reminded me of those halcyon days when I was working in hospitals and no one thought that patients would ever see their notes. Using abbreviations starts as a medical student – usually to help you learn various bits of the anatomy off by heart. Funnily enough I can remember the mnemonics as they are known, but not always what they stood for.

Classics are Oh Oh Oh To Touch And Feel A Girl’s Vagina And Hymen for all the cranial nerves. Two Zulus Buggered My Cat for branches of the facial nerve and Lazy French Tarts Sit Naked Inviting Anal Sex was for things that pass through the supraorbital fissure. That was about the level of them. Then there were rhymes like ‘S2,3,4 keeps the anus off the floor’ to help one remember which nerves serve which areas.

‘L1,L2 keeps the bollocks off the shoe’  reminds poor medical students which nerves are responsible for the joyous ripple known as the cremasteric reflex. Stroke a man’s inner thigh and watch carefully. Then stroke the other leg.

Progressing through Medical School gave us a template of how to take a history and do an examination and write up the notes accordingly. It meant we had to memorise the causes of various signs and symptoms, so handy reminders like the Five Fs would help us work out what was making an abdomen swollen – Fat, Fluid, Faeces, Flatus or Fetus……

I would come across letters between doctors which would be blunt in the extreme, and various acronyms in the notes. There are medically accepted acronyms (SOB means short of breath for example) but on the whole they are best avoided as they can be misinterpreted. Anyway, thought I would relate dubious ones that I remember seeing. Obviously never ever used them myself!

LOLOL Little Old Lady Off Legs

NFN -Normal for Norfolk

FLK Funny looking kid

FLK JLD – Funny Looking Kid.  Just Like Dad.

P-FO Pissed, fell over

TTFO – Told to Fuck Off

TTFOIAV – Told to Fuck off, it’s a virus

And the actual letters to and from GPs and the hospitals were so much franker – and possibly libellous – than they are now. With Drs happily writing things like ‘Thank you for asking me to see this tedious 42 year old…. “, or ” Thank you for referring this thoroughly unpleasant individual”, or “I don’t know why you referred this patient as his dick looks as normal as mine does”. Got to say they are fun to look back on, but not what you want a patient to read.

Or notes relating to a person repeatedly admitted for having overdosed;  “Mr Smith is in yet again on the overdose ticket. At first he seemed to be unaware what a loser he is in the overdose stakes. However, on direct questioning he admitted that jumping from a bridge holds out more hope in future.” Unsurprisingly, nowadays no one would dare write something like that. And the exasperation from the Consultant back to the GP after repeated tests have failed to find any abnormality “I am discharging her back to your care, she has made up her mind what is the problem and no amount of truth is going to deter her.”

jumping jack firework

One of the more interesting  discharge letters I had to write was for a man who was admitted through casualty  in absolute agony. Very very unwell as his colon had ruptured so he had peritonitis and needed urgent surgery. How on earth had this happened? He had no previous history of any bowel problems. But it transpired he was at home with his wife and he had a jumping jack fire cracker.  Also known as bangers. These were common fireworks back in the day –  about the size of an iPod shuffle. You lit them and they jumped around and went bang lots of times. The wife apparently said to him ‘I bet you wouldn’t stick that up your arse and light it’. So he bloody did.  And blew apart his insides. Because his wife bet him he wouldn’t. Lifelong colostomy and lucky not to have died. Amazing how incredibly stupid people can be.

Father’s banner for my passing Finals

When it came to finding out the results of my Finals I bottled it and asked a friend to read the list for me. Results were posted on the notice board by the refectory and you had to check your name wasn’t on there. Luckily for me medicine was a pass/ fail degree, no firsts, two ones and the like. Just yes or no you’ve made it.

She rang me at the flat where I was living in Peckham. The twelfth floor of a council tower block. The lifts would hardly ever work and stank of urine anyway. But carrying the groceries up twelve floors was tough even in my early twenties. The young black lads on the estate would play street hockey in the corridors and the noise as the ball banged in to the metal front doors or lifts was deafening. Towering over me with their rollerblades on and their hockey sticks flying fast and loose I should have been nervous of them but I wasn’t. They never bothered me apart from the noise on the doors and they had nowhere else to play. At least they were getting some exercise.

And so, on about this day thirty years ago, I waited for the call from Jane . The phone rang. And she said ” Can I speak to Dr Morgan?” and we both screamed.

On the radio was Captain Sensible singing Happy Talk. I completely love that song because it reminds me of that moment. It transports me back to that sitting room with the green corduroy foam bed settee and the dawning realisation I had done it. I had actually managed to qualify in medicine. Hoo-fucking-ray! Go me!!

Pretty fucking pleased with myself at passing

I already knew where my first job was. I had applied to move out of London to try to see more common conditions rather than all the exotic stuff that gets referred to London when the provinces were stumped. I chose a non teaching hospital so I wouldn’t be contending with students and others to do the procedures. So I was going to be a surgical houseman in Northallerton, North Yorkshire.

In those days all new housemen , as they were called, started work on August 1st.  The year I qualified that happened to be a Sunday. So I thought I’d get up there for the Saturday evening ready to start work the next day. I had bought a car from my uncle. An old maroon Peugeot estate with cream leather seats. I don’t remember how I actually got it as my uncle lived in Bristol. I think perhaps he drove it up to London for me. My memory is of my first trip in it being all the way from London to Yorkshire.

I set off and about a hundred miles later broke down. I called the RAC having been banned from The AA after my Avenger broke down so many times they refused to renew my membership. (I only had the car a year and gave it to the Salvation Army after the prop shaft sheared off on the M2 . They said they had mechanics who could fix it and it would be great for visiting all the homeless people they helped).

Anyway, I had to wait about six hours altogether for them to turn up. They hadn’t been able to find me and of course there were no mobile phones in those days so I was sitting on the side of the A1 and had to walk miles to a phone box every time I contacted them. And no sat nav to tell them exactly where I was, just the location inside the phone box and where I thought I was on the map. Then all the way back to the car to sit and wait. And it got dark and I was still waiting. Eventually they turned up and repaired it and off I went, only to break down again about 20 miles later. I wasn’t phased at this point. I just rang them again and at least they knew roughly where I was And they came within an hour or so. But by now it was late. And midnight by the time the car was hitched up to the rescue lorry and we were ready to go.

I arrived at the Friarage Hospital Northallerton with the yellow light of the tow truck flashing. We stopped at the main entrance and I asked the porter where the Doctors’ Mess was. I would be ‘living in’ for the following year. “They were looking for you earlier” he told me helpfully and handed me an envelope with my room details and key and gave me my pager. The wards would ring switchboard and then switchboard would ‘page’ the appropriate doctor who would then ring back to the ward that wanted them. It was 4 am and I just wanted to go to bed. I would be starting my first day on the wards in a few hours. He pointed me in the direction of the Mess and I unloaded my bags and let the driver take my car to a local garage for repair.

I went up to my room and found a note stuck to my door: August 1st started at midnight. You are late.

Of course it had. I hadn’t thought about the realities of hospital medicine. That someone would have to be on call from midnight onwards. The previous incumbent would have another job to go to. Also potentially starting at midnight. And even if he or she wasn’t starting at midnight ( not everyone has to be on call at the same time- its done on a rota basis) , he or she would have to get to their new hospital in time to settle in and start Monday morning.

I felt terrible. I had planned on arriving early evening so in fact if it had gone to plan I would have been able to be on call from midnight. As it was,someone else must have had to do it for me. I was already owing and I hadn’t even started.

I unlocked my room and rang switchboard. “Do you know if the surgical houseman is on the wards?” I asked.  ” Hang on  I’ll ask the Night Sister.”  I was feeling slightly sick with the tension of it all. “No, it’s all quiet at the moment. Are you the one who arrived in the breakdown truck? ” Word obviously travelled fast. “Yes” I said. “You were meant to be on call. It’s Mr Whittaker’s take and you’re working for him on my list here” ” I don’t know” I said. I hadn’t read the letter yet that was on my bed, along with two highly starched and beautifully folded long white coats. ” Well I’ll tell the wards to call you now if they need anything shall I ?”  ” Yes please” I said, but wanted to say no thanks.

I slept fitfully until I was woken up a couple of hours later by the phone ringing. Could I come to ward 4 and write up some painkillers for one of the patients and re-site a drip. Oh my God. This was it. I really was going to start practising medicine.

Leaving home

July 20, 2012

My sister and I are trying to sell our parents’ house. Mum and Dad both died in the last 18 months and we knew neither of us would want it as a holdiay home or to rent it out. It’s been on the market nearly a year and not had that many viewings and fewer offers. But at last there is an offer, albeit very low, but someone who at least has nearly sold their own place so maybe it will sell.

The Old House. Yes, it was that wonky.

It wasn’t the house we grew up in. Childhood was split between Scotland, a rambling country house on the Welsh borders and then a beautiful 17 th century house in the middle of a dull Welsh town. Parts ofThe Old House (as it was imaginatively called) dated back to the fourteenth century – there were beams galore, wattle and daub walls, leaded windows, nooks and crannies.

I had the smallest bedroom and papered it (with my father’s help) with a blue paisley wallpaper when I was about 12.

The wallpaper in my bedroom

I loved that little room even though the frost would be on the inside of the windows in winter (there was no central heating), and it was directly underneath the town clock tower that struck every 15 minutes. Even during the night. But it was mine all mine. With all my bits and bobs, clutter and crap. I had even made a ‘bureau’ which doubled as my desk and chest of drawers and had got in kit form from Woolworths (this was before the days of B and Q). Our granmother had a proper bureau which I had always loved as a child and hankered after, so I got the kit version for my 12th birthday. Wasn’t quite the same, but it functioned.

Once I had left home for Atlantic college aged 16 there were no mobiles or emails so a weekly or fortnightly telephone call and an occasional letter kept us in touch with each other. I didn’t come home during term time – it wasn’t allowed at Atlantic College as those from abroad couldn’t just pop home, so we weren’t allowed to either. However, we did have Project Weeks where we went off to do stuff in the real world – a bit like work experience nowadays. And for one of them I went up to the Octagaon theatre in Bolton, the Royal Exchange theatre in Manchester and then down to the Sherman in Cardiff.Coming down from Manchester to Cardiff I decided to drop in on my parents unannounced. It was a minor train detour and what the hell.

I rolled up to the front door to find it locked. My parents had never locked the door as far as I knew – we always just lifted the latch and walked in. So I rang the bell. To be greeted by a complete stranger. “Oh hello.” I said” Are my parents in?” I didn’t really think it was that odd. Dad sometimes had work colleagues round. “Are you one of the Morgan girls?” he asked? “Yes ” I said, puzzled at the question. “Oh they’ve moved. We bought the house a fortnight ago. They don’t live here any more.” I was somewhat taken aback. I had no idea they were even thinking of moving. Not a mention in a letter or a phone call. “Do you know where they are?” I asked. And he did. And it was only a mile or so outside of town. So I plodded off with my rucksack and found their new place.

Our parents’ house that we are trying to sell

Looking back on it now I find it incredible that they simply moved house without letting me know. Or even mentioning it as a possibility. But at the time I wasn’t bothered. It never occurred to me to feeel hurt that they hadn’t consulted me about it. For them, I had left home to go to sixth form college and would never live with them again so what I thought was irrelevant. They bundled my entire bedroom paraphernalia in to a trunk and put it in the eaves of the roof in their new bungalow. Done and dusted. All my childhood memorabilia packed away. And no’ home’ for me to come back to. I had left one house six weeks earlier to return to college, and came back to find I no longer lived there. This was it. I had officially left home.

Or, more correctly, it had officially left me.

Before we had children I had absolutely no inkling of what it was like. No insight or empathy whatsoever. Never even thought about it. Hadn’t grown up with lots of rugrats around so was not at all in tune. And when the first one arrived boy was it a shock. I did not experience the overhwelming rush of maternal instinct as he appeared, I went in to clinical overdrive and assisted the obstetrician by opening the sutures for him as he was sewing me up after the forceps .

When the kids were small we had three under 4 and it was full on. Relentless stuff, but it gave me an incredible respect for single parents. How do they do it? I have absolutely no idea. I was always so pleased when my husband came home to share the responsibility. And do all the stuff that he did. And he was great with them. And because I was around during the days, when he was around they wanted him not me. I wasn’t hurt by this at all. I loved it. Other Mums would be concerned that I felt unloved.  Or jealous that they preferred their Dad to me.  Until they said it, it hadn’t even  occurred to me to see it in that light. I was  too busy relishing the freedom it gave me.  It meant if they had an option as to which parent to go to, they would choose him rather than me and that gave me some space. And the best thing was when we went out as a  family they all clamoured to sit on his knee or hold his hand rather than mine, leaving me free to mingle, chat, refill my wine glass and generally have a grownup time.

two way adoration

And one of the girls loved her Dad so much that she became extremely possessive of him and jealous of me.  She would flirt like mad with her Dad. And I mean serious flirting. The coy looks,  the fluttering eyelashes, the throwing her arms round him, leaning in to him, draping herself around him, stroking him and looking adoringly in to his eyes. I don’t know where she picked it up from because I am completely non-tactile. And she hadn’t seen TV at this stage. So it must be an innate behaviour. But if you’d seen her aged two or three, you could have thought she was extremely precocious.

If her Dad and I embraced she would squeeze herself between us and push me away. We found it amusing and would sometimes do it deliberately to watch her muscle herself inbetween our legs to break us apart.  But she went to another level one morning when I was still in bed and he brought me a cup of coffee. She followed him in to the bedroom and stood between us at the bedside. Me lying at one side of the bed, her standing next to me and hubby beyond her. Hubby bent over her to kiss me whereupon she immediately slapped me. Hard. Presumably in a jealous rage and unable to articulate her feelings. We were somewhat stunned. And she was mortified that she was told off for hitting.

unconditional love

We were worried this devotion to her father was going too far, especially as my aunt, a reknowned child psychiatrist, was coming to visit  and we were worried she would think something very untoward was going on. I knew I had always been a ‘Daddy’s girl’  but as far as I’m aware I didn’t take it out directly on my mother. I remember tearing at my father’s face in anger when he returned from work having left the house the previous morning without saying goodbye to me. He had picked me up as I raced down the stairs to meet him and I had ripped his forehead. Blood everywhere. He did well not to just drop me. I am reliving that emotion as I type I can remember it so vividly. So, I was aware of Daddy worship. But our daughter’s seemed extreme even by my standards.

In fact, having my father’s sister visit us was opportune and reassuring.  She explained about children of this age discovering their gender identity and where they fit in the world. She was testing out her power, place and role, and our response to make it clear we both loved her but that she  couldn’t come between us allowed her to understand her boundaries. But basically she was practising her heterosexuality.

And having been there at the beginning, I don’t envy any woman who comes between our daughter and her man.

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