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December 30, 2012

looks like the bubble perm is starting to grow out

looks like the bubble perm is starting to grow out

As a student and before we were settled with partners, children, dogs and cats and the like, at this time of year my sister and I would travel home to Wales for the Christmas break. We spent our adolescence in a small market town from which very few escape. Very few actually want to; they enjoy the security that such a small community offers and don’t feel stifled by the restricted genetic pool available. And they have an amazing way of keeping you grounded. So that you don’t get any ideas above your station. Or have aspiration.

So it is that I may have been living away for a number of years and not actually been in to the local pub for perhaps two or three years and I walk in. Same people at the bar. Same cribbage and darts being played. Same safe feel as ever. Time has stood still in this part of the world where long hair and leather jackets were always cool. Don’t imagine for one moment this is a homecoming. Or a return to the fold. God forbid that anyone would show the slightest interest in what I had been doing. No. Someone I had known since I was about 12 was leaning on the bar and just turned his head in acknowledgement. “Alright then?” he enquired. And I blinked in confirmation. That was it. He never asked about my life beyond the hills and I never told him. We moved on to talk of the here and now and impending Christmas revelries.

I’d had great times in that particular pub. In those days licensing hours meant technically the pub shut at 11, but country life meant there were routine lock-ins. This was OK as long as no drinks were ‘sold’, as the landlords could simply be hosting a private gathering. And quite often a policeman would be enjoying the lock-in as much as everyone else. Singing, dancing, standing on tables. All good fun and the nearest thing to clubbing in 1970s mid Wales. But there were also sly coppers who would do anything to catch the drink drivers. And of course I would never condone drink driving, but it can be hard in the country when there is no public transport and no cabs. And in those days the attidtude was different.

So at about 4 in the morning my sister and I fall out of the Red Lion and we go towards the clock tower where her Marina is parked. I never drank and drove (hadn’t got a car most of the time!), but my sister did occasionally. In those kind of places there’s no one else on the roads so it is literally your own life you dice with. But anyway, this was another era.

We got to the car and she tried to start it. It made a groan as the engine tried to turn over, but it wouldn’t start. She tried again. No luck. We got out of the car and started to turn in to the freezing wind to walk the couple of miles back to our parents. When Ever Ready, one of the local coppers, appeared. “Having trouble girls?” “Well, doesn’t matter,” we spluttered, “we’re just off home. We’ll sort it out tomorrow.” Desperately trying to speak without breathing fumes all over him. “Were you in the Lion?” he asked, and we kind of mumbled and tried not to answer. “Only I saw it parked here around 9pm and you’d left the lights on. I’ve been looking out for you.” We were mortified. He now knew we’d been drinking for at least seven hours. Things weren’t looking good.

“I’ll give you a push start down the hill” he offered. “No, it’s fine, thanks. It doesn’t matter.” We knew only too well the tales  of people who had been done for being drunk in charge of a car whilst just sitting at the steering wheel, let alone driving it. We didn’t want to risk this weasly git trapping us in to driving the car whilst under the influence. But he was insistent. “Don’t be silly girls. We’ll jump start it.”

My sister immediately turned to me and said she had no idea how to do it. I said that you have it in gear and your foot on the clutch which you then lift off as the car builds speed and hope that it catches. She said I’d have to do it. So before I know it I am in the driver’s seat and the copper is pushing us down the hill. I deliberately mistimed the jump start attempts so the car wouldn’t start. He persisited in trying again. But after three attempts I pulled up at the bottom of the hill and we all agreed it was hopeless.

Relieved not to have the cuffs put on me and thinking we had outsmarted this copper who was obviously out to get us, we got out of the car to start the trek home. Whereupon Ever Ready said, “You can’t walk on a night like this girls, wait here and I’ll get the car and give you a ride home.”

I felt terrible. I had been so convinced he just wanted our scalps that it never occurred to me that he was just a nice lad trying to help us get home safely. Think I’d lived in the big city too long.

Best wishes for the festive season folks xx

talk me through your thinking sis

talk me through your thinking sis

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Christmas on the wards

December 24, 2012

When I was a hospital doctor I always worked over Christmas. Not out of choice, but because I didn’t have children so priority was always given to those who had. The first time it happened I was in North Yorkshire and Christmas Day fell over the weekend. Saturday if I remember correctly. So I was rota- ed to work that whole weekend. So that would mean working the normal week and then when I came to work Friday morning I would be continuously on call until the Monday morning.
Most people left the hospital on Friday lunchtime. The few of us that were left on call covered for our colleagues so they could get away early to start celebrating with their families.
The nursing staff were happy to be working on Christmas Day and wondered why I wasn’t so enthused, but they seemed to forget the substantial difference between their working and mine was that theirs was a shift that ended and allowed them to go home to their families whereas mine meant I couldn’t leave the hospital for 72 hours.
So Christmas morning arrived and I went to the wards. We had tried to let everyone go home that could, even if only for the day, so those left on the wards really had to be there. I realised I was lucky in that I was healthy so it was beholden on us to try to give the patients a good time. And the wards were probably less than two thirds full so it wasn’t busy.
I wouldn’t normally have helped with breakfast on the wards, but today was Christmas so I donned my tinsel headband and went to wish everyone merry christmas. Obviously I had to do all the work one routinely does at weekends, putting up drips, writing up drugs, sorting out folk who take a turn for the worse and admitting people through casualty.
But come lunchtime the Consultant surgeon on call came in with his family and toured the wards like a celebrity. The patients really seemed to enjoy seeing the human side of him and his small offspring. And he loved playing the Patron.
And there was wine and beer with the full Christmas lunch which we all served to the patients. And of course we were not holding back on the wine and the sherry for ourselves!
Those that could sit were put at a table in the middle of the ward, those bed ridden had us feed them. Probably not as good as a nurse doing it, but at least we were trying. There were crackers and all the trimmings. The NHS pulled out all the stops. We even gave every patient a present. And of course there were shed loads of Quality Street that relatives had kindly donated and we scoffed non stop.
We were keen to try and make it as good for the patients as possible and sang carols and played games until their visitors started to arrive mid afternoon.
And that had been fun and nice. But it wasn’t my usual family Christmas. And the mid afternoon lull when I went back to the Doctors’ Mess, was awful. Acutely lonely knowing, or at least feeling, that everyone else was with their family. Even the patients had their families visit. The nurses would be going home to their families. The doctors who lived locally would have their families. It was only the few on call medical staff that were really on their own. I hated it.
There was TV to watch. Well, the basic three channels so not much. No computers. No videos. Books didn’t hold an attraction. I went back to the wards just to be with people. Because that’s what Christmas is all about isn’t it?

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I am an incredibly dozy individual at times. Unobservant. Wrapped up in the moment.  Focussing on having a good time rather than looking around me. Just so you get the context.

I was a young medical student in the free and easy Seventies. I lived in a flat off Russell Square and paid £5 a week for it. It was a split level ground floor and basement flat and had two double bedrooms, one single and what would have been a huge sitting room but we used for two people to share as a bedroom. And we took turns throughout the year to have to share.

Anyway at the time of this story I had one of the downstairs double bedrooms. It could have been a fabulous flat but was damp and mouldy and smelt. But that never really bothered me as it was such a great location. A friend had set me up on a kind of blind date with a friend of a friend of hers from home. A nice guy apparently and hey, what’s not worth trying when you are young free and single?

So we met in the pub as arranged. I remember he had a tweeedy kind of jacket on which was a bit unusual, but I rolled with it. He had a beard and I’d never been a huge fan of full on facial hair, but he had a nice face underneath and it wasn’t a Brian Blessed job.  But more to the point we chatted and laughed and drank and had a good time. We stayed in the pub sitting across the small table from one another. I then moved to sit on the padded bench seating next to nim and he put his right arm around me. Things were going swimmingly.

And then, as was the custom in those days, the barman shouted last orders at about 1045pm so I suggested we walked back to my place which was only up the road.  Which we duly did. I made us coffee and we took it downstairs to my bedroom.

Without going in to gory detail, (my family may be reading this!) there was nowhere apart from the bed that two of us could sit down on, so before you know it things got close. And all seemed to be going well. Until he took his jacket off. I can’t remember if any of my flatmates were in, but if they had been they would have heard my audible gasp. And he was crestfallen and lovely and I felt terrible . He had no left arm. “You hadn’t realised had you? ” he said, seeing the look of complete shock on my face. He was right, but I couldn’t admit it. “I’ll go,” he volunteered, ” I thought you knew.” “No, no, don’t go,” I burbled, “I did know, but I’d forgotten. I just didn’t notice it . Honestly, it’s not a problem. How did it happen?”

My friend had not forewarned me, although he assumed she would have. His left arm had been severed in a motorbike accident in which he’d been riding pillion. The lad who had been driving had been killed. My date had woken in the morning to see his hand going black and they realised his whole arm would need to be amputated. He now wore a metal frame with a model hand set in a relaxed pose. I hadn’t noticed that it hadn’t moved all evening. He had it resting on the table as he leant across and I just didn’t notice. How could I have not seen a plastic hand??  When I looked at it now it was obviously fake. The fingers were all moulded together not even separate.

So now we have the situation where we are half undressed and wondering whether to continue. Awkward. And he is being gallant and saying he quite understands if I want him to go. Awkward awkward.  I feel terrible that I have been so crass and unfeeling and unobservant. Cringe. And I am conflicted between having wanted to sleep with him when I didn’t know about his arm, to now being put off by his disability and hating myself for it.  Double cringe.

Would it be rude not to?  Would it be a pity fuck if I continued?  Would it matter?

I’ll let you decide what happened.

I couldn’t possibly comment.

OK, I know I am setting myself up to be shot down in flames, but please can companies make an effort with their grammar and punctuation? I get it that the language is living and evolving, but when a company is trying to make a good impression and writing to me or advertising to me, then I think it helps to get the basics right.

I didn’t learn it at school, being a child of a state comprehensive education in the permissive 60s and 70s when all that grammar bollox got thrown out and self expression came in.

Luckily of course I had a mother who was articualte and educated (not to mention elocuted – is that possible to make in to a verb?) and I write as I speak having been corrected numerous times over the years.

My memory is of being stunned at the usage of English by my classmates when I moved to Wales from Scotland. Lend and borrow were not opposite ends of the same transaction as borrow didn’t exist. “Can I lend your ruler?” Well no actually , as you don’t own it.

And nobody put ‘ly’ on the end of adverbs (are they adverbs – see I don’t know the theory), but you know the descriptive words – beautifully, properly, quietly.

I get that it’s not important and I try not to judge individuals based on their grammmar or accent  – hell my accent is so far up the yokel tree I am possibly a scarecrow – but  bad  grammar grates with me, particularly when written down in official material. That and this never ending obsession of making up new verbs (see my own attempt above!) – but  today I got an email telling me someone who had got internal promotion  was  ‘starting the on-boarding process’.  Whatever the fuck that might be. I normally just walk in the front door, but perhaps when you get to the really high echelons there is a special ritual you have to get through every day just to get in to work.

I find efforts to try to posh up writing usually end in disaster. The excruciating misuse of ‘yourself’ as in “I would welcome the opportunity to discuss this with yourself”. With you, you ignorant twat, with you. It makes me feel that I don’t want to discuss anything with you. Which of course is completely over the top, so I try to reign it in when it is a simple request from a client rather than a missive from a company trying to sell me something.

But none of it as bad as the bilingual road sign that was erected in Wales. Swansea council had emailed for a translation from English in to Welsh and duly made their sign using the reply they got. Unfortunately it read ‘ I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated.’

In Welsh is an out of office auto reply. Very helpful!

And as our daughter pointed out, you either know your shit or you should know you’re shit.

There’s a gaping chasm of a difference.

So in an unusual diary oversight, we had nothing on for Saturday evening. As chance would have it a text came from someone asking us if we fancied going to see Dr Feelgood that very same night. Unable to conjure up one song of theirs that I could remember, I still felt the instinct to go out rather than stay in and watch TV was a good one. HUsband started singing a couple of their tunes (Back in the night….Back in the night…..) and reminding me of the distinctive vocals and guitar sound to their Seventies rhythm and blues.
So we started off in the lovely Fulham Wine Rooms for a couple of swift bottles and to be honest I could easily have spent the evening in there. Great feel, extensive wine list and what looked like good food. But soon we headed off to the pub where the band were playing. I hadn’t been there for over twenty years, but remembered it as a fabulous venue – so small and informal. Just seeing a band in a pub.
Now I have to tell you about our fellow giggers. Husband’s ex workmate and his wife. She is a petite blond and looks like butter wouldn’t melt.
She is first to the entrance of the pub where a towering young black guy guards the door wearing his black crombie. Bizarrely, as this is simply a pub, he blocks our friend’s path and seems reluctant to move away from the door. I thought he was going to ask for our tickets, but you don’t need a ticket to get in to the pub. Our friend says soemthing like ‘We’re going in’ and he does move. But he’s not happy in his work. No matter, the pub is spruced up with chalkboards everywhere, staff all in black and efficient.
We get the drinks in and notice the party of about 15 women all in serious Santa outfits. Fantastic. But one has gone the extra mile and come as a present. In a huge box her arms stick out and it doesn’t look like she can sit down or even drink without help. But they are having a great time.
During the course of the pre-ambling drinks it transpires that the lead singer of the band has died and the guitarist fallen out with everyone else so I am at a loss to who we are really seeing, but nonetheless we are out and I’m enjoying it.
In to the tiny back room we get our wrists stamped and move a bit further in so that the two female short arses (us) can see. Our tall husbands stay at the back being able to see over everyones’ heads. Because most of the audience are short fat men in their late fifties.
The band are on the stage about thirty feet in front. The guitarist, drummer and bassist look like they are section managers in Sainsburys during the day and yet here they are playing this banging stuff. But of course there is the vocalist. Wired to the hilt, gaunt and tripping he was literally buzzing. I was expecting him to expire at any moment. It was great. He was driven with a frantic energy. Fast and sweaty. Hardcore. He was physically all over the place, staring at the audience and daring them to disagree. Springing up and down in a mini pogo-ing. He was still living the dream. And playing the harmonica whilst obviously off his face is pretty impressive. Good man.
Half way through a youngish man about six foot tall came in and plonked himself in front of my friend. She was having none of it. No English reserve for her. It was a swift punch in his kidneys and he was told to move on in no uncertain terms. Which he did. She wasn’t in the mood to be messed with. Love it.
They did a Chuck Berry Christmas song – Run Rudolf Run – which is now up there as one of my favourtite Christmas songs having never even heard it before. That’s how good they were.
Then back in to the pub and the beers flowed. And the crowd started getting a bit lairy. Two women were having a fight on the other side of our table. I thought it was a joke at first but then realised it wasn’t. It was a classic “You slag” “You bitch” ding dong which left the ‘slag’ in tears. A man came to comfort her. “I don’t know what’s up with her. My sister can be a real cunt at times. Don’t worry about it babe”. Whereupon his sister reappeared and went beserk. The bouncers stepped in and took pride in their work ejecting them from the premises.
Meanwhile on planet Clarke our mates had bought champagne and we were just cracking it open when the lights went up and we were asked to leave. My mate didn’t like that and told the bouncers so in no uncertain terms. And then she brought up how aggressive he’d been when we walked in.
It was all getting very messy and my husband had started to leave assuming we’d follow, but realised we hadn’t so turned round. “You can’t come back in” “I don’t want to come in” he said, “I want to talk to my wife.” “You can’t” That was red rag to a bull of course “Of course I can talk to my fucking wife if I want to.”
Meanwhile his wife (me) is telling the original bouncer that his very height is physically imposing so thats why we felt threatened even if he didn’t feel he was threatening us. “You saying my height is a problem?” And he sucked his teeth in the way kids used to do at school when I was chairing discipline committees and was asking them questions about why they had punched a teacher or whatever. Things weren’t going our way and I heed the call of my husband to just come out.
And what is our other gigger doing whilst all this is going on? Buying us four tickets to see Hank Wangford who is on there tonight. I don’t think they’ll even let us in if we turn up.

You might have thought I had exhausted all my energies on hating the way language is used. But I haven’t. Today I have been fired up by the insidious appearance of ‘reach out’ at the end of an email rather than straightforward suggestion to ‘contact’.
“If you need any information, reach out to x and y “, or “I’ll let you reach out to x directly.”
I don’t want to ‘reach out’ to various colleagues. If I need them, I’ll email. Or call. “Reaching out” is overblown, emotive, nauseaous. It conjours up visions of the comfortably off opening their loving arms and hearts to touch the poor and needy.
If I get another one today, I might just ‘reach out’ and throttle someone.

First on the scene

December 13, 2012

I’ve posted before about being called to attend someone acutely ill or injured. But there’s more often been the times when I have happened across these incidents being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The first one I remember was driving home to Wales with my sister. I was a medical student and she must have been living in Kent and giving me a lift home. Probably in her Marina. What a shit car that was. You had to double de-clutch to change gear. Kangaroo petrol had nothing on this car.
My memory of those journeys before the M40 was built was of slow slow progress around the south circular and on this particular Friday we were crawling up a road to join the A40 I think. It was a residential area and it was a two way street but nothing was moving in our direction as we waited patiently to get out of London.

A young boy tried to cross the road from our side to the other. He wove between two stationary cars about twenty feet ahead of us and continued to cross – presumably thinking nothing was coming in the other direction. A black cab hit him full on right next to us. He flew up, hit the bonnet and fell to the road. He tried to get up and lay half on the pavement and half on the road. The cab stopped. The driver distraught. He repeatedly said “I never saw him. He came out of nowhere.” It was true. The cabbie had had no chance. The lad must have been on his bonnet before he could blink. The cab hadn’t been travelling fast, but fast enough not to be able to stop in time.

I jumped out. I had agonised for a split second on whether I should or not as I wasn’t even qualified, but reflex opened my door. I had recently completed my paediatric rotation so wasn’t completely scared of kids. My poor sister then had to find somewhere to pull over  I assume. I don’t remember that bit!

By the time I reached him a small crowd had gathered out of nowhere.  People always say that everyone fights to be involved and take charge. Not this time. No one was doing anything. Just staring. The lad was bleeding heavily from his head and lying still, unmoving. Nobody said anything to him or moved to help him. It was somewhat surreal that they were all just watching. I expect nowadays someone would pull out their mobile phone to film it rather than call for an ambulance, let alone bend down and talk to the lad, but it was pre those days.

I went over to him and wasn’t sure really where to start but ascertained he was still alive. In fact he started to come round when I spoke to him. (I don’t think I had miracle powers – it was just coincidental). The good thing about being knocked down by a cab was that the driver was able to radio in for an ambulance. No mobile phones back then.  I got the lad to tell me his name and move his arms and legs, but it was his head that was bothering me as it looked an incredible mess and was pouring blood.  I grabbed the flaps of skin and pulled them together as best I could, pressing hard enough to stop the bleeding but not so hard I thought his skull would cave in further. I tried to keep talking to him and sent someone off to a nearby house to get a towel and a blanket. A woman turned up who knew his Aunty who lived nearby so she was summoned to come give support.  It was the worst kind of support when it appeared – the ‘What have you done, why did you run out, you know you should look both ways..’. continual stream of telling off, presumably because she was so worried, so scared. But I can’t think the wee lad felt better for hearing it.

The ambulance arrived fairly quickly – faster than the towels and blanket – and the ambulance men took over. I used paper towels and some antiseptic wipes in an effort to clean my hands, but the blood was under my nails till I got back to Wales that evening. The memory has stayed with me over thirty years though. Wonder what happened to him.

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