I love the Bush theatre. An Arts Centre feel, an intimacy, flexible staging, great acting and new writing. Some of which can be breathtakingly brilliant. And all at only twenty pounds a ticket.  Last night was the first time I have been since getting a Christmas present that makes me an official supporter  – and it meant I got free wine and nibbles whoo hoo! We were seeing Ciphers, a new play by Dawn King.

The premise is that Justine becomes a spy  having been  made redundant from a marketing role and  is subsequently found dead. Her sister wants to know why but nothing is quite what it seems.  The actors each play two roles and carry this off superbly with minor costume tweaks but more radical characterisation changes so we are clear who they are. But do the characters really know each other? We see the various facets of Justine’s life which she has kept entirely separate  -seemingly sharing only on a ‘need to know’ basis. But I am not convinced of the credibility of it; Justine seems hardly trained as a spy and too niaive, not to mention it is retro in its lack of hifi/wifi/scifi spy stuff.  The first half romped along but the second half became more cliched and less gripping.

Ciphers is clever and enjoyable, but doesn’t quite deliver the punch between the eyes or the pull at the heartstrings I want from drama. Three stars.


The first hospital job I did was as a House Surgeon. They are called F1s nowadays, but way back then we were House Surgeons. And much of my job involved looking after the patients who had been booked to have their operations. They would arrive for their surgery which would be booked for the following day and I would have to ‘clerk them in’. This is the systematic questioning and examining of a patient to find out what the problems are, check they are fit to have the surgery and do any of the work up required beforehand. Like bloods, put up drips, write X-rays, order enemas.

And most importantly mark the side of the body to be operated on. You may think this is a joke, but it’s not. I had a thick black permanent marker that I would use to draw an arrow pointing to the Left knee, the Right breast or to circle the numerous varicose veins that needed stripping out. Because it is obviously vital to operate on the correct side, but once a patient is asleep they can no longer confirm which side it is and sometimes notes can be poorly written and it can be surprisingly hard to decipher an L from an R. It is also true to say that for things like hernias, they may not be apparent when the patient is lying down, so it is impossible to tell which side it might be even if you examined him under anaesthetic.

Which brings me to one of the most eddifying moments of my career. I was clerking in a guy for a routine inguinal (groin) hernia operation and needed to confirm it was there and mark it up with my big black pen.

an essential piece of kit for young surgeons

an essential piece of kit for young surgeons

He was probably about 35 and otherwise fit and well. I asked him to stand up and drop his pants so that I could examine the hernia. I knelt in front of him as he pulled down his boxers. His erect penis actually hit me on the nose as it flicked past in its bid for freedom. Funnily enough this scenario hadn’t been covered during my five years of medical training. But I did what came naturally. I pushed it to one side with my left hand and asked him to cough whilst I palpated (felt) his left groin. “Ah yes Mr X, I can definitely feel it,” I said, “We’ll soon get rid of that for you.”

He couldn’t tell whether I was talking about the hernia or making him an offer.

Back to the classroom

January 19, 2014

I have been writing a children’s book in my spare time. Just because I enjoy it. I enjoy any writing really. Well, creative writing. Not necessarily a study report. And definitely not a tax return. Or even an invoice. All that is tedious. But creative writing like this blog and the book are fun. Relaxing. And satisfying. Especially when I think I’ve got my message across. Crafted one particularly well (for me). So hubby bought me a Guardian masterclass for Christmas. On self publishing. Eek! A whole techy world I know nothing about and hadn’t considered at all. Partly because I haven’t even finished the book yet so getting it published isn’t number one on the agenda. Yet.

Today’s masterclass was run by Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn. Successful author and self publisher. And self publicist by necessity. Because if you are going to publish books you want people to read them . And that means finding your readers wherever they are. And it was really useful; full of practical tips usually informed by her own mistakes and always informed by her clear passion and expertise. The same cannot be said of all the audience who at times I wanted to bang on the head and ask if they had even been listening. But I am a poor pupil. Not keen to engage or offer my goals or visions, but there to absorb. The audience, mostly older, mostly white, mostly middle class. Well, it was a Guardian Masterclass after all. In their glorious building behind Kings Cross.

So now I am inspired to actually finish the book and get on with publishing it and see where it goes. If anywhere. Possibly in to the abyss of obscurity. But it’ll be a start. To build on. I think this is a slow burner. Perhaps a retirement hobby to keep me functioning in my twilight years. I don’t think it will allow me to give up the day job (and to be honest I wouldn’t want to as I am lucky enough to enjoy it), but one day, when it’s all too much or I’m not relevant any more, then perhaps I’ll concentrate more on the writing. And now the publishing. That is until I get a wall of one star reviews. Gulp.

Just about starting to enjoy motherhood

Just about starting to enjoy motherhood

I have never set myself up as a parenting guru. I have opinions which I readily share, but I have never professed to have all the answers. Or to having been a great parent myself. My mantra has only ever been to be good enough. I wish I were better, but I am not going to beat myself up over my maternal shortcomings. Life itself is too short for that and as long as things are good enough, that’s good enough for me. I learnt my parenting skills as we went along. And in terms of the baby era, it really didn’t come naturally at all. I’d had no experience of babies in terms of cousins, friends or family.Only what I’d seen on paediatric wards. Which isn’t the same at all.

So Ten Reasons I know I wasn’t  a natural baby mother

  1. When I found out I was pregnant with our eldest I still couldn’t stop myself having half a cigarette in disbelief and shock
  2. We didn’t buy any clothing or equipment prior to the baby’s arrival apart from a cot. No hours in baby shops  for me….
  3. When I gave birth to our eldest I had no rush of maternal instinct only a clinical overdrive to get the baby resuscitated and an overwhelming desire for a Diet Coke and some toast.
  4. I realised I had no idea what our baby looked like and feared I wouldn’t recognise him when when he was put in a ward with other newborns. Thank God for the unique forceps scar on his face  and the name tags is all I can say. They could have given me any newborn boy and I’d’ve believed he was ours.
  5. I didn’t like the first weeks s at home with our new baby. It was waaayyyyy too stressful.Even though we were both fit and healthy. it was the whole motherhood thing I couldn’t do.
  6.  I always resented getting up at night to any of them. I resented them crying when I was eating. Or watching TV. Or talking to friends. Or basically trying to do anything. I never felt a rush of “Aw, how lovely, I must tend to my baby, aren’t I a lucky Mum?” I was pissed off I had to put my drink down.
  7. I didn’t bond with our firstborn until he was about eight  months old. I didn’t know what people were on about when they talked of their bliss at being a mother. I wanted more me time.
  8. I have previously listed what accidental physical damage I did to them over the years . That surely shows a lack of something? Attention to detail if nothing else.
  9. I was always SO happy when hubby, sister, parents or friends offered to have the children. Never missed them a jot. Just loved being free.
  10. Probably the most awful admission of selfishness and self preservation and lack of maternal instinct is when I took all three to Thorpe Park and we went on a big swinging pirate boat thing. Admittedly this isn’t a babyhood story, but it is representative.  Foolishly (and with no forethought of the simple physics that means the further away from the centre you go, the wider the swing) we sat on the back row. We were not strapped in but had a bar lowered in front of us to hold on to. As it swung higher and higher I clung tighter and tighter. The children (probably about 4,6 and 7)  were loving it and let go of the bar and bounced around. I realised at that moment that if one of them started falling out I would not be able to let go of the bar to save them. They were on their own. I was glued rigid and terrified. When it eventually stopped the smallest was on the floor and the other two slewn sideways and virtually lying on the seat. They’d had a ball whilst I had been crapping myself. Which is actually how the whole ‘new parenthood’ thing had been for me.

I am not a Scorsese officionado. Or a diCaprio fan particularly. But this three hour full on full throttle film was a blast. DiCaprio mesmerising and charismatic as the narrator of his own rise and fall puts in a stonking performance. He has insight and knows what he does is wrong. but he loves it. He hungers for it. He lives life in the extreme. Everything to the extreme. He wants to be rich rich rich. It is a heightened reality –  a drug fuelled adventure where we never see the victims of his mis-selling; we only see his side of it. And we see every bit of his sides. Including his rather nice backside. He pumps up his team to believe they are invincible and they party like roman orgies.

The three hours flew by with belly laughs aplenty. Dwarf tossing, naked women, diCaprio with a candle up his arse – there are numerous scenes that were worth seeing on their own. Put together in this epic made it a great cinema experience. Four plus stars.

I am not a good hospital visitor. I find it hard making endless chitchat and get distracted by the actual medicine going on rather than doing the caring bit. But I have spent some time as a patient and know what I liked when I was incapacitated. And of course over the years on the wards I came to get an idea of what people often seemed to enjoy or respond to. As a doctor traditional visiting times are when you aren’t on the ward; after the ‘business’ of the routine day is done and whilst you wait for results to come back from the lab or XRay department and do clinics or operations in theatre. Of course nowadays visiting times are often much more flexible. But I digress.

Top Ten Tips for being a Hospital Visitor

  1. Check it is a convenient time to call and they want to see you. People are very vulnerable in their pyjamas and may not appreciate a gang from work arriving out of the blue. Having said that, most people crave visitors as hospital is boring and tedious a lot of the time.
  2. Don’t expect the patient to entertain you. That’s your job.
  3. Bring something to share or discuss or a great repartee. If you are in hospital you are ill ergo not always on top form and exhausted. Therefore the visitor has to help make the time enjoyable.
  4. The best thing to bring is another friend. This means you and the friend can chat away and the patient can hear you and join in if they can, but equally just lie there listening to two people who care about them having a chat and a laugh.
  5. Otherwise bring crosswords to do together, programmes to watch on your ipad, games to play, a pack of cards, a jigsaw (remember them?), magazines to read.Load the ipad with lots of thing to watch and leave it with the patient if you can.
  6. Most hospitals don’t allow flowers but cards and photographs are great boosts and reminders that you are not forgotten when visiting is over. A photograph album can be great fun to go through during visiting hours and afterwards.
  7. Skin and lips get very dry in hospital so if you want to bring a present bring a nice moisturiser and a lip balm. Even for men. Similarly a shot of perfume or aftershave takes away the hospital smell for a while. If you’re up to it why not bring some nail varnish and give your mate a manicure or pedicure.
  8. Hospital food is still pretty dire most places and it is lovely to have nice nutritious snacky things like crudites and dips as well as traditional chocolates and biscuits. Home made soup is good to bring in a flask with a nice roll. Leave a bottle of squash or cordial so they can flavour their water to make it more interesting or leave small cartons of juice like kids have in their lunchboxes. Don’t go for anything that needs refrigeration or reheating. It aint gonna happen.
  9. Bring something for the nurses on the ward. As a patient you don’t get much chance to show your appreciation till you leave and its nice to say thanks as your care is happening.
  10. Bring soft earplugs if they are on an open ward – it can be hard getting to sleep.
  11. Obviously usual stuff like books and magazines are great presents but concentration can be limited so fairly light stuff is often easier, or audio books.
  12. Coming for short visits more often is better than once a fortnight if you can. Days can seem never ending in hospital and having a bright half hour can hugely influence how you feel. Don’t imagine everyone else will be visiting – it is amazing how many people don’t visit because they don’t like hospitals or they think there’s no need.

12 years a slave

January 11, 2014

As youngest said, this isn’t a film for date night. It is relentless, bleak and appalling. Beautifully shot with a minimal soundtrack there are none of the usual rays of lightness within the lives of the slaves as this is told by them not of them.

The opening few minutes are easy as we see the free man and his family enjoying their life in upstate New York; he is an accomplished violinist and an educated man. And then within moments he wakes to find he is not as he is sold in to slavery. From then on there is no building narrative towards freedom –  it is a continuum of torture, degradation and inhumanity. Until it is over.

I wouldn’t say you must go and see it and I don’t think I can give it a star rating as my ratings are based on my enjoyment and I didn’t ‘enjoy’ it. I’m not sure it was entertainment. But it was powerful.

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