Wednesday 6 June 2012

Fashion notes – Derby Day

My Susie has over the years developed  a somewhat jaundiced attitude to anything she considers ‘posh’ , or that smacks of the rich and/or the upper classes having a good time. This dismissive outlook  is fairly predictable, can be vaguely annoying on occasion, but is more often than not  highly amusing.  However,  the other day, she excelled herself.

We were watching the Derby Day programme on the BBC.  As you do.  HM the Q and the Royal Party had driven down the course under grey, moody skies,  and ensconced themselves in the Royal Box.  Katherine Jenkins had belted out the National Anthem, sporting a frock so low cut that the only thing that appeared to hold it up was the effect of the cold weather on the focal points of her abundant natural assets.
And so the racing was due to start.  Cue  the BBC commentary team, headed by the redoubtable Claire Balding, dressed to the nines for the occasion, and  with an elegant,  wide-brimmed, feather-trimmed creation atop.

“Cor”, I  said. “Isn’t Claire’s hat smashing.”
“”Humph!” said Susie, unimpressed as ever. “Looks like she’s just head-butted a pheasant!”

Tuesday 17 April 2012

What's in a name?

My attention, never exactly up to speed until I’ve had a couple of intravenous morning coffees, was grabbed  by this headline on the BBC website. It read:
"Major Parkinson’s Study Launched”

Which prompted visions of the old chap’s comfortable nicotine-tinged den, complete with worn brown leather armchairs, open smoke-blackened fireplace, walls covered with prints of past military glories and ancient yellowing photographs of the young officer and his colleagues, being taken apart, re-assembled inside a hermetically sealed  capsule and being hurled into space, for the edification of any non-terrestrial life-forms that might come across it.   

“But why”, I thought. So I clicked on the link, only to find that the story referred not to the inter-stellar journey of a hitherto unknown and unsung army man’s habitat, but to a research project initiated by a Glasgow doctor into the causes of  and cure for Parkinson’s disease.

Worthy indeed, but compared to how I’d read  the headline,  how boring. What a let-down.

Don’t they have sub-editors any more?

Friday 30 March 2012

The food of sweet and bitter fancy

“Let’s take Kaz out for a pub lunch, while we’re at it” she said. “The weather looks like it’s going to be lovely, and it’ll make a nice change………….”

“While we’re at what?” you might ask.

We were planning to go up-country to open up our weekend retreat after the winter, and Granddaughter Karen was coming with us to lend a hand, since Susie is still in disabled mode after her accident. (v. “ Break a Leg” supra )

Sharon (Susie’s number two daughter) had recently told us in fairly glowing terms about a picturesque little country watering hole just off the main Worcester road that she, husband Mark and the boys had been to for lunch. “OK Suse”, I said, “ Let’s try that one out – I’ll give ‘em a ring and book – they’re bound to be busy Sunday lunchtime.” Whilst checking for details online, I took a look at some of their menus, and the food looked pretty good, if a tad expensive. No matter – we don’t treat ourselves to a meal out very often. Mainly because at the kind of gastronomic and financial level within our reach, I can usually cook better than they can.
Sunday dawned into a beautiful sunny day – you don’t often get temperatures in the 70s in mid March – and the drive down was a delight, once we’d got Susie’s leg (which has impacted on our lives to the extent that it has taken on a malevolent persona of its own) into the car.

So we did the business with the caravan, caught up on all the local goss with the neighbours, manoeuvred The Leg back into the car, closely followed by Susie, her walking frame and a pair of crutches “just in case”, and at about 2 o’clock set out for lunch.

The directions on the website looked simple enough – and proclaimed that we’d see a large sign on the RHS of the main road, at which point we should turn right onto an unpaved lane, and we’d find the pub about 400 yards on the right. They even showed a picture of said sign on the website. Easy-peasy, especially as I’d seen it before, and knew roughly where it was, anyway.

Or I thought I did. We went through the “It can’t be much further – try round the next bend” routine without seeing the promised sign, until we were half way to bloody Worcester. (And why is it that when you’re looking to turn right, but aren’t entirely sure where, you invariably get some idiot driving right up your arse?) Anyway – I decided that we must have passed the turning, and so as soon as we safely could we hung a 180 and retraced our steps. It wasn’t until we got back to roughly where I thought the pub was in the first place that we saw a large empty metal frame from which the alleged sign used to hang, and a small a4 size notice with <-- PUB inscribed on it. Thanks, guys.

So we did a left onto what turned out to be a very bumpy cart track. Which normally wouldn’t have mattered, except that since The Leg entered our lives the first thing that Susie says when we get into the car is “Please be careful going over any bumps” to which protuberances The Leg (not unreasonably) objects, bigtime.

So after about a quarter of a mile of anguished groans and unladylike language, we arrived. To find that the only way into the premises was along a cobbled path about 40 feet in length. Now – I don’t suppose you’ve tried to hobble on one foot with a walking frame along an uphill cobblestone path without putting any weight on the other leg – no, neither have I, but I guess that as an experience it ranges from well tricky to dead painful. Both at once, probably. To her credit, Susie managed it, but by the time she reached the pub garden fifteen minutes later she’d had enough. So we sat her down at a table kindly vacated by a young couple who had watched her epic struggle, and I went inside to sort out food and drinks. I told them that we’d booked a table in the restaurant, explained that there was no way Susie was going to make it that far, and why, and could we eat outside?

“No problem”, they said. “let me know what drinks you want, and I’ll bring them out and explain the menu to you.” I vaguely wondered what she meant – I’m pretty good at menus by now, in a variety of languages, even including rural English, and I don’t normally need them explained. But I was soon to find out.

The main event on the menu was Sunday Roast Lunch. Fine - we agreed – we’ll have that. “But I must tell you” quoth the waitress, looking somewhat embarrassed, and no wonder – “We’ve been very busy today - the Roast Beef is finished, as is the Roast Pork, the Roast Lamb and the Roast Chicken”

As Kaz remarked later – it takes real talent to advertise a Sunday Roast and to have completely run out of the main ingredient. The RSC offering up Hamlet but without the Prince springs to mind.

“Doesn’t leave a lot”, I pointed out. “What’s left?”

“ The Salmon’s nice – or the chef can do you a fillet steak with the rest of the Sunday Roast trimmings. Or there’s a Vegetarian Bake.”

( I ask you – do I look like a Vegetarian Bake kinda guy? )

So Kaz and I plumped for the fillet steak, and Suse went for the salmon. We sipped our drinks, and waited for the food to arrive. Thirty five minutes later, we were still waiting.

When it finally arrived, Susie’s salmon looked passable, and was fairly substantial, but whereas Kaz and I were expecting a decent lump of filet each, what we were presented with was three wafer-thin slices cooked in gravy. Plus a selection of (cold-ish) vegetables. All this at a tenner a plateful.

We were going to have puddings, but the consensus was “cobblers to this” so I went in to pay the bill (nearly 40 sovs for three insubstantial one-course meals, a coke, an orange juice and a pint of cooking bitter) and three disappointed and still hungry diners and A Leg did the reverse cobblestones and cart track bit, and finally headed for home. Where I rustled up sausages, bacon, egg and chips for an early supper. Luvverly!

So, when I saw Sharon on the Monday, I suggested that if she had any ambitions to be a restaurant critic, she maybe shouldn’t give up the day job right away. “But it’s a lovely pretty pub,” she said. Which it was – a little old thatched building that looked like it had grown there. She meant well, bless her, and It would have been churlish to point out that I don’t by and large go to pubs for the architecture. Especially Sunday lunchtime.

Tuesday 7 February 2012

Break a Leg!

Let me start with a riddle:

What goes bump bump curse crash clatter scream curse screech? Only with about ten times more Anglo-Saxon, and considerably louder.

No? OK - I’ll tell you. It’s a Susie falling downstairs carrying a tray full of crockery, that’s what.

Which might have been funny, at least in hindsight, especially taking into account Susie’s robust banana-skin sense of humour. Some years ago she saw a blind man walk straight into a lamp-post, and has been laughing at the poor sod ever since.
That’ll teach ‘er.
Except that this time it wasn’t even vaguely amusing. My poor Susie had broken her right leg in two places, and was in considerable pain. But we didn’t know all that at the time. I picked her up from the stairwell, sat her down in the kitchen, and one of the Granddaughters, hastily summoned from the next street, bound up her leg. “It’s only a sprain” said Suse, when urged to let us phone for an ambulance. “It’ll be fine in the morning. And I can’t fancy sitting in Casualty for four hours.”

But it was far from fine in
the morning. And even further from fine the following morning. So after her spending two days in agony, we finally managed to persuade her that A&E was the only way to go.

In fact, it didn’t take anything like the four hours advertised. We were swept along the conveyor belt (read ‘wheelchair’- motive power yours truly - and
why are hospital wheelchairs even more bloody-minded than supermarket trolleys?) from Triage Nurse to Doctor to X-Ray to Doctor again, to Plaster Room, and back to Doctor, with a short wait in between each, except for an hour when the entire NHS buggered off for lunch at the same time.

The X-rays were spectacular. An ankle bone cracked and displaced, and an impressive greenstick fracture of the fibula. Pins and plates and screws were mooted, so they put the errant limb in a temporary plaster cast, made us an appointment with the Fracture Clinic for the next morning, doled out the standard NHS crutches,and sent us home. Getting Suse (or rather her plastered leg) into the car was an interesting challenge, but we made it, just. And It took two of us to lift her up the three steps to the front door, which everybody but her thought was a hoot. Especially when her skirt descended round her ankles, much to the amusement of the two youngest Grandchildren, who were standing in the hallway watching.

To cut a long story short, we were at the hospital most of the next day, a lot of it spent doing the statutory paperwork, and being processed by, and by definition, waiting at, just about every department in the placeexcept for ENT, Infectious Diseases, and Gynaecology. Finally, her operation was scheduled for the following Friday morning. So back to the car and front stairs routine, except that this time the clothing behaved itself.

Susie’s now home and (hopefully) recuperating.

But what a couple of days! We got up at 5am
on the Friday so as to arrive at the Hospital at 6-45 (they said 7-30 for a morning op, but I wanted to be able to find a space in the woefully inadequate car park before the ravening hordes tipped up) and we went up to the ward. More paperwork. And then we sat and waited. And waited. And waited. Suse wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything, which didn’t improve her temper any, but by about 10 o’clock her long-suffering husband was starving.

Of course, this being a brand new state-of-the-art NHS hospital, there isn’t even a coffee machine at ward level, let alone somewhere selling edibles – I had to go down five floors to the ground floor, where there’s a Costa. Which is very aptly named, I reckon. I lashed out the equivalent of a banker’s bonus on a double espresso the size of a large thimble – thank heavens I hadn’t ordered a single – I’d left my microscope in my other trousers - and a couple of underweight and slightly undercooked pecan Danish.
Then I went back up the five floors to Suse. And we waited, And waited. And – well no doubt you have the picture by now.

Finally @ about 3-30 they took her down to Theatre for what they said would be about an hour’s op. So I sat and waited. And waited. And………

……… about 6-30 I was going a bit frantic. She hadn’t arrived back from Theatre, and nobody knew where she was – they said that due to a bed shortage she probably wouldn’t be going back to the ward we started off in, and in whose aptly named Waiting Room I still was, but somebody would eventually let me know where she’d ended up. If I didn’t mind – er - waiting. “ Mind?” I said. “Why should I mind?“ I am to waiting what Michelangelo was to painting ceilings.”

Anyway – we were finally re-united at about 7-30pm (visiting time finishes at 8, of course, but I stretched the envelope a bit, ) and at about 9pm I went down to ground level, took out a mortgage to pay the car park charge, and drove home. To a supper of mixed leftovers – I just couldn’t be arsed to cook anything.

And so to bed.

On the Saturday, visiting was from 2pm, and prior to that they had told Suse she could go home that afternoon, so I watched the Man U – Liverpool match, (one has to get one’s priorities right, after all) and got there about 3. They told us that they’d ordered her various drugs from the Pharmacy, and as soon as they arrived we could go. So we waited………………………..etcetera. And finally left for home at about 6.

All in all she’s going to be fine, thank heavens. A bit sore, of course, given a leg full of freshly implanted ironmongery, and a bit woozy, given a bloodstream full of anaesthetic and industrial strength Paracetamol. But she (and by extension I) had a good night’s sleep, for a change. However she’ll be out of action for 6 weeks at least, and at the moment isn’t allowed to put any weight on the injured leg, which makes even a trip to the loo a major expedition.

I must say – other than that one sometimes gets the impression that the left hand knoweth not what the right hand doth, all the hospital personnel were brilliant. From the most junior student nurse (thanks, Emma) to the Great Panjandrum, Mr Senior Consultant himself, they were kind, caring, professional and competent.

Nevertheless – I might suggest a new motto for Coventry University Hospital:

“They also serve who only sit and wait!”

(Which, no doubt, is why we’re called “patients”)

Sunday 15 January 2012

I got mail

My Inbox is a source of never-ending wonder and delight. I get dozens of emails every day, offering meall sorts of weird and wonderful nostrums guaranteed to cure any disease I might fall foul of; massively advantageous financial deals involving no effort on my part other than clicking on a link, and mentioning figures with lots of noughts and commas; tax refunds from an uncharacteristically generous HMRC. (plus one yesterday from the Australian Tax Office, which is odd – as far as I know I’ve never paid any tax in Oz, or had reason to) ; urgent security warnings from banks I don’t have an account with; plaintive begging letters from most of the population of Africa, half of them yukkingly obsequious, and the other half trying to lay a guilt trip on me, Godwise; means and methods of increasing the length and girth of my membrum virile( If I partook of all of them and they worked like they say they do, it would grow enough to stretch from here to Wolverhampton, although why it should want to escapes me;) etcetera, etcetera and so on.

I rarely bother to read the entire missives– the headers alone can keep me amused all day. Although why some of these folks should assume that I’m fluent in both Hebrew and Japanese is another mystery. I can’t help wondering what I’m missing, due to my shameful lack of language skills.

I did once receive a stray email, offering me a chance to win laser surgery on my eye. This I did read, because it interested me - I find I’m never wearing the right glasses for whatever I’m trying to do (or if I’m wearing the right specs I’m probably doing the wrong thing.) This communication arrived some time ago, and I’ve been waiting ever since for another so as to cover the other eye as well, but thus far, in vain. So it looks like I’m either going to have to pass, and carry on with the spectacles, or wear a monocle. Life can be a tiresome, sometimes.

And then there’s some I simply just don’t understand. For instance, I received one this morning, intriguingly entitled ”Ramp Up Your Mojo – Now!!!!”. But I have no idea what a Mojo is; I can only suppose that it’s some kind of motor vehicle – a sort of four wheeled moped, perhaps, and for some reason unspecified they want me to drive it up onto a ramp, presumably to inspect the underneath. This does present a few logistic and engineering challenges, in that (a) I ‘m not as yet the proud owner of one of the conveyances aforesaid, and thus might fail them in the Now!!! department, (b) I don’t have a ramp – I’d have to take the damned thing down to the garage and wait for bloody hours until they had one free, and (c) in any case I don’t have the slightest idea of what it is I’m supposed to be looking for.

Regardless, their solution to whatever problem arises appears to be the purchase ( at considerable expense, I might add) of some of their special pills. But they don’t tell me what I’m
supposed to do with these – should I add one to the petrol tank, perhaps, every time I fill up, like that stuff – what was it called? – Redex, that’s it – that my father used to put in the Bentley’s tank with the petrol. He said it prolonged engine life. Although why he bothered, I’ll never know – the average Bentley engine, even sans benefit of Redex, would have outlasted him, me, my children and grandchildren, and yea, even unto the next generation or three. But I digress. Maybe they want me to bung one of their pills into the radiator occasionally, like antifreeze. It’s about the same colour – a fetching shade of blue.

(………..later) I’ve Googled and Froogled, Yahooed and Yelled, tried every search engine, business directory and vehicle listing service I can think of, but I can’t find a Mojo dealership anywhere. I can’t even find a secondhand example - even those folks with the annoying advert boasting that They Buy Any Car don’t have a Mojo in stock. I’m sorry, folks, I’ve tried my best for you, but I’m afraid that in this instance, on me you shouldn’t rely.

Another new arrival – headed “are you the victim of an accident? “ Bloody cheek! While it’s really none of their business, I feel like pointing out that my mother was a Nice Girl, and in those far distant days Nice Girls didn’t have ‘accidents’. I was both planned and born in wedlock, if you please. (I love that phrase. Wedlock always sounds to me like it ought to be a small market town in Shropshire, or maybe Derbyshire.)

Just lately, I’ve been getting some interesting stuff, mainly from Russia and China, offering me all kinds of heavy industrial products and processes. I had one this morning, trying to flog me naval vessels and tugboats (the design, construction and project management thereof.) Why they think these should interest a dealer in secondhand books I have no idea. “I’d like to order two destroyers, a frigate, a small nuclear sub, and an aircraft carrier, if you please. If you could throw in a couple of tugboats and a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover (the unexpurgated Paris edition, naturlich) as a trade discount, we can do a deal” I suppose at a pinch I could list them on Amazon or E-bay, but I’d have thought that the postage costs from China would be prohibitive. And Amazon only allow their sellers £2.80 for postage, which I doubt would cover delivery to the customer if I sold them. Besides, they’d be buggers to wrap. I doubt Jiffy do a big enough bag, for starters.

And so it goes on. Today’s batch so far contains an offer for me to join a “Futures Trading Seminar”, a catalogue of wooden houses, an “Administrative Job Offer in Australia” (hence, presumably, the email from the Oz Tax Office), a Chinese one headed “Printing of the Secret Weapon Here” ( being mightier than the sword, perhaps) and one trying to sell fake diplomas and degrees “that you don’t have to work four” (sic). I get plenty of these, but this one stood out, somehow. Firstly because whoever wrote it had probably heard of English Spelling and Grammar, but had obviously never seen it used in practice, but more specifically for the name of the sender, (and I promise I’m not making this up ) a Mr Terrence Ponce”
Nuff said……….!!