Wednesday, 28 December 2011

War Horse

The publicity about the Spielberg film, War Horse, nudged my memory and I have spent several days searching for an old green school exercise book in which I wrote the poems I composed as a child. At last I found it, having unearthed several useful things in the process such as a box of printer cartridges and a Sim card reader (which doesn't work, worse luck, as Mr G is right in the middle of trying to swap my contacts from my old Nokia to the new HTC smart phone he gave me for Christmas, and is currently admitting defeat).

My mother, who was born in 1908, learned to ride on cavalry horses, as the man in charge of them at the local barracks was sweet on her. When I was 11, my Auntie Edie gave me the money for ten riding lessons, and my mount was a grey cob called Bob, an ex-cavalry horse who, on decomission, had been bought for the local riding stable, which was run by hatchet-faced Miss Fitzpatrick, who wore her black hair scraped severely back into a hairnet and was always immaculately turned out in a well-fitting black riding jacket, cream twill britches and spotless boots.

Bob was by then in his thirties, quite old in horse years but he still had a gallop or two left in him. Somewhere in my storage unit I have a photograph of me riding him in Sefton Park, Liverpool, accompanied by Miss F on 16-hand-high Patch and another pupil on little 13hh Sugar Puff, which was published in the Liverpool Echo newspaper. If I ever find it, I shall show you. The riding school horses and ponies were all greys. I fell in love with horses, but was always a little scared of them and lacked the talent of my sister, who occasionally comments on this blog under the name of Merrylegs. As soon as she had somewhere to keep one, she bought her own horse and currently rides a gorgeous mare called Millie. Who, coincidentally, is grey. The equine wheel comes full circle.

The reason I was searching for the book was because I felt sure I had written a poem about Bob the cavalry horse, and indeed I had done, when I was 15. Here it is.

                 TO BOB

Does he ever think back to the days of old,
The old grey cob in the cobwebbed stall?
Can his eyes recollect all the scarlet and gold?
Do his ears still ring to the bugle's call?
He blows at the oats and he lips at the hay.
His tail flicks idly, his eyes half-close.
The white-haired cob, once iron grey,
Sways in a memory-clouded doze.

Saddle-less, riderless, galloping hard,
The grey cob joins in the victory ride.
Faintly through memory, battle-scarred,
The ones who lived and the ones who died,
Dream-hazed horses come cantering back.
The silver bugle rings strident and clear
O'er the scarlet-rimed field. Rifles, whiplashes crack
And the thundering cannons boom loud in his ear.

His head droops lower, his nostrils twitch
And a restless hoof stirs up dust in the straw...
But the sound of footsteps and swish of a switch
Blot out his dreams of the years before.
Saddled and bridled he stands in the yard
While the tight strap wrinkles his whiskery nose.
The riding instructress, with voice loud and hard,
Shouts out commands and obedient, he goes.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

A very Happy Christmas

Despite my fears and worries, I had a fabulous time over Christmas. Mr Grumpy did the turkey, I did the veg and two friends of his came for Christmas dinner. As they are both Israeli Jews, I was slightly worried that they wouldn't 'do' Christmas, so I carefully wrapped their gifts in plain gold paper and put Happy New Year on the labels. That went down fine, as did the food and wine.

Mr G and my sister went completely mad, buying me tons of wonderful things - a smart phone, a gorgeous silver-green fleece, a purple watch, perfume, some of my favourite  Burts Bees products... I felt quite humble unwrapping parcel after parcel. I haven't got Mr G his 'big present' yet as he wants an expensive electric razor but said I should wait for the sales - which are now on, but he hasn't told me the make and model number yet.

In the evening, we visited his friends with the five boys. I'm delighted to report that the 2-year-old is back to his normal boisterous self, plaguing the daylights out of his siblings and the long-suffering Husky dog (which is the same age as him and weighs 13.5 stones).

It was also lovely to see our next door neighbour out of hospital at last and back home in time for Christmas. He still has a long way to go in terms of mobility. He can only look straight ahead, can't move his neck left or right, and can't raise his arms very high, but somehow he managed to make 16 full-size Christmas cakes to give to all the medics at two separate hospitals who have helped him so much over the course of this year. Now that he's back, we don't see nearly as much of Chi Mimi, but I did find her in a yoga pose the other day, in a cat bed in the corner of our lounge, snugly sandwiched between two radiators. Cats pick all the comfiest spots, don't they? I hope that you all had a lovely time over Christmas, too.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

What is the point of a sprout?

I wrote this just now, after preparing a mountain of the things! Enjoy your Christmas dinner, one and all!


What is the point of a sprout?
While they’re cooking, they stink the house out!
But we buy the green horrors every December
And cut little crosses (that’s if we remember),
Then boil them or cream them,
Cremate them or steam them,
Add herbs or a paste
To disguise their vile taste.
We make sure we’ve got plenty
And hope they’re ‘al dente’.
In a dish they are plopped
With some holly on top.
They’re now so good-looking
That we’re proud of our cooking.
Then we hear the shouts:
“No thanks. We hate sprouts!”

So – what is the point of a sprout?
I think that the jury’s still out.

Today's horoscope

My Rick Levine horoscope for today reads:

Your world may seem a bit surreal now because you're able to see further into your future as the Capricorn New Moon stirs your 11th House of Hopes and Dreams. Fortunately, you can use your imagination to create the next phase of your life. Although you might be tempted to lose yourself to fantasies, you can improve your chances for success by being practical while developing your vision of tomorrow.

And it gave me an idea. My poor friend Louise Cooper, who I still miss dreadfully, was a fantasy writer but it's a realm of writing I have never entered. So why don't I try? Perhaps this horoscope is giving me a message, a sign for the New Year. I feel my imagination stirring already!

Friday, 23 December 2011

Molly is wearing for Christmas...

... a pretty, sheer black kaftan with silvery embroidery, over a black t-shirt with silver sequins on the neckline. Both from charity shops. Aren't I lucky having such good charity shops nearby!

The Last Straw!

I received one of those brown envelopes in the post that you know never bring good tidings. It was my tax bill. They want £3000 by the end of January. It can't be right, as I only earned £9,000 last year, but if it is correct, bang goes my hope of a dental implant! Oh, Happy New Year!!!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The tooth saga continueth...

I visited the dentist on Wednesday. The verdict was an infected root (again!) and she gave me a prescription for Amoxicillin, the antibiotic I can't drink alcohol with because it causes stomach pains and nausea. (Not Ampicillin, I got that wrong.) She suggested I doubled the dose for the first two days, i.e. 2 pills three times a day, as she had prescribed the 250 mg version rather than the stronger 500 mg, then cut down to one three times a day for the next three days, making a 5 day course in all.

An hour after taking the first double dose, I felt sick, cold and wobbly. Thinking it was just stress due to being told that the cost of root canal treatment by their specialist was £795, I ignored it and took the second double dose at 9 pm. We had an overnight visitor who I was looking forward to sharing a drink with, but not only was there no alcohol, there was no sleep, either, as I got the stomach pains, nausea and diarrhoea without a drop of booze having touched my lips, and was trotting to the loo all night.

I dozed off around 4 am and started awake at 6.20, having remembered that Mr G had 2 tons of logs being delivered at 7 am and our visitor had parked right on the spot where they were due to be decanted. Could I ask her to move her car, I wondered? I listened at her door but she was snoring peacefully. I then woke Mr Grumpy, who was EXCEEDINGLY grumpy. I felt our friend's coat pocket and her car keys were in it, but he reckoned he could manage.

The logs turned up bang on the dot and were almost decanted onto her bright green Smart Car, which would have turned it into a squashed Kermit. Then the bin men came, then the recycling lorry, and I went back to bed feeling like death, with a bucket next to me just in case, as I felt so sick.

A friend of Mr G's, hearing my tale of woe, suggested calling my GP to see if she could prescribe a different antibiotic. I did that but they said I must ring the dentist and ask what she would recommend. Erythromycin. I have to ring after 2 pm to find out if the GP has agreed to give me a prescription.

'What shall I do if it flares up over Christmas?' I asked the dentist. Why do these things always happen on Bank Holidays? The problem with the tooth above, which was removed last month, started on Good Friday two years ago. 'Ring me,' she said. Come on! How could I ring her when she'll be with her family eating Christmas dinner? I'd rather call one of those 24 hour emergency clinics, even though she told me not even to think about it! In fact, I'd rather call any big, strong, male dentist right now and ask him to use the strength of his mighty forearms and muscular fingers to whip it out in one minute flat, rather than have that woman spend 3/4 of an hour ripping my head off like she did last month and then charge me £250 for the privilege.

One way or another, I am thoroughly dreading Christmas.

PS The tooth is now throbbing quite nastily. Not bloody fair! 

Sunday, 18 December 2011

I hate teeth!

Having only just recovered from having my tooth out, I now have toothache in another tooth, the first one my new dentist worked on, giving me a nice new white filling to replace the old amalgam one. I fear I have an abcess in it and will have to be on antibiotics over Christmas, which means no nice, festive glasses of wine.

Some people can drink while on antibiotics with no nasty consequences. If I'm on ampicillin and take so much as one sip of alcohol, I get violent stomach pains. Maybe there is no abcess. Perhaps the filling got damaged while the tooth above it was being removed. My fingers are crossed that it's that, as I have a very nice bottle of wine that I won in a Tombola at a Christmas fair, that I've been saving and looking forward to drinking over Christmas. We have a friend coming to stay tomorrow who is rather partial to a drop of vino. Rather TOO partial. In fact, I'd better hide the bottle now and save it for New Year's Eve!

Here is a photo of me that was taken by my writer and photographer friend Joan - (visit her blog at - after we had been to an exhibition at the Royal Academy last Tuesday. I'm not a very photogenic person and I'm sure she must have airbrushed the wrinkles out! It looks quite festive so perhaps I'll use it for next year's Christmas card. Wonder if I'll have any teeth left by then?

Monday, 12 December 2011

This week Molly is wearing...

A deep blue velvet charity shop top with sleeves of some clever material, like old-fashioned 'shot silk', that looks either blue or bronze according to how the light catches it. I paid about £3 for it, so it's one of my bargains, but I think I should have accessorised it with something long, gold and dangly rather than that short blue necklace.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Keep the home fires burning!

There's nothing like a wood-burning stove. Flad is always so excited when Mr G sets the logs burning every evening.


I stubbed my toe so badly on the leg of the bed last month that I had to stop going to my dance classes as it was so painful. Now that the bruise is creeping up from the nailbed, you can see why!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Those last few awkward presents

There are always one or two, aren't there? You know what I mean. Those people who, for various reasons, are really difficult to buy Christmas presents for. I have just come back from three hours of plodding round the shops in search of the following:
(i) Something for our dear 97-year-old next door neighbour who is crippled and half blind but possessed of a heart of gold
(ii) Something for Mr Grumpy's nephew and his wife, whose tastes I haven't a clue about. Last year I gave them a picture frame for photos of their latest grandchild. The year before I gave them an ornate candle
(iii) Something for Mr G's step-daughter, who had her 29th birthday last week (one present already given), and has just bought her first flat (DAB radio already purchased as a flat-warming gift)

When it comes to (i), there are only two things she really appreciates, house plants and Lindt chocolate. But last time I was round there she said she couldn't cope with any more plants and she already had a fridge full of bars of Lindt!

(iii) said she would like one of the fashionable knitted ponchos, but it had to be beige, with no pattern, and look groovy rather than grannyfied. Well, in the whole of Uxbridge, which has two shopping malls, I could not find one poncho without an Aztec-style pattern on it. So I couldn't cross (iii) off my list.

As for (ii), I was in Debenhams and saw a stack of large boxes of yummy Thorntons chocs, reduced from £15 to £9 'for today only'. Perfect, I thought; they can share them with the rest of their family. I queued to pay and had just handed over the cash when the lady behind me said, "They're doing those same boxes for £5 in Tesco's." Guess who works in Tesco? Mr G's nephew's wife!!! How could I give her a present that she would think I'd only paid a fiver for! I turned, glared at the woman and said, "You know what? You've just ruined my day, especially as the Co-op has ripped me off for £3 as well." (I got back from yesterday's food shop to find I'd been charged twice for a single item but it was too cold to walk the mile back there and another mile back home.) Do you know what the lady behind me said? She smiled sweetly and assured me, "You must have some good karma coming your way then."

I got home in a really bad mood, exacerbated by the fact that my bottle of water had sprung a leak in my handbag and I'd had to sit upstairs on the bus surrounded by a gaggle of foul-mouthed young Asian students - female at that! I thought Indian girls were better brought up than that but all I could hear was effing this and effing that. We'd run out of coffee and Mr G had gone to Sainsburys but forgotten to get our favourite brand. I had bought a jar of M&S coffee, have just made myself an eagerly anticipated cup and found it to be quite vile. Grrrr!

So now I am sitting here with the three awkward presents still to get. Unless... Maybe I can convert (i) to Thorntons. She might even think they're Lindt! Good. That's settled. As for (iii), I'll give her a gift voucher and she can spend three hours trekking round the ruddy shops. At least the sales will be on.

But (ii)... Oh dear! Back to the shops, I suppose, praying for inspiration. Maybe that good karma will visit me just in time.

Monday, 5 December 2011


I had a lovely few days back on my home turf in Highgate, where I lived from 2001-2007. My friend's first floor flat has huge French doors out onto a balcony with a wonderful view. Between the delicate tracery of deleafed branches you can see all the central London landmarks like the Eye and the Gherkin, sparkling at night just like a glittery Christmas card.

I had been warned that the boiler was a bit dodgy. It worked fine up to about 17 degrees C, and then it overheated and had to be turned off. I managed OK, though. I wasn't in a lot during the day, and 17C is warmer than at Mr G's house (when I got back today, it was 9C in my bedroom!). I also enjoyed sinking into my friend's gently moulding memory foam mattress, but the first night I was there, I awoke at 3.35 am having had a terrifying nightmare.

Yes, I know other people's dreams can be boring to listen to, but I want to note this one down as it's the first nightmare I have had for months. I was in West London, high up in a building, when I heard an explosion and saw thick black smoke pouring from some factory or industrial building. I went home, grabbed my passport and netbook and managed to find a taxi just as a thick fog of choking fumes was starting to spread over Hayes and Hillingdon.

"Head south!" I told the cabbie, and promptly got on my phone and rang Mr G, the next door neighbours and my friend K and told them to leave the area fast as I knew the fumes were deadly poisonous and if they didn't get away, they'd die. Then an agonising thought hit me. Poor Flad was going to die. I hadn't been able to find him and I knew he would be choked to death. I woke up crying my eyes out. And coughing. I think I can blame my friend's feather duvet and pillows for that, as I am slightly allergic to feathers.

Last night I went to a pub down the road where an old aquaintance, Anita, plays the piano on Sundays. I got there around 9.15 and the bar was empty, but by 10pm people were filtering in. There was a group of young women who were part of a theatrical troupe and one of them, called Charlotte, had a remarkable voice. She can't have been more than 22, but she had the voice of an angel, strong, pure and bang on the note. It sent a thrill through you. The others all had good voices, too and, along with everyone in the pub, we belted out songs from the shows till 1.30am!

I was starving when I got in and made tea and toast and staggered to bed around 2.15, but couldn't get to sleep. It was getting light by the time I dozed off. Next thing I knew, it was gone 10am. The room was cold and I turned on the boiler. Nothing. Turned on the tap. Cold water. Oh dear. I rang the plumber, texted my friend who was still in Madrid, then headed for home and was so sleepy I almost left one of my bags on the train from Paddington to Hayes. I was heavily laden, having been to a Christmas Fayre on behalf of the animal rescue charity that another friend works for, and bought jam, cards and books. I'd also bought a pair of purple velvet trousers from a charity shop.

This afternoon, I was so knackered that I slept from 3 till 5.30 and can hardly keep my eyes open now. But that dream... Perhaps it is telling me that Mr G's area is toxic for me. Indeed, since I've been here my creativity has dried up and I have just turned down the chance to write two compilation books for kiddies about fairies and dinosaurs, simply because I haven't got a warm, quiet, undisturbed place to write them. Roll on the New Year and a new home!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The 'Flu

It's now twelve days since I had my tooth out. The pain has almost gone but the gum is still much too tender to let me eat on that side. What is worse is that the gumboil is still there - and that was the reason why the tooth was pulled out in the first place! How can I possibly still have any infection there with my decaying old tooth gone? I am rinsing with warm salt water and rubbing Corsodyl on it but nothing seems to work. Any ideas, anyone? I really don't want to have to resort to antibiotics.

Last time I was at the doctor's she merrily offered me a flu jab and I turned it down. The only time I ever had one was in 1996 and three days later I developed full-blown flu with a high temperature and all the aches and shivers, and then my poor mum died so I had to drag my flu-ridden body onto a train - on a Sunday, with engineering works turning a 2 1/2 hour journey into a 5 hour one - and arrived to find that the police had taken her away to the police mortuary, and wouldn't let me see her for a whole week. I was desperate. It was January 1996 and every day I would walk into the police station and beg tearfully to be allowed to see the body of my beloved mum. And each time they said no, because the doctor hadn't issued the death certificate yet.

Eventually, I went to see him. By this time, I was beyond speech. My voice had completely gone, I could hardly breathe and as soon as he saw me, he said I had laryngitis and a chest infection as well as flu, and gave me antibiotics. When I got back to London, I visited my own doctor only to be told I was no longer a patient of theirs. I broke down in the surgery, thinking that I'd committed some misdemeanour and been struck off their list. In fact, due to an administrative error, all my notes had been transferred to my mother's GP in Liverpool.

This episode ranks alongside the day my daughter's father ditched me for another woman when I was pregnant with the child he'd said he wanted us to have, and the day I had to hand her over to the adoption society, as one of the most wretched times of my life. So when my GP gaily asked if I'd like a flu jab, I said no, because it brings back very unhappy memories.

I don't want to get flu, of course, so in place of a jab, I am taking a homoeopathic remedy called Triple Flu Defense - - which is formulated afresh every season to protect against the latest strains. 20 drops on the tongue every Sunday. I shall let you know if I manage to dodge the virus or not. Last night, I went for a meal with an old friend in North London and stayed over. Her lodger had just come back from Sweden and brought a nasty cold with him and by this morning she had started going down with it. Will I escape their germs? Watch this - atchoo! - space!

Monday, 21 November 2011

Resplendent orchid

My much neglected orchid, which was a gift from Mr Grumpy's step-daughter five years ago, has done me proud. Last time it bloomed, it produced seven flowers. Now it's given me thirteen beautiful blossoms and all it's had is the occasional drink of water and one drop of Baby Bio. Isn't it glorious?

This week Molly wears...

... a lovely cotton kaftan-style top from Oxfam with a squiggly blue pendant from the Thames Hospice charity shop. Not a bad little haul! Her nether regions look rather chilly so I suppose I should drape a scarf round them to protect her modesty.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Horse sense

I had the oddest dream last night about my sister and her horse, Millie. Here they are in this photo taken recently in Cumbria in the North Lakes. In the dream, I walked into someone's lounge, and there, spread on a sofa, sound asleep, was Millie. She was lying on her side, like a dog. I sat beside her, stroked her neck and muzzle and confessed that I had always been nervous of horses. Whereupon Mille opened an eye and told me I had no reason to be scared of her and that she wouldn't kick or bite me. We proceded to have a long chat. Sadly, I can't remember what about! I must have still been under the influence of the three jabs of Novocaine and the several painkillers I had taken while having my huge molar removed yesterday afternoon.

I now have a hole in my gum an inch long and about 3/4 of an inch wide. It took an hour to remove the tooth, with much wiggling and rocking. My neck and shoulders are killing me. What a pity I wasted money on a massage on Wednesday. I'd really appreciate one now!

To minimise the risk of knocking out the clot and getting 'dry socket', which is agonising as it means the nerves in your jawbone, and even the bone itself, are exposed, I am under strict orders not to eat or drink on that side for a fortnight, not to touch it with my tongue, not to sneeze, blow my nose or make any sucking movements (drinking through a straw would have been SO much easier), and to rinse with warm salt water after every meal and before bedtime. I have had to cancel arrangements for meals and parties for the next fortnight and am living in fear of the dreaded 'dry socket'. I'd never heard of it till yesterday. I most certainly do not want it! Wonder why they couldn't have put some stitches in to hold the wound together?

As for what happens next... In two months' time I can have either a bridge or an implant. I'll need something, as the gap shows when I smile. But I shall have to shop around because my dentist's prices are sky-high. Trip to Budapest? Hmmm. Too far to go if something goes wrong. Now, if I'd have been younger, I'd have looked around for a dentist to seduce, but no chance of that now!!! I knew someone who did that. She had an affair with a driving instructor and got all her lessons free. Then she ditched him and dated, in turn, a dentist, a doctor an estate agent and a builder. She's probably married to a cosmetic surgeon by now and eyeing up an undertaker.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Spot the cat!

Can anybody explain to me why cats are so attracted to clean laundry? You'd think they would opt to sleep on a heap of dirty clothes that smelt comfortingly of their pet humans, rather than a pile of newly washed stuff stinking of the chemicals in the washing liquid and fabric conditioner.

And another thing... How come they always know that you have just carried some clean garments up and laid them on the bed? There could be no cat in sight, but within moments, one has morphed into being, beamed up from the bottom of the garden, or beneath the table, and is furrily, almost invisibly, ensconced on  your nice, clean (?) laundry.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Wedding Anniversary Party

My friends Mo and Jon celebrated their silver wedding anniversary by throwing a big party for friends and family at the fabulous Pitzanger Manor in Ealing, West London yesterday.

Mr Grumpy couldn't go because the nearest parking was a goodly hike away and he can't walk far since his strokes, so, dressed in all my finery (fabulous purple, silver and cerise striped Per Una skirt I'd bought for £3 in a charity shop, red tights, purple shoes, cerise top and black lace jacket), I went there by bus, which took an hour due to the usual traffic jams in Southall, but the weather was fine and sunny and I was lucky enough to find a seat on the bus.

On arrival, we were all handed a glass of champagne and after an hour of milling around, Jon made a lovely speech and we then found our allotted tables and served ourselves from the buffet. Mo and Jon are known for fine dining and the food, provided by a personal chef and caterer called Phillip McMullen, was out of this world. I have never encountered such combinations of flavours and textures - macadamia nuts, quinoa and wild rice, watercress salad with all kinds of additions, mouthwateringly tender beef, squash and beetroot mixed with flavoursome things I couldn't even name. And with a constant supply of wines, the guffaws and screeches coming from each table soon scared the squirrels on the rolling, sun-dappled lawns.

We had to vacate the building by 5pm and the party was due to continue at Mo and Jon's house from 7pm onwards, but after an hour on the bus home, I really didn't feel like spending another one going back to their house later, and anyway, I felt far too bloated to move. You don't have to look too closely at the photo of me (taken after I got back) to spot the spare tyre. It truly was a wonderful day. Most of the adults present, including myself, had been to their wedding 25 years earlier. When asked to put up our hands if we'd been at the wedding, their son George raised his, as he was born six months later!

The top photo shows Jon on the left, making his speech, and Mo in the lime green top at the far right. In the middle photo, the friend who was best man at their wedding is speaking (I included this pic to give you some idea of the wonderful ceilings) and the bottom one is bulgy me with my bright orange hair! The figure behind is a dressmaker's dummy called Molly whom I dress in a different outfit every week. This is a great way of finding out what goes with what.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Brain-rot sets in

My mother started developing dementia when she was around 80. Not Alzheimer's, but the kind of dementia you get when your arteries fur up and your brain isn't getting enough oxygen. Vascular dementia, I think it is called. She would ask for a cabbage in the off-licence and go to the butcher's for a bottle of whisky (and probably get it, knowing her butcher). It was confusion rather than outright memory loss. For exaample, she would get out some fish fingers to eat, remark that they were rather tough and not realise that she was supposed to have cooked them.

Like all people who have seen it, I fear it. And three days ago I downright terrified myself by being unable to remember a simple word. I had a splinter in my finger. I wanted to get it out. "Have you seen the..." I asked Mr Grumpy. "Seen what?" he asked irritably, because the poor thing has raging toothache in his top left wisdom tooth again. (And won't go to the dentist, but Mr G and his teeth are another story and a very long and ugly one, too, just like his tooth.) "The... you know, the things you pull things out with, like chin and eyebrow hairs," I said crossly, angry with myself for not being able to think of the word and madly stirring the old braincells into lumpy porridge..

In an insufferably patronising tone, he replied, "Last time I saw the TWEEZERS, they were on the shelf behind the scissors."

Tweezers! Of course! That was the word. How could I have forgotten? But then, when was the last time I used them? Six months ago? (Not having enough eyebrows left to merit plucking.) It wasn't a word I ever used in conversation. Can a word evaporate from non-use in just six months? If so, then why haven't I forgotten tampon? I haven't used one of those since my hsyterectomy in 1998!

It was a very scary moment and it has worried me sick ever since. Isn't this the kind of symptom you have to watch out for? Is this the beginning of the end? Will I soon have to go around wearing a label saying, 'If found, please return to...'?

This led me to wondering why we are not all chipped at birth, like cats and dogs are, with our name, date and place of birth and parentage. That way, those fraudsters who assume multiple identities and claim thousands of pounds in benefits wouldn't get away with it. And if they tried to remove or change the chip, some alarm would go off somewhere and inform the authorities. Smacks too much of 1984 and Big Brother? Maybe. But at least, in the (I hope distant) future, it might help me find my way back home, along with Rover and Fluffy and the tortoise from No. 49.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

A picture to make you smile

I call this Double Doze. Flad in his favourite position, legs akimbo, and a recumbent fox. This really is a crazy garden!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Cyber Etiquette

One of the worst things about being a freelance writer/editor (apart from never knowing when, or even if, the cheque will arrive, is not knowing if your work has reached its destination or if it has been eaten by cyber-gremlins instead. I do believe these creatures exist. No larger than a flea or a full stop, and coloured toxic green or violent violet, they lurk beneath the keyboard and inside your hard drive. When you press Send, they have just a split second in order to grab your precious megabytes and munch them, with fiendish cackles. Put your ear to your computer: can't you hear the little devils hissing and skreeking?

For months... no, years... I have been trying to impress on my various employers the importance of acknowledging receipt of my work. I always try to beat deadlines.  For the last week, I have been editing a 100,000 word novel. The deadline was yesterday. I sent it Tuesday lunchtime, then checked my mail several times hoping for a 'thanks so much for getting it done early' email. Nothing. I emailed asking if they had got it. Still nothing. Now I'm worried that my follow-up email didn't arrive, either, and they are still awaiting my work!

I am currently working on a thriller written by a friend of mine. He is seeing a publisher in a few days' time and wants the first few chapters to give him. Last night, I sent over the 60 pages I had done so far, together with some general editing notes. Did I receive any acknowledgement that they had arrived? What do you think!

I also did some property research for a friend, and sent an email complete with photos and links. Yet again, there has been a deathly silence.

In olden times, I would ring to ask if work had arrived, as a combination of hard copy and snail mail often resulted in problems. But now that all my work is done via email, surely a quick 'Got it, thanks,' would not put the recipient to a lot of trouble, and would be a great relief to me - indeed, to any freelancer. Why should we have to do all the chasing? It's bad enough having to chase the cheque, without having to chase up the work itself and see if it has reached its destination.

Apparently there is something you can set up which tells you if the recipient has opened your email. But why should the onus be on me? Common courtesy costs nothing. Even cyber-gremlins (suggestions for names, please!) can't eat that!

Saturday, 22 October 2011

At the Royal Free

I went to the Royal Free in Hampstead yesterday afternoon to be there for J when she came round from her elbow operation. They have inserted wires to pull the broken bones together. The last time I was in that hospital was 1998, when I donated my womb, fallopian tubes and ovary (I was found to only have one!) to their incinerator. I had a miserable five days there. The ward was red hot but I couldn't remove the bedclothes as the ward was full of other women's visiting husbands and sons. It was also not very clearn.

I am pleased to report that things have improved tremendously. It was still red hot - I had to remove as many layers as I could in the waiting room, where I sat for almost two hours waiting for J to come out of the Recovery ward - but a lovely young girl called Adrienne, or Adrianna, offered us all cups of tea - free! I offered to make a donation for mine as I was so delighted to get it. And there was a water dispenser, too. And a loo! Though some poor man who was awaiting his transport home dashed in and was sick in the basin. Oh well, couldn't be helped. Apart from that, the wards and corridors were gleamingly clean and a mechanical voice reminded everyone at frequent intervals to use the antibacterial gel. I had brought my own bottle, and spilled it all over my handbag, which now smells just like a hospital.

Having arrived at 3, it was around 4.30 before I was led into a side room to see J. I was horrified by how she looked. She was grey and comatose, with an oxygen mask on, and her arm was in plaster, but instead of one black eye (now purple, green, blue and yellow), she had two and one hand was swollen and blue, looking like a rubber glove that someone had blown into and inflated. I pointed this out to a doctor, in case it was swelling because the plaster and bandaging were too tight, but he said it was just more bruising appearing, following her accident.

Eventually, she was able to croak a few words, and they moved her into a proper ward, but soon had to move her on again - with me following her bed, carrying coat, cardy, two handbags (I'd retrieved hers from her locker for her) and a polystyrene cup of water - because they had more male than female patients and had to shift everyone around so the sexes were segregated.

They said they would probably have to keep her in overnight as she was feeling very sick and dizzy, but she felt a bit better after being given an anti-sickness drug (the same one that paralysed me last December and caused me to be kept in hospital overnight, on the night we had a blizzard). Luckily, J didn't react to it. I had a toothbrush with me and was prepared to take her home in a taxi and spend the night, as the hospital insist that someone has to be with you the night after an operation. But around 6.30 her boyfriend, who lives even further out of town than I do, arrived with his car, so I wished her a speedy recovery and left for my two-hour journey home.

I slept badly. I had a nightmare about going backwards down a long spiral staircase, grabbing the wrong handhold and knowing I was going to fall to my doom. I woke up in the middle of the night red hot and sweating, feeling as if I had a fever. But I'm OK this morning and have to catch up on work. I also went to view a flat yesterday, but that's another story. I have a splinter down my fingernail which is making typing difficult, so I shall tell you the tale of two garden studios next time!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Fleas and shiners

They let my friend J out of hospital today with her arm in plaster and a bag of painkillers, but she has to go back for an operation. They were hoping to do it today but they had 'more urgent cases' to deal with. She has sent everyone a photo of her black eye. It really is a beaut and looks very painful. Thank God her sight wasn't damaged.

I am exceedingly itchy. Somebody in this house has fleas - somebody furry, I suspect - and one has hopped all the way up (or down) my trousers. Mr G never gets bitten, which means he must taste horrible. I, on the other hand, must taste to a flea like strawberry pavlova as they simply adore me. Mosquitoes do, too. I am now waiting for a cat-free moment to spray the house - and lock the felines out for an hour while the stuff does the trick. One has had its flea treatment, but the other hasn't. We rather hoped that his fleas would hop on her and get nuked, but that was wishful thinking. 

The odd thing was, I haven't had a single bite for months so I thought the house was flea-free. It must be the log fires Mr G is lighting. It's hatched the buggers 

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Car accident

I had a shock phone call today from a London hospital to say a good friend of mine, J, had been hit by a car while she was on a zebra crossing. Like me, she is a freelance writer, right in the middle of commissions, and she has had her elbow broken and is being operated on tomorrow.

She rang me herself from the hospital and asked me to come as her car needed moving from where she had left it, parked somewhere where there were restrictions and she could get fined or towed if the car wasn't moved by 9 am tomorrow. I don't drive. In fact, I felt bloody useless, but I managed to track down a mutual acquaintance who lived near the hospital (I live two hours away by public transport) and she kindly went to the hospital, collected car keys and door keys, moved the car, fed J's new cat that she adopted only a couple of weeks ago from the Mayhew Animal Sanctuary, and went back with J's mobile phone, nightdress, toothbrush, etc.

I have just taken on a massive editing job - a 100,000 word novel that needs cutting and tweaking and has to be done by next Tuesday. I may just have to do it on my laptop at J's place because she has damaged her ankle, too and lives a long hike from the shops. I feel so sorry for her. And guess what? She was on rollerblades at the time, on her way to skate on Hampstead Heath as she so often does. A bus stopped for her, then a car whizzed past the bus and hit J. At least the driver stopped. But it could have been so much worse. As it is, I can see her being crocked for ages. It's at times like this that I bitterly regret not driving and not being able to help more. But I've baked a batch of buns to take her and I shall fill my backpack with cat food. And take great care on zebra crossings...

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Icy fingers and headphones

It's 8 degrees Centigrade in the room where I am writing this. That's about 45 degrees F. The surface of my desk feels as if it's just come out of the fridge. I am wearing socks, furry purple slippers, sea-green velvet tracksuit bottoms, a zip-up hoody and a fleecy gilet. I am frozen. And I am not allowed to have the heating on as Mr G says the total bills for last year amounted to £2,000. I paid half. I wouldn't mind paying three-quarters if I could just be warm.

When I am cold all day, I feel miserable, tired, grouchy and under par. My brain feels torpid and my whole body feels as if it is sliding into hibernation mode. Yesterday, I visited the 97-year-old neighbour on one side to help her open a cupboard, then later I took some home-baked jammy coconut buns round to the neighbours on the other side (the man who nearly died in the motorbike accident). He is now allowed home at weekends but in the week goes back to Stoke Mandeville to continue his physio and rehabilitation. The point of this story is not to say what a good neighbour I am but to say that I lingered as long as possible in each house - because they were so lovely and warm.

I have known Mr G and his house for 14 years. I have suffered six winters living here full-time and each time I stick my head out of my frozen burrow to blink at the spring sunshine, like a grouchy ginger Liverpudlian groundhog, I vow 'never again, by next winter I will have moved out'. But once again, I haven't managed it. I must admit a Travel Lodge seems a most enticing option. Wonder how much they charge for Internet access? I could leave Mr G in his igloo and pay him fleeting visits to pick up my mail and cuddle the cats. Yesterday, I caught him with a cat stuffed inside his fleece jacket. I think I've rumbled his method of keeping warm. It wouldn't work for me. Too much cat between me and the computer keyboard. But still, it works better than a hot water bottle and is very eco-friendly. Or should that be eeek-o? That's all poor old Flad can say, as he was born with a meow by-pass.

Now for another grumble. The perils of buying on Ebay. I paid for some specialist headphones for use with my digital piano (also bought on Ebay and another story entirely). I haven't touched my keyboard since it arrived on Wednesday as I am so out of practice, I wanted to play silently, using the headphones, until I had re-learned a few numbers. The headphones arrived yesterday, I hacked my way into the packaging, took them out and... whaaaat? They were designed to be worn by a pointy-headed alien with ears on his temples. I tugged and tweaked but they wouldn't extend. I tried wearing them round my neck with the ear muff bits pointing upwards, I clamped them round the back of my head but they just slid off.

I looked at the invoice. It said No Returns. They must know damn well that the things are useless, made for Japanese three-year-olds or something. I have emailed them telling them exactly what I think of their product. I bet I don't get a reply. If by some miracle I do, I shall let you know, but right now I'm off to Argos to buy some adult-sized ones that fit around grown-up heads and female hair.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Superior Joints

I read an article about a new supplement for arthritic joints called Superior Joints, sold by Victoria Health online store) and, though it was expensive (£30 for 60 tablets), I decided to try it as my fingers were in such dreadful pain. The article said that most people report an improvement within ten days. In my case, I noticed it on Day 3 - yesterday.

As soon as I woke up, I thought, 'What's different?' There was some kind of change in my body, I felt more comfortable. As soon as I started to get dressed, I realised it was my hands. The roar of the pain had decreased to a murmur. Today, I am typing much faster and my fingers, though still stiff, swollen and fused (my middle finger on my right hand has no movement at all in the small joint and only limited movement in the large one), hurt so much less that it feels like a miracle.

The remedy is based on the membrane inside an egg which contains collagen, chondroitin and hyaluronic acid. This is combined with ginger, turmeric, tart cherries (whatever they are) and something called astaxanthin. I have tried massaging my fingers with a ginger and turmeric mixture and it had no effect whatsoever, so perhaps you need to take them orally. Whatever the case, this mixture seems to work - only I shall have to win the lottery to carry on taking it, as the dosage is 2 pills per day :-(

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Just a tick

Sorry about the punny heading, but I'm feeling lighthearted. At last the docs have found out what is wrong with my friend's toddler. It's Lyme Disease. A few weeks ago the family went on a camping holiday in the New Forest, where he must have been bitten by an infected tick. At Mr G's party on Sept 11th, the little boy suddenly sprouted a nasty rash which his mum thought was chicken pox but, in hindsight, must have been the symptomatic Lyme rash, big red itchy circles. It can also cause the joint and muscle pain and the flu-like symptoms with the high temperature that he was getting, poor little mite. (Aargh, that pun was NOT intended!)

As it's been caught early enough, it should be treatable with a couple of weeks of antibiotics so we all hope he won't have any longterm problems. His mum and dad must be feeling so relieved after all they have been through, the sleepless nights spent in a chair at the hospital. It's his mum's 40th birthday in a couple of weeks and we'll all feel like celebrating.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Jackdaws at sunset

As I was sitting here in the fading golden light of the glorious setting sun - it shines right into my eyes as it vanishes behind the chimneys opposite - I suddenly heard the unusual (for here) sound of a large number of jackdaws. Their chak-chakking took me right back to St Agnes in Cornwall, where I had so many blissful stays with my late friend, Louise.

I spoke to her husband a couple of days ago and he is 'bearing up', as they say. Still with a huge hole in his life that it feels far to early to fill with another lady, but sounding a lot more cheerful and full of plans to improve the house, which is a wooden chalet, like a large beach hut, with a wood-burning stove in the centre. It used to be so poorly insulated that the paintwork inside was black with wet mould and you could hear everything that went on in any of the rooms.

After I'd stayed there a couple of times, I decamped to the local pub, the 'Aggy', which has rooms above, but daytimes were spent there, in the gorgeous garden with its wooden arbour seat and frog pond. And as you sat, you would hear the 'chakdaws' yakking away in the trees above. So the sudden fly-past tonight took me right back to the garden, laughing in the sunshine with Louise, discussing plans for books, songs and stories... and later, in the evenings, playing the guitar, the accordion and keyboard and getting uproariously drunk on 'rum and Shrub'. If you don't know what Shrub is, here's a link I just found which has a post on it from a guy who also discovered the drink in St Agnes! Talk about coincidence...

I still say, "Hello, Louise" every time a parakeet shrieks in the garden. She used to call me Polly Parrot and we had a load of catchphrases that were all related to parrots. Perhaps it's time I bought some Shrub.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Cross your fingers...

Sorry I've been a bit quiet on the blog this week. I'm worried sick about my friend's little boy. He's having a lumbar puncture today. They've had to bring in an anaesthetist from Great Ormond Street Hospital, as their own didn't feel happy about anaesthetising such a young child. Now they've got a specialist and hopefully, once they have the spinal cord sample, they'll be closer to finding out what is wrong. There have been murmurs of spinal meningitis, and a different type of leukaemia. He's such a gorgeous little boy, silvery-fair hair, blue-grey eyes. Mr G calls him Hellboy and we're used to seeing him running and jumping all over the place, but over the last few weeks I have only seen him lying pale and inert in his car seat, seeming almost too weary to open his eyes. It's his mum's 40th birthday soon and she was planning a big party. Let's hope she will have something even bigger to celebrate - her son's recovery.

Saturday, 24 September 2011


Our friends' little boy is still in hospital. They've moved him to a central London one where he's been in an isolation room, so he won't pick up any germs from wards or patients, and they have tested him for just about everything, including Weill's disease and leukaemia but still can't find out what is wrong. He's all right for an hour or so, then suddenly his temperature whooshes up to 41C (106F) and he flops. He's got no appetite, he's in pain when he walks and they just don't know what's causing it. He's only two, poor little thing.

They're letting him come home tonight but he has to go back in on Monday for more tests. His dad has been spending all night at the hospital while his mum takes the three-year-old and the eight-month-old home, then comes back the next day. The two oldest boys are with a relative. We're all praying it's just a strange virus which will wear off. He's been given heavy doses of antibiotics but they haven't worked. His poor parents are worried sick, as are we.

My first ever jazz piano lesson which took place in the kitchen of the local church, where they have an old upright piano, consisted of being given scales and chords to learn - which I can't do till I buy a keyboard. I bitterly regret having given my Technics digital piano away to a junior school in Highgate. It would have come in handy now. I never really got on with it. It didn't sound in tune, though when I took it back to the shop for testing, their instruments said it was OK and the engineer said it must be my ears, not the keyboard!

Our neighbour who had the near-fatal motorbike accident at the end of Feb has been allowed out of Stoke Mandeville spinal injuries clinic for the weekend. He came home on day release last Saturday and said he was in the strange position of being the most badly injured, but least disabled, person there. He had far more fractures and internal injuries than everyone else, but the spinal cord wasn't damaged so he won't be confined to a wheelchair like most of the others. He is learning to walk on a frame and crutches (the latter being difficult as he can't use his arms very well yet as his shoulders were badly affected) and was looking very well. His ribs were so badly broken that his whole ribcage has shifted to the left and he has a huge lump on his side. He counts himself as extremely fortunate and says he isn't in a lot of pain.

It was funny last night. They tried to get Chi Mimi to come home but she wasn't having any and leaped out of her mum's arms and ran through the hedge to our other neighbour's garden (the 97-year-old who IS out of hospital now!). She must have been lured back eventually as she didn't come in last night, but when our neighbours went out to visit his elderly dad (who doesn't recognise him anyway as he has Alzheimers very badly and is in a secure ward as he kept beating up the other patients and escaping!), she crept back here very quietly and we found her asleep in her cardboard box, tucked away at the back almost invisible, with no paws or tail sticking out for a change. I don't think she wants to be found!

I have given up on a late holiday in the sun and am now planning a trip to Liverpool to see the Magritte exhibition before it closes, and a visit to my sister's in Patterdale, a replacement for the one I had to cancel when I was ill and on antibiotics a few weeks ago. What is it about this area? Is there some strange miasma in the air? I have never known so much illness as I have since I came here, what with Mr G's brain haemorrhage and strokes, and the problems that have befallen friends and neighbours - far more than I have mentioned; I've just highlighted the most serious ones. Perhaps I'd better get out before it gets me!!!

Monday, 19 September 2011

A Grumpy birthday cake!

A week ago yesterday, Mr Grumpy had a birthday party. He held it on Sunday afternoon so that his friends could bring their children. It was very enjoyable, especially as several people brought bottles and I was the only one drinking as the others either had to drive, or wanted to be hangover-free for Monday.

His friend with the five sons is a good cake-maker and I commissioned her to make a chocolate cake in the shape of his favourite hand gesture. This wasn't quite what I was expecting, as it was a bit too lifelike. I think she could have left out the creases and wrinkles. At least she didn't add the age-spots!

One of the five sons, the second youngest, aged 2, wasn't at all well. He went to the doctor's next day and was diagnosed with tonsilitis, but today he was admitted to hospital with what they think is an infection in his hip joint. That doesn't sound good at all. His dad is staying with him all night, while mum looks after the other four at home. We're all very worried about him.

Today, I gave out leaflets in the town centre on behalf of my chiropractor. My God, I have never been so exhausted! I came home and had to lie down for two hours. It was the sheer strain of standing up and pinning on a smile for all that time, looking constantly left and right for likely customers. No, they're too young. Yes, he looks sporty, might get a sprain... How about those two with the walking sticks? Okay madam, you don't have to take one if you don't want it, but do I really deserve that filthy look? Now I know why those Oxfam and Greenpeace chuggers are always so young!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Poem for 9/11

I was moved to write this after reading that people had unfairly accused those who jumped from the Twin Towers of committing suicide. The poem is very raw, but I shall work on it. I just wanted to get down this first draft today, on the tenth anniversary.


From the 100th floor, that’s all it took. Ten seconds, though they didn't know.
And the body’s acceleration to 200 mph, also unknown.
They just knew, with flames behind and a crumbling tower above,
That they had to leave, jump with no parachute,
Free-fall, and hope. Just hope, and pray.
This was no suicide; they jumped to live, not die.
That jump was their last brave, desperate chance at life.
Certain death behind, they jumped for a miracle,
Hoping perhaps that some kind, loving god
Would reel back evolution and sprout them wings,
Supply a fluffy cloud, or reach out a giant, soft hand
Or spread out mattresses like in the movies.

And that's what I thought it was that day, as I sat in Debenham's cafe.
I recognised the location. I'd been there, on that set. Yet this movie
Was one I'd never seen before. "What film is this?"
I asked the silent crowd around the screen.
A man turned round. "This is no film, it's real, it's happening now."

And then I saw them, first one, then more, falling, flailing, tumbling,
Like punctuation marks in the sky.
A pair were linking hands, floating like butterflies, wingtip to broken wingtip.
No godly hand, no cloud, no mattress. Sobbing, I wondered
What they thought of as they flew. How long did ten seconds seem to them?
An instant, a lifetime, eternity?
They jumped for their children, their parents, their lovers, their friends.
They jumped for life. They filled their lungs with hope, their final breath.
They are tattooed upon the New York air,
Bright icons in the dark smoke of a murderous sky.

Pre-party preps

It's Mr Grumpy's birthday tomorrow (65, since you ask) and I've bought him a card featuring a sneering cat with the caption, 'Hee-hee. In cat years you'd be one hundred and eleventy-twelve.'

Originally, he said he didn't want a party as it was too much work, so I began organising a surprise one with his friend, the one who has five boys, the youngest three being all under three. She is a professional caterer so I had run the menu by her when she suddenly rang me last week and said, 'Guess what? He's decided to do his own 1950s party.'

'What do you mean?' I asked her and my guts lurched in horror when she replied, 'Steak and kidney pud, steamed pudding, spotted dick, rice, sago and tapioca.' Well, get me to a sick bucket! Of all the foods in the world, this kind of stuff that we used to have to eat for school dinners was going to be served up at his party. Not only that, but he was going to cook it all.

'What about the kids?' I asked. 'They won't like all that stodge. Can I at least get some sausage rolls and crisps?' The reply to that was that crisps didn't exist in the 1950s. (I'm sure they did, plain crisps with those twists of blue paper with salt in them.) I was relieved when he gave in and came back from Sainsburys with a monster bag of crisps and yes, some sausage rolls. Phew! Though how do I know the kids won't dive head first into the monster steak and kidney pie and trough the lot, then through sago at each other?

Despite feeling as if he were going down with a lurg and hobbling painfully around with his plantar fasciitis (I've given him exercises to do, a machine for stretching his toes on, soft gel insoles - but will he use them? Men!!! My brother in law has it too, and since doing the exercises, he's a lot better), Mr G started the preparations yesterday. The only thing he'd let me do was clean and chop the kidneys for him. The fox sat outside the patio doors the whole time and was finally rewarded with a bowlful of leftovers.

Then he had a call from his friend A with the five kids. Mrs A5, I shall call her. Son no. 4, aged 19 months, had got a terrible temperature and was burning up and she wanted to take him to A&E but, as she was lumbered with childen 3 and 5 as well, she needed Mr G to go with her. The cooker was turned off, bowls and saucepans were covered up and four and a half hours later, Mr G returned as A's husband (whose name also begins with A so I shall call him Mr A, had finished work in his shop and was able to take over.

I've just texted them. Child 4 is still unwell but the doc said it was a virus, and Mrs A5 has made the birthday cake I ordered, in the shape of a 2-fingered salute, Mr G's favourite gesture. I hope I get a chance to take a photo before it all disappears!

PS. I brushed and vacuumed the kitchen floor, which measures a whopping 20ft x 16ft, and continued right through the ground floor of the house, de-cobwebbing as I went. I'd just had my back tweaked at the chiropractor's and shouldn't have been lugging heavy Henry Hoover around, so at the end of my session I felt I had wasted £35 and needed to go for another appointment. I went back into the kitchen to put out some suet balls for the birds. One of them was in bits, so I took it out of its little netting bag and carried it out onto the bird table.

On my way back to the kitchen cupboard, my foot scrunched and skidded in something that felt slightly bulky. 'Oh b*****r! I've dropped a suet ball,' thought I. 'Now I'll have to sweep it all up. Grrr!' But alas, it was far worse than that. Next-door's cat. Chi Mimi, who has a very delicate digestion following a stomach operation, had scoffed a load of Flad's cat food and biscuits and thrown up the lot, in a great, undigested, crunchy heap and I had trodden it in my velvet slippers and smeared it all over my recently cleaned floor. It had even gone down the grooves between the floorboards. Nice! Hot water, kitchen towel (lots) and disinfectant spray and I got most of it up.

Yesterday evening, I thought I'd earned a nice glass of wine in front of the telly. Mr G went to bed at 10, leaving me bellowing' Jerusalem' and 'You'll Never Walk Alone', as it was the last night of the proms. Suddenly, something large and black came scuttling under the door. The eyes of two cats were rivetted on it. My blood ran cold. Cockroaches! OMG! I thought of them running all over my clothes in the wardrobe and infesting the kitchen cupboards. I'd never seen one in the house before. This truly was the beginning of the end. I was leaving. Now!

I galloped up the stairs, shakily bleating for Mr G. 'Whorrissit?' barked his sleepy, cross voice. 'There's a c-c-cockroach in the lounge.' He clomped down the stairs with a torch and illuminated the thing that was starting to climb up the wall. 'It's just a big, black beetle. You woke me up for nothing. I'm going back to bed.'

He left me with the monster. It wasn't as large as the stag beetles you've seen on my wildlife blog. It was longer and kind of in sections, or ribbed somehow, and jet black. 'Kill!' I ordered the cats. 'Huh,' they said and wrapped their tails round their noses in a decisive gesture. So, using the old tumbler and postcard method, I shook it out into the garden and watched it scuttle away under the hedge. It does make me wonder what else is lurking in this house that I don't know about. I still don't know what Mr G is keeping under that loose floorboard in his office which I saw him replace very hurriedly once, when I came in unexpectedly. He's screwed the board down and I don't know where he keeps his screwdrivers. A bag of diamonds? A gun? Gold bars? Dare I even investigate? Well, buying my own set of screwdrivers would be a start.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Two tomatoes

My tomato plants were not a total failure. I picked these just as they were beginning to colour up and I ate the left-hand one for lunch with some smoked salmon and rocket salad. It was sweet, juicy and delicious and it's a real tragedy that the relentless rain ruined the rest.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Poor tomatoes

I've had to give up on my plants :-((. They are a sorry sight. The stalks have rotted, the leaves have gone brown and the tomatoes are still green, with black patches of blight. I think that with all the rain we have had for weeks on end, they have simply drowned.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Cats' drinking habits

I'm not talking about alcohol here, of course, though my first cat, Sandy, had a penchant for sherry and used to lick out the glasses after my parents' guests had left, fall over and start snoring; no, I mean good old water.

I leave a bowl of pond water, renewed daily, by Flad's food bowl, but he only ever drank from it when snow was on the ground last winter. He prefers to drink from a plastic plant saucer full of rainwater, which I also top up from the pond. He shuns tap water and I can't say I blame him, because ours tastes foul. They seem to add extra chlorine on Sunday nights, so make sure I have some mineral water in. My friends in Ottawa used to stick a jugful in the fridge for a few hours, as they said it tasted better then, but if I tried that I would be bound to knock it all over my ham, lettuce and everything else.

Chi Mimi, though, is a different kettle of fish entirely - or rather, a different bundle of fur. She loves tap water, positively adores the taste of chlorine, and will only drink running water, from the garden hosepipe or the kitchen tap, as you can see from the photo. Wish I could curl my tongue like that. It would make scooping up ice cream a whole lot easier.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Dare I?

This is Chi Mimi peering down the stairwell, considering whether to use a flying leap as an alternative to bounding down the stairs. To my great relief, she chose the more sensible option!

Saturday, 27 August 2011



Trollopuss in the garden gave something a hug.
When we went to investigate, we found it was a slug.
Lying close together, curled up nice and snug,
From the look she gave it, we could tell they were in love.

Trollopus and the slug, oh Trollopuss and the slug,
From the look she gave it we could tell they were in love.

A cat can look upon a queen, it can look upon a king.
For a cat to look upon a slug, ain't that the darnedest thing?
Fat and grey and greasy, lying face to face,
That slug gave her the slippiest kiss that lips could ever trace.


Feather and feather, fur and fur can dally, date and dance,
But gastropod and feline? God, they haven't got a chance!
If they got round to making love, what would they call their brat?
Would it be a furry cug or a little slimy slat?


The moral of this little tale is, know when you are beat.
Sometimes on life's bumpy trail you must admit defeat.
When her lover tried to slither off, the poor heartbroken cat
Gave that slug one last big hug and squashed the bugger flat!


(c) Lorna Read 2002

Friday, 26 August 2011


My gorgeous goddaughter in Canada is pregnant again. She vowed that after her first (who's now two and has been very difficult indeed with her eating and sleeping), following two or three miscarriages and a really tough birth, she would never have another baby and she and hubby were being very careful... but it appears that her daughter really needed a little brother or sister and here she or he is, on the way!

My congrats to the pair of them, and I hope from the bottom of my heart that things go well, with no problems. She's feeling better this time, for a start. Last time she suffered morning sickness throughout the pregnancy, which isn't too clever when you are a news broadcaster (as she was then), plus ghastly back pain. They say every pregnancy feels different. I hope this one continues to be pain-free and trouble-free. It's making me feel broody myself. I wish I were several decades younger!

As for Trollopuss and the Slug... I'm still searching for that piece of paper. I thought I might have typed the lyrics into the Songs file on my computer, but no such luck. My Virgo Ascendant is supposed to modify my wild, creative Pisces sunsign by giving me a nice, tidy, businessy-officey side, but alas, it hath fled and is probably in the dregs of the half bottle of rose I have just finished. Hic, hic, hooray!

Which reminds me, part of my reason for feeling slightly maudlin is that I have just watched most of Jools Holland's tribute to Amy Winehouse which I recorded the other week and am under strict instructions from Mr G to clear from his hard disc recorder, along with a few dozen other progs I haven't got round to watching yet. Seeing her in date order made her deterioration clear. When she was on his show in 2004, she was brilliant. Her singing, her musicianship were superb.

By 2007 when she sang Monkey Man with fixed, glazed eyes, tugging at her horrible, strapless fringed dress and moving legs that didn't seem to belong to her in a jerking, almost obscene dance, I was almost too embarrassed to watch. Her Heard It On The Grapevine was mostly sung by her male co-singer. I couldn't take any more and switched off as it was too painful. She reminded me so much of my friend Barbara, who died five years ago last month. Same petite stature, same drinking and wildness and brilliant, gutsy, bluesy voice. Same sense of a severed talent, a jagged life, a soul so sensitive that the world around chopped at it like broken glass. And I drink a toast - to absinthe friends!

Now, where is that bloody song lyric?


Not everybody's favourite creature, I know, and wow, doesn't this wet weather bring them out. The other evening a bright orange one was sliming its way up the patio doors. It looked about six inches long. (No ribald comments, please. Well, only if you must!)

Years ago, when I first met Mr Grumpy - 1997, it was - he had two black and white cats called Bastard and Trollop. Trollop was also known as Trollopuss. One day I looked out to see her lying unmoving on the soaking wet grass after a heavy shower. I called her and she didn't even twitch. Terrified, I found Mr G and said, "I think Trollop's dead." She was about 16 at the time.

Grim-faced, he splashed out to take a look... and came back grinning all over his face. "Go and look," he said.

I went, getting soggy slippers in the process, and found Trollop with her paws wrapped round something and her face nuzzling against it. It was a big, fat slug which she had 'caught'.

It amused me so much that I wrote a song about it. Wish I could write notes of music in my blog but there's nothing I can do about that and I haven't recorded any of my songs. However, once I have found the scrap of paper the song is scribbled on, I shall type the words out for you. The title is Trollopuss and the Slug.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Blog followers

Oh dear, I had 12 followers and now I only have 10 and this has happened since yesterday. I'd better try and make this blog more interesting. But how? Or is it time to finish it altogether? Perhaps every blog runs its course.

Today I managed to get from Hayes to North London on public transport in an hour and 20 minutes. I think this is a record. I had the unfair advantage of getting a lift (from Mr G) to Hayes and Harlington station, 3 miles from where I live. There are 3 stations I can use and all of them are 3 miles away. It's like a school algebra exam question. If A lives x miles from station U, y miles from station H and z miles from station HH, how long will it take her to reach station E?

Here is my journey. I was lucky to find a train already at the platform. I sprinted down the stairs, almost breaking an ankle or three, and - oh joy - it was a fast train that only stopped once at Ealing Broadway. I was at Paddington in 15 mins. I had to be at station E by 2.30. I reached station P at 1.20, where I had to change to the tube line to Kings Cross. There was a 6 min wait. I got to Kings Cross, walked down corridors, down stairs, took a wrong turning onto the Piccadilly Line, retraced my steps, went down an escalator, found there was a 7 min wait for a High Barnet Northern Line tube, sat down and took a breather... and finally reached station E at 2. 20, congratulating myself on being early... only to find the person I was due to meet had gone for lunch!

So I high-tailed it to Costa Coffee and had a BLT and a cappuccino. Well, needs must. Viewed a flat, dropped in on an old friend for tea and cake, then made the four-stage journey back. And it didn't rain! I call this a good day.

Springing a leak

I was sitting here enjoying a game of Wordscraper online when I heard some ominous dripping sounds. It's raining heavily so I thought the noises were outside... but I was wrong. A crack has appeared to the right of the roof window and water is trickling down the wall and splatting onto the electric sockets where my laptop is plugged in. In addition, all my paperwork is soaked.

Mr G is out, having taken one of his friend's lads to his swimming class. Standing here with towels and a bucket, I feel as if I have been swept back to the my flat-share days of the 1960s, where roofs always leaked and landlords never fixed them, and inches of soggy newspaper had glued themselves to the lino, signs of previous tenants' attempts to stem the tide.

I was due to view some more flats today but have had to cancel just in case the soggy plaster decides to fall off the ceiling before Mr Grumpy gets back. I gingerly scrambled onto the desk and stuck my head through the window into the rain and can see a split tile, probably the culprit.

Oh, here he comes. Good. He can take over the mopping up now.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Romance is not dead!

No, I'm not talking about myself (for once!). It's the title of a competition being run by Mills & Boon to find new romantic writers. The comp launches on September 13th and here's a link to the website.

Let's all have a go!

Monday, 22 August 2011

One day I'll write the first line

I had a lousy night's sleep so at around 2.30 am I started wondering if I could perhaps turn some of the more dramatic and horrible things that have happened to me into a book. I couldn't quite decide whether it would be better to novelise it or to tell it straight, and in the end I plumped for the memoir style. Not my whole life but just a slice.

I decided to devote the entire day to writing. I finished breakfast and had the first sentence written in my mind and was heading for the computer when Mr G informed me that his friend with the five
small boys was on her way round with their soaking wet tent, to peg it out and dry it in the garden. I had a loud grumble of 'it's not fair, I was about to start some creative writing for the first time in months,' and was told off and reminded harshly that it's his house, his friends and they'll come round whenever he wants and if I want to work, I can go and rent an office somewhere.

The morning passed in a whirl of scooping up babies as they were about to eat Flad's food, plucking the poker from a toddler's hands, telling off the three-year-old for hitting the baby on the head... while Mr G and the boys' mum put the smelly tent up in the garden. They'd returned from a holiday in the New Forest on Thursday and been caught in a thunderstorm as they were packing up and the soggy tent had been mouldering in the boot ever since.

They left at about midday. I had some lunch, went to buy some salad and when I came back, there was another visitor, followed soon after by yet another. The whole day went, the first sentence has vanished, the entire urge to write has gone. It is SO frustrating! Oh, for an office at the bottom of the garden... but I'm sure babies, foxes, Flad, Uncle Tom Cobbley and all would still come and find me.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Green tomatoes

I have just written this poetic plea to these, my recalcitrant tomato plants.


I've watered them and watched them grow, they've all been trussed and fed,
my salad bowl is waiting but the bastards won't turn red.
I've scolded and cajoled them, but they're not in any rush.
I've even told them dirty jokes but they won't even blush.

I've praised and cursed and blessed them. I've begged them, "Don't be mean!"
But they just dangle there and sneer and stay that stubborn green.
"Hey toms, you've got till Monday to go pink or gold or red.
If not, I'll rip your roots out and you will all be dead!"

The leaves begin to shiver as in a sudden breeze
and I stand there all a-quiver as a voice comes from the leaves.
"Hey human, hold your horses, there's no need for that threat.
The reason why we're staying green is, we're scared of being ate!"

Copping out?

My blog friend Jacula has poured scorn on my worries and says I should stop looking for excuses to cop out. I don't understand her attitude. Why should I want to cop out of doing enjoyable things with people I love? I had been looking forward to going there for weeks, but I couldn't enjoy myself when I was feeling ill, and I didn't want to be a pain in the a*** by merely nibbling at the gorgeous food she cooks and having to retire to bed with a hot water bottle on my tum.

For the last three or four years, I have spent at least three out of every seven days feeling ill. This has no bearing on whether or not I am supposed to be going anywhere. I can have four days of feeling normal, then suddenly the pain is back. As well as a general all-over, burning, gassy type of ache, I have a pain in my right side that makes me feel as if I've been kicked by a horse. At one time, it swelled up into a tennis ball sized lump, but I was abroad and couldn't do much about it and the lump had subsided by the next day. I can rarely sleep on my right hand side and if I do, I need a cushion tucked under me.

There is something wrong, but nobody quite knows what and as I manage to stagger on, helped by the occasional pill, the doctor isn't doing anything. I suppose I should make more of a fuss, but I don't like going to the doc's except if something is really bad, because I don't like taking up their time when there are much sicker people than me who need their help. I suppose I go two or three times a year.

As for copping out, I am a gregarious person who loves to have fun - but I can't have fun when I am in so much discomfort all the time. Like everyone when they feel off-colour, I just want to hibernate.

I started this blog as a form of diary for myself. I wasn't concerned about whether it was read or not. I intended it to chronicle my search for natural cures for my ills, but I haven't found anything that has really worked. If you think I am just a hypochondriac, fair enough, you are entitled to your opinion. And you don't have to read my ramblings, anyway!

It took a lot of guts for me to write about the rape. I hate remembering it. And in fact it was the second time I have been raped. I was raped by a stranger, in my house on a Sunday morning, when I was 21 and my parents were on holiday. I took an overdose but woke up after 18 hours, staggered into work and told my boss, who said I shouldn't go to the police as they weren't at all sympathetic in those days and always accused a woman of leading a man on. So I didn't, and the rapist got away with it.

Since then, I have been at knifepoint twice, gunpoint once and have managed somehow to escape with my life. If I were to write a book about it, I don't think anybody would believe it. Only the friends who were close to me at the time know it is all true.

My blog entry yesterday was my way of trying to explore what is going on, looking for reasons and possible causes. I don't think I was being over-imaginative. My sister is urging me to get tested, to put her mind at rest as well as my own. So I shan't apologise for sharing this with you. As I said before, if you think I am just a sad hypochondriacal whinger, then, to paraphrase the Rolling Stones, "Hey, you, get offa my blog!"

Friday, 19 August 2011

At the doc's

I discussed my symptoms and the doctor (not my usual one but a rather dour 40-ish Asian lady) asked me why I hadn't just taken Immodium. I told her that a) I didn't have real diarrhoea, just nasty, painful, explosive loo sessions, and b) the consequences of Immodium would make my piles worse! She said she quite understood.

She asked if I had been abroad recently and said she would normally only give antibiotics to people who had. I told her I hadn't, but I had been handling bird feeders a lot and though I always wash my hands afterwards, there's a chance of picking up an infection off those. So she wrote me a script for five days' worth of Ciprofloxacin, which I have never had before. The instructions tell you to drink no milk and take no indigestion remedies or products containing zinc for two hours either side of a pill (twice a day). I merrily popped one having just drunk a mug of milky tea! I shall be more careful in future.

The good news is, after just three pills, I am feeling quite a bit better. I was still awake from 3.30 to 5 am with stomach ache but it wasn't so bad and I didn't have to rush to the loo at dawn.

The bad news is, the results of my blood tests were in and showed a slight thyroid dysfunction (not bad enough for them to do anything about, she said, but that might explain my heart palpitations and dry, itchy skin) plus my white blood cell and platelet counts were too low and I have to have another test in two months' time.

Not knowing the significance of the latter two, I rushed to Google. Big mistake. I'm now convinced I have AIDS, Hepatitis C or both together! Fifteen years ago, I was raped while on holiday in Turkey and got a whole raft of STI's as a result. I didn't go to the police because the man was somebody I had had consensual sex with on a previous holiday. The condom had torn and I picked up STI's then and had antibiotics for them.

The rape occurred on another holiday a year later, when I couldn't get back to my hotel because there was a raging storm and trees had come down over the mountain road. He saw me sitting forlornly in a bar at 1.30 am and offered me his spare room, saying he wouldn't lay a finger on me. No sooner was I fast asleep when he came in and jumped on me. I tried to fight him off but he was stronger. I ran out into the raging night - it was probably about 4 am, still a violent gale and pouring rain - carrying my shoes and a plastic bag containing stuff I'd bought the previous day, and a dog attacked me, tearing at my clothes and ripping the bag to shreds. I screamed and a man appeared on a balcony and threw things at the dog, scaring it off. Then I walked the three miles back to town, with a handful of loose belongings as the bag was wrecked, in floods of tears.

Later that day, when they'd cleared the road, I made it back to my hotel. I didn't go to the police because I knew they wouldn't believe me. Once they found out I'd dated him a year previously, they would never believe a rape charge and anyway, I was a fifty-year-old woman, not a young girl.

So I let it go and as soon as I got back, I got my infections treated again and also had an HIV test. But they said it was a bit soon and that I should come back in two months. I never went back. One test had been enough of an ordeal, and as it had been clear, I assumed I was OK.

However, I now know that both HIV and Hep C can lurk in your system for years, the only symptoms being recurrent fungal infections (which I have), an alcohol intolerance (yes) and liver symptoms like a constant pain under the right rib (yes) and unexplained weight loss (yes) and attacks of letheragy (yes).

I feel quite scared. There must be some reason for what the blood test showed and if there was something lurking, that might explain why I've felt so under the weather for so long. I think I had better go and get re-tested.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

A wish

I used to ask a lot from life - excitement, gorgeous boyfriends, holidays, a great job - and I got them all. I was so lucky. Now, all I ask is this: a quiet, warm, calm home that's near my friends and is peaceful enough to write in. Then perhaps my stomach problems would settle down once I could think my own thoughts without interruption, and eat my own kind of diet.

Trip cancelled

After yet another night of not enough sleep, plus awful cystitits symptoms (I went to bed with a hot water bottle on my tum), and waking up at quarter to five and having to to go the loo several times, I have cancelled my trip. My bag is all packed, I am in tears, feeling wretched and dreading the mocking words I shall hear from Mr G's lips.

Thanks for all your support. I will make a doctor's appointment (which will be in a week's time as it always is) and will let you know how I get on.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Travel panic

For the last five mornings, no matter what time I've gone to bed, I've woken up between 4.30 and 5 am with the most horrible stomach ache. I've cut out wine, I've eaten lightly, poached egg on toast for dinner, yet still it keeps happening. Waking after five hours' sleep, bad tum, trips to the loo... It's cleared up by lunchtime but I've felt aching and exhausted for the rest of the day. Last night I went to bed at 9.30 pm and took half a sleeping pill - but I still woke before 5 and still had the painful guts.

I have been thinking that perhaps my IBS has returned in a new form. But this morning, after I'd taken a mug of tea back to bed at 5.30, I suddenly started thinking about tomorrow, when I am heading up to the Lake District to see my sister. My neck and shoulders are really stiff and sore at the moment - I keep getting tension headaches - and as I imagined myself dragging my wheely case on and off the tube, up the flight of steps in Euston Square tube station, along the road to Euston Mainline, I could feel myself tensing up even more, and my stomach roiling.

Now I'm thinking perhaps it's not IBS at all, but my travel phobia striking again.

But why? My sister is always off to different parts of the globe. Once, as soon as I got back from a holiday, while still the the airport I was looking at Departure boards and wondering how soon I could be off again. Now, at the thought of booking a holiday, my guts writhe and I feel sick. Why? What has happened to me over the last ten years or so that has made me feel such a panic about going anywhere?

I wonder if it all stems from the bomb attacks on the London tube? I was on one of the tubes two weeks after the main attack, that had one of the bombs on it that didn't go off. I was sitting right opposite the bomber, a young Muslim man with a rucksack. I kept wondering why he had such a strange expression on his face, his eyes rolled up as if he were praying. I got off the station before the bomb was supposed to go off, but the idea I was on that train was utterly terrifying. I was so close... Too close. God, I'm feeling ill again as I write this.

But this only one factor. A couple of months after Mr Grumpy had his brain haemorrhage in 2000, I was booked to go away with a friend to stay with another friend who lived in Turkey. I had also just moved house and was already realising I'd made a big mistake and the house was wrong for me (horrid neighbours, a big dark tree outside where drug-taking youths congregated, a steep hill to climb in order to get to shops and transport). I had a throat infection, I was tired and stressed and told my friend I couldn't go.

I was hardly letting her down. She had somewhere to stay, she had friends out there and yet another friend was going to the same resort three days later. But she turned on me, spat vitriol and refused to refund me for her air fare (£200, if I recall) which I'd put on my card. In fact she said to a mutual acquaintance, "Hydra must be doing really badly if she needs that money." About ten months later, I received a cheque in an envelope with no note, and that was only after friends had put pressure on her to pay up. Needless to say, we are no longer in touch.

Since then, I have only been abroad once, a most unpleasant week spent mainly in the Spanish equivalent of Ikea as the person I went with was just moving into a flat on the Costa Del Sol. The sun was shining, the beach looked lovely, but there was no time to relax.

In the last two or three years, I have missed two trips to see out of town friends, two funerals and a wedding. I made it to two other funerals, of my last remaining aunt and uncle, but only because I had a lift rather than having to go on my own.

Ah, maybe I have hit something now. It's those words, 'on my own'. Perhaps if I had someone to travel with, to jolly me along and soothe my nerves, to drive to the station or airport with so I didn't have to strain my bad back lifting luggage, it would all feel a lot better.

But that doesn't help me tomorrow. I still have to drag my case to Euston and get on a train, no matter how awful I'm feeling. I'm going for a massage this morning, then off to North London and back, two hours each way. And I've still got to pack, as I've put all the wrong things in my case.

It's my biggest fear that I'm getting like my mum, who, the older she got, the less she went out, until she flatly refused to go anywhere unfamiliar, which ruled out holidays, of course. Could I be suffering from a form of genetic agoraphobia? Or is it all just stress? Or a combination? Mr G makes it worse by saying, "There's no chance of you going. You know that. You'll ring your sister in the morning and tell her you're not coming." Which just makes me feel even worse, of course.

Wish I could just stay under the duvet.