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.