Friday 27 February 2015


I'd never heard of a "food challenge" before today, but apparently these rather disgusting competitions abound. Here       is a champion at "work".  

See what you think. I'm off to do some proper writing.

Wednesday 25 February 2015

"Like farting Annie Laurie through a keyhole...

...All very clever, but where does it get you?"

Some one once said this of a useless but interesting talent, and it was brought to my mind the other day while listening to a radio programme about people who whistle. Now, at the best of times, whistling is a very unmusical thing to listen to. For a start, few people manage to whistle in tune, and even when they do, it's not especially pleasant. Anyway, here were a father and daughter, each of whom could both hum and whistle at the same time. They performed a kind of quartet together. It was clever, but it sounded dreadful. Certainly, it's difficult (I tried it), but there's little point, even if it does get you onto Radio 4.

I can't do anything clever like this, although I can raise one eyebrow, touch the end of my nose with my tongue and waggle my ears (I don't do these things all at the same time. That would be a talent too  far). None of these abilities has aroused either envy or admiration (although the eyebrow thing can be useful), almost certainly because lots of people can also do them. My brother, a musician, can play the paino lying underneath it, sort of backwards and upside down. He does receive accolades for that (although his playing is better if he does it the usual way).

Do you have an special talents/abilities?

Tuesday 24 February 2015

Back to Death Row...

Today, I receive this email:

Dear Everyone

I'm delighted to tell you that Rodney Reed, who had a date for March 5th, has been given a stay!  I'm so pleased for Rodney, his family and his LifeLines penfriend, Ken.

But please keep in your thoughts/prayers those who still have dates:  Manuel Vasquez, Randall Mays, Kent Sprouse, Manuel Garza, Richard Vasquez, Robert Pruett and Derrick Charles.  Think also of their LifeLines penfriends who are supporting them.  Thank you.

Best wishes

LifeLines Coordinator for Texas

Those of us who write to prisoners on Texas death row receive regular updates from the indefatigable  Margaret, who works tirelessly to keep us up to date. The above includes some good news, of course. But these stays of execution are always more or less last minute, so the inmate has already gone through a lot of the anticipation and fear. One prisoner came within minutes of execution three times, only to receive a stay. On the fourth occasion, they went through with it. That's four journeys of over forty miles, in an armoured vehicle, with a police escort, to the place of execution; four last meals; four farewells to family. But of course,"cruel and unusual,punishment" is against US law. Exactly how cruel and unusual does it have to be to qualify?

More people are needed to write to prisoners. Please.....( again)...could one of them be you?


Thursday 19 February 2015

Life on Mars

Doctor FTSE recently Posted about the proposed one-way trip to Mars. This poses several interesting questions:

1. Obvious really, but why would anyone want to do this? Which leads to...

2. ...this is a perfect example of a catch 22 situation; something which is often misunderstood. For you would have to be very bright (presumably) to be chosen, and  obviously in your right mind. But would anyone in their right mind want to be catapulted into space, with just a handful of others, for the rest of his or her life?

3. There would have to be a doctor on board, but what if he died?

4. Tricky one, that.

5. Babies? Or would everyone be sterilised before they set off?

6. Somebody would presumably outlive everyone else, as someone would have to be last. Imagine being all alone on's the stuff of nightmares.

7. Food. Very little variety, I'd assume. Unless they take cows, sheep, chickens etc with them. But then all these would need oxygen. And grass. No. It wouldn't work. And even I know you can't grow carrots on Mars.

8. Laundry? Are they going to take a washing machine and an infinite amount of washing powder with them? Can you dry laundry on Mars?

9. Hobbies, interests, reading material...would they have  a TV?

10. Falling out. Not out of Mars, but out with each other.  A handful of eccentric nerds, stuck with each other for ever (well, it would certain feel like it). How long would the honeymoon last? As a relationship counsellor, I think I can hazard a guess. Not long.

I'm not volunteering. Would you?

Wednesday 18 February 2015

Three birthdays

Today is my birthday. Funny things, birthdays, with their distant connotations of childhood excitement, and more recent ones of the heck-can-I-really-be-that-old variety. But today has been lovely so far, and I'm certainly not complaining. That (this) birthday is the first of the three.

The second is so clear in my mind because it was my Most Disappointing Birthday. I think I was about eight, and expecting something exciting; something I could play with. But my beloved, mad mother had succumbed to the blandishments of a door-to-door salesman, and bought me eight volumes of The Children's Encyclopaedia. Now, I loved books, and read a greats deal, but this was not at all what I wanted as my main birthday present, and I can still feel the disappointment as keenly as I did then. I came to love those volumes, and read and re-read them, but they were not what I'd wanted for my birthday.

The third birthday was 23 years ago. I know I wrote of my husband's death very recently, but this birthday was memorable because in a way, for me, it sowed the first seeds of hope. My birthday was the day before the funeral, and my youngest son, at eleven still unable to imagine anyone not being excited about their birthday, went up the road late at night and persuaded an elderly neighbour to help him make me a birthday cake. His beaming face when he brought it in the next morning will stay with me always. That cake was never eaten, but it was the most special birthday cake I have ever had.

John is cooking fillet steak tonight. Mmmmm!

Monday 16 February 2015

Some February cheer

To lighten the mood of this blog, here is my dotty daughter dancing in the streets of New York with a member of the Salvation Army.!/video.php?v=10152691236141284&set=vb.664611283&type=2&theater

No. I don't know, either.

Thursday 12 February 2015

The worst day of my life. Twenty-three years on...

Today is the anniversary of the death of my first husband. Some time ago, my agent agreed that I should write a kind of memoir about widowhood, but afterwards, while she liked it, she decided that it wouldn't sell because I'm not famous. This passage describes the interval between my arriving at the hospital waiting to see whether resuscitation attempts would succeed, and his death half-an-hour later. Posting it is self-indulgent, so please feel free to ignore it. But I wanted to do something in his memory, and this is it.

So I waited. The hospital chaplain, a gentle man with a wonderful quality of stillness, came and sat with me. We made conversation. Was he married? I asked. No. Not married. Time passed. I think I drank the tea. I knew as I sat there that whatever happened, I would never forget that room. The low coffee table, the chairs we were sitting in, and oddly, the small sapling growing in the grounds outside. I remember looking at that stunted little tree and knowing that I would always remember it. That hospital has been closed now, and the grounds redeveloped; that little tree will have been destroyed. But it will remain in my memory as a part of the backdrop to the worst day of my life.

I had often thought about how I would react if John were to die. I had tried to imagine the pain, the sheer awfulness, and I'd envisaged myself lying on the ground, beating it with my fists, howling and screaming. “Do not go gently into that good night,” wrote Dylan Thomas. Well, I was never going to let John go gently; I was going to rail and scream and protest; to “rage against the dying of the light”. I wouldn’t be able to help myself.

But when the doctor came to give me the news, I was almost calm. The tears flowed unstoppable down my cheeks – not so much drops, as a steady flood - but I sat and listened to what he said, and took in nothing at all. All I knew was that John was dead. John was dead. Even writing it now, all these years later, there is a sense of disbelief.

In Rose McCauley’s book The Towers of Trebizond, there is a passage about the death of the heroine's lover. She writes: “Vere is dead, and it is too outrageous to be true”. I have never forgotten those words. The death of someone you love – indeed, the death of anyone – is indeed too outrageous to be true. That a human being can simply – cease. Just like that. It is outrageous. Belief in a God and an afterlife may be helpful, but as far as this life - this world - is concerned, that person has gone. Later, I would think of John's wonderful mind; his broad interests; his energy and enthusiasm; the huge breadth of his knowledge. How could all that be snuffed out just because one of his organs had ceased to function? It was, quite literally, unbelievable.....

............I was asked whether I would like to see him now, and my immediate response was, no.

But even as I said it, I knew that I would have to see him; that I needed to see him. Because there are some things that you cannot take in unless you have seen them for yourself. And I needed to say goodbye.

Together, the chaplain and I walked up the ward to John's screened-off bed. It was little more than twelve hours since I had last made this short journey the previous evening with the boys. We had all chatted together, planning John's homecoming. Now, there was to be no homecoming.

John looked peaceful, and I spared a grateful thought for the nurses who must have tidied him up for me after the abortive attempts to save him. I noticed that his pyjama jacket was soaked (borrowed pyjamas, because he didn't usually wear them), and imagined an intravenous infusion being torn or spilt in the rush. I stroked his head, and it was still warm. It was like coming into a room just after someone has left it; embers in the fireplace, a chair still warm from the last occupant, but no-one there. Heartbreakingly, I had arrived just too late. For the last time, I bent to kiss my husband.

Many years before, when we were first married, we used to go to our local pub for beer and (as an occasional treat) chicken in a basket. On one of these occasions, I clearly remembered John turning to me and saying: “Just think. One day, one of us is going to die in the other's arms.” But now that would never happen. I had let John down. I had been unable to keep my side of that bargain, and there would never be another chance. In my career as a nurse, I had been with many people as they died, and it seemed particularly cruel that I couldn't be there for the person who most needed me. That is something that will always haunt me.

Saturday 7 February 2015

Silly news

I'm sure everyone has read these  gems of news, all emerging this week, but just a reminder:

1. Public health officials are telling supermarkets not to place daffodils near the fruit and veg, because people might eat them. You almost certainly already know this, but what you may not know is that 27 people made themselves ill last year by doing just that. Personally, I think that by removing themselves from the gene pool, these people are doing us all a favour.

2. Gwyneth Paltrow steam cleans her fanny (I hope that term is less offensive than the obvious alternative). This poses several interesting questions (apart from the natural reaction of "ouch!"). Has she nothing better to do*? Is it wise to recommend a practice that might result in her being sued for being the cause  of the scorched female parts of her followers? And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, why? Just why?

3. Newcastle Brown Ale soon won't be brown any more, because the Americans like pale beer. Now, I've nothing against the Americans, but this is our ale, and we like it brown. I don't  drink it myself, but there's a principle at stake here, isn't there?

*Just in case you're wondering why I haven't anything better to do than post this, I'm waiting for it to be time to put the pasta on. Keeping the iPad in the kitchen isn't always a good idea.

Friday 6 February 2015

Just testing (and a different kind of bin man)

I've been having problems uploading photos/pictures onto my blog (computer too old, apparently. I need a new one, apparently. Nothing lasts. Sigh). So having been sorted out by wonderful Rob, who does this kind of magic, I thought I'd test it by uploading this photo of my youngest grandson. He throws anything he can lay his hands on into the bin in the kitchen, but as you can see, he knows it's not allowed....

Thursday 5 February 2015

Confession of a part-time hypochondriac

Yesterday, I posted a rather bad story, written in haste, and autobiographical (ish). Let me explain.

Two days ago, I noticed for the umpteenth time a lesion on my toe, and suddenly decided it was a malignant melanoma. I'm not given to hypochondria, but just occasionally I indulge, which is what I did this week.

Several terrifying Googlings later, I was probably going to be dead within five years. I would lose a leg first, though, so we would have to buy a bungalow. But wait. How would I go house hunting with only one leg? And how would John, who is fit but quite a bit older than I am, manage? And what about child no.4's wedding next year? Would I miss that? Could the Mother of the Bridegroom attend the wedding with only one leg (I wouldn't have had time to get used to my prosthetic one). And what about riding? I know an amazing woman with one leg, who rides, but I am not an amazing woman. I can't survive without riding. I just can't.

And then there are my kids, who've already lost one parent. While they're all grown up, I like to think they still need me. And the granddaughter who is " going to marry young, because I want you to be there, Granny" (aaaah). What about her, not to mention all the others?

But....the doctor was very kind and reassuring, so I haven't got a malignant melanoma after all (phew), and  I went cheerfully on my way, feeling grateful for all the things I ought to be grateful for, and really quite jolly.

But I did look both ways before I crossed the road.

Wednesday 4 February 2015

Always look on the bright side

She found the lump late one evening. It looked and felt....well, lumpish. Unusual. And threatening. She Googled it, and after half an hour of frightening pictures and even more frightening statistics, she knew the news would be bad, and she panicked.

How would she tell her family? If she wasn't one of the 35% who survive for five years, how would she cope with the inevitable? She would miss births and marriages; holidays and family occasions. She hadn't finished that course she was planning, written that novel, painted that picture.

She discussed all this with her husband of thirty years, and despite his protests, she spent an hour discussing hymns for her funeral. The Lord is my Shepherd (her favourite) and All Things Bright and Beautiful (a glimmer of cheer for her grieving family). And there would be something noisy and triumphant on the organ, to go out to at the end, and lots of flowers. She loved flowers.

But when she saw the doctor, the news was good. There was nothing to worry about. It had all been a false alarm. Feeling light-hearted, ecstatic even, she almost danced out of the surgery and down the road. She would never again take anything for granted. She heard a blackbird singing, and it was the most beautiful sound in the world. She breathed in the fresh spring air. It tasted like champagne. She would write that book; paint that picture. From now on, she would always look on the bright side.

Afterwards, everyone wondered why she hadn't seen the juggernaut as she crossed the road; hadn't heard the warning cry of a passer-by. The shocked driver said that "the poor lady looked as though she was dancing", which seemed very strange.

But to look on the bright side (as she might have said), at least she had chosen her hymns. And there were certainly lots of flowers.

Monday 2 February 2015

Questions, questions...

A while back, I posted about silly questions people ask. Well, now I have some of my own:

Where does spinach go when you cook it? I cooked a large bag of spinach this evening, and 99% of it just - disappeared.

Why do people almost invariably start up the engines of their cars before doing up their seatbelts?

How does a duvet cover always manage to eat all the acoompanying laundry in the washing machine? (And please don't tell me to do it up before washing it, because I just can't be bothered.)

Why do most of us grow out of liking sickly sweets, like those ones you can buy for a penny each? (I don't mean you, B. I know you like them, although it's probably high time you grew out of them.)

Why do children hate sprouts?

Why do women open their mouths when they put on eye make-up? (I do this, too.)

Where do colds and 'flu go in the summer?

How did the perfectly able-bodied, if decidedly odd man (he shouts a lot) at the top of our lane actually manage to persuade the authorities to let him have a disabled parking badge? (Parking round here is a nightmare, so w'ere all very indignant.)

Why is it impossible to account for all the money I have spent, within a day of going to the bank, although I've only bought boring things like washing powder and potatoes?

And why, why, why am I wasting time writing this, when it was NY Resolution no.5 not to?

And why (if you're still with me) are you reading it?