Posts Tagged ‘humor’

I’ve just had another run in at our doctor’s surgery. You might remember that back in May I was unfortunate enough to have to visit the doctor to get something for a cough.  I know I’m an impatient patient – I wrote about it – but honestly, this latest brush takes the proverbial biscuit.

Let me back track slightly. Several months ago, we received in the post three brown envelopes, addressed to each one of us. The envelopes had CONFIDENTIAL: ADDRESSEE ONLY stamped across them. Inside were two sheets of A4 paper onto which was printed a lengthy notification from our healthcare authority that after a certain date in the not too distant future, we would no longer be able to collect our medicine from the dispensary at our local surgery. It went on to explain that because we lived within a mile of another local pharmacy, we would not be allowed to collect meds from the surgery – it would be expected that we would use the pharmacy instead. However, before we could use said pharmacy, we would have to collect a signed prescription from the surgery for any medications needed.

Because three of us received the same notification (hardly confidential, in my view), that seems like an awful lot of wasted time and effort not to mention paper by our continually cost cutting National Health Service. What’s wrong with a leaflet stuffed through the door? I was outraged. I sent an email to our local MP, the Right Honourable Jeremy Hunt who at the time was Secretary of State for Health and whose election flyer had co-incidentally hit the mat at the same time as these missives from the NHS. I waited weeks for a reply, which to be fair, I received (albeit from a likely internee), thanking me for the points I had raised and that wastage was always a cause for concern. I still didn’t vote for him.

So there we are – progress – we now have to visit two establishments to eventually acquire our medicines. After the last debacle with my unwanted antibiotics, I’ve made up my mind that unless I’m at death’s door I won’t be troubling the doctor again but our son suffers from seasonal hay fever, for which a prescribed treatment is required. 9iz7Gg9iE[1]The over the counter stuff doesn’t come close, neither do any of the natural or herbal remedies – he’s tried them all. So for six months of the year he’s on high dose anti-histamine. Which is fine – it works.

Getting it is now the problem: we have reached that date in the not too distant future.

Anyway, back to the latest brush …

The surgery is of course, only open during working hours – when guess what – most people – including Son – are working or commuting home. Because I have endless time at the moment, I offered to collect his paper script and take it to be processed elsewhere. I won’t use our local pharmacy because it is frankly grimy and twice I have returned over the counter meds for being out of date, only realising this infuriation when on close inspection at home, with the aid of my reading specs, I made this unfortunate (for the pharmacy) discovery.

Off I go, first thing, round to the surgery where I have to fill in a form requesting a repeat prescription. I’m then told that it will take two days to process. TWO DAYS! All they’ve got to do is print the damn thing off and get it signed by one of the four or five doctors who work there. I fix the pharmacist with my best steely glare and tell her that I need the meds today, that Son has run out and that I will wait. I notice that on the shelf beyond the pharmacist’s left shoulder, tantalisingly out of reach, is a large package containing the anti-histamines we need. But I know I can’t have those; I remember that extensive letter.

She tells me the best she can do is to have the script ready for me after five that afternoon and turns slowly to attend to wiping a ring of coffee cup from the Formica. I spin on my heels and march swiftly out of there before an expletive escapes my lips.

Five o’clock arrives and I gaily return to the surgery, all thoughts of the morning forgotten as I’m not one to hold a grudge. The waiting room is full of the sick and ailing so I wade through them to the dispensary desk and ask for my script. With a smile.

Can you guess the next bit? Tell me you can’t. Well, ok then, you’re right.

The script isn’t ready. It’s joined a pile of others to be signed. I suppose I should be thankful that at least it’s been printed off. I see a different person. She takes my script to get it signed. I’m still waiting twenty minutes later, sitting with the sick and ailing.  I’ve had enough. I leave and tear my hair out on the way home.

Having spent considerable time over the last few years accompanying my mother to routine hospital appointments I have come to the conclusion that a pre-requisite for working in the healthcare profession is to lack a sense of urgency or any kind of people skills whatsoever.

Just how difficult is it for someone to say “good morning” or “won’t keep you long” or even, “sorry, we’re running a bit late with appointments today, we’ll be with you as soon as we can.”

Apparently, very. They meander past, eyes averted, carrying clipboards, chatting amongst themselves, ignoring the rash of anxious patients lined up in their waiting rooms. Hospital dramas on TV are nothing like the real thing. No-one really rushes anywhere, or seems at all concerned for their patients welfare like they are on the telly – caring is a thing of the past. Two of my current colleagues at school are ex-nurses, who left the profession because of just that. They signed up and trained to care back in the day, but they saw the way things in the health service were going and got out when they could.  The employees at our surgery certainly aren’t letting the professional side down from the current institutionalised attitude-to-the-poorly perspective.

I eventually got my hands on the script and the meds this morning – but not without a battle and not without being told that there is now no such thing as a repeat prescription.

Ready for round two? I will be.

 

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As we race towards the sharp end of the summer term with the dreaded sports day and activities week safely out of the way, the long summer break looms ahead and my postings are likely to be more erratic than usual. Without the daily routine that term time requires I fear that my time will merge into a summery haze although I have every intention of concentrating on some story writing and editing. beach-scene120412[1]

However, if last summer was anything to go by I managed to fail miserably on both of those counts, so I’m not promising anything or indeed setting a deadline that I will feel obliged to fulfil. I shall keep up with reading as many blogs as I can so won’t have evaporated completely from the stratosphere and I shall hopefully find some interesting places during August that will be worth blogging about later.

Before I go though, I must just share this with you.

The autistic son of an acquaintance of mine was recently banned from his school bus for a few days apparently for causing damage to said vehicle. He sat down next to a sign which clearly stated:

TAKE HAMMER AND BREAK THE GLASS.

So he did.

Enjoy your summers!

 

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What do you reckon is the most boring job on the planet? I don’t mean the worst one –  that award would more than likely go to a septic tank operative – I mean the most mind-numbingly tedious, thanklessly dull occupation you can possibly think of.

Well I’ll tell you, seeing as I’ve experienced it this week. Exam invigilation. It’s the absolute pits. Usually school buys in outside invigilators but this year, surprise suprise, not enough people came forward for this drearily monotonous position. They’d obviously had enough last year and signed up for something much more exciting – like recording the types of car entering a car park between the hours of daylight or that kind of thing. So who do they get to fill these incredibly necessary but vacuous hours? The support team, of course: they’ll do anything.

While you’re standing for at least ninety minutes in a school hall, watching 120 pupils poring over their GCSE papers, making sure they don’t cheat, time seems to stand still. I suppose that’s how many of the candidates view it too, unless they’re the ones equipped with the suggested highlighters and are industriously annotating their papers, writing the plan as per the taught techniques for attaining the top grades. Never mind that they haven’t learnt any of the actual content – as long as they understand a mark scheme and can deliver to a formula, they’re laughing. One lad I noticed, scribbled away for all of ten minutes, put his pen down, pushed his paper away and sat for the rest of the time wearing a glazed expression. At least he had a chair.

As the clock ticks ever louder, you are forced into thinking about all the other things you could be doing with your ninety minutes. Watch a football match for instance, or travel to and back from Waterloo with minutes to spare, allowing for the inevitable commuting delay. Mow the lawn, do a complete wash cycle, probably get round the supermarket and put it all away once home; fly to Paris – probably even further but I’m being realistic; drive to Stonehenge. So many things could be achieved in that time.

Then you count all the pupils with dark hair; all the redheads, all the blondes. Count all the left-handers (reassuringly more than you’d think – not so sinister, after all); you go through each row trying to name each one and failing miserably; you look for the prettiest, the ugliest, the thinnest, the fattest. You check the clock. An astonishing fifteen minutes have passed by. You walk up a row to alleviate the deadening pain in the small of your back and realise how loud your shoes squeak. You wait in desperation for a student to put up their hand for extra paper or a toilet break. Neither of these occurred on my watch, sadly.

Thank goodness we have a half term break next week. Never mind the students, revising madly for the next raft of papers to hit them in early June. Never mind that the exam season always falls during the best weather of the summer and at the worst time for all those hay-fever sufferers. Spare a thought for the invigilator, and while you are, watch this – it’s hilarious.

I’m off on my travels next week so may well miss posting but I’ll do my best to keep up with reading all my favourite blogs – from whichever airport I’m delayed in. 🙂

 

 

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I‘ve read a rash of articles in the press recently advising us how to cope with a busy work/life balance – “How to keep a busy life organised;” “Are we too busy to enjoy life” – that kind of thing and it got me thinking. Why are we suddenly all so busy? What are we busy with? Are we busier now than we used to be? Or are we just less efficient at it? Do we regard whatever it is that makes us ‘busy’ a chore and by taking this view point are we then making whatever it is that we are busy at take longer therefore making us believe we are living manically hectic lives?

It’s a vicious circle, isn’t it?

And why are we all suddenly so bad at coping when everything these days is geared towards making life easier?

Supermarkets are open every day thereby obviating the need to plan a weekly shop – so we can be less efficient with our food shopping knowing that if we’ve forgotten anything, we can just nip out at any time of the day or night and pick it up.

Our homes are filled with every labour saving device known to man, our cars can virtually park themselves as well as let us know when a service is due – the need for forward thinking is redundant.

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This was exactly the model of machine I used, back in the day. Photo courtesy of the Typewriter Museum

Take publicity, for instance. I’ve been helping Son with a bit of book promotion this week. I sent a few emails – or rather, I sent the same email to a long list of potential customers or addresses where a little extra exposure may be forthcoming. It’s all so easy; took no time at all – I could hardly admit to being busy, especially as I was cooking a casserole at the same time – and I thought back to my old days working in PR, before the advent of the internet, and how long the process was then to send out one press release.

 

Photographs would be selected, text would be written, approved and then typed up on an old manual typewriter (even when I left, in 1990, I had only just taken delivery of an electric golf-ball machine); a catchy title would be dreamed up and some poor soul would spend hours perfecting a heading using sheets of Letraset with strips of sticky tape on stand-by to eradicate quickly any mistakes. It was painstaking.

Picture from Wikipedia

Sheets of Letraset. Picture from Wikipedia

Once the copy sheet was completed it had to be sent to a printer because the only photocopiers in use in those days were the ones that employed a continuous roll of unpleasant shiny grey paper, something called toner and powdered black ink, which would end up all over your business clothes if you were unfortunate enough to be the one who discovered that it needed topping up.

The printed copies would arrive back usually within a day and then the photos would be pasted to the text before stuffing the whole thing into a hard-backed envelope for posting on a Friday afternoon, ready for the editor’s desk on a Monday morning. It took ages – but we were busy.

So now, with all these wonderful software packages on our computers, a myriad of fonts (I prefer to refer to them as typeface – I was always under the impression that a font was where the printers stored their ink) and the ability to change colours and presentations at the touch of a keypad, life is so simple – everything is so quick.

Productivity, I hear you suggest. We can pump out more and more STUFF. Well, yes, we can, and perhaps that is what happens these days but is MORE necessarily better? Considering the country has been in the worst recession experienced for decades, being ‘busy’ hasn’t really helped, has it?

To find your old typewriter, visit the Typewriter Museum website for a nostalgic tour of old office machinery: http://www.mrmartinweb.com/type.htm 

Ah, yes, those were the days.

 

 

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Now, that sounds like something from Gilbert and Sullivan doesn’t it? Well, I wish I felt as jolly as those operettas often are, performed as they often are in village hall amateur productions by people with community spirit stamped right through them like a stick of Blackpool rock.

I’ve just had to cancel tickets for tonight’s live stream performance (Shakespeare’s King Lear), beamed  from the National Theatre to our local independent cinema – something I’ve been looking forward to for weeks – because I don’t want to be a nuisance to the rest of the audience or get thrown out for causing a disruption.

Can you tell I’m feeling pretty sorry for myself? I’ve had a hacking cough for over a week. From where it came I have no idea but I lost my voice completely last Thursday, much to the delight of a few who shall remain nameless. As it wasn’t getting any better or showing any signs of going somewhere else, I capitulated and went to the doctor.

 “Haven’t seen you for a long time,”  he said.

Well no, you wouldn’t have because I’m never ill enough to bother you, I thought.

He started typing something into his laptop, half listened to my reason for being there in the first place, waved his stethoscope vaguely in my direction, typed a bit more and said, “there we are, a course of antibiotics. They might not work because I can’t tell if this is viral or bacterial.”

As you can imagine this didn’t inspire me with much confidence but as I was feeling too rough to argue (yes, I felt that bad), I thanked him for the three minutes of his time and on the way out paid the pharmacy a ludicrous amount for two items – the tablets and some foul tasting linctus in a brown glass bottle, looking suspiciously similar to the stuff I pour periodically down the drain to keep the water flowing.

Once home, I opened the packet of pills and the first thing I saw on the box was: “Please read the enclosed leaflet before taking this medicine.”

So I did.

There were reams of reasons not to take the blessed tablets – possible side effects, common side effects, less common side effects, other side effects; the list measured nineteen inches (I actually got the tape-measure out). I couldn’t believe it. I’d end up feeling worse than the reason for which I went to the doctor in the first place.

I swigged the linctus down and cast the tablets aside, determined to tough it out and not take them.

However, after yet another virtually sleepless night (cough, cough, cough),   I reluctantly began taking the wretched things (two a day and make sure you finish the course even if you start to feel better), and waited for the first sign of a side effect. Happy to report nothing of significance yet and I’m beginning to feel a bit better. But I might have done anyway.

I don’t like the idea of antibiotics, doled out with not so much as a hope you feel better soon. Why don’t our doctors have an alternative plan or is it all about money? Yes, I suppose it is. How many patients can they get through their practice in a session, prescribe them pills from whichever pharmaceutical lab is the flavour of the month or the one which provides the most funding?

Or maybe I’m just being cynical. Hey! That’s good! I must be feeling better.

Normal service resumes next week when hopefully I’ll be fighting fit and definitely antibiotic free.

 

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Over the last few weeks we have been having problems with our internet connection. For some reason, without warning, we’d lose connectivity. Just like that. And it was often as I sat down with a cup of tea after work to catch up on all my blog reading. As you can imagine, I was less than amused.

After re-setting our router hundreds of times as per the limited trouble-shooting options in the accompanying manual, I even unplugged all the telephony filters, blew into them knowingly, re-plugged them but even this piece of advanced technological DIY had no positive effect. Banging the table with a clenched fist didn’t work either.

Things became so bad last week that after much weighing up of the situation, I decided to take action. Now, I deliberated because taking action meant that I would have to telephone our internet provider, BT. (British Telecom) and I’ve been down that unfulfilling path before.

When a company has ‘British’ attached to its title, one is lured into a false sense of security that you’ll be dealt with by a team of dedicated, polite and efficient customer care advisors who really do sympathise with your plight. In the same way as flying BA (British Airways – the world’s favourite airline, according to their advertising), one expects a certain superior level of service but these days this is about as far from reality as me getting to grips with long division using the chunking method.

So I ‘phoned and got through to the automated numbered instruction routine. After keying my telephone number into the keypad as requested about fourteen times I was still no nearer to speaking to a human being. There has to be a quicker way to do this, surely. I was getting madder. Patience with telephone answering systems is not my virtue, especially as one of the messages informed me that I could get help by looking at their website.

 NO, I COULDN’T.

In exasperation I slammed the receiver down, tried the internet connection again – unsurprisingly, no change there. I paced the kitchen until a bright idea began to emerge. Why not telephone the BT sales team? I was betting that they would be available to chat about all their wonderful offers right away without all this ‘press one for Bill, press two for Direct Derrick’ (whoever he is) etc. I bet the good old sales team will be right on the money.

I scavenged around in the home file to find an old phone bill and yes, hallelujah, a direct line for the sales department. I was on to something here.

Without too much preamble Sales very helpfully put me straight through to the engineers (there’s a tip for the rest of you BT customers out there …) where I spoke to an actual person. A well-spoken, Queen’s-English-sort-of-a-person, who talked me through a simple procedure involving the unravelling of a wire paperclip and its insertion into my BT Home Hub (router).

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Hidden at the back of the home hub is a tiny, barely visible  hole, into which I poked said paperclip. This apparently resets something that the engineers can then use to change its frequency.

The reason we were losing connection so frequently was because so many of our neighbours were using the same wavelength at the same time. Not any more, thanks to my trusty paperclip.

Where would technology be without them?

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There is nothing better guaranteed to lift my mood and alleviate stress (other than my rediscovered ability to take a walk) than to watch a bit of junk TV. None of the worthwhile stuff that I probably should be watching – the news, documentaries, serious drama, – oh no – I mean the half-hour comedy shows that don’t pretend to educate: they just make us laugh. And that, as we know only too well, is the best medicine.

One show I make a point of trying to catch is Room 101. I like the concept. The title is taken from a place in  George Orwell’s novel 1984, where prisoners are subjected to their worst nightmare or phobia. Apparently Orwell named room 101 after a conference room at the BBC where he used to sit through endless tedious meetings. After some of our recent staff meetings, I know how he feels.

 On the TV show (which was originally a radio programme), guests are invited to consign three things that, in their opinion, should be forever banished. This is right up my street – humour mixed with a little light-hearted ranting. As you might imagine, should I ever become famous enough and get invited onto the show, I have my own list of items ready and waiting.

 As I’m a realist and that is never going to happen, I might as well share them with you now.

 The first item I’d banish was going to be the pesky mosquito, but then I thought that might upset some of the more ecologically balanced of you so I did a bit of research and discovered that they are vital to the food chain (unfortunately for me, who has started to itch just writing about them); their larvae providing nutrient-packed snacks for fish and other aquatic animals as well as their adult form being equally nutritious to birds, bats and spiders.

So I’ll leave the wildlife alone and concentrate on life’s minutiae.

First of all, I’d get rid of a certain type of junk mail. I’m not adverse to all of it – some has proved quite useful, especially during my papier-mâché phase – but the mail that irritates me the most and which goes straight through and gums up our home shredder, is that which contains those self-adhesive name and address labels that all charities seem hell bent on sending to all and sundry. I do not want hundreds of labels with my details printed next to the charity’s logo. I never use them. Nor do I want to buy endless raffle tickets or use the greetings cards and bookmark they so thoughtfully enclose. Why are these charities wasting all this money sending stuff out that I don’t want? I reckon I get at least one envelope filled with this rubbish every week. I feel sorry for our overloaded postman.

Secondly, there is nothing that maddens me more than looking forward to an evening at a London theatre, sitting in a seat costing not an inconsiderable sum, to discover that the CONSTANTLY NOSHING family has purchased the seats either in front or directly behind me.

The Constantly-Noshing’s usually arrive last and push their way along the row, dangling their plastic bags full of crackly wrapped confectionary over their arms, aiming to clout as many as possible of their fellow theatregoers over the head on the way. They then proceed (usually breathing heavily due to an abnormal burst of exercise), to noisily remove their outer garments and hang them over the seats in front, infringing any personal space one might have hoped to secure in an old Victorian theatre. While for most of us, the curtain going up heralds the start of the performance, to the Constantly-Noshing’s this is a signal to begin passing their substantial boxes of chocolates amongst them, making sure to take as long as possible to unwrap each sweet and then smooth each wrapper out before dropping it on the floor. Unless you are watching back to back performances of all Shakespeare’s Henry’s, the play is unlikely to outlast the Constantly-Noshing’s supply of unnecessary nourishment.

So my second item for my Room 101 would be the Constantly-Noshing family unless they would like to confine their activity to the multiplex cinema – our local is called the Odeon, which I refer to as the OOO – Odeon of Obesity – because you have to wade through a popcorn mountain and super-sized, clanking iced-filled plastic beakers to get anywhere near a screen. Now that I have discovered our little local independent cinema, which screens films I actually want to see, where the average age of the audience is probably ninety-five and where tea, coffee and tepid Chablis are on sale in an ante room during the interval, I’m happy to let the Constantly-Noshing’s and their mobile-phone wielding off-spring have the run (waddle) of the OOO.

3627378331[1]Lastly (well, not really, but as I’m only allowed three things, lastly for now), I’d have to ban unimaginative packaging, best illustrated at the moment by the pile-‘em-high, sell-‘em-for-a-fortune boxes of thin chocolate eggs that have been on sale in our supermarkets since New Year’s Eve.

These Easter eggs are nestling in boxes with the exact same design as the always available chocolate bars which provide more actual chocolate for your money.

It doesn’t take much to package something up prettily. I refuse to buy anything that is sold in a stack, preferring to seek out something like these little eggs (a local super market’s own brand – good on them) and shoving them in a nest made from the shredded remains of my junk mail.

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Grrr… Well that’s enough of that. I’m off up the common.  What would you banish?

,

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What is the meaning of the word gadget? I checked the dictionary and am now totally confused.

  1. Ingenious device – a small device that performs or aids a simple task.
  2. Trivial device – a small device that appears useful but is often unnecessary or superfluous.

So perhaps I don’t mean gadget at all. Perhaps ‘labour saving device’ would be more accurate. How do you get on with those? I’m not sure that I do, on the whole, although I wouldn’t be without the washing machine or dishwasher especially if someone else does the loading and unloading. I could live without a microwave oven though – it seems to justify its position only by heating milk for the odd hot chocolate or reheating spaghetti sauce.

I’m sure that some of the objects we’ve had as a household over the years, either bought or gifted, have been designed with the best intentions of making life easier for the user, to save time doing mundane tasks. But do they? How much thought has really gone into these items by their design teams and testers? Who are these testers, I wonder, and do they test them in real life situations as well as in their lab/design studio?

The first item I have issue with is my bag-less vacuum cleaner. I was sucked into having one of these on the back of a brilliant advertising campaign which preyed on my domestic anxiety by suggesting that up until the point at which I used one, my house was filled with microscopic dust particles that my old vacuum just wasn’t picking up. My house, therefore, was filthy.

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It’s an upright Dyson. No doubt at all about its aesthetic qualities – but did Mr Dyson, during one of the alleged 5127 attempts at getting his design perfect, ever lug it up two flights of stairs? It weighs a ton and is awkward to carry. The see-through cylinder has its drawbacks, too. We might be fooled into thinking that just because we can see the multicoloured striations of accumulated house dust it must be picking up more detritus than its with-a-bag predecessor – but how do we really know? Then there’s the micro-filter to deal with. You’re supposed to remove it periodically and wash it. Just don’t forget to put it back because it makes a hell of a mess if you don’t.

Emptying the cylinder is fraught with difficulty, too. Where is one supposed to do this task? Outside is like the random scattering of a loved one’s ashes with the wind in the wrong direction. Indoors and there is every likelihood that millions of micro particles will escape and burrow themselves ever deeper into your carpets while an ash cloud billows up into your face. Having shelled out a not inconsiderable sum for this monstrosity I’m loathe to ditch it just yet, but I’m not happy.

 A gadget that I’ve definitely not missed since it found its way to the charity shop is the slow cooker. Given to us as a wedding present by a well meaning aunt, I persevered with it for a while, following recipes from the accompanying cook book. However, it was certainly not labour saving, as meat and onions had to be browned before it was transferred to said pot, requiring reluctant culinary skills before 7.00am plus I’d arrive at work smelling like I’d been selling burgers from a van outside Wembley Stadium. Neither did it produce a very nice meal to come home to after a long day at work and a disrupted commute. Most of the recipes suggested six hours to cook anything and at that time we were probably out of the house for almost double that, so would arrived home starving to a pot full of slushy over cooked mush.

Toasters: we’ve had several different types over the years ranging from two to four slice capacity, cheap to expensive models and none of them produce consistently toasted bread so while not fulfilling their purpose, they are taking up valuable space on the work top. We end up toasting under the grill.

Cappuccino/espresso maker: Been there, done that. Regular readers will know that I’ve divested myself of any coffee making related gadgetry – you can’t beat an old fashioned Cafetière. Too much cleaning involved with the other variety which fails to deliver a decent cup at the correct strength or temperature.

So I come to the latest addition to my labour saving arsenal. A few weeks ago, on the recommendation of a good friend, I purchased a steam cleaner. It comes with a myriad of attachments, can be used upright to clean floors in a jiffy or hand held it tackles those difficult to clean places like your hob, your upholstery, around taps and your shower tray. The combined enthusiasm of my friend (Mrs N. – you know who you are), and the cleaner’s accompanying literature convinced me that this would cut my cleaning time in half.  Well, frankly, the jury’s still out. Having wrestled to get the thing put together in the first place I realised almost immediately that, for me at least, there is a major design flaw. Being tall, the handle height appeared to be at a comfortable level until I discovered that the lever which must be continually pressed down for steam to be released is situated at the base of the hand held area, shortening the upright by around four inches. Now this might not sound much but I can assure you it increases the angle of lean considerably thereby increasing the level of back ache.

A steam cleaner is also supposed to obviate the need for detergents which sounds very environmentally friendly I know,  but cleaning just doesn’t feel the same without a bottle of Flash or Cillit Bang to hand. And all that steam! Surely it goes somewhere to create mould related cleaning problems for which I’m betting there’ll be another gadget. However, I shall persevere for a while: if all else fails I can always get aforementioned friend to come round and give me a demo.

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Wait a minute: that’s just given me a thought. The best labour saving device ever must be to employ a cleaner; a treasure who’ll come round regularly and do all those tedious jobs for you. Worth their weight in gold, I reckon. Is that a bit bourgeois? I’d be doing my bit to decrease unemployment. It’s a win win situation.  Hmm … I bet they’d get to grips with a steam cleaner. Perhaps I could stipulate a height requirement in my advert …

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Do you know the worst thing you can say to someone who’s worrying or has something on their mind? Telling them to forget about whatever it is and focus their attention elsewhere. Our brains don’t work like that. What happens is we tend to focus even more acutely on the thing that bothered us in the first place.

Try this little experiment. Shut your eyes. Think very hard about three yellow giraffes. Go on, see them walking serenely around, nibbling leaves from the tops of some yellowing trees. Now replace those giraffes with any other animal in a colour of your choice. Not easy, is it? And I don’t want any smart answers that the animals you chose couldn’t reach the trees anyway. I covered that when I tried it.

Since the discovery I made and revealed last week about my appalling surprise with the bathroom scales I’ve been thinking of food; it has occupied a large portion of my waking hours, and a fair slice of my sleeping ones, come to that. My mind has been consumed by visions of past memorable meals. Memorable meals don’t even have to be enjoyable. Think of school dinners for instance.

 I can remember suffering the most ghastly food at primary school. Plates of mince in runny, watery gravy served with solid peas and barely boiled potatoes; plum suet pudding drowned in lumpy custard – it was the stuff of the Dickensian workhouse. We were made to sit through playtime until we had swallowed every last morsel – our sadistic dinner ladies made sure of that by forcing us to feel grateful that we weren’t like the starving children in Africa.

 So, food is a very good way to evoke memories of places we have been. I’ve been time travelling quite a lot this week, in a gastronomic sense. When I worked just off Oxford Street in Central London, we would often go out for meals to celebrate a birthday or Christmas, or find some other excuse. We were a pretty sociable lot. One of our favourite haunts was Jimmy’s in Frith Street, Soho: a dark basement where the food was cheap, the wine on the rough side – but the kleftikon (slow cooked lamb) was to die for. Sadly, the establishment is no more, but for anyone seeking to reminisce over evenings of typical Greek fare, you can do so here. 

Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to visit some pretty high end restaurants; some presided over by one celebrity chef or other: the sort of place that you visit once, for a treat. (Or on expenses). However, as there are now so many of them, I think that the exclusivity of these places has been eroded, and while the experience is always an indulgence, I can’t honestly remember individual dishes or one specific meal with a particular wow factor. We recently tried a Japanese restaurant in town that has received excellent reviews. As suggested, we tried their signature dish, the bento box, which gives the diner a taste of many of their dishes. I loved it and scoffed the lot. Time will tell if this will be an unforgettable outing.

Japanese Bento Box

Japanese Bento Box

Foreign travel provides the opportunity to try different local fare, some of which has become memorable and can be recalled in an instant at the mere sniff of garlic or unmistakeable aroma of Mediterranean tomatoes. I had the most wonderful salad one lunch time in a café in Grau de Roi, Languedoc – thinly sliced and layered Provencal tomatoes, a drizzle of olive oil and a few anchovies, washed down with a glass or two of chilled dry rose – heaven!

Other experiences are not quite so heavenly. On a short trip to Denmark, we seemed to be followed from meal to meal by Frikadellers – they were on every menu and consist of a hamburger covered in breadcrumbs and deep fried. Now I’m sure that the Danes do have a more varied diet – indeed, I believe that one of the most expensive restaurants in the world is in Copenhagen, but to me, whenever anyone mentions Danish cuisine, I think of these unappetising balls of deep fried mince.

On a visit to Reykjavik, we had dried salt cod and avoided the pan roasted puffin on the specials board while trips to Italy have so far been largely disappointing: I’m not big on pizzas, there is only so much pasta one can eat and if I order salad I don’t expect to have to mix up the dressing myself.

 Nothing I’ve eaten in Spain has been particularly memorable one way or the other, and I really don’t understand what all the fuss over Tapas is about. Give me a decent bowl of olives or nuts to have with an aperitif and I’m happy – I can’t be doing with bits of sausage or strips of peppers swimming around in herb scented oil.

Unsurprisingly France has been the venue for many memorable meals. One was in a roadside hostelry in southern Normandy, not far from the industrial outskirts of Evreux. We were on our way further south but had stopped off to take in Monet’s garden and needed somewhere to overnight. We pitched up late, secured a room for the night and went down to the bar for something to eat. Madame bustled around and provided a green salad (dressed), pan fried calves liver with pommes vapeur; a bowl of freshly picked cherries and some Camembert. My sort of food: delicious.

Another was inland from Biarritz. We’d driven all day to get to the coast then could find nowhere to stay so we back-tracked and found an ordinary looking little hotel on a crossroads to nowhere. Exhausted with the heat and frustration of looking for a room, we settled for their typical old French bedroom – mildewed floral wallpaper, red lino and a power shower in the corner of the room screened off by a plastic curtain. We accepted the meal that night might be a disaster but at that point, we were beyond caring.  With the tables laid outside under a large canopy and the smell of rosemary and thyme in the evening air we ate a fabulous banquet of seafood, drank rather a lot of local wine and made friends with a table of elderly French men and women who talked about the Resistance all evening and were very entertaining. The entente had never been so cordiale and we ended up sharing brandies with them until midnight so consequently didn’t notice how uncomfortable our bed really was.

So do I have a favourite food? No, not really. I invariably choose fish when we’re out because I don’t often cook it at home. I prefer salad to cooked vegetables unless they are really al dente and I don’t favour stodgy puddings. I like unpretentious food, in ambient surroundings, preferably on some shady terrace where there are no mosquitoes. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

I must leave you with a little food related anecdote. Several years ago I was working with a new eleven-year-old pupil, helping him identify meanings of some science words we would be covering during his first half term.  Mindful that this little chap was on the autistic spectrum and hoping to help him increase his social skills, I was doing my best to engage him in conversation while we tackled this task, so when the word ‘nutrition’ came up, I asked him what his favourite food was.

He put down his pen, turned to me and said scathingly, “Well, how would I know. I haven’t tried everything yet.”

Food for thought? I love my job.

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 First of all I’d like to extend thanks to everyone who read and responded to my last post on the sorry state of current education in our country. It was heartening and depressing in equal measure to discover that we are not alone here in the UK –this seems to be a global issue: your replies and points that you raised were both interesting and supportive – thank you all very much.

Let’s move on to a lighter topic this week. Well I wish we could, but this week is all about weight: my weight. It’s not something I’ve ever had to watch or be bothered about, having been blessed with height and a speedy metabolism. I don’t have a sweet tooth either (apart for a penchant for chocolate) so I’ve never tucked into puddings with relish. My weight has remained around the same for the best part of thirty odd years, with occasional minor fluctuations of a few pounds either up or down – in the same way as stock market linked investments go up and down – it’s just a pity that my particular savings account is not travelling in the same direction as the needle on my bathroom scales.

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I don’t even weigh myself that often so it came as a bit of a shock to discover that, just after Christmas, I was heavier than I’ve ever been. And I’m talking more than just a few pounds. How did that happen? I wasn’t aware of any clothes feeling tight. I don’t stick to a dress size either, I tend to buy things that fit rather than squeezing into a size for the sake of false modesty so a quick scan through my wardrobe revealed that I’m anything from a size 10 to a 16, depending on the make and cut.

So, what do I normally do when the fluctuations are heading in the wrong direction? Well, I cut down on the eating and exercise more. Simple. In a couple of weeks the needle on the scales is where it should be. Except that this time it isn’t. I’ve already designated myself a chocolate free zone until Easter and am eating only what I consider to be necessary foods – so no cakes, biscuits, buns, crisps, nuts – and slightly less of everything else.

That, as far as I’m concerned, is dieting, isn’t it? To be honest, I tend to switch off when people talk about their diets – I catch bits of conversations where they are earnestly debating calorie counting, eating just bacon for a fortnight or liquidised cabbage and fretting over their body mass index – but maybe I’m missing something.

I do have a theory, mind you. I’ve had my suspicions for a while but I’m pretty sure I’m right. Blogging is making us me fat. Not only is it fascinating to dip in and out of other people’s lives and thoughts it is another way to learn any amount of new things and I’ve been spending far too much time sitting in front of my computer screen rather than properly exercising.

Blog – it even looks like a ‘fat’ word to me – all those rounded letters – so I’m going to make a conscious effort to go back to some formal exercise. I know it can be done- my blogging pal, Red Hen, over in Southern Ireland runs and blogs (not at the same time, although I wouldn’t put it past her), about places she encounters while out running, providing a wonderful travelogue of her part of the world. Couple that with the way she writes and you’ll hear her Irish lilt coming through her words – and not even out of breath.

That’s all I’m going to say about my weight – I shan’t update you over every ounce – and I will still be reading all the blogs I follow. What I won’t be doing is getting side tracked along the way – and that will be much more difficult than keeping my promise to myself to eat less.

 Well, there’s no point in cheating, is there?

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