Monday, 26 February 2007

My mother's knees

My mother’s knees seem to suddenly have started playing her up! Over the last few weeks we have gradually uncovered the fact that she can’t go up and down stairs very comfortably, can’t get on and off the toilet and can’t walk very far without her knees causing her great pain. Of course when you ask more probing questions you discover that this has been coming for a while. Turns out she has not got in the bath for at least a year and has been standing up to use the toilet for several weeks..but uncovering the fine details is like reading a mystery when you only really understand what is going on at the last minute. I ordered her a raised toilet seat to help her get on and off the toilet despite her protestations that she didn’t need one. Once it arrived she admitted that she liked it so much she might get another one for the downstairs toilet! Mothers….!!!

Monday, 19 February 2007

More from the past

On Saturday we took Ian's mum over to her sister's house in Essex. She lives about 8 miles from Southend and I remembered the main road from the days when I used to do the London to Southend bike ride as it was the last refreshment post before the end and always very welcome. Turns out Marg used to help run the refreshments every year and I had almost certainly eaten her cakes and sandwiches before! She also told me how when her and her husband first moved to the area 40 years ago the road they lived in was not made up so all the street got together and built the road at the weekends. Each household paid towards the cost of the materials and gave their labour for free. Pensioners didn't have to pay or work but agreed to provide the men with drinks and refreshments as they got to their house. The road took some time to build and by the end the street had more Sunday church goers than anywhere else in the South!

Sunday, 18 February 2007

Out of the past...

I decided to have my old Trek mountain bike frame re-sprayed and built up again. (I get emotionally attached to all my bikes and can never throw them away or sell them. I had so many hours of fun on the Trek it deserves a new lease of life). After searching the internet I got to hear of a chap in South London who specialises in rep-spraying bikes and as it is only 10 minutes from Ian’s flat we decided to take it there on Saturday. I had already phoned and talked to Vaz, the owner who had given me directions to his workshop. I thought it seemed a bit odd that it had no street number. The road was an ordinary residential street and tucked away opposite a few houses was what looked like an old builder’s yard from 100 years ago. In the yard there were old bins and piles of stuff and on the large double door a hand written note was pinned, instructing us to ring the bell. When we did a face appeared from the top window and a pleasant man beckoned to us to come up. The steps at the side would not have passed any building or safety inspections; being steep, of solid concrete, covered in slippery moss and with a very rusty looking hand rail to one side. At the top, we entered into the workshop. There were bike frames hanging around the walls, a stove for baking the enamel on to the frames in one corner, a booth for spraying the paint and various tools and bits of machinery everywhere. There were a few paper face masks hanging around but other than that, no protective clothing, extractor fans or air conditioning! The heating was a small, ancient bakelite gas burner, placed near what passed for the office and, when Vaz was talking to us, dangerously close to his rear end! Vaz quoted me an excellent price for the re-spray and I had at least 50 colours to choose from. I chose a dark grey but said I didn’t mind anything else similar. He said he mixed the colours himself anyway. While we were there three other people arrived; one to check on the progress of his frame, where the lugs were being lovingly picked out in gold paint, and the other two to leave their bikes. I feel my bike is in the hands of the type of craftsman that is no longer allowed to operate in these days of rules and regulations. I think it is in safe hands and I am looking forward to seeing the results next week!

Tuesday, 13 February 2007


On the way to work today I had the radio on in the car and heard on the news that a teenage boy from my town had been found dead from a drugs overdose and my first thoughts was that it was Joanna's son. I felt quite ill until I heard a further on into the broadcast that it was an older boy and that different issues were involved. Still, it just hit home as to what a serious situation it is and how terrible Joanna must feel every time the phone rings.

My phone rang twice tonight. The first call was from my brother. The boy on the TV last night was not his son although it very well could have been. The second call was from my sister who was very upset. She is currently separating from her partner of 15years and I think tonight was one of those difficult moments when she didn't know whether she wanted to be independent, dependent, single or coupled and just ended up sad. I wish I could make this process easier for her to bear but I know that the only way for the pain to get any less is for her to accept it and feel hurt and sad for a while. I think sometimes the light seems a very long way down the tunnel

Monday, 12 February 2007

Teenage Boys

Joanna works with us as an administrative assistant. She came back to work today and I asked her how she was as she was off last week. She has a 13 year old son and it seems he is finding adolescence a problem at the moment and has disappeared from home. Joanna knows that he is with a girl (“he seems to be going mad for girls at the moment”) and knows that they have been befriended by a man in his 50s who gives them money, but other than that she hasn’t seen him for a week. The police are looking for him but so far there has been no news. Joanna is beside herself with worry. My neighbours get to hear a lot of what is going on around town so I said I would ask them if they have heard anything about the girl concerned, although it is a long shot and I don’t imagine they will know anything.

This evening I was watching a documentary about a village in North Cornwall that has become a very trendy holiday spot for the rich and young, including Princes William and Harry! Teenagers from the public schools break up and head down to the beach for a spot of chilling out (which seems to mean getting drunk and stoned). I watched as I saw a group of boys having their alcohol confiscated on the beach and I swear that one of them was my nephew, happily telling the police he was 18 when at the time the programme was made he would have been 14. I will have to phone up my brother to check.

Perhaps memories of my own teenage years have just got a bit fuzzy over the years as I know I did some pretty embarrassing things when I was 14 and thought nothing of the consequences at the time.

Sunday, 11 February 2007


Today my neighbour's son (called Pee) bought us a couple of bikes to fix. Pee loves playing with bikes. He can stand in the workshop for ages and talk with Ian about bikes, and tools, and engines, and girls, and farting and any other boy kind of conversation that you can think of. He lives with lots of girls and they don't really approve of his boy-type behaviour; but in the shed he can be free to do as wishes in this respect. Meaningful conversation about how to mend a puncture, true a wheel, oil a chain etc; is interspersed with the occasional light hearted question about the size of girls' backsides and why girls spend so long in the bathroom. After an hour or two in the shed fixing things with Ian, Pee takes his mended bikes home. Pee always listens when I say that Ian is coming down this weekend and when Ian steps out of the house Pee is there waiting for him

Thursday, 8 February 2007


Tomorrow I am going to the graduation ceremony for our students. It is always quite a nice feeling to see students celebrating their achievements. We have to wear our gowns and sit at the end of the row and get up and applaud loudly when they go up to get their awards. The ceremony starts with a procession on the stage of people with very brightly coloured gowns. A local mayor or two turn up, the pro-vice chancellor gives the same speech he gave last year, someone gets presented with an honorary doctorate, the students go up on stage to get their awards, everyone rushes to meet parents and then they all run off into town! Its a bit of a strange English custom and reminds me a bit of the shows my sister used to go to when she was a body builder!

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Anti social behaviour

Where I live there are just one or two families that cause most of the problems. Sadly the problems are manifested in the behaviour of the children. Around the corner from me there is a family; the mother has mental health/alcohol problems, the eldest boy is a drug addict and dealer, the youngest child shows all the signs of a disturbed life and the daughter of 14 has a criminal record, several ASBOs, has been tagged and spent time in a young offenders institute. At one point the daughter targeted my former next door neighbour and 'moved in'; turning the house into a teenage crack house, staying up all night, and stealing food and money. Ultimately it ended in the girl setting fire to the house, causing thousands of pounds of damage. She is mostly drunk or stoned and hasn't been to school for at least 2 years. I can see very little chance of her having any sort of future and I guess she must see that herself to some degree, perhaps explaining her self destruction. She has been 'going out' with a local lad a year or so older who also has his issues although is not quite as troubled as her. As soon as she is 16 she says she is going to marry him. I wish I could say that they will both live happily ever after.

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Hospital parking moans

I also had to go to the hospital this morning to have a blood test. I discovered when I got there that they have changed the parking fees in the hospital car park. It is now £1.00 for up to 30 minutes, £2.00 for up to 2 hours, and £4.00 for 4 hours etc. Well, how long does a blood test take? If you don't have to wait it takes about 3 minutes but if you arrive after an outpatient clinic has just finished or when there is a waiting room full of diabetic patients then you could be there in excess of an hour. Same is true of hospital appointments in general. If you are seen on time it only takes 30 minutes but most clinics run late. I only had £1.00 in change so I took a chance of half an hour! Last time I parked in a hospital car park without paying the appropriate fees I got a ticket. I was late because my appointment over ran and didn't have any change to pay as I had just been discharged from hospital five days before. I could hardly walk more than a few yards. I appealed the ticket but they still made me pay a £20 fine!

Winter Sun

Today was one of those cold and bright winter days. I had to go to Brighton so chose to drive along the coast road for some of the time. The view from the road over towards the sea is always particularly stunning in winter. Most of the land was a red-grey colour with occasional patches of green and the sea was a bluey grey tone; just a bit darker than the sky. When I go this way I always wish that I wasn’t working and that I could stop and just look at the view until I was bored with it, or until I got too cold! I am sometimes quite surprised, when I get up onto the cliff road, to realise that I live close to something so beautiful.

Monday, 5 February 2007

A sunny morning in London

Today I was in London visiting students. The first one was at St Thomas's hospital. The department overlooks the Thames and the Houses of Parliament. It was a lovely sunny day and from the top floor the river looked so calm and peaceful. A few boats cruised up and down and I could see people walking over Westminster Bridge down below. After the visit I walked across the bridge towards Victoria station. I passed in front of the Houses of Parliament and the anti-war protest that is permanently housed there. A few tourists were taking photos of the sole protester who has become as much as an attraction as the building he protests outside. When I got to Victoria Street the road was cordoned off and closed to traffic and pedestrians. Everyone was very calm and just went about what they were doing, accepting a slightly longer walk and a detour with good grace. A few tourists looked a bit bemused and took photos but then went off to look at another sight. The police directed everyone to alternative routes. Just as I was starting my detour I heard on my radio that the street was closed because a letter bomb had exploded in an office and injured the employee who had opened it. As I got further on down the back streets towards Victoria I could see armed police and the fire brigade on Victoria Street. In the back streets some policemen were talking on their mobiles (explaining why they would be late home), some were directing traffic, some ‘emergency services’ were waiting in the warmth of the local caf├ęs and patisseries. I used my detour to look in a running shop I had wanted to visit for a while and then went on my way. One reason why I think terrorism will never achieve its goals in London is that most people just take no notice; except for the woman who was injured and her colleagues and family.

Thursday, 1 February 2007

The promenade

I live in a 'retirement town'. People of my parents generation aspired to retire and live by the sea in the same way that we want to retire to France or Spain, and so many of the towns along the South Coast developed to cater for this need. The promenade is long and flat. It goes from the Marina at one end of the seafront all the way to the cliffs at the other; a distance of three miles in all. It is wide enough to take walkers, joggers, people on roller blades, people in wheelchairs (motorised or otherwise), people on bikes, people with pushchairs and children, people with dogs, people using walkers, people with surfboards, the train that drives up and down in the summer to rescue people who have walked too far and can't get back and the occasional utility vehicle! Except that it isn't really wide enough to do all of that; especially in the summer when it is sunny, and the children are off school and everyone in the world has come down for the day! If you stare too long at the sea you are likely to be swept away by a passing roller blader, or caught up in a fight between two unleashed dogs, or knocked off your feet by an out of control electric wheelchair. These can be hired for the day or week from a local store but don't come with driving lessons! In these chairs some people seem to develop a Dick Darsteadly mentality and drive with anarchistic zeal! One even carries the number plate FU2! If you like the place a lot and then you die, you and your family can arrange to have a bench placed along the promenade with your name on it. A lot of people have liked the place as there are a lot of benches. No matter how ill you feel or how far you have walked there is always a place to sit and rest and always someone slower than you.