Health


I haven’t been able to write anything for a few weeks now due to illness but one morning, feeling rather better, I was suddenly motivated to write my previous post and, surprisingly, a short story for this morning’s writers’ club virtual meeting. The prompt was various objects chosen at random by members

Carol’s favourite coffee pot

Carol carefully lifted her favourite coffee pot from the cupboard and set it on the kitchen counter. It was her favourite for two reasons: it was a gift from Graeme; it was English bone china with a restrained but beautiful design with roses, which reminded her of childhood summer holidays with her grandmother, who always served coffee to ‘important’ visitors from a similar pot but that was Bavarian porcelain, also decorated with a restrained design of roses.

Why she chose to serve herself from her favourite coffee pot this morning she didn’t know. She always made coffee in a cafétiere then poured it directly from that when on her own. This time she must pour the coffee from the cafétiere into the pre-warmed coffee pot, then from that into a cup, also English bone china from the same set as the coffee pot.

Four minutes later the coffee in the cafétiere was brewed. Carol filled the coffee pot with hot water, waited a moment then poured out the water before carefully transferring coffee from cafétiere to coffee pot. 

It was now three months since Graeme told her he was leaving her after 7 years of marriage. He moved out the following day. She had not heard a word from him since then. Initial confusion was quickly followed by depression, which remained despite counselling and medical intervention. In fact it was now worse than it had ever been.

Carol lifted the coffee pot and began to pour coffee into the cup, her hand trembling as she did so. She didn’t remember her fingers opening but saw the coffee pot was on the tiled kitchen floor, in a dozen or more pieces though the lid had miraculously remained whole, all surrounded by a pool of freshly brewed coffee. 

Carol felt herself sinking to the floor till she lay, like an embryo, legs tucked up and her long hair trailing through the pool of coffee. Close to her eye she could make out a triangular shard of coffee pot. She picked it up and after a minute staring at it she plunged the sharpest point of the shard into her wrist.

She watched fascinated as the pool of blood grew larger, pushing aside the coffee, till all she could see was an ocean of red.

As her eyes closed she felt elation, picturing the evening on which Graeme had lovingly presented her with the coffee pot, carefully wrapped in paper decorated with dozens of tiny red hearts.

As the dream faded, she felt such happiness as she had not felt for the past three months.

She let herself slip gladly into the darkness.

I was recently asked to write about self-isolation for our village newsletter Menston News. I chose to expand a little on what I had written on this blog around Easter time. Here’s what I wrote for the village newsletter.

Twelve weeks isolation, or more?

When I’m asked about the 12 weeks confinement to our small flat, due to end mid-June but quite likely to be extended, I have to say that it’s not so bad. Both my wife Petronela and I have been put in the extra vulnerable class. For the first couple of weeks we had to keep 2 metres between us because, as a teacher, Petronela could well have brought the coronavirus home. That was the hardest part. Another difficulty for her is missing her students at Allerton High School.

Front cover of Menston News showing Menston park

Front cover of Menston News, showing in general the view in Spring from our sitting room window. It is now largely obscured by the multiple greens of trees in full leaf, equally beautiful.

Mind you, we are lucky. Our sitting room window overlooks Menston park. Our kitchen and bedroom windows look over the Wharfe Valley to the hills beyond.

The fine weather means we can have the windows open night and day. The dawn chorus, usually spoiled by passing motor vehicles or planes from the airport, can be enjoyed and the air coming through open windows is noticeably cleaner. We are in no hurry to go back to things as they were.

We do miss our walks, close to home through the park, around High Royds, down Bleachmill Lane, on the Chevin, and further afield on the moors. Fifty times back and forth across our sitting room, just about 1km, is not quite the same!

The problem with the current war is that the enemy is silent, hidden until it strikes you, but in other respects the problem has similarities to what many people endured in WWll.

I’m old enough to remember the whole family sleeping in a cage (Morrison shelter?). I think this was close to the Fleet Air Arm base at Sandbanks, Dorset, where my grandfather was some high-ranking officer. The shelter was in the cellar (my maternal grandmother refused to sleep in it, remaining outside of it).  Also, the sight of rows of houses without their front walls, revealing the lives of the former residents like dolls’ houses with their fronts open except the baths were hanging down on the lead drainage pipes, remains clearly in my memory. As does the sound of the air raid siren, which unusually sounded like a baby crying. I was then about 3 years old!

We’re also lucky to have wonderful neighbours; the young couple in the upstairs flat, Grace and Phil, knocked on our door well before the call went out generally for volunteers, asking if they could help. Since then they have done our shopping. We had other offers too.

We’re lucky in other ways. So-called social media means we’re not so cut off as we might have been. Petronela works on lesson plans and keeps up regularly with her teacher colleagues and her parents in Romania with video chats. I have more time to write, as a keen blogger (https://grumpytyke.com) with ‘friends’ in many other countries (over a dozen), as a member of our Menston based writers’ club – Writing on the Wharfe – which continues to ‘meet’ through video chats on Messenger, or just for enjoyment.

We are not complaining. We know many are in a worse situation than us, for many reasons.


Final word

If I ever had faith in our present Government, not only for tackling the covid-19 pandemic but in general, that’s completely gone now. The continued support by the Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Dominic Cummings is ridiculous and, as implied in my question in a recent post, if this ‘adviser’ is essential for this Government to govern then who is actually governing?

It seems to me that we are being ‘governed’ by an unelected person whose main attribute seems to be an ability to win elections (and lie). As a former communications consultant I say he has no idea about truly communicating, certainly not the truth; I could do a better job even now, in my dotage!

The PM says he want to move on; the quickest way to have done that would have been to get rid of this dubious ‘adviser’. It still is.

This is not my final word; my final word will be a letter to my local MP Philip Davies.

I have no intention of letting this blog become a ‘political’ blog but having watched yesterday the Press conference with Dominic Cummings then subsequently the daily Government Press briefing I was amazed how the media let the Prime Minister off the hook so have to say something.

I hope that this will be the final time I feel obliged to say something about this debacle.

The majority of questions just repeated the questions put to Cummings, allowing the PM to say repeatedly something like “… you had the opportunity to put those questions to Cummings so there is now reason I should answer them again …”

My question would have been:

“If this man Cummings is so important that you cannot govern without him, what on earth are you doing as Prime Minister?”


I have rarely seen the arrogance displayed by Cummings yesterday by any politician, refusing to apologise to the British public and saying he did not regret any of his actions.

As I feared. Not worth writing a post. Someone forwarded the following to me: perfect summary!


As I feared, people were flouting the lock down ‘rules’ in Leeds parks yesterday and, according the BBC, also in east London. I haven’t yet found out whether this was true in the Yorkshire Dales, places like Malham Cove being overrun at Easter.


It doesn’t take a behavioural scientist to say that substitution of ‘stay alert’ for ‘stay home’ would confuse the message, though at least one advising the Government has said it.


I will be extremely disappointed if Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirms this in this evening’s broadcast. It is even more stupid than the multiple hints that something might change after this weekend, magnified by the media.


We do not need a Prime Minister or Government which can be bullied by the media and opposition Parliamentary benches into changing the previously absolutely clear message.

I have little sympathy with the people using the lame excuse ‘the message is confusing’ for their errant behaviour. It was absolutely clear to anyone speaking English.

I commented last weekend about the increase of traffic on the road on the other side of our village park. After that I read about increasing traffic in the Yorkshire Dales and about the abuse one policewoman had to suffer from some drivers when she pointed out the error of their ways.

Fines, way too low

I think the fine, the level of a parking ticket, is far too lenient. In my closest city, Bradford, probably the city with the highest incidence of uninsured drivers in the UK and with the worst driving anywhere in the world from my experience, would not deter many in their go faster Subarus or enhanced Range Rovers.

Human rights, etc

I am fed up of people prattling on about ‘liberty’ and ‘human rights’ in this situation. What about my ‘human right’ simply to live, which they are endangering?

Realistic ‘punishments’

I’d like to see the fines replaced with at least 6 penalty points on a first offence, and removal of their driving licence on the second. As far as ignoring the instructions, or bending them, the fine should be enough to hurt, £1,000 minimum.

A better idea would be to ram wide tubes down their throats and force them to breath through that for a few weeks, as many of those in intensive care have to do, but without anaesthetic or induced sleep.

I’m finding little to dislike about the confinement to our flat for 12 weeks, maybe more. Admittedly, we are lucky: our lovely young neighbours are shopping for us; our sitting room window overlooks the village park, now with white and pink cherry blossom in full bloom, and our bedroom and kitchen windows look over Yorkshire’s Wharfe Valley; the dawn chorus sounds like we live in a forest, no polluting sound from motor vehicles nor aircraft from the local airport early in the morning; and the air from the open window is noticeably cleaner.

However, yesterday there seemed to be considerably more traffic on the main road on the other side of the park, which is worrying. In normal times there was far less traffic on a Friday.

Writing

Important for me, I’m able to write far more: more frequent blog posts which have brought more followers (I don’t actively seek more followers but it’s good to know my ramblings are appreciated); more short stories and ‘poems’; more emails and handwritten letters to distant family and friends; more chats on so called ‘social media’ – I use only one other than WordPress: Messenger.

Messenger video chat has also allowed ‘meetings’ of our local writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, to continue. The latest ‘challenge’, for the ‘meeting’ on Saturday (25th), I misunderstood and rapidly wrote the bit of ‘flash fiction’ below to meet the challenge, (which included answering some set questions about a character within the story and including “something strange”) but adding my own challenge: to answer all the questions in 20 sentences or less. When I found I had misunderstood the challenge it did not appeal to me so I’ve left my story as it is.

As a matter of interest, my first office for a business of my own (other than a table in an Italian restaurant in Soho, opposite Ronnie Scott’s, a few years earlier than the story is set) was in the King’s Road. It would be far too costly now, as would a garden flat home for a nurse!

Photo of World's End pub in King's Road (see story below

World’s End pub, King’s Road, Chelsea, London, modern times (see story below). First recorded mid-17th century. Photo by Ewan Munro.


Miranda

Miranda was looking forward to her twenty third birthday treat. 

Examining herself in the mirror while brushing her shoulder length, auburn, wavy hair, she was grateful for her shapely legs, perfectly displayed by her extra short mini skirt, in accord with today’s fashion, and perfectly in proportion to her height of a little over five feet. She also looked with approval at her gossamer fine white cotton blouse, showing to advantage her boyish breasts. She never wore a bra’. Like many young women at this time she often didn’t wear panties either.

She closed the outside door of her garden flat in London’s King’s Road, Chelsea, excited by thoughts of where her boyfriend Peter might take her (she was taking time off from both her job as a nurse and ‘moonlighting’ as a night club hostess) and guessed it might be one of the Irish pubs in the East End as he knew, with her Dublin upbringing, she would enjoy that, especially as she was born on this day, St Patrick’s Day.

As she waited outside the World’s End pub, close to her home, she turned over in her mind whether tonight was the occasion to tell Peter her real name. He had never asked her in the six months since they first met.

She snuggled into his arms. “I love you,” she whispered in his ear. “You never asked me, but how would you like to know my real name? I think you’ve guessed it’s not Miranda.”

I’d love that; I think it’s probably something exotically Irish,” Peter replied.

Bláthnaid, she whispered in her best Irish brogue. My father delighted in calling me that and telling me the legend linked to it. It means ‘little flower’.”

And so you are, though I’d love to hear the legend later,” Peter said softly, pulling away just enough to look lovingly into her large soft brown eyes. Now, let’s go birthday girl.”


Bláthnaid is pronounced approximately as ‘blaw-nid’.

The legend is important in both Ulster and what is now the Republic of Ireland, Eire, folklore.

I’ve never believed in unnatural exercise; the thought of going to a gym with all those horrific torture machines could give me nightmares, let alone paying to use them.

I’ve never run for a bus!

Hanging from wall bars in the school gym, or attempting to leap over the ‘horse’, are memories I try to keep out of my head. Even running, or jogging, for no good reason has seemed to me a ridiculous activity (I’ve never run for a bus or train – there’s always another – though I’ve rarely missed one as I’m outrageously punctual!), especially as it’s likely to ruin your knees. So when, at school, we were sent on a run because the ground was too hard for rugby, I rapidly found a culvert near to the start in which to hide till the runners came back, meanwhile having a fag or two (an addiction I shed many, many years ago).

Rugby

Despite my aversion to running, I enjoyed running as a winger for rugby as I was able to run faster for short distances than most of my fellows and had the exhilaration of diving over the line with the ball in my hands.

Walking

On the other hand, as a tyke I’ve been walking for most of my life, mostly on the Yorkshire moors or in the Romanian mountains. It began at three years old with my grandmother (who always brought an apple, a bar of Terry’s bitter chocolate and a wedge of Wensleydale cheese as refreshment). Until about six years ago I thought little of doing up to 30 miles in a day. Then those walks had to cease due to health and since then I was able to do only up to a couple of miles on the flat, rarely, on a good day. Nevertheless, Petronela and I walked as much as I was able.

Cycling

I once (1995 or ‘96) cycled across northern Romania, from Maramureș to Suceava city, on a cobbled together bike, having not been on a bike for about 40 years. It included 26 consecutive hairpins to climb over one of the passes.

Romanians thought I was crazy; I enjoyed it but it confirmed my view that walking was better. I didn’t see one other biker; there are many now. I did see a lot of dogs, most of which attacked me, met many fascinating people, and received three proposals of marriage!

Confinement

So, confined to our flat on the instructions of both our medical consultants, we miss the walks, close to home where we have many beautiful walks or, with a short car ride, further afield. We were also aware that just sitting about was not good. So, for the first time I’ve taken up some ‘unnatural exercise’.

Back and forth across our sitting room fifty times is 1km. That’s enough for me in one go though just meandering about the flat, cooking etc, probably adds another kilometre. Petronela is way ahead: she’s on 8km in a day at the moment! I can hardly believe that because she is not a ‘walker’, complaining continuously when I once took her on a 3 mile walk along the Leeds Liverpool canal to Shipley (one of my childhood playgrounds).

Another thing I never thought I’d do was exercise with dumbbells, but Petronela has two of 1.5kg. So I’ve joined her in using those!

Odd behaviour for me, but thank heavens we are now able to stop keeping two metres between us. Now that was really odd!

My blogger friend Gray is a staff nurse in Wales. Here is his latest post, unedited.

via Corona. Was once a soft drink. Now? 🖕🏻

Today is Easter Sunday for us and the majority of Romanians.

To all of you, but especially those of you who are working in our NHS, care and nursing homes, and many other vital roles, I send you all thanks and the traditional greeting for today:

Hristos a înviat!


During the current ‘lockdown’ we are being reminded many times a day of the possible effects on mental health. It will no doubt be a big problem for many, but … …

I have thought for a long time that the concentration in the past few years on treatment and support (clearly necessary) to the exclusion of looking at the underlying causes is wrong. I  believe that my mother’s generation (she would have been 100 in June this year had she lived), subjected to appalling stress and strain as a result of WWII, did not suffer from mental health problems to anything like the same extent as the generations following mine.

Why has mental health become a scourge on today’s and recent generations? I firmly believe that the cause is the sick society in which we now live, a society ruled by money in which the acquisition of the latest gadget has become paramount, illustrated very well by the words and actions of the current President of the USA (and the gun touting crowds now protesting in some states of his country).

Perhaps the current pandemic will bring about a rethink. Sadly, I doubt it in the long term.

Perhaps some people will claim that mental health problems were just as rife in my mother’s generation as in today’s, that it was just not recognised. I’m certain that is not true.

My mother’s generation

Why do I say ‘my mother’s generation’ rather than ‘my father’s generation’? Simple. My father, as a Royal Navy sailor, was almost never there. So my mother brought up me and my two younger brothers as, effectively, a single mother. At the end of the war my father died so she became a single mother in reality.

Studio photo of me and my younger brother

My younger brother and I, always smartly dressed, not just for this studio photo, clothes made my mother (trip to the studio probably paid by my grandmother).

Many times my mother did not know where the next meal was coming from. But it was always there. I still have wonderful memories of stew steaming in an enamelled bowl on the hearth in front of the shiny ‘black leaded’ range, dumplings floating on top, greeting us when we arrived from school (a little under a mile away) in winter, having climbed the steep hill home through deep snow; on foot of course, not picked up in a Range Rover.

She did not bemoan the fact that she could not afford to buy clothes to dress her three sons smartly; she made all our clothes.

Christmas was made special not by piles of presents from Amazon, but by sitting together making Christmas decorations and a chicken for Christmas dinner; it was too expensive for any other meal.

As one of my birthday (fifth birthday?) ‘treats’: when I was safely in bed and asleep she took up the ‘flags’ (for non Yorkshire folk, large heavy paving stones) in our small yard so the ‘fairies’ could plant many plants in flower to greet me in the morning. Of course I still remember it!

There are many other similar examples. The point I’m making is that, in general, my mother’s generation did not sink into depression when faced with difficulties. Why do you think that was? 


How easy it is to ‘catch’ the coronavirus; a reminder

While most people are abiding by the ‘lockdown’ instructions in the UK, there are still some people flouting them, if not to the letter then in spirit. So here’s a sobering reminder.

A friend of ours’ next door neighbour was fit and going for a 20 minute run in the park every day, observing distance rules. Following his most recent run he began to feel unwell, went to bed with a elevated temperature and developed a cough.

He had been infected by the virus!

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