The Queen who had to be seen to be believed.

I have filed this post under the category of ‘About artists’ because no artist ever designed their entire life of public service with as much attention to detail as the Queen.

She herself said she had to be seen to be believed, in my life I had contact with the Queen five times and believed in her as I believed the sun would rise every day.

I was born in 1951 and can very vaguely remember the family getting their first black and white television to watch the coronation when I was two, but I was nine when I actually saw the Queen.  We were on holiday in Wales when she came past in a motorcade.  As I was little I was pushed to the front.  I vividly recall the Queen, who was sitting on my side of her car, dressed in very shiny pale blue with a very upmarket version of the sort of hat my aunties were wearing at the time, like a round cushion with a hole for your head.  The Queen had a bunch of little white flowers that moved, on her hat, her eyes were very blue and she waved to me with a white gloved hand.  There was a photograph of the Queen in the car, which I have spent all morning trying to find, unsuccessfully, though I only have to shut my eyes to be there again.


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Here is my second contact with the Queen.  I was doing teaching practise in my last year of teacher training, when the Queen, unusually, cancelled some engagements as she had flu.  I seized on the opportunity to give the children some letter writing experience and the Queen some comfort from the children.  The letters from the children, who were seven years old, varied between very accomplished and very hilarious.  The letter from Buckingham Palace went into my college folder until I rescued it.

For the third contact we were in Nottingham.  The OH had followed me down to that city and found a job in quite an old hospital as a medical microbiologist.  He was so gifted with a microscope that when the six year research post into Legionnaires Disease became available it was unquestionably his.  The work was based at the brand new Queen’s Medical Centre.  As he was an employee we were in the front row at the edge of the red carpet when the Queen opened the hospital.  We waited some time.  First a minion rushed out of the new plate glass doors with a vacuum cleaner and vacuumed the red carpet within an inch of its life.  Then she beetled off, and the Queen emerged from the big glass doors, having opened the hospital, and we waved and cheered and she waved and smiled.  She was wearing a shot silk coat and a hat in matching material, brilliant blue eyes and white gloves, and she had a handbag.

The fourth contact, in the late Nineties, was the OH on his own.  He was County Emergency Planning Officer by then and was invited to a ‘thank you’ evening do for Emergency Service workers at the Palace.  Drinks and nibbles were served.  The OH was standing in a group of four emergency planning officers when an equerry stepped up, enquired who they were, murmured to the Queen as she arrived and  she talked to the group generally.  The OH, who is used to standing next to me, was surprised to discover the Queen coming up to exactly the same place on his shoulder.  The Queen and I were the same height, which proves that good things come in small packages.  Ever since that evening, I have stopped referring to myself as short; I now refer to myself as this height by Royal Appointment.

If you are a regular reader (hello again) you know about the fifth contact this spring.  Here it is again.

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When the Queen had Covid and continued to work regardless, I was so worried that she would contract Long Covid, as my neighbour and hairdresser had done, by continuing to work, that I got my best water coloured card I’d made and wrote and told her about my worries.  Two days later on the news, we heard that the Queen had stopped working and was resting.  This was good but the letter from Windsor Castle, a few weeks later was an amazement, though I should not have been surprised – she was the Queen who believed she had to be seen to be believed.

It is now so hard to believe she is gone.  It is incredible to think of her meeting her fifteenth Prime Minister just two days before she died.  Working until the very end.  Being there, doing the job, being seen. 

We are so lucky to have been alive at the time of this extraordinary woman.  Just a little person with a work ethic, a compassion and a presence that encompassed the world.  In our lifetimes we have known the most photographed, most famous woman in the world, who cared for the world and was always there for us.

How much we loved the Queen!  How much the Queen loved us!

Our luck is almost unbelievable, but has been seen, over the course of seventy years, to be true.

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Sundries. With Cornflakes.

This is a bit of a catch up before I immerse myself in dolls.

First to news of SMIL, who, for new readers, is my Step-mother-in-law, who has Alzheimer’s.  She has only been living in a care home for just over a year but her downward plunge from when she arrived has been extreme, now she can barely speak; eighteen months ago we were having half-hour conversations.  When I compare her to my mother, who talked opulently until her dying day and had an opinion on everything, there is no comparison.

At the outset of caring for my mother, having had the experience of my mother-in-law, who died of Alzheimer’s in her fifties, in the Nineteen Eighties, I read everything about dementia that I could get my hands on.  All the literature agreed on one aspect of the disease, which was that sufferers were happier and, consequently, less demented, if their contacts and surroundings were familiar.  For my mother-in-law the question never arose.  My father-in-law kept his part time job, so that he had contact with people who were not ill, a few days a week.  While he was at work my mother-in-law stayed at home, then he returned and cared for her.  Every other week he drove her down to our house where they stayed for a four-day weekend.  As our houses were the same half of an identical semi, my mother-in-law was confident of the geography of the house, her husband was with her and she knew all of us.  She was less happy on the following weekend when she went up to her sister’s house in Scotland.  Although she was surrounded by family, the layout of the house was drastically different, she was miserable and lost.

I therefore kept my mother in her own house with hired help from an agency, using the money from releasing equity from the house until there was nearly no more money to take, but the sale of the house would repay the debt and still provide enough money to keep my mother in a care home she approved of, for a long life, if something happened to me.  The home was full of retired professionals, there were sherry afternoons, and, mostly, my mother was convinced she was on a cruise and was happy, never more so than when ‘YooHooing!’ at her former GP every morning when she made an entrance into breakfast from the lift.  How the poor man did not choke on his cornflakes I shall never know.

SMIL’s daughter was obliged to put her into a care home because she had sought help from SMIL’s county council.  In a surprise visit, a council agent caught SMIL on a bad day and recommended transfer to a care home without delay, locally.  The daughter intervened and moved her mother to a care home in the next village to where she lived, several counties south.

Another feature of dealing with the disease, is that, however many agencies you seek help from, there will be that many opinions on what to do for the best.  Keeping it private as long as I could, gave me the upper hand.  I knew my mother better than anyone and knew how to keep the landscape as close to something she approved of and was happy with.

For the third time last week I told someone at SMIL’s care home that she had been a red head and was therefore prone to allergies.  It goes a long way to explaining her aversion to medication, and her current tendency to hold pills in her mouth until the administrator has vanished and then spit them out.  I hope they are now administering necessary drugs ground up in the cream in cream cakes, or similar, which is what I did with my mother.  Though I have been enlightened on the iniquitous cost of liquid versions of pills.

Having paid help, when you are doing the paying, or family members who know the sufferer of old, is something to aim for but not always possible.

I promised SMIL, because she asked when she was at home, that I would go on ringing and would always be on the end of a phone.  A foolish promise that I was obliged to break when dragged into hospital.  It was six weeks before I was well enough to speak to SMIL again; whoever answered the phone, (and I had to go through four individually,) was very frosty because I hadn’t rung for a while.

SMIL does talk to me more readily than anyone else.  This is not because I’m wonderful; it’s because she’s used to it.  She is also used to me saying: ‘If you’re too tired to talk, you just listen and I’ll prattle on.’  which has always raised a laugh.  I was worried when I was unable to ring that she wouldn’t know who I was, but familiarity over many years of of phone chats worked well and we picked up as if we had never left off.

However, much of the time it is difficult to catch SMIL awake.  Four months ago she was sleeping during the day and roaming the building at night.  Now she sleeps all day in a chair and all night in bed.  Her daughter took her for a brain scan, to see if there’s something else going on.  I have not known anyone deteriorate so quickly.  A couple of months into living at the home, SMIL told her daughter she was ready to go home.  Then she said if her daughter let her go home, she would say no more about it and all would be forgiven.  Then she had a phase of breaking windows with her walking stick, until the stick was removed.  Now she has days when she lies on the floor and will not get up.  I have suggested this is fear of falling, remembering how frequently my mother lost her balance and fell.  SMIL has a point; if you’re feeling unsteady, you can’t fall off the floor.

Amazingly, last phone call, SMIL started by asking how I was and listened while I explained, but when I asked how she was, she threw the phone away in disgust.  Nevertheless I was surprised that she remembered that I had been ill and was able to ask after my health.  She is now having assistance with feeding, having been woken for meals.  She has lost a lot of weight, which vindicates her own dictum that you need a bit of padding as you get older, because you never know.  I am sending clothes, as it is dangerous for demented folk to have trailing clothing; they don’t have the patience for sleeves caught on chair arms and door handles.  I have sent a soft pair of velour trousers, bought in a sale, which I thought might be too small, but when I tried them,  fit me, so I know they will fit SMIL, because all the trousers I bought just before Christmas fall down when SMIL stands up.

My mother forgot to eat and lost two stones in weight in three weeks.  I managed to get it back on her by becoming an expert cake baker.  She ate the highly decorated fancies as much because she knew I had baked them for her, as for their decorative nature.  The carers are doing their best for SMIL and she does enjoy the meals, but putting weight back on people who have lost it through dementia is very difficult.  My mother-in-law, never overweight, was skeletal  by the time she died.

As always, all information here is simply to help if you are the carer for someone demented.  It isn’t a route map, just a wave from a similar position.  In an impossible circumstance you do what you can, be as kind as you can, because it could be you, and get what help you can, and get respite care if you can.

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And now, in a horribly self-obsessed way, all about me, me, me.  I am delighted to say the lengthy scar down the middle of my stomach, which would have been much longer had I been six feet tall, has finally stopped leaking from the hole in the middle.  It leaked for seven weeks.  I am still wearing a sticking plaster at night, in case, but during the day I have given them up.

I have returned to working out, not too difficult if you’ve done it for twenty-two years, but I’m only doing half an hour or five hundred steps.  I am still utterly washed up by mid afternoon and ready for bed at eight.

I am not drinking tea.  It tastes foul.  This is an amazement, I run on tea.  Well I used to.  Now all I want is fruit juice and water.  I never saw the point of fruit juice, I thought, why not just eat the fruit?  I have also gorn orf chocolate!  I’ll repeat that I have gorn orf chocolate.

For pudding I am having dry cornflakes and, get this, I have a freezer full of uneaten ice cream that I don’t fancy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Whatever next?*  Has the world gone mad?  Are my intestines going in for world domination?**

Stay tuned to find out.

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*Dolls.

**Yes.


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Autumn Miniatura.

It is only a month to Autumn Miniatura.  If you are a new miniaturist, drawn into the hobby by television programmes, Miniatura is the place to be.  The television programmes feature amateur miniaturists making twelfth scale miniatures by a variety of means, competitively at speed.

Miniatura, a show started by miniaturists for miniaturists, brings professional miniaturists, often lifetime craftsmen, into contact with serious collectors.  The great feature about Miniatura, is that the show has always catered for all areas of the hobby, recognising that all miniaturists have to start somewhere, including child miniaturists; there have always been plenty of pocket money buys at Miniatura.

The venue is in the Midlands, not expensive to get to, or stay at, and the parking  at the venue is free.

All the details are online at www.miniatura.co.uk

Will I be there?  I have been exhibiting for over thirty years, except for the times when health issues stopped me.  You need to be quite strong to build a shop on a table in three hours, get up at the crack of dawn on two days running and pack it all away at the end.  I usually put out around 800 dolls individually, this time, if I am there, I am planning to bring back 12th scale glass-eyed dolls.  For many years I have been concentrating on smaller scales.  24th scale is still my favourite because you can have many 24th scale houses in your real house with everything working and realistic.

At present I could not do the show, I’m not strong enough.  I get up full of enthusiasm at seven but by midday I am washed up like flotsam and ready for a snooze.  It looks as if the horrible hole in the scar may be thinking of stopping leaking but I still haven’t been discharged by the hospital yet.

You see a number of people at Miniatura, both visitors and exhibitors, with health issues.  I spent many years interviewing exhibitors and know that the health issues are often invisible but still there.  I used to begin interviews by saying that I had heard Miniatura called the ‘I had a nasty Mummy Club’.  Everyone always laughed and no one ever asked me what I meant.

There is a powerful attraction to the miniature world in those whose real world is imperfect, which is usually everyone.  You would think a Queen would have a perfect life; miniaturists know that Queen Mary caused the dolls’ house that is at Windsor Castle to be built between the wars, not just to cheer up the nation but to console herself for a life lived in public, when all she wanted was an ordinary stately home somewhere in the country.

I will be there if I can, this is the place to meet like-minded people and where I meet my friends that I see twice a year.  I have never made as many friends outside of miniatures as I have in the hobby.  I love all the people, I love all the miniatures, I love the show.

I would love to see you there, if I am up to it.  Meanwhile head over to the Miniatura website and find out who will be there.  I know it says I will be, I hope it’s right.

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Bedding.

Absolutely not in the Shakespearian sense, though at the time bundling was very popular.  The courting couple, dressed in every garment they had, were put in bed together, sometimes with a plank of wood between them and then further bundled up.  You would get an opportunity to find out how bad the snoring was and how strong your wrists were.

Neither is this about the Great bed of Ware, which now lives in the V&A but was originally in an inn, though how it got in the inn, or indeed back out to the museum, is debateable.  It moved three times before it got to its current location. It is a four poster, ten by eleven feet wide, which can reputedly accommodate four couples or twelve people.  Why the four extra singletons?   Are they thinner than the wed or do they lie stiller in the bed?  Which door did it go through?  How did they wash the bedding?  How many pillows?  How far would you have to go to find your lost hot water bottle?

There are no facts that I can find relating to bed bugs and the great bed, did you get your money back if you got bitten to bits and how much would that be and did anyone, actually, get any sleep?*

Sam Pepys’ wife, made ill by ‘those that are in the bed’ took to her bed as a cure.  May be a slight flaw in the logic there, one feels.

How did you sleep in the heatwave?  Did you sleep in the heatwave? Ridiculous isn’t it – just a few degrees either way and no one gets any kip.  15.6 to 19.4 Celsius is the ideal temperature range, or 65F, if you still have sheets and blankets.  What do you wear in 40 degrees?  My south-facing bedroom got up to 35, which I made worse by arrangements.  About a week out of hospital, my wound leaked through several layers of bedding, just stopping short of the mattress.  Thereafter I slept on a nice fluffy, absorbent, warm towel.  I appreciated why they have plastic coated mattresses and one sheet in hospital, despite the tendencies of patients to slide out, which is what the railings are for.

Snakes can’t sleep any colder than 16 degrees and if there is an undigested meal in them when they go into brumation it will rot and they will die.

There is a slight possibility that I might be a sea cucumber.  They undergo aestivation when it gets too hot to sleep; they shut down, their gastrointestinal tract shrinks by half, they have no energy and go all stiff and useless.

Does anyone know why beds are so high currently?  When I was a child you sank into bed at round about the level of your knees.  In mediaeval times the bed was high so that the servant’s truckle bed could slide underneath.  There was a hanging at the head end called a dosser, and visitors were invited to hop in and stay for the night.  Now, if you’re not feeling up to much, getting into bed is a branch of mountaineering; when I was really weak I developed a technique of flinging my arms across the bed and shuffling on like a seal.  Chris Bonington would have been proud of me, in a mere half an hour I made it up the south face of the bed, sadly not to a glacier.

How do mountaineers sleep in those tiny tents fastened on to the side of a vertical cliff face and how many are lost popping out for a pee and where do you put the alarm clock?

About twenty five years ago I visited a relic of an ancient fortified lodging with a turret, out in the sticks at the end of the sort of country track that gets narrower until you start asking if you’ve missed the turning.  There was a double height hall stuck on to a turret with a spiral stair clinging to the outer wall and a nice sheer drop on the inside. Up a perilous turn was a room with a garderobe with a crumbling seat and a long drop and a four poster bed, much higher than wide which must have been built in the room.  The stone floor sloped into the centre which the bed occupied.  The bed had the remnants of hangings and coverlets that may once have been fur with an interesting hovering of insect life.  Down stairs safely again there was a sort of guide with an impenetrable accent, a table, a radio and a microwave.  He could have been glad to have visitors, or not, it was difficult to tell.

Windows open or shut?  In a heat wave you need some old fashioned net curtains.  Some years ago I sent away for a brilliant invention which was the hook side of hook and loop tape to stick round the window and a piece of fine net to pat onto the hooks.  After several summers the sticky residue acquires a life of its own, goes yellow, rolls up, occasionally incorporating the odd spider and is completely and utterly unremovable.  Nothing will shift it that will not also melt the plastic window frame.  So I didn’t put that on the new window, I had old fashioned nets, trapped at the bottom with heavy things that will still make the morning start early with a little light droning.  Is it a wasp?  If it is a wasp, where is it?  Is it a wasp that is likely to go out again?  Is it a pissed-off wasp?  Is it a huge bee?  Where is it?  I can hear it.  Oh!  It flew right by my ear!  What time is it?  That early!  Shall I get up and deal with it or go back to sleep?  Do stinging things more readily sting sleeping people or people waving newspapers at them?  If I throw a slipper at it, will it make it more or less annoyed?

But the real bugbear in a heatwave is what the heat does to your hair.  Prior to the heat I had had a perm.  When you lie a sweaty head on a wet pillow you get curly on the top in the morning and a horizontal mullet round the lower half. You stare in the mirror amazed at yourself having time travelled to the early eighties in the night, sad that you gifted your striped flares to the charity shop, certain that these plus the hanging curtain arms that weight loss and dehydration have added to the mix are a definite look, add the white face and brown hand that you couldn’t be bothered to move away from the window and there you are straight off the margins of a mediaeval apocalypse.  I wish I were joking.  The OH did come in from the garden to find me, sleep-deprived, spark out in the chair and thought I was dead.  Worryingly he did not try to revive me.

In a normally hot summer, always cold, I rejoice in sleeping outside of the covers, warm all over.  In a heat wave the question arises of what to wear.  Nothing is not the answer for nothing permits contiguous flesh to self-weld with sweat like wearing nothing.  It might be acceptable if you have a large bed and can sleep spread-eagled like a starfish but that won’t last.  A flung-over arm will stick to any other part of the anatomy, instantly doubling the temperature.  How strange is it that sticking a leg off the bed is cooling even when there is no bedding?  I was very fortunate that my bed is mine alone.  How you do a heatwave with another body in the same bed is a puzzle.  I vaguely recall being piled with tossed-off blankets in summer and frozen by hauled-away coverings in winter.  What if you are someone who shares your bed with the cat or the dog?

As a teenager I had a friend who had been maid servant to a very famous French singer.  He shared his bed with several huge dogs (never mentioned in the romantic songs) who brought along bones, fleas, bodily fluids and mud.  It was my friend’s job to turf off the dogs and make the bed every lunch time when the singer arose.  It was one of those 1960’s chalet maid jobs that was glamourous from the outside only.

Do you read in bed?  I clear the library from the side of the bed when the piles are high enough to cause damage in a book slide. A portion of the unfinished novels are by me and there are always numerous notebooks, though as notebooks are for the brainwaves of the morning, they become useless as I age because once I’m awake, I’m up.

The weirdest thing about the heatwave and being poorly during it was the thwarted requirement to dream.  Pottering along to the north facing bathroom in the night to change a dressing and sitting on the toilet seat to recover from the walk, I woke up in a start from a vivid dream when I fell backwards on to the flush arm, which is a pressure handle.  Returning and sitting on the bed, prior to sealing up on to it, I fell asleep again and woke in a rush from a dream about boxes.  I dreamed in the chair in the day too, almost as soon as I sat down.

We are going to have to develop strategies for the hot nights of the future.  There are countries where flat roofs permit urban dwellers to catch a breeze.  I think a promising development could be solar powered fans.  Charge up in the day; discharge at night.  Frozen bed socks?  Plastic coated pillow ice cubes?

Or, we’re just going to have to get to grips with global warming.  I started saving for an electric car some time ago and plan to keep my petrol car going as long as it takes, because nothing ruins  the lovely long-anticipated summer like a string of sleepless nights.

*Are you kidding?  In bed with eleven potential gropers, thieves or infections and they actually sold the places.**

**Four hundred and thirty years before anyone had invented Marketing Degrees.

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Nurses.

Eight days in hospital is a long time to watch.  There’s not a lot else you can do if you’re not up to reading but hooked up to bottles and drip stands. I had pipes up my nose and everywhere else and a forest of cannulas delivering stuff into veins, so apart from lugging the lot to the loo or the shower, watching and leaving meals was the entertainment on offer.  There was a lady admitted in the last couple of days who thought the ward would benefit from her choice of 24 hour radio station.  I pretended I was better than I was to escape, which wasn’t difficult; I was clogging up a bed.

You hear a lot about the NHS on the news at present.  How the government promised pay rises for the staff that survived Covid and then reneged on the deal.  You also hear a bitter bit from those that lost loved ones.  You hear about an influx of nurses from overseas and doctors resigning in droves.  But all of this is stuff you are hearing from outside the system.

Inside, things look a little different.

I was in a six bed ward, supposedly a gynae ward but full of those who were not there for those reasons.  As I had been admitted ten times previously for ‘conservative’ treatment (otherwise known as ‘see if she gets better on her own’) I had been on this ward, and indeed, in the corner bed, several times before.

This time I had long enough to observe the patients.

In the far corner next to the door was a large lady who had broken a forearm.  She had very little English, I don’t know how long she had lived here; her son, visiting, in his forties, had perfect English.  She was waiting for some assisted accommodation to be arranged.  I came back from the bathroom once, having met a nurse who had missed me for observations, to find the broken arm lady shouting and gesticulating at me.  ‘BELL!’ she shouted making a sign pressing with her thumb. I explained that I had met the nurse.  ‘NO!  BELL!’  After several increasingly violent shouts, I pressed my bell and redirected the nurse.  Mrs Broken Arm just wanted someone to take her to the toilet.

She drank pints of chocolate laxative out of a feeding cup, and, despite having learned several demands, didn’t appear to know ‘Thank you.’

The nurses were always kind to her, always cheerful, always willing, and, although she shouted ‘TRAINERS!’ at them several times a day, never clonked her across the head with them.  I would have.

In the next bed, when I arrived, was a nineteen year old with some sort of mental problem to do with malingering or pretending physical problems that she did not have.  She was as manipulative as a politician.  In the phone call to her boyfriend, complaining that her bank card wasn’t working, she had his card details out of him in a trice and onto a website on her phone that takes me longer to type than it took her to do.  She constantly rang for the nurses to bring her packets of crisps and sweets.  When the doctors did ward rounds she cried. When they were away she had long conversations with friends about a reality dating show.  Her mother came to fetch her; she wouldn’t go.  She lay curled up in bed hugging a teddy, with her fingers in her ears.

Eventually a senior nurse with epaulettes, was tasked with persuading her to go home.  Every half hour through the morning, the nurse drew the curtains round the bed and had a chat.  She never raised her voice.  She was never anything but kind, she never threatened, but halfway through the afternoon the patient capitulated and went home, without a fuss.

Later when that nurse came to do my observations I praised her consummate professionalism, and was provided by her superior with paper and pen to write down my opinion for the record.

In the next bed, opposite mine, was Shirley (not her real name).  Ten years older than me with heart trouble, she’d only been there a day when she tested positive for flu.  They put her on antibiotics which gave her diarrhoea.  Poor Shirley trudged with a stick, backwards and forwards to the loo.  Cheerful and uncomplaining, she was visited by family who lived near and were making arrangements for family care post hospital.  The window between us was open because of the heat, which would have been great if the ward hadn’t been positioned above the lorries’ loading bay for the hospital.

I teased Shirley we were on holiday together to cheer her up.  I made plans to go clubbing, or shopping. One particularly sonorous night, I said I wasn’t going on holiday again with her if she kept choosing a room over the docks.

That night at four in the morning there was a backing lorry, intoning ‘STAND WELL AWAY – VEHICLE REVERSING’ in the normal way for ten minutes.  There was a massive crash.  Someone said ‘Oh,’  preceding the sound of seventeen radiators falling off the back of a lorry.  There was a long and thoughtful pause before the voice said ‘..shit’.  Then I fell asleep.

In the corner bed was me.  I know you know I was polite and thankful, walked up and down, tidied my food tray, wiped my table and did everything possible to help myself.

I am surprised there was no lynching party, however.

Arrived on the ward, it was clear my newly reconstructed intestines were in charge. At first I hiccupped loudly every five minutes.  Not your dainty ladylike hic but a huge lengthy HYuccER…IC!  By the second day it was down to every ten minutes and continued in that manner for the rest of my stay.  I still do it if I get hungry, or I’ve eaten a couple of mouthfuls too much.  Or drunk a fizzy drink.  Or moved.  Or stood up.  Or sat down.

Then there were my fights with the bed.  There’s a control at the foot of the bed that raises the top, bends the knees or drops the lower third of the bed.  I could not get comfortable.  Then the pillows joined in.  They are made of a smooth substance like plastic, with one pillowcase with ambitions to be a concertina.  They look quite plump but as soon as you rest on them they deflate.  Crosspatch with the broken arm had EIGHT pillows.  When I broke my arm I had given the hospital £200 to buy pillows; I was really quite annoyed to think I might have financed someone shouting ‘BELL!’ at me.

At one point the cleaner came to my corner and raised the bed to head height, preparatory to cleaning underneath, as I was sitting in the corner in a wipe-clean, slide-off chair.  As soon as the bed was up the consultant lady arrived to see how I was.  The cleaner beetled off.

There followed an interesting interview.

Consultant (on tiptoe peering over the bed) ‘Mrs. Laverick?  Where are you?  How are you?’

Me (craning and sliding) ‘Um, OK’

Consultant (peering under the bed) ‘You’ve had a lot of work done.’

Me (Peering down and nearly sliding on to the floor.) ‘Yes’

Consultant’ ‘Oh be careful.  Can we move this table? Oh good thank you.  There you are.’

Me (scrabbling back into the chair) ‘Yes.’

Consultant (consulting a chart) ‘We’ll have couple of tubes out of you, Mrs Laverick, later today.’  She turns and walks straight into the bed.  ‘Arrgh.’

Me  ‘Good.’

In the next bed when I arrived was a lady in later stages of dementia.  After a day and a half she tested positive for Covid, was wheeled off elsewhere and the entire ward was in for a deep clean.

The cleaning crew were cheerful,  foreign assorted and constantly wished each other ‘Happy Christmas!’ and laughed.

First they took all the curtains off all the rails and bagged them and sealed them and put them in a heap in the middle of the floor.

Happy Christmas!

Then they raised all the unoccupied beds to five foot and washed them.  Then they washed the floor, the door, a bit of the walls and all the curtain rails.

And then they took two big buckets of water with two cloths each bucket and washed the television.

The front the back, the stand, the top, the workings, the speaker bar and the antenna.

Then they very thoroughly soused the remote control.

Happy Christmas!

A very comely nurse with incredible multicoloured dreadlocks, three inch curly eyelashes, massive pink lips, beautiful round cheeks, an impressive frontage, a substantial derriere and a very short skirt came in, did a 360 and left at speed.

Happy Christmas!

Then they brought in new curtains for every bed, replaced them all, high fived each other

Happy Christmas!

and left.

The TV dripped for a couple of hours, but it was by the window, so it blew dry eventually.

After a few days the next bed was filled by a pregnant lady with an entourage of two young men, who closed her curtains and lay on the bed with her.  By this stage the OH had brought me earplugs, which I used.

The bed opposite, vacated by the teenager, was filled by a young lady with Quinsy and a massive backpack.  The first morning she stood at the end of her bed and bent her knees so bendily if she had swayed slightly she could have swept the floor with her bottom.  Then she wiggled her arms a bit, then she stood on one leg, picked up the foot she was not standing on and placed it on her head.

As you do.

She was a Canadian volleyball player who had represented her country at National level.  If you’ve ever wondered about you and the Olympics – not like us dear, different species.

On the second day her coach, a local lad, arrived for a visit.  He did not take his eyes off her eyes for a second and he laughed at her every utterance including once when she sneezed.  There was quite a lot about his mum in the conversation.

But by the third day she was cured and set off with her massive backpack alone.

The last bed was dramatically occupied by a twenty one year old who swept into the ward with many bags and asked ‘How are we all doing girls?’

‘BELL!’

‘HYuccER..IC!’

She was a teacher, she said constantly, and also twenty one.  She had brought laptops belonging to the school, jewellery and many things for which she was required to sign forms absolving the hospital from responsibility in the case of theft.  She then left them all and went off to find a hospital garden to vape in.

Later in the morning another loud dramatic conversation through the soundproof bed curtains revealed that she had an ear infection which might just invade her brain.

There was a lot of bravado, but by eleven she was in tears, so I took her half my box of tissues and and stroked her arm and told her I knew she was frightened but the doctors knew what they were doing.

The drama continued through the night as she summoned nurses, contemplated discharging herself, and flounced out to vape.

The last patient

HYuccER..IC!

came in in the middle of the night, covered in blood and looking as if she had come off worse in a fight.  She couldn’t stand, the ligaments down her legs were destroyed, so the nurses had to put her on a commode.  She couldn’t see out of one blood-covered eye.

But when her family visited in ones and twos the following day it turned out the damage was self inflicted, that she had been lucky someone found her in the hall.  Every family member asked her why she was doing this to herself and when she was going to stop.

I gave her my Lucozade and best wishes as I left.

I was just as much a problem as the rest.

I have fine veins, after a week in hospital any visible veins to get a line in are in short supply and require a skilled practitioner to do the job.  One night I waited a couple of hours for a young doctor to be fetched from the other side of the building to carefully cannulate me to get a painkiller into me.  He was patient, kind and cheerful, on a scholarship from far away.  I hope his mum knows how good he is.

There was a gentle, slim African nurse, constantly worried about her little boy, in a flat, in a heatwave.

There was a large incredibly capable white nurse.  She has several children, struggles with finance for all their needs and is one of those who were definitely born to be a nurse.  Always kind, always gentle, never forgetting a request.

Some of the black nurses were so gorgeous they were out of everybody’s league.  Any one of them could have been a model but every one of them was a nurse.

And then there were the self-styled Minions of the Night.  A pair of nurses who I have met before on the wards.  On permanent night duty, a short middle aged lady and a taller thinner one, keeping each other going through the darkness with banter, ribbing, biscuits and an occasional nudge in the ribs and laughter.

And there was a Matron.  I don’t know if that was her title but she was in charge of  two wards but was not too busy to spot me after the doctors had left.  The surgeon who had just removed my insides suggested I could eat anything I liked and recommended a whole baked potato.  The Matron spotted me creeping out subsequently to vomit it all up again blackly by the litre.  She rescued me afterwards, shepherding me back to the ward with a quiet ‘Doctors, what do they know?’ muttered under what I swear was a wing.

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Nurses are not paid enough.  Nurses are insufficiently valued in society.  When you need them they are there for you.  We should be there for them.  Whoever looks after you in your hour of need ought to be encouraged to be there because sooner or later we all encounter an hour of need.  I had 192 hours + district nurses, surgery nurses and counting and needed every nurse in every hour.

Never there to judge, always there to help.  How lucky we are that there are nurses.  Long may they continue.

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How now.

I am writing in a very self-obsessed way following enquiries as to how I am.

What a very lengthy performance.  It is three weeks today since the surgery.  I can walk a few steps before I need to sit down.

The OH joined in.  I’d been home a day, when he announced he had occult blood and had sent samples in and might be ill.  It was nothing.  Then he threw himself into archery, causing one step down from a detached retina with flashing lights, a drive to the next big hospital, an argument about the booking process and a return the following day in an expensive taxi after looking at me slumped in a chair and wondering if I could drive him.  It has gone away.

The previous day the OH came in from the garden and thought I was dead and the day before that he shouted at me because I nearly cried, I was so weak.

However, he has been doing the shopping and the washing and the gardening.  He has not been drinking the bad news away which is an improvement on when I had the cancer diagnosis.

The District nurses have been helpful and are now down to twice a week and hoping to get rid of me as soon as I am able to sit in a car, get out, walk into the surgery and report to the practice nurse, which I could not do yet.

The main reason for all the nurses is the leak.

About two days home, I stood up in the loo and realised everything was wet.  The wound had produced a couple of pints of foaming fluid all over the floor.  A nurse was sent for and and pronounced it a partial hissage.  This is a thing when a wound opens up.  Fortunately she had seen it before, got on the phone and mopped me up and dressed the wound.

This has continued ever since seven or eight times in twenty four hours.  Not as much in quantity and slowly decreasing, I think or hope.  The nurses bring absorbent dressings, I have bought some expensively, online.  No one knows what to expect because no one knows anyone who has had scar tissue from 1959 removed before.  The surgeon said he had never seen anything like it, the appendix scar was like the baddie scar master pinning the front of me to the back of me with every other scar wound in and out of it strangling my intestines.

The stuff coming out of me is the most amazing red gold colour.  It’s the colour you would paint a dragon.  It looks like life force.  It actually sparkles.

Although it has been horrific, this undoubtedly needed to happen.  There are benefits already.

For several years my face has been getting spottier.  Over the last year I’ve had weeping pustules all over my chin.  My navel had leaked for several months.  The only way I could make my innards work was an hour on the twist stepper, a pint of tea and then pummelling my stomach.

All of that is swept away.  There was even a thing like a mole but scaly, near my eye, that has just disappeared.  My fingernails are wonderful.

It remains to be seen what next and if the benefits hold steady and when the leak will just stop.

Could it be that I will return to 1958 and start skipping and building snowmen?

One thing is certain.  You are your intestines.  Who knew?

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Gutted

I actually have been.  I am now missing 8 inches of small bowel and several pounds of scar tissue, which has been dissolved.

All this happened on the 9th, this is the 24th and the first time I am strong enough to write.  I’ll tell you the occasionally horrific tale in small doses and will not post the photo of me with 25 staples holding my stomach together because it is awful.

Must be special medical staples?   Must be a special medical stapler?

No and again, no.

25 staples is quite a lot.

Picture it.

A hot theatre.  A tired surgeon who has just spent three hours taking out the trash.  He does three staples, starting at the top, fires the next one, nothing.  He checks the gun and because he is a surgeon, does not fire it experimentally in his face.

No staples.

Everyone looks at the junior doctor at the back of the room because they know he has a bicycle and the roads are being resurfaced all around for the Commonwealth games and many are shut.

The lad sets off for Rymans.

People look around the walls and whistle.  Enquiries are made about holiday plans.

The boy returns with a box of number eight staples.

Sadly the machine takes number elevens.

He leaves, the theatre grows hotter.  No whistling, everyone is picturing ice lollies or beer.

The lad returns with two boxes of elevens and a doughnut in his pocket, for later.

They haul me off for a few hours in high dependency, of which I recall nothing.

The surgeon removed scar tissue from my appendix scar, Christmas 1959.

I am now so old I qualify as archaeology.

But I am still here.

Thank you to everyone who emailed.

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Brief hiatus

Hi all, S&H here. Just to let you know my Mum was admitted to hospital yesterday. She’s had a section of her intestines removed, but is recovering well. She asked me to drop a note here to let you all know. Normal service will resume once she’s back home and feeling up to posting.

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The squirrel.

I read in the newspaper today that grey squirrels, which are not native to Britain, are responsible for the destruction of trees and chasing our native squirrel, which is a red squirrel away.

Well, I’m sorry.  I have a grey squirrel and I really like him (or her).  He, she or it is clever.  And fast.  The photos were taken over a while, so you’ll have to excuse the greenery shrinking.

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He arrives on the OH’s shed roof and has a look around.  He’s making sure the crow family, who are bigger than him, are not around.

If the coast is clear, he bounds across the fence.

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And down  on to the grass and up the bird table stand.

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What happens next depends on me and the garden birds.  If there is something he fancies on top of the table, he will pick it over.  Favourites are sunflower seed kernels.  I either put these out neat, in a bird feeder, or loose on the table top if they are mixed in with Richard Jackson’s bird food.  (It says on the packet that it attracts all sorts of wild birds, doesn’t mention squirrels.)

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But if the birds have wrecked his plans by eating the bird food he is obliged to become an acrobat.

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Very cleverly he hangs upside down by his tail, grasps the feeder with his paws and eats all the sunflower hearts he wants.

Yum.

Sometimes he sits up on the table, digesting, and once he hobbled across the lawn, stopped and gave his tail a good wash to get it in working order.

The OH calls grey squirrels ‘tree rats’.

I disagree, I think he is enchanting.

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What do you think?

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Three pinfalls and a submission.

There has been a bit of radio silence from me.  You’ve not had any writing because I’ve been writing.

As you, dedicated reader, may recall, what sustained me through the dreadful years of being a carer for my demented mother, was the hope that at the end of the awfulness there would be time for me.  I joined sculpture classes and began to write a comic novel in the summer of 2017 and then broke my arm.  It was the second worst break in the history of the local hospital and it looked for a while as though I might end up unibrasular, which, as it was my right arm and I am right handed, was a bit unfortunate.  But I hardly had time to lament my one handedness when I was diagnosed with cancer, for which I had surgery in January 2018, which was bungled, leaving me with multiple adhesions to my intestines, which were not working, and only diagnosed after ten hospital readmissions.

Nevertheless, howsumdeavor, and heyupmelad, I kept writing.  I did it in my head until hours and hours of arm exercises meant I could actually operate the keyboard again, more than one finger at a time.  I bashed away until I had a novel.

Unfortunately, as this was the start of lockdown, everyone else and his dog was writing their novel.  Literary agents were swamped in a backwash of surprise creativity.

All the advice is to submit to numerous agencies at once.  That’s probably professional but it isn’t me.  Many agencies no longer even bother rejecting you.  If you haven’t heard back in ten weeks you assume they do not want you.  You polish up your manuscript again, write a new letter, check the synopsis is still good enough, compare yourself to several other writers, which I find almost impossible, and send a little lonely extract off into the darkness to wait its time being turned away.  Eventually you start whistling ‘Buddy can you spare a dime?’, wearing a flat cap and kicking a tin can along a gutter.

Two years later you decide on a big edit, a major carwash and polish, including the glove box and the wheel rims and that is what I’ve been doing.

The friend who died, who was carer for her husband, asked me if I would let her read the manuscript of any book I had written.  She was a fan of my funny columns in the hobby magazine.  I always promised she would get the first copy.

So that won’t happen.  Neither, if I ever get it published will I be able to send a copy to my cousin, who I still miss, and I won’t be able to read it with the cat on my knee.  The OH will never read it; he’s married to the author.

However, having  cleaned its ears and sent it off again, I am about to embark on some sculpture.  There’s a big block of stone in the garden with the old shower curtain draped over it, as you do.  I’ll let you know how I get on.

And if the novel ever makes it, I’ll let you know about that too.

Winners never quit, quitters never win.  Failure only exists when you stop trying.  There are more wise sayings about keeping going than there are sports coaches in the world, possibly.

My next door neighbour is the local hospital orthopaedic surgeon for legs.  Although it was he who recommended I wait for the surgeon who did major arm injuries for rugby players, after the surgery his wife said: well, we are all disabled now.  I think trying to show solidarity.

Howsumdeavor, our kid, what I have actually turned out to be is ambidextrous, which is handy for lifting, typing, shopping and maybe sculpture, I’ll let you know.  And it’s good for your brain, it gets the blood going in different circles, always helpful for any sort of art.

And you can hold an ice cream in each hand, come the hot weather.

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