"Well, there is only one piece of advice I can give you," said the wisest of wise men. "The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon."

('The Alchemist' Paulo Coelho)

Friday, July 21, 2017


I have been on Ancestry for several years now. Sometimes I have spent hours on it, poring over elusive hints and leads, sometimes frustratingly so, and at other times, I have barely visited the site for weeks, even months. Once I get into one of my more active phases, it does become quite addictive and hours go by in a flash. Choice between doing the hoovering and popping over to Ancestry? No contest, the housework wins every time - not!
Luckily, Dad had a good collection of family photos and the death certificates of his parents and I was also contacted by a lady called Lola in America, who is researching on behalf of her husband, so we have been able to exchange quite a bit of information and ponder together on various scenarios. Our common ancestors, my great, great grandparents on Dad's side, upped sticks and emigrated to America, settling in Kansas, where Lola and her husband live today, but the unusual thing is that they were in their mid fifties when they did it. These days, they probably wouldn't even be accepted at that age.
However, the problem that is causing me some grief at present is that, all of a sudden, I am unable to see any images, whether photos or documents on Ancestry when I use Chrome or Safari on my Macbook. As it happens, Keith has set up a Windows desktop upstairs for me to use and using Chrome on that causes no problems at all. Looking at various online forums, I see that Ancestry say they do not actively support Safari. In other words, 'if things go wrong, we don't want to know', which is not what you want to hear when you are bunging a hefty subscription their way.
They do have a 'support site', which is not as straightforward as you might expect, since you have to register on that separately, with a different password to that which you use on the main site. Undaunted, I tried to register. I typed in my email address, to be greeted by the command, 'Now go and check your emails for the password we have sent you.'
I did. Nothing.
"Oh, if you are having difficulty with that, please contact us on our support site.'
That would be the support site I have tried to register with but you haven't sent me the password, then?
I gave up then and had we had a cat, I might have been strongly tempted to kick it.
Ancestry seems to be by far the best resourced site but looking at online feedback, there are a lot of unhappy people out there wondering where their subscriptions are going.
You need to get your act together, Ancestry!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

GP or no GP?

 For over a year now, our local surgery has been limping sadly from one day to the next, and no, that is not an exaggeration. It is one of an increasing number of surgeries throughout north Wales (and elsewhere) where the GPs have decided, for whatever reason, to hand back the surgery to the local health board, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board which, just to add to the problem, is currently under special measures. Keith and I have only been patients at this surgery since 2014. I wanted a surgery for Dad which operated an appointment system and was physically easily accessible. Our current surgery at the time didn't fit either of these criteria, so we all three made the move and hit the jackpot.
Our new GP was fantastic, especially in comparison to our previous experiences. However, this was not to last and sadly, all four doctors in the practice decided not to carry on. That was over a year ago.
We had meetings with people from the health board who seemed determined to tell us as little as possible and lived over the border in England, so were probably not likely to suffer a similar situation anyway.
We were promised that this situation would be short term and soon there would be permanent doctors for us again.
We were told about the wonderful new system whereby anyone who rang up for an appointment would be 'asked questions' by the receptionist to determine whether they did indeed need to speak to a doctor or could be directed to a nurse practitioner. Did we really want to be disclosing our medical problems to a non-medic, especially to someone who could well be a neighbour?
Since then, there have been locums, never any more than two, as far as I can gather, and sometimes none. Appointment systems have varied, from having to ring on the day for an appointment to being able to make one a week in advance and then, without warning, back to 'on the day'. People needing ongoing monitoring, blood tests etc have been left high and dry as two nurses have gone on long term sick leave, one is on holiday and there are no replacements available.
The patient representatives organised a petition to send to the health board, asking for things to be sorted out and quickly. In the meantime, I discovered this article:
health-council-slams-system-delaying new GPs coming to North Wales
It appears that even if you have trained and qualified in Wales and/or previously worked here, if you have then left to go elsewhere and wish to come back to work, even though there are patients ready to fall on your necks in gratitude, it's a non-starter because Welsh NHS, having lost patience with NHS England and their promise to set up a system whereby doctors can move between the two countries, and set up their own for incoming doctors. The icing on the cake, of course, is that the said doctors have to sit on their hands for three months.
Hence my email last week to BCUHB, asking 'what the hell...?" although not in precisely those words.
I have been promised a written reply! Watch this space.

Monday, July 17, 2017

On the nail

Another grainy photo and black and white to boot. This time it's myself with a college friend, who came to visit one holiday. On this particular day, we ended up at the Corn Exchange in Bristol. The piece of street furniture that we have appropriated for the photo is a 'nail'. Apparently, merchants used these to hammer out their deals and put down their payments, hence the phrase, 'pay on the nail'.
You heard it here first, folks!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Young me

This photo, apart from being dreadful in quality as it is a photo of a photo and dates from 1970 (Yes prehistoric, I know!), was taken at Temple Meads station, Bristol in January. I know this because I was on my way back to college, after spending a wonderful six months in Tours, France as part of my course. Please note that I was at the cutting edge of fashion - probably the last time for a long time as the fashions of the seventies were a great disappointment to me. I hated the cult of the ugly and the sludgy browns and greens of the late seventies in particular.
But what I remembered  in particular, when I looked at this photo, was  not the happy absence of a spare tyre, but the energy and optimism I had then. As well as looking forward to a career in teaching, (Hm, yes, really) I could walk uphill for a couple of miles in stiletto heels and not feel the after effects, spring out of bed at six in the morning if I had to and not feel like going back there by 2pm, play a game of tennis without my knees grinding  and just generally rush around without a second thought.
Still, it's all an attitude of mind, isn't it? I am still that person, if I can just get over the post prandial energy dips, the aching hip and the knee that threatens to give way every so often.
Now wouldn't it be fantastic if someone could find a way of combining the life experience and maturity of age with the energy of the young self? Whoever is currently working on this, please let me know when you are successful. In the meantime, maybe a trudge round the field with the dogs would help...

Monday, February 20, 2017

Going to the vet

Today was Toby's 'check up and injections' visit to the vet. It should have been in November, but his record card has mysteriously disappeared and we didn't get a reminder from the vet.
"Ah, we installed a new computer system then," the receptionist declared with the air of winning the lottery, "So it will have got lost in the system."
Oh goody, goody, I was tempted to reply, because now, instead of a booster, he has to start with a new course of injections. No apology, of course. Is it part of the training for people dealing with the public these days that they must on no account apologise for anything? 
So, we got in to see the vet, a young lady from County Cork, and Toby was, amazingly, as good as gold during the whole visit. So good, in fact, that I'm wondering if someone has quietly done a swap and I've got the wrong dog!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

A good ending

I bumped into a dog walking friend this morning. She has two little terriers which happen to be the only two dogs in the universe (apart from Paddy) that Toby will socialise with without barking and growling first. In fact, it is quite touching to see the three of them run towards each other. It puts me in mind of those old films where lovers run towards each other in slow motion before disappearing into the sunset, except in this case, there is a lot of sniffing of nether regions by way of greeting.
Anyway, talk soon turned to the funeral of a neighbour yesterday, which my friend had attended. I had only met J twice before she became ill and very soon, I was hearing about her being diagnosed with motor neurone disease, which progressed quite rapidly, leading her to be bedridden within about a year. At the time I had first met her, she was travelling to Cambridge regularly as her husband, S, had been operated on for a brain tumour. This was followed by kidney failure and an unsuccessful kidney transplant, which means that he is now undergoing dialysis three times a week so for J also be seriously ill was definitely more than they needed.
J was nursed at home by a team of carers, including Macmillan nurses, and then nine months ago, she was given a place in our excellent local hospice, where she continued to receive wonderful care until her death on February 5th.
My friend told me a little about the funeral, how the church was packed with family and friends, including staff from the hospice, and about the bravery of J's daughter, who spoke at length about what a wonderful person her mother was. It seems that J had not had the easiest of lives, having been adopted at the age of eight, whilst her brother had been adopted elsewhere, so they had lost contact until she managed to find him only very recently.
So it was a sad conversation, but not entirely. During J's illness, her friends had constantly made sure that they visited regularly, using technology and sign language to communicate when she was no longer able to speak. They organised trips out for her and 'girls' nights in' and makeovers, which continued even when she moved into the hospice so, as well as the inevitable suffering with the progression of the disease,  the last couple of years of her life were also filled with laughter, friendship and love and that has to be a good ending.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The garden - again!

It’s February again, which means that I am once more on a trawl through the internet in search of that particular superman who will swoop in and transform our garden into a place of splendour and delight. Actually, just reasonably tidy and garden-like would do; in other words, the absence of green mould coating the paved areas (patio is too grand a term in this garden’s case) and a grassed area which actually sports some grass instead of compacted mud and slime.
When we first moved here, thirteen years ago, I assumed that everyone on this estate had the same sort of problem, but actually, they don’t. We had the overhanging trees cut back to improve the light, increased the paved areas, took up some grass and put down gravel and spent a small fortune on plants, shrubs etc. which, instead of burgeoning into sturdy, mature bushes, as they do in all the other gardens, have consistently withered and died. The end result is that when I look at it, especially at this time of year when, granted, no garden looks its best, I can best describe my feeling as one of hopeless despair.
Keith, of course, has no such feelings. For him, a garden is merely a suitable place for a shed or, failing that, should be concreted over and painted green – his idea of a lawn without the need for mowing.
So this year, I decided that I was faced with a number of possible solutions:
1.                    Get someone in to take up the lawn, put in some decent soil and lay a new  lawn
2.                    Also redo the gravelled area
3.                    Leave it as it is because the dogs will probably wreak their usual havoc anyway
4.                    Wait for Keith to fill up the remainder of the garden with more sheds.
The last option, I couldn’t bear the thought of and I wasn’t too keen on the third either, which leaves options one and two.
The first problem I always encounter on my search for gardeners, is a complete absence of anyone in the area willing to actually answer their phone or, having done that, commit to and honour the commitment to do the job required, hence this year, having decided in desperation to use the Freeindex service, which offers to find up to five people to contact you and quote for the job, I have ended up with quotes from people about fifteen miles away. I was even contacted by someone with a Scottish accent who gave me a quote by email, followed up half an hour later by a phone call. When I asked if he wouldn’t need to come and see the garden first, he said no and when I looked again at his email, I realised why. He was based in Bishop Auckland, 122 miles away. Now that’s what I call keen!
The first man I spoke to, other than the Scottish man, was one of those who makes frequent use of the old ‘sharp intake of breath.’ On learning about the heavy soil and poor drainage, he painted a worrying picture of excavators digging up tons of earth, installation of an extremely expensive drainage system, which probably wouldn’t work anyway, until I was tempted to check with him whether he thought he was on the line to one of the premier football clubs.
Number two came this morning, laughed at the job I had done of the gravelled area under the kitchen window, but otherwise, seemed to have a reasonable idea of what needed doing. Hopefully, his quote, when it arrives, will be equally reasonable.
Number three, who sounded laid back to the point of horizontal, said that, as he was out at present, he would ring ‘some time next week’ and arrange to come and look at the job.
Number four, a local whom I had tried unsuccessfully to contact during the week proved, once again, uncontactable.
Ah well, if I don’t get someone this time, I may just have to concrete the lot and let Keith build more sheds after all!

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Bodwyn Biffers

Last Monday, Keith and I went to a funeral. It was at the Methodist chapel a few miles away where, as it happens, I go to my Welsh classes each week and where Keith once danced on bits of paper in a short-lived attempt to join something akin to the Cubs (Don't ask!).
The funeral was for a childhood friend of Keith's, although he was a few years older. They lived in the same road, only a couple of houses apart and at that time, back in that golden era of the fifties, there were few other houses in the neighbourhood but lots of open land, an irresistible invitation to amuse themselves without the all-seeing eyes of parents and other adults. Keith and his friends called themselves the Bodwyn Biffers, after the area in which they lived, and spent a lot of their time and energy in conflict with a rival gang, the Nursery gang, again named in honour of their local area.
And then there was the time when they decided to do a little cuisine al fresco (yes I know I've mixed up two languages there). I have no idea where they managed to get the bacon and eggs from, but I have it on Keith's very reliable authority that cooking it in a hole, with a piece of turf pulled over the top for added privacy, improved the taste and enjoyment no end. Not sure about the effect on their lungs though.
 Clifford, whose funeral it was, was the leader of this intrepid group  and went on to be a mining engineer in adulthood.  (There has to be a link there somewhere!)
But although the chapel was packed, Keith was the only Bodwyn Biffer present and probably the only person there who knew the story.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A good day

A week last Friday, I had an appointment for a mammogram. As they don't recall anyone after the age of seventy, this would have been my last, which I was quite relieved about, as the last couple have been more than a little painful. (The word 'excruciating' comes to mind!) I don't think I would have been any good at all at being one of those mediaeval martyrs, the ones who were squashed under heavy weights in particular. The thought even flitted through my mind that it wouldn't be so terrible if I cancelled. After all, there is no history of breast cancer in my family and I have never had any problems myself, but then I remembered that in recent years, I have had three friends who have had breast cancer, with varying outcomes, so I decided that maybe I should attend after all.
As it happened, the experience wasn't quite as bad as on previous occasions and I quickly forgot about it - until last Friday, when a letter arrived, asking me to come back on Tuesday, together with a sheaf of leaflets and information about the further tests which would or might be carried out. Well, that rather upset my weekend and, imagination running true to form, by Tuesday morning, having worked my way through a few possible scenarios, I had got as far as wondering what would become of the dogs if I were not able to take them out for walks. (I was also a bit annoyed that they had recalled me on a Tuesday, which is the day of my Welsh class!)
However, after further investigation, things were quickly found to be well after all  and I can relax again, as can Keith. He wasn't too happy either!
So yesterday was, in the end, a good day.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

This time last year ...

I have this photo of Dad as my screensaver. To me, it epitomises his second best way of spending a few hours in his latter years. His first, of course, would have been being up there on the footplate, rather than dispensing wisdom and advice from a safe distance.
Christmas last year was not great. Dad had started to go downhill with what was to be his last few weeks and Boxing Day saw him taken into hospital, where he stayed until things were in place for him to go home to receive palliative care until his death on February 4th. We have long been aware that, in Dad's family, there was a strong pattern of previous generations breathing their last in February or March and in this, Dad was true to form.
This Christmas, he has been very much in our thoughts and very much missed.


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