Are You Proper Old Yet? Ten Ways to Tell

Sixty is the new thirty, they say.

Well, I have news for them, and for you. It isn’t.  

FreeImages.com/C Glass

While there’s no precise age at which one suddenly becomes old, there is a constellation of telling symptoms that can serve as a guide.  While I’ve written on the subject before, this time I’ve devised a highly scientific questionnaire to determine whether you are in fact properly old.

1. You need to sit down to put your socks or tights on. On the rare occasions that you don’t, it’s because you can’t find your socks.

2. Despite turning up the volume on the TV, you still can’t hear the dialogue, let alone grasp the plot.

3. You once had legendary nights out. These days, a nice cup of tea and a slice of Battenberg cake are far more appealing.

Royal Doulton teacup

4. Besides, high heels have become intolerable.

5. You’re shorter and your back is more bent than it used to be, and now you can no longer correct your posture by sitting up straight. Don’t you wish you’d listened to your mother?

6. You always make sure you wrap up warm, just as your mother told you to.  In fact, you now realise she was right about everything. Including those winkle-picker shoes. FreeImages.com/Terri-Ann Hanalon

7. Health is now a major preoccupation. If you and your friends were to stop discussing medical problems, there’d be no conversation at all.

8. On the rare occasions that you’re not collecting a prescription, you still make use of the chair the pharmacist keeps by the counter.

FreeImages.com/Alfonso Lima9. Of course, you groan with relief every time you sit down.

10. You may well have an iPhone and use Siri. Your most common request? “Siri, tell me what I’m doing here.”

There may be one or two other pointers as well. Please pitch in and let me know what I’ve missed out. Sorry, but my memory isn’t quite what it used to be. Can’t imagine why.

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In case you missed it, The Times newspaper has just published a piece called Let the Elderly Make Love, Not Cocoa.

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Beware: Umbrellas at Large

Has someone out there been doing a rain dance? The sun is a distant memory, the brollies are out in force, and it’s pretty clear it’s not all Mary Poppins and Singin’ in the Rain.

I know, beach parasols aren’t entirely innocent. A sudden gust can give your sunshade wings, and propel it at speed into the chest or brain

But rain umbrellas are in another class of spikiness altogether, with sharp edges and points just where you least want them. It’s hard to protect yourself on crowded pavements in the rain when’s everyone’s scurrying about brandishing their weapons as they dodge the puddles.

In Cambridge’s narrow streets, there’s the added danger of tourists stopping without warning to take selfies, and tour leaders waving extra umbrellas around to show their group where they are.

From their origins centuries ago (nobody seems sure how many) as protection for the privileged, umbrellas are now as common as muck. Hundreds of millions of brollies are sold every year, and often break just as quickly, making them even more hazardous.

My husband negotiated the last downpour uninjured, but his thumb took a hit when closing his brolly. After all, everyone knows it’s bad luck to leave it open inside the house, right?

I escaped unscathed that rainy afternoon, possibly because I kept reminding the OH not to stab me in the eye. Nearly a fifth of umbrella-related accidents affect the eye, many of these being conjunctival tears. Spokes are the main cause, but even the rubber end of a rainshade can lead to eye injuries, according to a review from Monash University in Australia.

Their review concludes that umbrellas shouldn’t be used as toys. Sound advice, especially if you’ve read about the 11-year old who impaled his little brother with a piece of wire ribbing poked through the keyhole. The 5-year old was taken to the doctor but lost his eye, shortly followed by his life. 

Swans shun brollies. Unfurl yours and you may find yourself at the wrong end of a powerful beak.

The most high profile umbrella-linked death was that of Georgi Markov, the Bulgarian writer and dissident murdered in September 1978 by a ricin pellet concealed in the tip of his assassin’s umbrella. Forty years on, the suspect is still at large. I’m told the case has links to the KGB. Obviously, I couldn’t possibly comment.

Please let me know your best umbrella stories. I’m really hoping one of you has an uplifting tale to share in this rainy season. If not, I’ll just have to stay in and listen to the Hollies’ Bus Stop one more time.

Why Heatwaves and Novels Go Together

You don’t need to read the Lancet to know that heatwaves aren’t great for health. Even without the terror of fires, excess heat is linked with deaths, especially in the elderly.

On the bright side, however, when the thermometer soars and it’s too hot to move, few things are more delicious than settling in a shady spot to get lost in a book. Yes, I have heard of ice cream, but a novel occupies the mind for longer than a raspberry ripple, and that’s got to be a bonus in the current mess the world is in.

Writers are doubly blessed in a heatwave. For a start, they may be able to work at home with next to nothing on, which is so far removed from struggling on the Tube wearing office attire that it’s almost like not working.

As a plus, there are often cool places to sit with pencil or laptop.

I’m assuming that the nice cool place isn’t in full view of the neighbours. Then again, think of all the publicity, as a fellow writer reminds me.

Best of all, though, scorching weather presents excellent material for fiction.  Author Helena Halme mentions just this in her recent blog post Five Books for a Heatwave.

I’d like to unpick this a little more.

Summertime is in itself magical, with ice lollies, flip-flops, sandcastles, and grandparents moaning about the lack of rain. In school holidays gone by, every summer was long and hot, at least in the memory. With normal life suspended, there’s an illusion of freedom, Swallows and Amazons style.

The heat does things to people’s pheromones. Well, I’m assuming it does, though the only paper I’ve seen is based on research on insects. At any rate, the brain seems to fry at high temperatures.  Even the most impassive person can become, well, hot-headed and behave erratically, which is all good news for novelists.

The human mind isn’t the only thing to abandon normal function in a heatwave. By now, most people in the UK are familiar with buckled rails and cancelled trains. In the northeast last month, a man became trapped when tarmac melted and his leg literally sank into the road surface. This happened in Heaton (no, I’m not kidding) and firefighters were called to free him. 

But these phenomena are as nothing compared to the image of Jesus appearing on a ceramic drainpipe in Joanna Cannon’s debut novel The Trouble with Goats and Sheep. This unusual manifestation of Christ brings out the neighbours and their deck chairs, and becomes a turning point in the story.

Every heatwave seems to leave its own particular memories. The legendary summer of 1976 featured beaches covered in ladybirds, exhortations to share a bath with a friend, and other references that can date-stamp a novel, as both Joanna Cannon and Maggie O’Farrell demonstrate.

While there’s no exact definition of a heatwave, meteorologists often consider it to be an increase of 5⁰C above the average maximum temperature for five days or more – with the average maximum temperature being between 1961 and 1990.

The great heatwave years of the UK include 1911, 1955, 1976, and 1983. Speaking for myself, I have a soft spot for 2013 which broke few records but did produce the hottest July for many years. This is the year in which I set my novel Hampstead Fever, and it also happens to be when I got married.

wedding

Whether you’re reading or writing, I hope you enjoy the rest of this scorching season. How will you most remember the heatwave of 2018 when it gives way to wind and rain?

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PS You can find Hampstead Fever in all the usual places.

http://mybook.to/HF

Last Minute Reminders for the Romantic Novelists’ Conference #RNA18

Some of us authors have already packed our bags for the Romantic Novelists’ Association conference, and booked train tickets weeks in advance too. With any luck, we even chose the right rail station in Leeds (it’s Horsforth).

It’s so hot that you’ll be in shorts?  Well, I’ve studied the photos of the venue and can tell you the chairs look scratchy. A summer dress might be comfier.

And take one of these.

Remember to pack your phone charger (and bring it home again afterwards).

This year, you need to provide your own clothes-hangers.

The most up-to-date info from the conference venue is that there’s an excellent range of gins on site. This is welcome news, as drinks with the most colour, like brandy and dark rum, are more often linked with hangovers. It’s the congeners they contain – the chemical impurities that are a by-product of the fermentation process.

You might still want to take these, just in case.

Here’s to a great conference. Now, have I forgotten anything vital? Do let me know. Otherwise I will just find out when I get there, as usual.

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You might also enjoy: What Do You Need for a Writers’ Conference? 

 

How to Win the World Cup? Bingo!

The World Cup is approaching faster than an Arjen Robben sprint. As you stock your fridge with lager and prepare for weeks in front of the TV, spare a thought for reporters and commentators who don’t write about football but must stock up on the jargon nonetheless.

FreeImages.com/Kia Abell

Whatever the outcome of the World Cup, all the usual clichés will appear off the pitch as well as on it. Even if the article is about mortgages or gardening, I predict a journalistic glut of footballing terms.

This little chart is just right if you fancy a round of World Cup 2018 bingo.

 

KICKOFF

 

 

TAKE HOME THE THREE POINTS

 

OFFSIDE

 

MATCH-FIT

 

ADDED TIME

 

GOING ALL THE WAY

 

INJURY TIME

 

FRESH LEGS

 

BOUNCE OFF THE WOODWORK

 

RUSKIES

 

BRING BACK THE TROPHY

 

SIDELINES

 

FREE BONUS

 

EXTRA TIME

 

MASSIVE OWN GOAL

 

HANDBALL

 

GOLDEN BOOT

 

EARLY BATH

 

 

BACK OF THE NET

 

SUB

 

NYET!

 

FOUL

 

YELLOW CARD

 

FREE KICK

 

FASTER THAN YOU CAN SAY GARETH BALE

 

FreeImages.com/Diego Sinning

Are any important phrases and terms missing? Please let me know.

The 12 Allergies of Christmas

Think you’ve got enough to worry about in the run-up to Christmas? Spare a thought for people with allergies, for whom the festive season is fraught with danger. But, with a little consideration, you could prevent an allergic reaction, and even a trip to Accident & Emergency.

1 Real Christmas trees can contain moulds, a health hazard for those allergic to them, while the sap can trigger skin reactions. The mould content is highest when the tree is cut some time in advance and kept in a moist atmosphere. After buying the tree, it helps to store it in a dry place like a garage, and then shake it before bringing it indoors. Note that, once the tree is inside, mould spores can grow within two weeks. For those with symptoms, fake trees may be the answer.

2 Mistletoe allergy is uncommon, though it can cause skin reactions in some people. The main danger comes from the kiss. Proteins can linger in saliva for several hours, so a snog can deliver a sizeable dose of nuts or whatever else the person last ate. Those with food allergies may find their luck running out, just when they thought it had come in.

FreeImages.com/Stephanie Berhaeuser

3 Problems with latex are on the rise. About 4% of the general population is allergic to latex (the natural type from rubber), while nearly 10% of healthcare workers are. The incidence is growing because gloves are more often used for procedures which were done with bare hands in the bad old days. What has this to do with Christmas? Balloons and most condoms contain latex, and both may feature at the seasonal office party. 

4 Alcoholic drinks can lead to allergic reactions. There are often nuts in speciality beers, and there’s obviously dairy in Irish cream liqueurs. There’s even almond oil in Bombay Sapphire gin, as the Anaphylaxis Campaign reminded me. Besides, alcohol can lower your guard and make you blasé about risk.  And large amounts of alcohol tend to worsen allergic reactions.  

5 Presents that smell nice, like bath oil, soaps, hand creams, and reed diffusers, may contain almond oil or other essential oils. These cause no trouble for most people, but they can trigger nasty reactions in those with allergies to the ingredients.

6 Festive candles are, again, mostly harmless, unless you’re careless enough to start a fire. But, for those with allergies, the soya present in some posh candles can be an issue. Candles may also contain pine, a potential problem for anyone allergic to pine resin.

7 The poinsettia plant is related to euphorbia (spurge). It’s not often an allergen, but it can be, especially for those with latex allergy. Symptoms include rash, wheezing, and shortness of breath. It’s wise not to have a poinsettia if you’re latex allergic.

FreeImages.com/D Fleiderer

8 Chocolate can contain dried fruits and nuts (which you may not spot if it’s in the form of a paste). It usually also contains soya lecithin. If you have a food allergy, check the label before indulging – if, that is, the label is anywhere to be seen. This can be a problem when chocolate treats are unwrapped and passed around on a plate at Christmas.

9 Sulphites are food preservatives commonly used in sausages, as well as in many pickled foods, dressings, and soft drinks. Some people react to sulphites with asthma symptoms or an urticarial rash. In most cases, the reaction is a sensitivity rather than an allergy.  But occasionally there is a true allergy, with a severe reaction called anaphylaxis.

10 Fancy turkey stuffing can contain a multitude of allergens, including pecans and hazelnuts. One of the most widespread ingredients is celery. Although allergy to celery seems fairly rare in the UK, when it does occur, the reaction can be severe and may lead to anaphylactic shock.- see more about anaphylaxis.

11 The traditional Christmas pudding is full of nuts, an obvious problem to those with an allergy to them. But it is possible to source tasty nut-free versions in most large shops.

12 Christmas cake, as a rule, contains nuts. It’s easy enough to study the ingredients when out shopping and choose a product that doesn’t contain a particular nut or fruit (though it’s impossible to do without almonds if you want stollen or any other cake with a marzipan layer).  If you have a nut allergy, visiting friends and family can still be risky, though. It’s not always enough to avoid a food that’s a trigger. There may be cross-contamination, which can be critical with severe allergy.

This list of Yuletide allergies is obviously far from inclusive, so please take care and have a happy, healthy Christmas.

I’ll be back in the New Year. Meanwhile, for more information about allergies, including anaphylaxis, visit the Anaphylaxis Campaign.

You may also enjoy The dreaded Christmas newsletter.

Good Luck in Your New Home

One of the great things about moving into your very own home is the potential for making it exactly as you’d like it to be.

My first property, a small Victorian house in Harrow, North London, suffered from damp and neglect. The fireplaces and kitchen were vintage 1950s, and so was everything else. The first job was to treat the rising damp, then do some rendering and plastering.

CPR ventilating with bag

I had not long qualified as a doctor when I bought the house. My pockets were empty, but I was full of optimism. Flushed with success at two recent cardiac arrests, where, against all odds, both patients lived to tell the tale, I decided to have a go at home restoration.

Armed with a couple of trowels, a large bag of Marley Mix, and a smaller one of plaster, I got stuck in. It didn’t take long to realise that (a) this was very thirsty work (b) it required considerable expertise. As the rendering kept falling off the wall, and my plastering looked like a relief map of the Himalayas, it was clear I didn’t have those skills.

Suffice to say that a large sofa can conceal a multitude of mishaps.

Number One son has now bought his first home. While his learning curve hasn’t been as steep as mine was, there have been important rites of passage, like buying his very own drill.

And then putting up the very first towel rail or mirror. I believe I’m the ideal person to teach this, as I’ve put up lots of towel rails (oh, all right – just the one towel rail, but lots of times).  

Unfortunately, my son had lent his hammer to a friend, but a meat tenderiser does much the same job and can also leave a pretty pattern on the wall.

The man in the shop had warned that, once you get your own combi drill, you use it all the time. And so it proved. Why not drill an extra hole under the sink, just in case? That eye protection looks pretty cool too.

It’s great getting to know your new neighbours, but sometimes that happens more quickly than intended. Curtains became a priority.

Carpeting may come soon because, basically, how long can one live with other people’s stains?  

Here the trouble may be too much choice. Exactly which shade of grey/beige/greige to pick? Even more confusing when the products have similar names.

And then which underlay – crumbed or sponge rubber?

It’s all a bit too much. I think this calls for a nice cup of a tea and a biscuit before someone picks up the drill again.

FreeImages.com/Thiago Felipe Festa