5 British Things You Can Always Count on

I’m aware that Britain is rather special, if not downright peculiar. Coupled with a weak pound, that’s an asset that may well contribute to its perennial attraction as a holiday destination. In 2016, over 37 million tourists visited Britain, some 4% more than in 2015.

Over the years, I’ve shown visiting friends from abroad some wonderful sights, and I’ve shared some enduring national traditions. These, in my view, are the top five things you can properly count on.

1 There’s always a downpour on a Bank Holiday weekend. If for some strange reason it turns out sunny, as it did last August, you can be sure we’ll talk about it for the next twenty years.

Aldeburgh just before the rains

2 There’s always a queue at a National Trust tea-shop. The National Trust is the custodian of over 350 historic buildings, along with acres of land and miles of coastline. The menu in their tea-rooms is rarely complex, and some delightful people work behind the counter. Why then is the self-service line so long that toddlers wet themselves and the elderly give up altogether long before they reach the till?

To a magnificent 17th C mansion and a working farm

3 English pubs are dying. Every year, about 900 more pubs close, though many find a new lease of life as an Indian or Chinese restaurant.

The Mill, Cambridge. Still a traditional pub, for now.

4 Snow makes everything grind to a halt. British trains and roads aren’t built to cope with anything more than three flakes of snow.

FreeImages.com/Margot H

Thanks to Margot H for the photo

5 The England football team consistently fails to impress. Yes, next year we might very well ‘go all the way’ and carry off the World Cup, but we’ve said that every four years since 1966. It would be lovely to think that Gareth Southgate is a national treasure, and that every England player is proud to step on the turf for his country. As I write, I’m watching England play Lithuania. It is apparently an artificial pitch, and the players are wooden.

FreeImages.com/Christopher Bruno

Photo courtesy of Christopher Bruno

Can you think of anything else that so reliably evokes Britain?

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CPR: Why You Should Jump on a Stranger’s Chest

We’ve all seen spectacular examples of CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation), especially on TV, where it leads to equally spectacular results: the previously pulseless patient sits up and tucks into pizza while vowing undying love for his family.

CPR ventilating with bag

In real life, the story is different. Outside Casualty, Grey’s Anatomy, and other small screen dramas, CPR is far less successful. Cardiac arrest in hospital has a survival rate of around 35%. Out in the big wide world, survival is more like 8%. This UK figure is especially dismal when compared with other western countries.

I learned all this and more at a CPR refresher course this week, courtesy of the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth in North London. Tutor Philip Howarth is a brilliant mimic as well as a gifted teacher, and he was assisted by his fellow resuscitation officer Christilene Kiewiets. I can’t actually think of a more worthwhile way to spend a rainy Wednesday afternoon.

CPR manequin

We went through various scenarios of increasing complexity, but the principles are simple and they’re things everyone should know.

In a cardiac arrest, the heart stops pumping. This deprives the body of vital oxygen.

After five minutes without treatment, this damages the most important organ in the body (that’s the brain, in case you wondered).

CPR buys time. After a cardiac arrest, it can keep life going for up to 20 minutes (possibly even longer). That means time for paramedics to get there.

But CPR needs to start as soon as possible, ideally within two minutes.

Classic CPR uses chest compression and rescue breaths (in a ratio of 30:2 for adults). But hands-only CPR is a useful alternative. (Chest compressions make the lungs move, so they deliver some ‘breaths’. And people are more likely to give CPR to strangers if they can avoid mouth-to-mouth.)

Chest compressions should be fast and deep. A rate of 100-120 compressions a minute (two per second) is better than the old advice to keep time with the BeeGees’ Stayin’ Alive. ‘Deep’ usually means to a third of the depth of the chest. It’s tiring, and it can be noisy. The sound of ribs cracking is par for the course.

AED

Defibrillators can make all the difference to the outcome. In the UK there’s an increasing number of public-access defibrillators in airports, stations, and the like. The best bit is that these automated defibrillators are very easy to use, with voice prompts that are simpler and far more reliable than sat nav.

The most important thing of all?

Have a go. If someone has a cardiac arrest and you stand idly by, that person is dead. So there’s nothing to lose.

If you’re wondering about the best place to cash in your chips, a Las Vegas casino is probably the safest location of all in which to suffer an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. Security guards trained in CPR and the prompt use of defibrillators can achieve impressive results.

FreeImages.com/Bob Townsend

Photo credit Bob Townsend

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The free app Lifesaver is a live-action movie you play like a game. It’s a great way to learn how to save someone’s life.

The British Heart Foundation runs HeartStart training courses around the UK.

First aid courses for the public offered by other charities such as the British Red Cross also include CPR.

Some ambulance instructors also teach the public. Get in touch with the Community Defibrillator Officer or the ambulance training school nearest you for more details.

The latest Resuscitation Council UK guidelines can be found here.

Here’s an easy tweet:

CPR: Why You Should Jump on a Stranger’s Chest http://wp.me/p3uiuG-1qC via @DrCarolCooper #CPR #cardiacarrest 

What Do You Need for a Writers’ Conference?

Fresh from another Romantic Novelists’ Association conference, I’m not sure I remember every single thing I gleaned from three hugely busy days. However, I’m perfectly placed for sharing my definitive list of all the things no conference-goer should be without.  It goes without saying you’ll need phone-charging equipment, and something to take photos. Here are a few items that you may have overlooked.

Hairdryer

Many conferences are in colleges and universities. Nowadays student accommodation often has en suite facilities (what a pampered lot today’s student body is) but hairdryers are rarely part of the deal, so bring your own if you want freshly coiffed hair day after day.

Comfortable shoes

By all means dress up to the nines with eight-inch heels for the gala dinner, but by day your toes may appreciate some wiggle-room. You may even want to venture out of the conference building for occasional fresh air.

Converse trainers

Yes, I’ve mentioned ‘fresh’ three times. Last weekend’s RNA conference was at Harper Adams University. There’s something very special about rural Shropshire, especially when they’re spreading pig manure. For those of you that think this smells like horse or cow manure, let me assure you it doesn’t. It’s roughly the difference between the nappy contents of a milk-fed baby and those of a baby who’s weaned onto solid foods.

Shorthand pad and pencils

Make sure you can jot down the pearls of wisdom gleaned from speakers, from colleagues, or just from propping up the bar. There may be a notebook in your conference pack. On the other hand, it may only contain books and chocolate hearts. 

Business cards

A must for everyone who’s got them, whether you’re a speaker or just attending the conference.

Cushioning for the bed

The condition of the mattress may leave something to be desired. Like sleep. I never regret bringing along an old duvet to use as a mattress pad.

Corkscrew

 Essential kit for the nightly kitchen parties, unless you stick to Prosecco. Consider supplies of tea and coffee too. Then again, I suppose there’s always Prosecco.

ibuprofen

Disposable glasses

All veteran attendees bring these – see above. Why is it ‘attendee’, anyway? Logic suggests it should be ‘attender’.

Earplugs

For when you’re a party-pooper and absolutely have to get in some zeds before dawn.

earplugs

A smile

A great conference always sends attendees home with a smile, but why not bring one on arrival? It makes all the difference when meeting people.

Over to you. What’s on your conference list? I’d love to hear.

 

You Said it, Diane Keaton!

I must admit Diane Keaton made me livid at first. It’s what she said about the part of London in which the film Hampstead is set.

According to The Times, the American star who plays the main character found Hampstead a bit of a disappointment. “I thought it was charming,” Keaton is quoted as saying, “but I thought it was going to be slightly more unusual.”

For my money (there’s less of it since I moved to Hampstead, mind), this neighbourhood has the lot. Yes, it’s congested as well as expensive, and you can forget about parking.

But I’m sticking up for Hampstead. For one thing it’s cosmopolitan. Ambling down the High Street last week, I heard no fewer than eight languages spoken. NW3 is liberal, inclusive, and intellectual, with a rich literary heritage that takes in writers as varied as Keats and Ian Fleming.

There is, in Keaton’s words, “nice architecture”. The streets are also awash with blue plaques, as anyone can see on a short stroll – details here.

One house, two blue plaques: both Sigmund Freud and his daughter Anna Freud lived here

Hampstead’s renown goes back a long way. John Constable moved his family here in 1827 as the area was said to have cleaner air than Suffolk. He lived in Well Walk, where he found he could unite a town and country life. His bones now rest in the graveyard of St John’s parish church, a cemetery crammed with notables.

The Constable family tomb

Hampstead Heath, where the squatter of the film lives, is an ancient parkland of 320 hectares. It’s an oasis of biodiversity and an area for sports. From here there’s an impressive view of London. The Whitestone Pond at the top of Hampstead Village is technically the highest point of the capital.

One of the ponds on Hampstead Heath

Hampstead Heath Pond Number One

Even if you don’t set foot on the heath, Hampstead is a delight. There are great pubs and it’s a foodie’s paradise. I don’t know where the scriptwriter shops, but I’ve yet to spot a shrivelled apricot in Waitrose.

Hampstead Butcher & Providore, Rosslyn Hill

You want unusual? This is Britain, yet open-air swimming on Hampstead Heath is legendary, with its ladies’ and men’s ponds being the only life-guarded open water swimming places available to the public every day of the year.

And how’s this for offbeat advertising in the heart of the village?

Just take a card from the little box near the top.

On reflection, however, Diane Keaton was right when she said Hampstead was nothing special. But I reckon she meant the film, not the area.

The movie’s basic premise – a well-turned out widow falling for a man who literally pops out from behind a hedge – is flawed, the hermitic heath-dweller is improbably hygienic, and, if you’re generous, you might call the acting uneven.

Worse, I found the character of Emily Walters irritating. She looks terrific (this is after all Diane Keaton), but she’s vacant and ditzy. Emily admits to being bad with money, so no wonder she can’t make ends meet. She seems to have no education, occupation, or aspiration, and her “personality” can be summed up in two words: goofy grin. She does however deserve a Brownie point for working in the Oxfam shop, and perhaps some credit for raising such a presentable son (James Norton is always easy on the eye).

Hampstead the area deserves better than Hollywood pap.

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You may also like:

Talking Location with Author Carol Cooper

Why Hampstead is Literally an Inspiration

… and next week: Progress on the Secret Project

Six Things my Camera Taught me about Hampstead

Hampstead is part of London that inspires much of my writing. So I set off to take a few photos of this beautiful area, armed only with an iPhone and the belief that I’d discover more through a plastic lens than I usually see just with my own eyes.

One of the ponds on Hampstead Heath

Oh, and a pair of comfortable shoes. Parking is scarce. Besides, there are some places only legs can reach.

The Mount

1 The street signs are rather special.

Like this one, many road signs in NW3 are made of individual ceramic tiles in shiny white on black, often chased into the wall. They’ve been there since Victorian times, and owe a lot to the Arts and Crafts movement. The tiles aren’t just letters and numbers. Some are nifty symbols like a pointing finger leading to places of interest.

2 If in doubt, zoom in. You may catch detail that’s often missed.

Ornamental gate

3 People tend to get in the way. Hampstead is crowded, especially outside certain shops and eateries.

Hampstead Butcher & Providore, Rosslyn Hill

Queuing at the Creperie

4 You may spot celebs such as Emma Thompson, Imelda Staunton, Tom Conti and Liam Gallagher.

5 Some of the celebrities are canine.

Two local residents

6 Even the prettiest parts of Hampstead can turn ugly with overspilling bins, fly-tipping, and uncollected rubbish. Sadly this is set to get worse with Camden Council’s new bin collection schedules.

#CleanUpCamden

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Other posts you may like:

If you want to know more about Hampstead, see my novel Hampstead Fever.

There’s Something about Cranes

I’ll admit that, when I first began watching construction work, it was just to accompany three little boys who had an insatiable curiosity about how roads were dug up and relaid, and how buildings were put together.

My sons have long since grown into men. I don’t even know if they bother watching diggers any more. But I’m busy gawping at cranes.

Construction has many downsides, one of them being that much-loved buildings may need to be demolished first.

Strachey building, Newnham College, Cambrirdge

When a crane installed itself outside my flat, I was a tad concerned, as was Mishmish.

Mishmish with crane

But then I had the chance to observe the beauty that is a tower crane at different times of day.

crane-triptych

While the crane operator got to know the colour of our pyjamas and what we liked for breakfast, we got to know the crane and the things it picked up.

crane-diptych

Eventually, it was time for the tower crane to be dismantled. The operators waved goodbye.

crane

Sad? Not really. There are other cranes. London is full of them, as are other booming cities. 

img_2376

Of course over-development is a worry. But now, when I see a crane on the horizon, I no longer think of it as just a blot on my photo.

img_2277

A Christmas Gift for Syria

For two weeks now, I’ve felt proper sorry for myself, wallowing in a sea of tissues with a voice that’s no more than a croak and a brain that’s as sharp as blancmange. The world can feel like it’s ending when you run out of LemSip, and neither husband nor cat will get near you for the stink of menthol and eucalyptus.

symptomatic relief for a cold

Then I turned on the TV.

After six years of war, the humanitarian situation in Syria is catastrophic. Hospitals and medical staff have been deliberately targeted. It’s a war crime, and it has left hundreds of thousands of civilians without access to medical care, even as the bombs rain down.

There is no children’s hospital left in Eastern Aleppo, and about 250,000 people are estimated to be without medical care.

But that could change by Christmas.

The People’s Convoy is crowdsourcing funds to build an urgently needed new children’s hospital. Dr Rola Hallam, a UK-based doctor (founder of CanDo and previously headed Hand in Hand for Syria), launched the campaign a few days ago. Here’s a piece from Channel 4 News which includes her interview. 

Laden with supplies for the new children’s hospital, the convoy will set off from London on Saturday 17th December for a seven-day overland journey arriving in Turkey. There it will meet the Independent Doctors’ Association (IDA), the Syrian medical/humanitarian organisation that is still operating in Northern Syria. 

incubator

The supplies will then be used to refit an existing building as a new hospital, which will be the first crowdfunded hospital in the world. It’ll be in the countryside north of the city, and will serve 185,000 people.

The convoy is a collaboration of leading medical relief agencies, humanitarian organisations, medical workers’ associations and campaign groups, including Medics Under Fire, the Independent Doctors’ Association, Physicians for Human Rights, Doctors of the World, and the Syrian American Medical Society, as well as Rola Hallam and David Nott, considered one of the world’s most experienced war surgeons. 

While governments fail to resolve the crisis, people can act, and you can help right here: The People’s Convoy.

You can keep up to date with the campaign and the convoy here: CanDo.

doctor examining baby

This is more than a convoy of medical supplies. It’s a convoy of hope, sending a strong message of solidarity and support to courageous Syrian medical and relief workers, telling them that they aren’t forgotten or alone.

It’s also a convoy of defiance: a strong message that humanitarians and human rights’ advocates will not be silenced or stopped from their life-saving work.

Please help spread the word, and give what you can to the People’s Convoy.  

It’ll do far more good than a box of tissues.

FreeImages.com/T. Al Nakib

December 18 update:

If you’ve already donated, thank you very much. The campaign exceeded its target, and the convoy left central London yesterday, as you can see in this piece from today’s Sunday Times.