The Versatile Blogger Award

Thank you to the weary blogger behind Tired Mind, Typing Fingers. If you take a look at her blog, you’ll see that she’s trying to get on with her writing (and the rest of her life) despite chronic illness. She’s also found time to nominate my blog for a Versatile Blogger Award, which is very generous of her. Thank you, TMTF.

Everyone can see a leg in plaster. Ill health can be much harder to deal with when it’s invisible. When in contact with others, there are only two possible options: pretend it’s not there, or explain it. As a doctor I know that both options have drawbacks. Check out Tired Mind, Typing Fingers for insights from someone in the know.

The rules.

According to the rules of this award, I must nominate ten blogs that I believe also deserve the award, then share seven interesting facts about myself. I’ll try to find some, but first this.

The ten blogs I’m nominating for a Versatile Blogger Award.

Sue Moorcroft

Sue is a best-selling author of romantic fiction, and a writing tutor, so there’s plenty to enjoy here, whether you want to read or write novels.

Debbie Young’s personal blog

Debbie writes both fiction and non-fiction (see her new Sophie Sayers mystery, as well as her terrific book Coming to Terms with Type 1 Diabetes), and helps other authors, notably through the Alliance of Independent Authors.

The Artist Unleashed

The word ‘versatile’ could have been coined for Jessica Bell, who’s a writing coach as well as an award-winning novelist and poet, singer/songwriter/guitarist and designer. She’s also the brains behind The Artist Unleashed, a blog that manages to be useful and a bit quirky.

This Itch of Writing

There’s always a lot to think about on Emma Darwin’s blog, which is all about fiction and what she calls creative non-fiction: writing it, reading it, teaching it and, as she says, sometimes hating it.

Jane Davis – virtual book club

Jane is an accomplished novelist whose blog features a virtual book club. It’s a lively interview series in which authors pitch their books to your book club.

Helen M Taylor- the right words in the wrong order

Helen’s career to date has had more twists and turns than a helter-skelter. Suffice to say she hasn’t yet made it as a rock star surgeon. On the plus side, her debut novel The Backstreets of Purgatory (in which Caravaggio wreaks havoc in modern day Glasgow) is out later this year.

Tripfiction

You know TripAdvisor? Well, Tripfiction was created to match a location with a book. Thanks to a searchable database, you can find a book relevant to almost any trip, however far flung.

Women Writers School Blog

Laurie Garrison is Founder and Director of Women Writers School, a project that aims to increase the number and visibility of women writers read, published and recognized for their talent. There’s lots of advice for writers, and much more besides.

Amna K Boheim’s blog

Amna took a roundabout route to her career as a novelist, a path that included eleven years in the City. Her blog is an interesting and eclectic read.

Slugs and Snails Tales

Nikki Roberts blogs on life with her boys, and to raise awareness of ADHD and epilepsy. Her posts are always enlightening and fun.

Finally, seven snippets about me.

1 I’m a fan of Liverpool FC. But, whenever I go to a game, they lose.

2 Although red is my favourite colour, I have lots of orange things.

3 My cat is called Mishmish. This means ‘apricot’ in Arabic and in Hebrew, so it describes her colour perfectly. She’s also one of four cats I’ve named after a fruit.

4 My first car was a VW Beetle which I drove for over twenty years. See my antediluvian glasses?

5 I used to do my mother’s tax returns when I was ten years old.

6 I’ve known my oldest friend (also called Carol) since she was born. Or possibly before then, since our mothers (both called Jacqueline) were also friends.

7 I did O-level Russian, but so long ago that I remember nest to nothing. до свидания!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Why Your Mother Was Right All Along

It’s been a while since I presented my mother with sticky home-made cards that shed macaroni and glitter. With three offspring of my own, these days Mother’s Day is more about me. From this great vantage point, I now realize my mother was right all along. What’s more, I’ll bet yours was, too.

Here are some things mothers say that are right on the money.

“Don’t sit out in the sun all day long.”

She may have droned on about getting heatstroke and prickly heat. But she was also protecting you against sunburn, skin cancer, cataracts, and premature wrinkles.

That’s what mothers do. They protect their young.

FreeImages.com/ryan shull

“Pick up your clothes.”

Your mum thought it was slovenly and untidy, but you had to learn for yourself, didn’t you? Maybe you couldn’t find your wallet, you tripped arse over tit on a pile of shirts, or the cat threw up on your best jeans. You get around to using hangers eventually. 

“You’re wearing far too much make-up.”

The stuff you applied with a trowel didn’t look nearly as good in real life as it did in your bedroom mirror. But it’s even less flattering when you’re 50. Your mum just wanted you to ditch the panda eyes before you looked totally ridiculous.

“Wash your hands.”

Hands look a lot better when they’re clean, but that’s not the real point. Washing your mitts often is the single best thing you can do to prevent common infections like colds and even flu. 

FreeImages.com/Deborah Krusemark

“Remember to say Please and Thank you.”

Kids who mind their manners reflect well on their parents, but that’s not the whole story. They also become adults that people like being around – whether it’s at work or socially – and like doing things for. 

“No TV till you finish your homework.”

That was so unfair, as no doubt you pointed out. But your mum wanted you to learn a few more important life skills, like concentration, perseverance, and becoming a completer-finisher. Polish TVMore on Belbin team roles here

“Sit up straight.”

You were determined to slouch like the archetypal sullen adolescent. But your mother hoped you’d reap the benefits of good posture:

  • Less stress on vertebrae and ligaments, so less back pain
  • Spine less likely to become fixed in the wrong position
  • Better breathing
  • Looking younger and slimmer.

There’s more info from BackCare

“Turn down that noise.”

Maybe she was just after a bit of peace and quiet, but it was the best advice for your ears too. Noise exposure is a major cause of permanent hearing loss. Noise-induced hearing loss is often gradual, and it’s cumulative. That ringing in your ears after a gig? It means the hair cells of your cochlea are already damaged. 

So go on. If you’ve got a mother, make a fuss of her on Mother’s Day, and, while you’re at it, throw in the rest of the year as well. She won’t be around forever.

mum and me

ooOoo

Note for US readers: In the UK, Mother’s Day is today, March 6, and its correct name is Mothering Sunday.  And falling arse over tit is a very common expression.

I’m taking a little break to edit my novel, so this blog will be back in a couple in a couple of weeks. See you then.

Rushed off Your Paws at Christmas

You don’t need telling that it’s a busy and stressful time of year, especially if you have family to look after.

No wonder so many of us will be rushed off our feet. Or indeed our paws. 

I’m thinking of dogs like the lovely May here whose duties include opening and shutting doors, unloading the washing machine, picking up dropped items, pressing buttons and switches, and if need be getting help in an emergency.  

There’s the Christmas shopping to attend to, and that requires money. Here’s May using the ATM.

assistance dog using cash machine

photo by Canine Partners

All the food to buy.

assistance dog shopping in supermarket

photo by Canine Partners

Not to mention sorting out the Christmas post.

assistance dog with post

photo by Canine Partners

Canine Partners like May are trained to do a range of different tasks, but they’re intelligent and can adapt to the person’s lifestyle. In a survey, over a third of their humans say they rely on them to tidy toys away. Some dogs even let the cat in and out. And in and out again.

FreeImages.com/Robert Bak

And they do all this without a murmur of complaint, which can’t be said of most humans.

I don’t know about you, but I think May deserves something in her Christmas stocking.

Christmas stocking

If you don’t need an assistance dog yourself, you can still adopt one. Might even make a good last minute Christmas present for someone.

Have a merry Christmas, one and all.  

holly garland

You may like to know…

Canine Partners assists people with a range of disabilities to enjoy a greater independence and quality of life through the provision of specially trained dogs.

For example, the charity works in partnership with Help for Heroes, aiming to train dogs to meet the needs of people with even the most complex disabilities.  These life-transforming dogs also provide practical, physiological, psychological and social benefits including increased independence and confidence as well as increased motivation and self-esteem.

Canine Partners is a registered charity and receives no government funding. It depends wholly on public donations and legacies.

That’ll be you and me.

angel tree decoration

 

Easy tweet: “Christmas stress? Some busy feet barely touch the ground via @DrCarolCooper & help from @canine_partners”

Why Does Car Insurance Cost So Much?

Go on, guess.

My high premiums aren’t because I prang my car a lot, or make other people have accidents. Though there was that crash I caused in 1975 or so, when I collided with a Morris Traveller van and managed to remove some of its wooden trim. The owner glued it back on. Total cost of the repair: £1.50.

I don’t indulge in James Bond-esque 200 mph jaunts the wrong way up dual carriageways, let alone launch my car off the tops of buildings. So it’s a mystery to me why Sheila’s Wheels wants to relieve me of huge wodges of money on an annual basis.

But now I can thank a certain coach driver for leading me to the explanation as to why car insurance costs so much.

On a blisteringly hot August afternoon, said coach opts to use the offside lane of the A41 and hits my car from the side.

The lucky thing is that only my wing mirror is damaged, though the cat, imprisoned in a basket on the passenger seat, seems a bit miffed at the delay as the coach driver and I stop to exchange details.

cat in travel basket

It seems pretty clear-cut. The other guy has wandered far enough into my lane to break something off my car.

Yet this minor damage then takes three months to sort out.

The driver tells me he works for United Busways. That’s the first problem, because he doesn’t. He used to work for them, but, after a couple of phone calls, I learn he’s now with National Express, despite what it said on his bus.

back view of coach

I can only find 0871 phone numbers for National Express, but, after one long expensive call, someone refers me to a depot in Hertfordshire. Two more calls later, nobody seems that interested, though one of the people I speak to lets slip the name of the bus company’s insurer, Gallagher Bassett.

Now I am on to something. I speak to Gallagher Bassett and learn that the driver has logged a report of the accident. There will be CCTV footage too, to be examined in the next few days.

I have spent over an hour on the phone to six different people, but it sounds like a resolution is in sight.

But I was wrong. If you want to cut to the chase, it’s in bold near the bottom of this post.

Someone from a branch of theirs called CAA promises to arrange an inspection at a time convenient to me.  “It’s only a wing mirror,” I say, and offer to email a photo of the damage, but apparently an engineer must inspect it in person.

Nothing happens. Six days later, I chase the insurance company. Apologies for the delay and all that, they say. There’s no sign of the CCTV yet, so they will chase the bus company as well as CAA and get back to me.

That’s another 15 minutes on the phone.

Rebecca from CAA does get in touch, and tells me that someone from Hoopers Engineers in Liverpool will come to inspect my car. “It’s only a wing mirror,” I point out again.

VW Golf wing mirror

Michelle from Hoopers does arrange an inspection, which isn’t ideal as I end up missing a lunch appointment, but I want my new wing mirror sometime soon.

The engineer from Hoopers spends around 20 minutes or more studying my car thoroughly, including its mileage, chassis number, and the height of the mirror above the ground.

The days later still nothing, so I ring the insurer. The next half a dozen phone calls over a period of a few weeks are much the same and by now I know the claims reference number by heart. Yes, the CCTV footage still is awaited. They will chase the bus company again. Yes it can take a while, but no, it doesn’t usually take this long. They’ll contact them today and get back to me.

On September 22, six weeks from the accident, there is a breakthrough. I’m told the CCTV is “being sent out” and would I please give them a couple more days. One detail bothers me. Aren’t all video recordings digitized?  Apparently not.

A week later, still nothing. Four further calls in the next week or so establish that the CCTV recording failed. It was never “being sent out.” However, on the basis that the damage was not substantial, the insurance company offers to settle the claim.

I can confirm that as a result of the failed CCTV we would be happy to settle your claim on a Without Prejudice Basis as per our repair team CAA’s quoted estimate of £360.”  

I still have to go through their approved repairer rather than my local VW garage which happens to be within walking distance, but no matter. No further estimate will be needed, and I will soon be driving around with a mirror that isn’t held on with parcel tape.

wing mirror held on with parcel tape

Unfortunately the approved repairer insists on drawing up their own estimate anyway, despite the previous estimate and my mantra “It’s only a wing mirror.”

It takes two goes to get the estimator here, then he doesn’t turn up when he said he would because he has a hospital appointment that morning.  When he finally arrives in the afternoon, he studies the car and the chassis number again.

The repair is booked for November 5. I consider setting off fireworks to celebrate.

About two hours after the appointed time on the day, Matt from Fix Auto arrives to collect my car. I had imagined two guys in a car, one of whom would drive my car back to the garage.

This is what Matt shows up in, complete with flashing lights.

recovery vehicle

It seems a bit over-the-top. As I point out to Matt, it is only a wing mirror.

My car did not return the same day as promised, but the next day, again with Matt and his recovery vehicle.

To sum up, getting the broken wing mirror replaced took twelve weeks and cost around £250 for the repair, plus 24 phone calls, two estimates, and two trips in a recovery truck. If you assume that each call costs a modest £25 for each of the participants in the call, the estimators’ visits come in at £100 each, and the recovery truck costs £80 per round trip, it comes to a total of over £1,800. That’s a very restrained guesstimate and the true cost could be much higher because there are so many different people who add little value but still cost money.  

It was only a frigging wing mirror!   Just imagine the figures had whiplash or another injury been part of the claim.

But the madness doesn’t stop there. Driver Matt told me that a coach had hit him on the way over to me, damaging the side of his truck…

Wonder why I pursued this claim myself? It’s because when my previous car was broken into, the insurance company insisted on recording it as ‘your accident.’ I tried explaining that I wasn’t even there at the time, that a petty thief who breaks into a locked garage and then smashes a windscreen doesn’t do this accidentally. It is pretty much on purpose, I’d say. But I used the company to make a claim, so they recorded it as my accident. Besides, I thought this claim would be easy to sort out. After all, only a bloody wing mirror.

But a very expensive one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Vital Signs That Show the Hot Weather Has Got to You

The heat is of nostalgic magnitude. This is London, but for me there are echoes of summers long past in Washington DC, where pavements glued to your feet, or perhaps vice versa.

By TheAgency (CJStumpf) 20:34, 9 February 2007 (UTC) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I got my DC driver’s license on just such a day, with my mini-skirted backside welded to the plastic seat of the VW Beetle and a dozen or so empty Coke cans rattling around in the back, a testament to the hours of practice I had put in for the test. The official Department of Motor Vehicles photo taken just afterwards shows sweat dripping off a victorious 16-year old face.

There was no respite by day, but sundown would bring honeysuckle-drenched evenings and the sweet sound of soul.

But, as I say, this is London 2015.  The UK Government has already put out advice on dealing with the blistering heat wave (known in other countries as ‘summer’).

Grantchester

I find it very bearable at first, especially by the river.  It’s also rather lovely to water plants in the early mornings, though I note there is no dew.  Then the symptoms begin, building up until there is only one conclusion: the heat is winning.

Vital sign 1: People are saying, “Hot enough for you?” For those who don’t know, this is the customary British response to a hot spell, as traditional as Pimm’s and pith helmets. Considering we’re alleged to talk about the weather non-stop, our meteorological remarks are strikingly unoriginal (see also “Nice weather for ducks” and “Brass monkey weather”).

Vital sign 2: Shops have run out of fans and paddling pools. You can’t buy a desk fan for love or money, says a friend who has tried both. The middle classes are wilting because Prosecco is in short supply I expect pith helmets will sell out soon. 

Vital sign 3: Office workers strip off in the park as usual, but now they avoid the sun. They walk on the shady side of the street and even slink home via dark alleyways, the kind you normally avoid for fear of being knifed for your wallet and PIN.

Vital sign 4: People jump into rivers and canals, risking life and limb.

Pushkin

Vital sign 5: The cat refuses to step outside. I can’t hold my hand on the pavement for five seconds, which is a sure sign that the cat made the right choice.

Vital sign 6: I have an ice cream. The heat must have got to my brain, because I never eat ice cream. I even make gazpacho, ignoring the fact that it always leads to gaz.

Vital sign 7: Sleep becomes impossible without air con or heavy duty pharmaceuticals. Eight hours’ involuntary aquaplaning really isn’t as refreshing as getting in some zeds.

Dyson hot+cool

Vital sign 8: Even Mr Dyson’s magnificent machine fails to save the day. On day two of the heatwave, I rest my head in the freezer atop a packet of broccoli florets.

Vital sign 9: Now commuter trains are cancelled because it’s the wrong sort of heat. Only in Britain. 

Vital sign 10: I’m longing for it to be nice weather for ducks.

nice weather for ducks

Payback Time for Fat Cats

Mishmish went into the basket happily enough, probably anticipating a drive to her weekend retreat.

cat in the basket

She wasn’t purring when half a mile later we parked outside the vet’s.

The waiting-room was full of red setter. Yep, just one of him, but he was bouncing around as if he’d eaten springs for breakfast.  

red setter

We installed ourselves in the corner next to a pooch with a rhinestone collar. An elderly dachshund waddled in, rolling from side to side like a cross-channel ferry. His owner had turned-out feet and a similar gait. She heaved herself onto the bench.

I know. I look like my cat too. For a start, I’m covered in orange fur. Unlike Mishmish, however, I had a streaming cold. People recoiled visibly from me and my tissues, or would have done had there been any room.

Last time we were here, it had been for a check-up with the vet nurse, an enormously fat woman who pronounced my cat to be overweight. She calculated her BMI and promptly recommended dietary modification.  I wanted to lock the nurse into a room and give her nothing but a lettuce leaf alternate days. Preferably an expensive lettuce leaf.

lettuce leaf

Today it was for annual jabs. The vet had a Littmann stethoscope. This is the king of stethoscopes, but it didn’t impress Mishmish. We had the obligatory chat about female ginger cats being unusual, seeing as they need two x chromosomes with the relevant gene to be ginger. It’s just like haemophilia, only more desirable.

The vet looked Mishmish over and said she was a big girl.

I blew my nose and pointed out that she was big-boned.

“Are you OK?” asked the vet, his syringe poised. I didn’t tell him about my raging sore throat for fear of getting penicillin, gentamicin and a £200 bill.

Mishmish duly immunised, I paid at the desk, but the visit wasn’t over yet. I still had to pick up the prescription cat food I’d ordered.

We waited by the reception desk behind a huge slab of a man, stubbled and tattooed, with an award-winning builder’s cleavage. He’d come to collect his dog after surgery, so I heard.

“What’s the animal’s name?” asked the receptionist.

“Twinkle.”

Twinkle, it turned out, was a bichon frisé with a bandaged paw.   If you’re not familiar with the breed, it makes toy poodles look impossibly butch.

Twinkle and Macho Man left, the receptionist took a few calls, and there we still were. “I’m waiting for my prescription cat food,” I told her again, not quite as patiently as the first time. My baby could starve!

empty cat bowl

She went to look but it hadn’t been delivered, apparently. “What kind is it?”

“It’s the metabolic diet,” I said.  

The waiting room nodded collectively. Pet owners know what metabolic diet means. It screams “SLAG! YOU LET YOUR PET GET FAT.”

The woman with the dachshund fixed me with a rheumy eye. 

I felt like blaming my husband. He gives her high calorie treats, I wanted to say. But then I’d have been castigated for not controlling him as well. There’s really no excuse now that there are special diets for flabby felines and activity centre toys to exercise lazy cats, not to mention various harnesses and contraptions to stop spouses dishing out treats.

leads, harnesses and restraints

They still couldn’t find the metabolic diet. Only ordinary cat food. We’d been here about 45 minutes by then. In her basket Mishmish was getting stressed, and I had distributed viruses evenly across the waiting room.

“We’re going away for a few days and I need the food. I did order it in plenty of time, you know.” But it was no good. The other owners had already judged me. I was the kind of idiot who feeds her kid burgers through the school fence.

Didn’t they know that junk food is much cheaper than the healthy stuff? I felt a twinge of sympathy for parents of tubby children.

The receptionist gave up and a vet nurse was summoned. She couldn’t find our order either.

Eventually the fat nurse from last time was called in and she quickly found what we needed, our 4kg bag of Advanced Weight Solution.  

Hill's Prescription Diet Feline Metabolic Diet advanced weight solution

I’m far better disposed towards her now. She can even have a lettuce leaf every day.

***

If you have space for a cat or dog in your life, please consider getting one from a charity like the Mayhew Animal Home in NW London.