Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Festive wishes to you all.

This time of year means different things to different people. We all construct the season in ways that makes sense to us. My Christmas will be different from yours. We all wake with different traditions, different fantasies. We come from different faiths or none.

Whatever it means to you - I hope you have a peaceful time with those you love.

As I will.

And, before the decorations are down, I'm off to Bangkok - and then anything can happen. With luck I'll make it to Laos.

So this may be my last blog for a while - I'll be in touch while I'm away, when I have time and internet connections (the two may not always coincide).

Enjoy the dark days. By the time I'm back it might be light before eight in the morning. (If not I'm going back).

And many thanks to everyone who has supported my blog this year. May 2013 be kind to you all.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Singing, just for the fun of it.

As some of you know, I sing in a choir. And I love it - because it's impossible to sing and think about anything else. Music fills my head and reaches right down to my toes, and somehow all the bits in between join in the fun.

Unlike some choirs, we have no auditions - so no scary standing in front of everyone singing Over the Rainbow and missing the top note. But everyone can read music - so we all have a musical background, though some of it is rudimentary and unused since primary school. Our average age - is probably over sixty-five. But we are undeterred; the joy of singing together is enough to keep us meeting, week after week, in a draughty hall.

We have some wonderful singers. Everyone tries to sit close to one of them, as they can be relied upon to hit the right notes in the difficult buts. And we have some weaker singers - there is the person who is going deaf, but has perfect timing. He watches the conductor, never misses a beat, but his note can be, well, approximate. We have the enthusiast, who has forgotten the art of singing quietly, and so enjoys herself that she joins in with everyone else's part when hers is silent. Nothing will stop us enjoying ourselves  - and when we sang Mozart's Requiem in Malmesbury Abbey we surprised ourselves how wonderful we were. And we are always better in concert than we are in rehearsal - the acoustics change in a space that is full of people. In rehearsal - I hate to mention cats ...

Next Saturday, we are singing in a concert.

And we are singing O Magnum Mysterium - which is one of the most wonderful pieces of music in the world, and can make me cry when we get it right. But each part (sopranos, altos, tenors and basses) split into at least two, to make those wonderful chords. With a shortage of tenors some of the altos (including me) are trying to sing first tenor (this time I will admit to sounding like a cat, albeit a growling one)

So - here is what it should sound like.

If anyone should be coming to see us, close your eyes and pretend we sound like this. Forgive us our wobbly bits ... (classical music alert - and you can stop it at the talky bit at the end, but this is the best version of it I could find).

Sunday, 9 December 2012

What would you have done?

There is a shortage of typhoid vaccine being sent to my local surgery. (They assure me that this is a supply problem, and not rationing.)

Typhoid is endemic in many hot countries. It is water borne, and is a major problem around the rice paddies. Prevention, in theory, should be straightforward - drink only bottled water (easy), clean your teeth in bottled water (easy), make sure all your food is washed and cooked in bottled water (impossible, unless you do all your own cooking. How do you do that, if you're moving from place to place?)

Five doses were delivered in November, and another five in December. Many more of us have travel plans and need them. The advice - keep ringing and make an appointment when the vaccine came in.

I didn't worry in November, I had another month to go. But supplies were delayed in early December. What if none come in, I asked. The travel clinics have some, though you'll have to pay, the pharmacist said. Where is my nearest travel clinic? Chippenham. I have no car, I said - Chippenham is three buses away, buses that are not timed to connect with each other - the trip would take a whole day.

Make an appointment, she said. Then phone in the morning to see if it's in. Which I did - my appointment was at 9.50; I rang at 9.15 - and the five doses were there. She thought it unlikely that all five would have gone in thirty-five minutes. So I raced off, was duly jabbed, and am protected.

Which is fine for me. But as the needle went in, I had a different thought. What about everyone else waiting for a vaccination. What are they to do?

I googled typhoid, as you do.

The Foreign Office recommends: typhoid vaccine only if you are in the Far East for six months or so.

The NHS recommends: typhoid vaccine if you are away for a week.

I don't take health risks - as some of you know, I've done with being ill in unruly places. I'll do anything to make sure I don't do it again. And I'm in a position to race to the surgery when the vaccine is in.

Those five doses will go to those of us who can be organised to race to the surgery when they come in. But who is to say we should have them at the expense of a family of five, off to visit Grandma in the Philippines, who cannot gather in time, nor afford private jabs for all of them? Or the Grandma going home to Mumbai to meet a new grandson?

I can see why the surgery opted for the 'first come, first served' rationing option - how else could they do it? But it doesn't sit easily, knowing that others may be forced to take typhoid risks while I can wander around rice paddies with impunity.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012


What are you doing, reading a blog? It's December.

You should be making a list of things to do. Or crossing things off your list. Or doing something and then putting it on a list so you can cross it off.

All those cards - are you going to send them this year? Mrs Next-door and the old gent up the road are worrying about the cost of postage. Maybe you won't send any, then no one will feel they have to send one to you. But if you don't - they'll think you're mean. Best send one to Auntie Nellie - I thought she'd died - no, not her, she'll go one forever. Phew, cards posted. Look a card from Uncle Jack, he's always early, so sad, he says, about Nellie - why did no one tell me ... and from Phyllis did we send her one, no - well she's your cousin why should I do everything ...

Decorations? Make so much dust, do we really need decorations? Of course, we do, the twinklier the better. Even though twinkles give you a headache. Not got your tree yet? No - quick, make sure it's on the list, we must order one that takes up at least a quarter of the sitting room. And food, don't forget food, mince pies, sausage rolls, never as good as the ones my mother made - get plenty, you'll be feeding thousands (well, December isn't the time to think about all the food that will be left over. But what about all the people who have no money this Christmas - must put an the extra tin in  the food bank. And check out the person up the road, living alone - even if she likes living alone and is quite happy in front of her own fire, thank you, but you can't have that can you. Not at Christmas.

Oh heck, I haven't closed that bracket yet. )

Meanwhile, the children - What is this thing they're asking for - Octonauts - we played with dolls and train sets in my day. Batteries, must buy batteries. Everything needs batteries these days. And sings or flashes or crawls along the floor. Daft, when the kids end up playing with the boxes. Next year, I swear, I'll go to the supermarket and get them a box. Now what are Octonauts again? How did you say we were going to explain three Father Christmases in the High Street?

Wrapping paper. I nearly forgot wrapping paper. Get an extra roll. Though there's never enough.

All this and you've still got real work to do - work can't come to a stop just because it's December. Shops and offices and schools and hospitals and oil rigs and taxi drivers - Christmas is no excuse for slacking you know. You have to cook something for the office party. Can't I buy it? No - if Jilly from HR can manage to cook and her a single parent with six kids then I'm sure you can. Don't forget the secret Santa (what can you possibly buy for that bloke from accounts with the face like a dog's bottom?).

Yes, I know my pronouns are muddled in this post. What makes you think I have time to read it through?

So what little beacon of light keeps you going in the middle of all this?

Sunday, 2 December 2012

World AIDS day

Last Saturday was World AIDS day. We don't have a World Heart Attack day, nor a World Influenza day, nor a World Arthritis day ... but we have a World AIDS day. Surely, we should have incorporated AIDS into mainstream medicine by now?

But AIDS still comes with luggage. I wonder how many of you recall the ads of the 1980s, with terrifying images representing the virus leaping out of the ground as if to take over the world. USE A CONDOM OR DIE they said. And the subtext, the thing that wasn't said: this was a disease of gay people, a punishment for practises that, well, weren't mainstream. That image on the ads - an apocalyptic retribution for - for being gay.

Surely we've grown up since then? What consenting adults do in the privacy of their own relationships - if they swing from the chandeliers or simply enjoy a cup of cocoa together - then it's fine. What's important is to love and be loved. Gender and sexual practises - pah!

Yet still there is a hint of shame, a stigma, attached to AIDS. The figures suggest that people (of both genders - women are just as likely to have the disease as men) don't come forward to be tested if they are at risk. And they are at risk because they had unprotected sex. Which, somehow, is seen as more shocking than walking across the road before waiting for the green man, or using a mobile phone in the car - neither of which are a good idea but, hey ho, it happens. Some risks, it seems, are part of being human and we shrug them off, while those who take sexual risks are reluctant to admit them even to a doctor.

I'm a child of the 1960s. And in those heady, rose-tinted days we believed it possible that we could create a world in which we cared for people equally. That if we treat each other with dignity, whatever our histories or cultures or needs, then the world will be a better place. I still believe that. But sometimes - such as when we still need a World AIDS day, I wonder if I am in a minority of one.