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In the street

In which we wonder about medicine


Overheard in the street:* a parent (or guardian) and child:

Child: I’ve got a headache.

Parent: You don’t have a headache. You’re seven. You can only get headaches when you’re older.

Local news time: a teenager was murdered last week, just by the doorstep of Great Great Aunt Mabel’s house. Great Great Aunt Mabel didn’t have anything to do with it, though, as she died in 1983. Nevertheless, I’ve never been allowed to forget, by The Mother, every time we pass, who lived there. “That was your Nanna’s Auntie Mabel’s house, next to the bookmakers'”. My own memory of the house is at once faint and vivid: sneaking into the scullery to play with the coal in the coal-scuttle. Auntie Mabel was the last householder in the family still to use coal for heating, back in the heyday of post-punk and Scargill. She moved into a sheltered home a couple of years before she died; in my memory, the glass in the front doors of the home was always being smashed by vandals. She died cleaning; found on her hands and knees by her bed, still holding her dustpan and brush.

* Post House Wynd, Darlington, in case you were wondering

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Interim

In which the house gets rebuilt


A while back, I mentioned that the house was going to be hell: we were rebuilding the kitchen. And I was going to post photos.

Well, it still isn’t done, properly, so the photos haven’t appeared yet. But as it’s been so long, and isn’t going to be completely finished for a while yet, here’s two. Our kitchen: before and after.

Kitchen, before Kitchen, after

Apologies for the slight asymmetry in the thumbnails there. If you’re wondering about the lighting: those photos were both taken with roughly similar exposure settings on the camera,* which just shows how much better the lighting is now. The cat, as you can see, was keen to make his dominance of the area felt.

* Not quite the same, but comparable. The exact details should be still in the EXIF tags, if you care.

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Renovation

In which we’re not looking forward to a new kitchen


Next week is going to be hell. I’m dreading it. Our kitchen – which passed its 25th birthday last winter – is being ripped out, torn up, and being replaced by something nice, new and shiny. The only problem: it’s going to take all week. The house is already in uproar, and I have no idea how we’re going to eat. Lots of dinners out next week, I think.

It’s a bit of a milestone, doing all this. I can only very faintly remember the kitchen we had before, at the old house. It had a sliding door from the dining area. Erm, that’s it. I’ve lived with the current brown cupboards, brown tiles, freezing cold green tiled floor for so long, it’s going to feel very strange living in something different. This morning, I took photos from the kitchen doorway. I’ve never taken many photos of the inside of the house, itself,* so when things do change I rarely have a proper record of them. If you want to see what our house looked like over the years, you have to look in the backgrounds and the corners. So, I took photos from the kitchen doorway, and I’m going to keep taking them next week as the old kitchen is pulled apart and the new one is built.

The mother didn’t get the point. “I don’t want you taking pictures of it and showing everybody when it’s a mess,” she said. “Wait until the new one is finished, then you can take pictures of it.” I will do. But I want pictures of it how it is now, too, because I don’t want to remember something that’s new and novel. I want to remember something that’s old, faded, and comfortable.

* except for, once, the big green Victorian mirrored ball, round, not tiled, that hangs in a corner of the dining room.

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Nationality

In which the family seem foreign


My parents are not Norwegian. They’re English, have hardly ever left England, don’t speak any languages other than English. Until last week, my mother hadn’t had a foreign holiday for 35 years, and my dad had never had one at all.

Now, often, you can look at someone, and spot their nationality. It happened to me in Paris the other month: I only had to go up to someone and say “Um … bonjour?” and I’d get: “Hello, can I help you.” Sometimes the hello came first, so I’m sure it wasn’t just the accent or the awkward pause. I’d assume that the same would apply to the parents too, as they’ve hardly ever left Britain.

But no: they set off for their first foreign holiday together after 30 years married, and they get on the ferry to Norway. They arrive at the ferry terminal in Newcastle, where you’d think the staff would be used to spotting the difference between Norwegian and English people. All of a sudden, everyone, even the English terminal staff, automatically assume they’re Norwegian. Getting on the ship, they’re being greeted: “hello … hello … hello …” – then as soon as The Mother appears on the gangplank, the greeter switches to Norwegian.* Why, she has no clue. Apparently, people from Norway, people from Newcastle, people who meet a lot of Norwegians, automatically assume my mother is one too. Strange.

(and on their return, they brought me a giant sausage. Which appears to be Danish. But that’s a blog for another day, when I’m not too lazy to get the camera out to shoot a picture of it)

* Whether Bokmål or Nynorsk, I don’t know – as the parents don’t actually know any Norwegian of either sort beyond “Does anyone know where the toilets are?” they didn’t appreciate the subtlety – never mind the subtler still differences between spoken and written languages.

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Devotion

In which The Parents are keeping track of all the numbers


The Parents have always been fans of gadgetry. Moreover, whenever they get a new gadget, they become strangely devoted to it. I can still remember, when I was small, and The Parents bought a dehumidifier. My mother set it up in the middle of the kitchen with its back off, sat down in front of it on the uncomfortable kitchen stool, and watched it operate: watched the ice slowly and imperceptibly build up on its freezing tubes, before melting off again into the collection bucket.

My dad’s always been worse, if anything, so I knew what would happen as soon as his latest toy was fitted. A solar water heating system, complete with dials and gauges and sensors and settings to tweak. As soon as someone gets in the shower, Dad is in the airing cupboard watching all the sensors slowly change, checking that the solar pump starts up at the right point,* watching the water tank temperature, the solar collector temperature, the glycol flow rate, the system pressure, monitoring all the dials he possibly can. And, as soon as you get out of the shower: “Was it hot enough? The tank temperature was down to fifteen degrees – the pump activity reached 90% because the collector was still up around thirty”.

He loves it; he loves tracking all the various numbers. But, as a wise person once said: just because something is measurable, or tweakable, doesn’t mean it’s worth measuring or tweaking.** Nevertheless, I wouldn’t be surprised if, the next time I see him, he’s started drawing graphs.

* Yes, we have an energy-efficient environmentally friendly solar water-heating system now: so why does it need an electric pump, powered by our local gas-fired power station no doubt, to run it?

** I have no idea who first said that, but I’m sure I first read it in Essential System Administration.

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The churchgoer in the street

In which major international issues do not disturb the local parish


Given that today, in the news, there’s rather a lot about the slowly-growing and now likely forthcoming schism in the Anglican church, I thought I’d ask the average churchgoer in the street about it. Well, the average churchgoer who is also my mother, at any rate. She’s a fairly average “active” Anglican, though. She’s white, middle-class, female, edging towards elderly, lives in a commuter village, and goes to church every week. She’s a Sunday School teacher, has organised the parish’s Christian Aid collections, sings in an ecumenical Christian parish singing group,* and generally is far more active and puts more effort into religion than most churchgoers, never mind the huge percentage of Anglicans who tick the relevant box on the census but never cross the threshold of a church for anything other than weddings and funerals.

So, I said: “what are you going to do if the church splits in two? Is anyone going to leave St. Nick’s over it?”

Her answer: “What split?”

“You know, the one that has been rumbling for the last few years.” I tried to explain how the rather homophobic Peter Akinola is a figurehead for a group of largely-American homophobic conservatives, who do not like the Archbishop of Canterbury and have been threatening for some time to lead a schism, sometimes in the hope of bending him to their will, sometimes apparently meaning it.

“I’ve not heard about any of that,” she said. “We don’t talk about that sort of thing at church. That’s nothing to do with us.”

So, there you have it. I don’t think The Mother is particularly ignorant. As I said above, I think she’s probably less ignorant than your average churchgoer is likely to be, because she takes a very active interest. But to her, the politicking of a motley band of Americans and Africans isn’t important. An earthquake in Lambeth Palace isn’t important. The Second Coming occurring in the Lady Chapel of our parish church probably wouldn’t disturb most of the congregation, so long as it didn’t disrupt the Mothers Union or the bellringers, and everyone still got a cup of tea (or coffee) after the Sunday communion service. For your average English Anglican, dogma is something you recite during the service without really listening or understanding. It certainly isn’t something to get all argumentative about.

* where “ecumenical” means “Anglican and Methodist”, because they’re the only churches in the village. I’m not sure what they’ll do if those often-suggested plans to subsume British Methodists within Anglicanism ever make much progress.

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Weekend roundup

In which we try not to drench anyone


It’s another sunny day in the forest, and I’m going to go out in the sunshine, to enjoy the day and get myself away from the parents. I know it’s mean-spirited of me, but I don’t appreciate spending time with them. They manage to be intensely annoying without really realising what they or doing, or why it annoys me so much.

Discovery of the weekend so far: the pubs round here now have vending machines selling cheap sex toys, in the ladies’ loos. I am told, at any rate.

Things I need to learn not to do: flinch quite so much as I do. I particularly need to learn not to flinch when I am sitting in a pub next to someone, because, jumping suddenly, I am liable to flick their drink all over the table.

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Experimental breakfasts

In which The Mother tries to prepare something healthy


Ever since I moved back in with The Parents, The Mother has been insistant that I have a Proper Breakfast. Unfortunately for me, her idea of a Proper Breakfast was always a bowl of corn flakes. I’ve never been a fan of breakfast cereal,* and tried to explain to her that there’s not that much justification for eating it. It was originally invented by an enema-obsessed nutritionist who was very concerned about bowel movements, and believed that masturbation was evil. His brother added salt and sugar to make it more palatable. If you think it doesn’t taste very good now, bear in mind that the current Managing Director of Kelloggs Europe has admitted that “if you take the salt out you might be better off eating the cardboard carton for taste”.

The stick approach doesn’t work with The Mother very easily, though. You can point out how unhealthy something is until you’re blue in the face – and I did, pointing her to articles such as the one that quote is taken from. It wasn’t until my dad told her that the Sunday Times was claiming that new research had worked out the healthiest breakfast of all. A “traditional German breakfast”, apparently, consisting of “cheese, ham, and rye bread”. So, the next day there was two slices of toast, a plate of sliced ham** and a selection of cheeses on the breakfast table at 6.30.

It was … well, different, at any rate. Better than cornflakes, certainly, and I told her so. The next day it was back onto the corn flakes; but today, a bacon baguette was waiting. Excellent!

I know how my mother’s mind works. She heard that German breakfasts are healthy. She prepared the nearest thing, in her mind, to “ham and rye bread” – a bacon roll. So now, she thinks not only that a bacon roll is a traditional German breakfast, but that they are intrinsically Good For You. This is definitely a good-looking development if you ask me.

* “Pencil shavings,” as at least one Roald Dahl character called it.

** pre-sliced supermarket sandwich ham, I think. Probably far higher in salt than corn flakes, but don’t tell the mother that.

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Returned

In which the cat comes back


Back in July, my mother lost the cat, accidentally releasing him on the way to the vet’s. She spent hours putting up posters in that part of town, searching round the neighbourhood, answering calls from people who thought they had seen him, but to nothing. After a month or so, the calls dried up, and we assumed he wasn’t coming back.

Yesterday, I got home from work. I went upstairs, changed out of my work clothes, and went to the bathroom. In there, I heard something squeak. A door, or something, squeaking once then twice, just like the cat used to miaow. Strange, I thought, opening the bathroom door to find him wandering on the landing, rubbing against the corners of the walls.

The mother had a phone call yesterday, from an elderly woman living maybe a quarter of a mile from where he had gone missing. She’d been feeding him for about a fortnight, and happened to go in a shop which still had his poster on the wall. She phoned us, dragged him out from underneath her sofa, and the cat came back. He’s lurking in the garden now, trying to re-establish his position in cat society.

Cat

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This is my husband, and my uncle

In which we consider the definition of inbreeding


Today’s top news story: Ian Gibson, a Norwich MP and former scientist has announced that a cluster of child diabetes cases in Norfolk may be caused by inbreeding. Cue, of course, all the usual jokes about Norfolk stereotypes: country yokels marrying their sister, and so on. Dr Gibson, interviewed on Today,* seemed rather affronted by any suggestion that he was being insulting. His response: he was using “inbreeding” in a purely technical manner which us laughing yokels don’t understand. I see.

Much as Dr Gibson has been criticised for “not understanding genetics” and so on, he may well have a point. As I’ve mentioned before, people don’t move around very much. In years gone by, people moved around even less; migration is hard work. It’s not too surprising, in other words, to find that illnesses with a strong genetic factor may have strong regional variations too.** It might be simplistic to say “diabetes may be regionally concentrated because of inbreeding,” because there are lots of other causative factors involved. You can’t pretend, though, that regional variations are unlikely to exist.

* only a few minutes ago! Damn, this blog can be up-to-the-minute occasionally.

** My psychotic aunt – clinically diagnosed, I’m not just being rude about her – is from Norfolk too. I wonder if anyone has looked to see if there are similar clusters of mental illnesses with a strong hereditary componant.

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