Friday, September 29, 2006


I've just finished reading Shawnie by Ed Trewavas. Wow. One of the least enjoyable books I've ever read, but utterly compelling. Written by a Bristol social worker and in first person Bristolian dialect it unravels the mess that is one family from Knowle West's life. I say family, but it's nothing like family as I've experienced it. Drink, drugs, violence, abuse, neglect all viewed as some kind of norm.

In the dermatology department where I work we see a wide social mix, none more so than in Day Care. Here we largely treat people with serious psoriasis, often exacerbated by a certain amount of self-neglect or at least non-concordance with treatment. Those referred for day care have to attend Monday to Friday, so have to have understanding bosses or not be in work. Generally there is are a fair few on our books with alcohol issues, since alcohol is a trigger for psoriasis AND rules out the option of treating their condition with certain medication. So you can get a picture of our clientele. And there are times, talking to some people who repeatedly turn up at random times of day because they lost track of time down the pub or whatever, that you feel that all the health promotion in the world isn't going to help. It's not as if their skin problem, severe though it may be, IS the problem - it's merely the symptom.

More than anything, reading Shawnie underlined to me how useless I am in such situations. I may as well be talking another language. In fact, that's exactly what I'm doing.

I don't know whether to recommend Shawnie, as I'm still feeling the after-effects of reading it. But I'm glad I did. I don't think it told me anything I didn't already know. But it managed to speak with authentic voices, rather than a white middle-class health worker's report.

Monday, September 18, 2006


heat and dust
bigbellied growling
jangaweed take it
raped my mother
raped my sister
took my hope
took my pride
desert dweller
big belly growling
taste of sand
taste of fear
no hope no hope
white bones scattered
white dust blowing
all forgotten
all forgotten
raped my mother
killed my father
sound of gunfire
sound of crying
sound of no one
come to rescue...
no home no home
desert dweller
dry and empty
white dust blowing
took my mother
took my father
took my land
took my faith
sound of crying
sound of weeping

2 million displaced
450 000 dead
Countless crimes against humanity

Make it stop

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Arnos Vale

Half-remembered by those a generation removed
you lie still.
A footprint in the dust of our imagination.
Do you remember us?
Do you still love?
Or is your mind overgrown
by the creeping greening of the years
as even your stone sinks back
into oblivion.

Blue Glass

We went to Bristol Blue Glass factory on Saturday, as part of the excellent 'Bristol Doors Open' annual event. Having seen lots of Bristol blue glass for sale I had always imagined that there was a small army of glass blowers puffing away in the wilds of Brislington. Not so. The man who did the talky bit of the demonstration said that there were four of them who produced most of the BBG, 2 assistants and 2 craftsmen (yes, they were all men) working in 2 teams. Apparently it takes around 7 years to train up a craftsman. I reckon that's longer than it takes for a doctor to train to be a surgeon (thinking of another job that requires painstaking skill with the hands!) It takes 4 years just to be able to assist properly - to execute the seamless dance that involves moving the irons around the kilns, blowing at the right moment, adding the right size blob of glass to make a handle, a stopper or whatever, whilst the craftman shapes and coaxes the molten glass into a recognisable and perfect form.

Apparently recruitment is a problem. They don't seem to have many up-and-coming apprentices to fill the slots, should any of those 4 decide to chuck it all in. It's not a nice job in the summer, when the heat from the sun makes the kiln heat unbearable. And whilst it must be wonderful to be able to create beauty from such an unpromising start, in order to be able to do so one must undertake the creation in an exacting and repetitive fashion, so that all the joy must get sucked out of it.

We came away feeling strangely anxious about the whole thing.

Friday, September 08, 2006

It's all about cake

So this is what my life has come to. I spent a ridiculous amount of time last Saturday making a birthday cake for Jordan's 12th b'day party. She and her friends are oddly obsessed with penguins, hence the fondant icing beasties we made for the cake. Believe me, you haven't known stress until you've tried to assemble the body, head, tummy, feet, eyes, beak and wings of a miniature icing penguin - x3 - then attach an icing scarf, a cocktail stick fishing rod and a little jelly fish - all whilst simultaneously cooking a family meal. I can also say that it's quite difficult trying to get black food colouring off your hands afterwards. No wonder Jane Asher always looks a bit spaced out. She's probably maxed out on Prozac, just to get herself through the horror of personally assembling all those cakes.

It was somewhat ironic therefore that, in my new capacity as Acting Senior Sister, the task that involved the most initiative, decision-making, power and money this week was - ordering a cake for someone who's leaving. And no, I didn't offer to make it.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Acting Up

Bit of a weird week this. I went into work fresh from the Bank Holiday, blissfully unaware that my boss was about to drop a bombshell on the department. She's just been offered a secondment for 3 months but possibly up to a year, and has 'asked' me to cover her post whilst away. I don't really have a choice - for one thing, I don't want a stranger put in post above me, and for another, I'd be a fool to say no. So, as of next Tuesday I'm the Acting Senior Sister. Or ASS, as my father kindly pointed out.

This is all well and good, but somehow I still have to fit in all the clinical stuff I'm already doing. AND not get sick - I've had a flare-up of lupus each October for the past 3 years, and was looking at how I could make September easier as I'm sure my flare-ups are associated with the extra busy-ness that September brings to the Wheeler household, courtesy of being married to an assistant head at the start of the autumn term (I'm married to him at other times too, but you know what I mean. Don't be difficult).

SO...what can I do to make life easier? Thoughts so far...
  • DON'T get involved in organising an alternative worship service in September. Even if they ask you to write the theme toon.
  • Don't start watching any high-commitment US drama a la 24, The West Wing, The Sopranos etc. It means late nights and endless energy-sapping speculation about what will happen next.
  • Teach the cats to forage for their own food. This should also work for the children.
  • Rather than washing the clothes, spray on Febreze. Rather than washing the children, spray on furniture polish.
  • Don't bother to read the book for book club this month. Instead, turn up and nod sagely, using occasional well-placed sentences such as 'I thought it had rather a Dickensian whimsy', or 'Could you pass me the olives, please? Oh yes, and the red wine...'
  • Put all the Christmas decoration up now, and insist that I can't possibly clean the house while the decs are up. Should be good till January.

An Annual Pilgrimage

Well it's a few days after Greenbelt and it's about time I said something about the weekend. We do a bit of a hit-and-run on Greenbelt, due to the fact that younger offspring needs delivering to Brownie camp on the Friday and then picking up on the Monday. So we arrive at Cheltenham racecourse at 9am, get 2 day tickets, and stay until Sunday evening, with older offspring in tow. Having a 12-year-old with us partially dictates our choices of events, even if she is a) remarkably patient, b) far cooler than her parents and c) perfectly content to sit for long periods in the organic beer tent, so long as she has a good book. So : the highlights...
  • The Psalm Drummers - even if we were reduced to drumming on our thighs, each other etc due to an underestimation of numbers wanting to attend a drumming workshop
  • Jon McGregor's session on writing his second novel. It was a revelation to discover that real published Booker-longlisted authors struggle with pretty much the same obstacles as the rest of us who mess about with words
  • I'm sorry I haven't a poo - no, it wasn't big OR clever but it was funny
  • the clay city (above) - despite the fact that Jordan and I made a wonderful roundhouse with a thatched roof and a candle on top, that promptly collapsed beneath the weight of its own pretensions as soon as we tried to move it. We were reduced to building a Barratt home instead. Kevin McCloud never has these problems.
  • The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain. Ukeleles! In unison! Playing 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'! What's not to love?!
  • A delightful seminar on Rublev's icon of the Trinity and the emerging church. Which I understood, thanks for asking.
  • And of course, it goes without saying: Bruce Stanley's session on 'Naked Wishing', Bea's sculpture and Foundation's shed were all wonderful. And I'm not just saying that.
Unfortunately we had to leave way before the major Foundation undertaking of the 'Breath' service, though Richard and I had fun at Jez Nash's last week doing the vocals for the song what we had wrote. Richard feels that his role in Foundation is akin to that of the Little Britain take on Dennis Waterman...'So, you want me to write the theme toon, an' sing the theme toon...?' Rich and Jez are a third of the way towards their first album. Which makes me a groupie.