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All posts for the month September, 2011

First Aiding

Published 14/09/2011 by damselwithadulcimer

I had the offer of a free three-hour first aid course yesterday and jumped at the opportunity.  Our teacher was trained in first aid, and teaches in schools and in industry.  Some of the class didn’t bother turning up so there were only about seven of us in the end, which made for a small, compact group.

We went through the basics of the primary survey, using the DRABC sequence.  Basically this means that you make a quick assessment of the scene to make sure there is no risk of any Danger  to the casualty, bystanders and yourself.    You then check to see if the casualty is conscious and gives any Response.  There were few giggles when we tried this out with our partners.  You should trying lying on the floor, pretending to be injured and unconscious, and not giggling when you are shaken by the shoulder and repeatedly asked ‘are you alright?’ At this point you should also shout for help, if anybody is nearby, but you should never leave the patient unattended.  The next step is to check the Airways and to tilt the head and lift the chin of an unconscious patient until the airways are open.  After this you need to check for ten seconds to see if the casualty is Breathing.  If this isn’t the case then you must commence CPR. 

The final step is then to check for any Circulatory problems.  By now a call to the emergency services must be made, if it hasn’t been done already.  So I now know that the initial survey sequence when coming across somebody who has been injured or in an accident is remembered using the mnemonic Doctor ABC.

After this the dummies (well heads and torsos, minus legs and arms) were brought out for practice.  We had to ask (a dummy?) if they were alright, use the head tilt and chin lift to open the airways and then learned how to perform chest compressions  with rescue breaths.    Now if somebody is not breathing, I know how to position them, and myself, and perform 30 chest compressions followed by two rescue breaths into the patient’s mouth, whilst pinching their nose to keep it closed.  In addition we learned about hygiene and using special face masks or shields, in case of concerns about infection, and how to turn a patient on to their side if they vomited. 

We were shown how to move a casualty into the recovery position and then had to practice on our partners. There was a short film demonstrating the Heimlich manoeuvre,   alternated with firm blows between the shoulder blades in the event of choking. 

We finished with a quick talk on how to treat somebody who may be having a heart attack or a stroke and how best to treat bleeding,  burns, asthma attacks and seizures.  All in all a very useful three hours, and we came away with a handy book Emergency First Aid Made Easy,  

and a certificate that is valid for three years.

I’m not sure if I could put this all into practice in an emergency situation, but at least I have some basic knowledge.

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It’s a volunteer’s world

Published 12/09/2011 by damselwithadulcimer

The noughties were hardly the best time to return to study, acquire a BA, an MA an ECDL and then assume there might be the vaguest possibility of finding a job.  Although it is supposed to be illegal to discriminate on the grounds of age, and there is no requirement to put your date of birth on your CV, any prospective employer could easily work out my age very roughly, just by reading through said CV.  So, having given up on the idea of lucrative paid employment using the skills I believed I’d acquired as a secretary, a mother, a self-employed retailer, and finally my higher education qualifications, I decided to launch myself on the voluntary market.  We’re told we’re all in the Big Society together and everybody remarked on how useful the extra skills and qualifications would look on my CV.

I started off helping out the Visitors’ Officer in Southwark Cathedral.

I jumped at the possibility not only because the Cathedral is close to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, but also because my masters is in Shakespeare and the Cathedral was once the parish church of the early modern theatre players and writers.  Returning to an office environment helped to re-build my confidence and reinforce my computing skills, but after a few months I was getting bored.  There was no chance of the job offering any more of a challenge, and definitely no possibility of being paid for what I was doing, so after about six months at Southwark, we agreed to part company.  However I had also acquired a couple of certificates in Health and Safety along the way.

I then came across an advert for somebody to give Internet Taster Sessions at my local library.  I’ve been going in on a regular weekly basis and usually spend three-hour long sessions showing older people how to use the internet, shop online, set up email accounts, and all the basics that so many of us take for granted.

Another opportunity presented itself in the guise of the Sixtieth Birthday Anniversary Celebrations for the 1951 Festival of Britain.  After filling in forms, attending for an interview, and then a training session, I was launched as a Team Leader on the South Bank.  My passion for the arts prompted the initial application, although there was less involvement with inside the Royal Festival Hall, and the work was centred on the area along The Queen’s Walk, between the Royal Festival Hall and the river.  As a Team Leader I was responsible for two shifts of volunteers, one of which clocked on at 11 am and worked until 4 pm, and the second group overlapped with them, starting at 1 pm and finishing around 6 pm.  Intellectually the work wasn’t hard, although we were supposed to act as tourist information guides above and beyond our training.  We all found ourselves learning on the job, finding out answers to questions we’d never considered, and then not ever being asked the same thing again.  Anyway I’m now a mine of information and can advise you where the nearest cash point is when the one in the RFH is out-of-order, where to get accessories for your digital camera, where to find the nearest pharmacy, and how long it takes to walk from the South Bank to London’s Bankside.  Oh, I nearly forgot, I even told somebody how to reach London’s Hard Rock Café from Waterloo.  We generally walked around the entire area of the Festival, but spent most of our time by the Beach Huts, with their individual installations, along the Queen’s Walk beside the river.


We had a lot of fun and made friends with each other, as well as enjoying chats with many of the visitors to the South Bank, especially the older people who remembered (often with a jolt) that they’d been at the original Festival and that sixty years had elapsed between the two events.  We were offered the occasional perks in the form of free tickets for South Bank events.  I never did take up the offer of a free guided visit to the Tracy Emin exhibition, but spent an enjoyable day at the Vintage Festival, culminating with a concert starring 10CC and Sandie Shaw. 

A barefoot Sandie Shaw wearing a very short mini skirt

We’ve all got old together, but I suppose some have aged better than others.  Vintage was fab, especially the outfits worn by many of the attendees.  There were some amazing forties and fifties costumes.  I suppose a lot of women chose those decades because the clothes, hairstyles and makeup were much more glamorous and possibly feminine than nowadays.  There were some really accomplished forties hairdos, accompanied by seamed stockings, and everything in between.  The fifties look was also a popular one, with full skirts worn over stiff lace petticoats, and set off with back-combed and beehived hair.  Some of the men also went the whole hog, including some of them in officers’ uniforms from WW2.

We were very interested in what we thought were vintage, reconditioned juke boxes.  The ultimate let down was that one was actually retro and even had a remote control and digital information.

During the early part of the Festival there were many free lunchtime concerts in the RFH’s Clore Ballroom.  One particular musical band had everybody dancing, from toddlers to seniors.  The music was so infectious that it was difficult to stand still.

When the weather was fine (which was not generally the case this summer) the South Bank took on a holiday atmosphere.  It was almost like being at the seaside with the displays in the various beach huts along by the river, especially with the addition of the sandy beach that was imported from Southend-on-Sea.  On sunny days it was a delight to watch many of the younger children playing on the beach.  In these days of foreign travel, I don’t think many children actually know what it’s like to play on an English beach.  There is also the water fountain outside the Queen Elizabeth Hall.  I’ve rarely seen children (and teenagers) enjoying themselves so much as they tried to cool off and dodge the ‘walls’ of water that sprang up and died down at random.

We also had a lot of fun with the Photo Booth.  People could come into the booth and pose for photos, singly or in groups.  If they wanted they could also write something on the white boards provided and hold them up while they posed.  A lot of people were sceptical at first and didn’t believe us when we told them that the service was entirely free; we only needed them to enter their email address on the keyboard below the screen and the photo would be emailed to them.  We were very aware of the English reticence and reserve, but persuaded loads of tourists and Londoners to pose for their pictures.

Trying out the Photo Booth on its first day of operation

There were also the ‘Real Food Markets’ that took place every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  The smells were so inviting and some of the foods on offer were so delicious that you were pleased to come back again the following week and sample them again, or try something different.

Sadly all good things come to an end.  I worked Fridays, and the final Friday of the Festival was a glorious day.  Summer reappeared (and we’d had some atrocious Fridays where we’d spent more time dodging the rain than doing anything else) and the South Bank once again took on a holiday atmosphere at the very end of the school holidays.   I should have let sleeping dogs lie, but decided to go in for a final stint the following Monday, the closing day of the Festival.  The weather changed again and my memories of a sunny South Bank were soon dispelled.  However I got to keep my polo shirt and fleece proclaiming ‘Festival Information’.  And I had my portrait painted by Lady Lucy.

Everyman by Philip Roth

Published 06/09/2011 by damselwithadulcimer

Perhaps this novel struck a cord because I’m not getting any younger, although I’m not as old the novel’s protagonist, who reaches the age of seventy-one.  Roth takes a novel approach in this short story (novella?) which begins with the funeral of the tale’s subject.  Obviously this opening sequence leaves the reader in no doubt that there will be no happy ending, and this is reinforced by a quotation from Keats’s ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, itself a melancholy poem.  Furthermore Everyman can refer back to a medieval morality play where the living are summoned to death, or it can simply be an analogy for the lives of all of mankind.

Although the outcome is obvious, this tactic doesn’t stop the reader from wanting to know more.  (In Romeo and Juliet‘s prologue, Shakespeare lays out the bare bones of the play, but nobody walks out until the play is over.)  The protagonist of Everyman looks back over his life and recalls his childhood and parents, before we learn about his loves, marriages, affairs and philanderings, his children, career and retirement.  Different passages send him on various journeys of remembrance and we gradually learn, as he also realises, that he hasn’t been a terribly nice person.  Various operations in hospital contribute to his declining health until he reaches the point where he appears to be happy to embrace death, or to let it welcome him.

Two sentences made a strong impact on me: ‘Old age isn’t a battle; old age is a massacre.’  This appears to sum up his failing health, although we know that his older, more successful and healthier brother, Howie, would obviously think differently.  The second occasion is when the protagonist appears to be moving closer towards death and impulsively decides to visit the cemetery where his parents are buried.  ‘They were just bones, bones in a box, but their bones were his bones … The flesh melts away but the bones endure.’  It is obvious that he is a secular Jew, religion plays no place in his life, and he doesn’t believe in an afterlife, but the realisation that he is still connected to his parents is an epiphanic and painful one.  ‘He couldn’t go.  The tenderness was out of control.  As was the longing for everyone to be living.  And to have it all over again.’

I closed the book, but the story has left me with an ache.  Roth has a knack of setting out the human condition and pointing out that things could be different.  It’s up to us to follow the right path and make the necessary choices.  A funeral can (and should) be a celebration of an individual’s life and the final page of Everyman is that in a way.  We’ve learned how the protagonist lived his life and found out why the mourners at his funeral acted as they all did.

Review of Top Girls at the Trafalgar StudiosCaryl Churchill’s Top Girls is in the throes of a successful revival, nearly thirty years after it was originally produced at the Royal Court. Max Stafford Clark again directs this version and it seems absolutely relevant and up-to-date. Originally written by a socialist feminist during the Thatcher years, the play is just as potent today. Women’s equality battles are still being fought and are far from being won. The opening scene makes a strong impact as Marlene (Suranne Jones) celebrates her promotion to Managing Director of the Top Girls employment agency. Her chosen guests are all women from history: Lady Nijo, (Catherine McCormack) a twelfth century Japanese courtesan who later became a Buddhist nun; Patient Grizelda (Laura Elphinstone) from Chaucer, Boccaccio and Petrarch; Isabella Bird (Stella Gonet), the nineteenth-century Scottish traveller and explorer; Pope Joan (Lucy Briers) and Dull Gret (Olivia Poulet), who fought the devils in hell in Brueghel’s painting. They are all strong, active women (with the exception of Griselda), who have overcome obstacles of some kind. Many of them have broken through boundaries, but are still confined in a patriarchal society of women in a men’s world. The least empowered of all the women is the waitress, who could possibly be said to be on a par with Griselda. Despite the various period costumes, the same seven actors double their roles and portray the remaining twentieth-century characters during the play’s subsequent scenes. This gives a sense that women are still fighting the battle of the sexes and the war is far from over. Marlene may have achieved promotion over the head of an older male colleague, but we later learn the cost to her and her sister of her career. When Marlene decides to visit her sister back at home in Suffolk, the contrast between the two and their lives is unmistakable. Although she dresses down from the smart cocktail dress and power suit she sports in other scenes, she still wears Prada jeans; her sister’s (Joyce played by Stella Gonet) jeans are older and shabbier, without a designer label. Even Joyce’s house is a far cry from Marlene’s smart London office. The older sister’s resentment is palpable when the two women argue over the choices they’ve made, or had thrust upon them. Joyce is still working at several jobs to make ends meet and hasn’t lost her East Anglia bur, whereas Marlene sounds as if she were a Londoner. However the realisation that Marlene, and not Joyce, is Angie’s (Olivia Poulet) mother is quite a shocker. Marlene has turned her back on her own daughter and allowed her sister to raise her as her own. Is this the price that must be paid for women to make it in a men’s world? There are also the unanswered questions of what will happen to the slightly backward Angie, and even the possibility that her father may have been Joyce’s husband. Women couldn’t have it all in 1982, when the play was written, and they still have to make sacrifices today in a world where equality with men is yet to be achieved.

Published 03/09/2011 by damselwithadulcimer

Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls is in the throes of a successful revival, nearly thirty years after it was originally produced at the Royal Court.  Max Stafford Clark again directs this version and it seems absolutely relevant and up-to-date.  Originally written by a socialist feminist during the Thatcher years, the play is just as potent today.  Women’s equality battles are still being fought and are far from being won.

The opening scene makes a strong impact as Marlene (Suranne Jones) celebrates her promotion to Managing Director of the Top Girls employment agency.  Her chosen guests are all women from history: Lady Nijo, (Catherine McCormack) a twelfth century Japanese courtesan who later became a Buddhist nun; Patient Grizelda (Laura Elphinstone) from Chaucer, Boccaccio and Petrarch; Isabella Bird (Stella Gonet), the nineteenth-century Scottish traveller and explorer;  Pope Joan (Lucy Briers) and Dull Gret (Olivia Poulet), who fought the devils in hell in Brueghel’s painting.  They are all strong, active women (with the exception of Griselda), who have overcome obstacles of some kind.  Many of them have broken through boundaries, but are still confined in a patriarchal society of women in a men’s world.  The least empowered of all the women is the waitress, who could possibly be said to be on a par with Griselda.

Despite the various period costumes, the same seven actors double their roles and portray the remaining twentieth-century characters during the play’s subsequent scenes.  This gives a sense that women are still fighting the battle of the sexes and the war is far from over.  Marlene may have achieved promotion over the head of an older male colleague, but we later learn the cost to her and her sister of her career.

When Marlene decides to visit her sister back at home in Suffolk, the contrast between the two and their lives is unmistakable.  Although she dresses down from the smart cocktail dress and power suit she sports in other scenes, she still wears Prada jeans; her sister’s (Joyce played by Stella Gonet) jeans are older and shabbier, without a designer label.  Even Joyce’s house is a far cry from Marlene’s smart London office.  The older sister’s resentment is palpable when the two women argue over the choices they’ve made, or had thrust upon them.  Joyce is still working at several jobs to make ends meet and hasn’t lost her East Anglia bur, whereas Marlene sounds as if she were a Londoner.  However the realisation that Marlene, and not Joyce, is Angie’s (Olivia Poulet) mother is quite a shocker.  Marlene has turned her back on her own daughter and allowed her sister to raise her as her own.  Is this the price that must be paid for women to make it in a men’s world?  There are also the unanswered questions of what will happen to the slightly backward Angie, and even the possibility that her father may have been Joyce’s husband.  Women couldn’t have it all in 1982, when the play was written, and they still have to make sacrifices today in a world where equality with men is yet to be achieved.

Review of A Bit on the Side by William Trevor

Published 03/09/2011 by damselwithadulcimer

Reading William Trevor is like coming back home to a warm fire and a pair of comfy slippers. He is a gifted story-teller, especially of short stories; less is more. He crafts his characters, both physically and psychologically, and their emotions, using the fewest number of words possible. He moves easily from Ireland to England, but his turns of phrase and use of idioms and vernacular leave the reader in no doubt where each story is set. In stories like ‘Justina’s Priest’ he has no need to explain that she is backward; he has already made that clear to the reader without needing to spell it out. You find yourself under the skins of many of the characters, sometimes they arouse sympathy, sometimes annoyance and sometimes just pity. But the effect, as with many of his other stories, both short and long, is of a modern day Chekhov. You experience an ache and a longing for what has been missed or what could have been avoided.