26 March 2023


I sing in two different choirs on two separate evenings every week.  I have been lucky that the concerts they produce each term are never on the same day, but this term was different. Not only were they on the same evening but at the same venue at a festival of music! I was worried how logistically it was going to work, as one choir wears white tops and black bottoms and the other is all in black. I had heard we were going to be on stage together and I was having sleepless nights working out how I was going to carry this out without doing a striptease in front of a full audience and darting across the stage like a mad thing from one choir to another. We were also to be joined by a third choir and there were four songs the three choirs were also going to sing together in the finale.

Last night was THE NIGHT.  It was made easier by the fact that each choir took the stage by themselves while the others watched from the wings, so it made a dress-change possible, as I darted round backstage. I was actually on stage for over an hour (with each of the two individual choirs and with all three for the common songs). I was hoarse by the end but I'm still buzzing with excitement as everyone in the audience said one of the choirs I'm in was THE BEST. Here are two extracts of us singing from the musical Wicked - all sung off by heart with no music in front of us.

Part 1

Part 2

Once I got home, I was too excited to go to sleep so sat up long past midnight, which of course meant it was past 1 am, as the clocks went forward an hour today for summertime. We have William Willett to thank for that as he came from an area not far from where I live - in fact where I grew up as a teenager - in Petts Wood. There is a memorial to him in the woods for his daylight saving measures and the local pub is called The Daylight Inn. I did not thank William Willett for the hour's sleep I subsequently lost as today I am feeling definitely sleepy.

Daylight Inn, Petts Wood

13 March 2023

Strike while the iron is hot

Kay is on strike today, tomorrow and Wednesday. For those who don't know, she is a junior NHS doctor employed at a busy London hospital. She will be striking  this week together with thousands of other doctors. From conversations I have had with people and from some coverage on the media, it is not altogether clear what the reasoning behind the strike is and why doctors should have an almost 100% walk-out for three solid days  and why they are asking for a 35% pay-rise. So I hope I can explain here. But before people worry about who will cover their work while they strike, it will done by consultants, who are fully behind their juniors striking.

First, who are the junior doctors?   A "junior doctor" is anyone from someone who has only just got their medical degree from university right up to just below Consultant level. It takes at least 11 years or more to get to consultant level so the junior doctors are typically aged from about 25 to 40 years old. Some are older if they have taken alternative routes or started later. By then most will have partners, children and mortgage commitments.  Despite being called "junior", from the moment they leave university they are thrown into the deep end and when they do on-call shifts -at weekends or at night - they can be the only doctor in the whole hospital dealing with hundreds of patients who might suddenly get worse. So although  termed "junior" they are expected to step up to the plate and work hard making stressful life-and-death decisions on their own.  

During those 11 years or so, they are told (not given a choice) where they will be posted and move around  each year from hospital to hospital and from rotation to rotation until they gain more experience in different specialities. This can mean they cannot put down roots anywhere nor take out mortgages if, say, they are expected to move every year to somewhere fifty miles or more away. Their children may have to be moved to another school, or couples live apart. It doesn't make for an easy home life.

Home life is not easy anyway. In their spare time they regularly have to study for even more exams that will qualify them to move up the career ladder. They don't get study leave - it is done in their spare time. They have to pay for these exams too, some of them averagely costing about £600 - £800 which they don't get reimbursed. If they fail the exam, they pay again. Studying on top of an often 60-hour week doesn't come easy and means less relaxation time after a stressful working week.  Not only exams, but also having to write and present papers, do the odd bit of teaching to those more junior than them - it all hacks away at less time to de-stress.

It is always expected by NHS management that the staff will shut up and put up with their conditions. A conscientious doctor cannot walk away from a patient just because their shift technically finishes at a certain time. If a patient is really sick and needs reviewing or, in the extreme, resuscitation, a doctor will stay sometimes one or two hours beyond their shift to deal with it.  If they have already done a 12-hour shift, that is a big ask.  Covid saw a demoralised workforce, mentally shattered and with no respect for what they had done. Agreed, the public clapped for them at the beginning, but now moan that there are long waiting lists. The general praise was short-lived and the government support pushed under the carpet. Many of the workforce have  left either to retrain away from medicine or emigrate to places like Australia or America, where doctors are held in higher regard and paid accordingly. This has left existing staff under even more pressure and feeling burnt out.  Not to mention undervalued. 

The money is just the last straw. The fact is that they have not had pay rises since 2008 and so with inflation have actually taken a 35% pay cut.  As one recent poster put it, they get paid less than someone who serves coffee in Pret a Manger. Why would you study at university for six years, be faced with endless stressful life-and-death decisions, have to give up free time to study even more and get paid the same as a coffee barista with shorter working hours and more free time? It's a no brainer. 

So please support the strike. The junior doctors are not being greedy, they just want to be valued for their hard work and the difficult conditions they have worked under, especially during and since Covid. 

06 March 2023


Today it is thirteen years since Greg died. I still remember those last 24 hours vividly as we sat around his Intensive Care bed and watched him fade away.  I have said before that I should stop counting the years, but it is hard to do. Like any anniversary or important date, it is hard to stop the mind from remembering and wanting to somehow mark it. If it were a wedding anniversary it would be called a Lace one. I feel as if I am looking through the gossamer fine threads to recall a time when all was well in our marriage and we were a normal couple, a normal family living in a normal household. Alcohol shot all that to pieces - to the fine gossamer thread I look through now. 

His death has in some ways left me strong enough to cope with living alone and dealing alone with everything that most couples share. Although friends sympathise, I am sure they don't realise that household chores, gardening, DIY - everything - are solely my domain now and not things that can be shared with a partner. If I don't do it, it doesn't get done. For the last week, I have been decorating one of the bedrooms, up to my eyes in paint and dustsheets, heaving furniture about, but still having to cook a dinner, wash-up, put the bins (trash) out and deal with all the minutiae of everyday life. Meanwhile the garden needs tidying and I need to get someone in to check an electrical problem. The list is never-ending, but I have no choice but to do it all alone. 

A few people have suggested I am young enough to look for another partner. For sure I spend far too many days alone and far too many a long evening watching far too much television to pass the dark evenings, but I am nervous to go down a route that might cause more problems than it solves. "Once bitten, twice shy" springs to mind.   Also, part of me now feels that after 13 years of making decisions for myself, I might find it hard to share decision making with someone else, over even the simplest of things. I'm reading a novel at the moment, where it mentions "women mourn, men replace". In other words men remarry faster than women. Whether I have mourned enough remains to be seen, but it is hard to shrug off a lifetime of memories and habits.  I also feel I would somehow be betraying Greg to move on.  

I admit freely that I miss the company and going for a spontaneous walk with someone, or sharing a thought, sharing a meal. It is not even as if I have any siblings or cousins I might spend some time with - I am the only child of an only child.  I have thrown myself into choir rehearsals and volunteering at the local foodbank to keep me busy and distracted, so as not to spend a day without talking to a soul.  Thank goodness, since November,  I have my daughter Kay, now living a fifteen-minute walk from me, although she is very busy with her career and has limited time to herself, let alone with me. I have spent the last couple of months helping her with her much-needed garden makeover, which has helped distract me and pass many an hour. I know it could be far worse, as you do hear of widowed people who are completely cut-off and don't see a soul from one end of the month to the next.

It is even harder in some ways for Kay at the moment. As part of her work, she is now working in the very Intensive Care ward where Greg died and sees his bed with someone else now lying in it. How hard must that be? She was just starting a Medicine course at university, when he died. She could have gone off the rails, turned to drugs or drink, and slipped through the net herself. To her credit, she fought hard against her emotions, studied hard, became the excellent doctor she now is and carved a bright future with a partner and home of her own. 

Meanwhile, today sees Kay and me visiting the crematorium to place flowers and look at the Book of Remembrance where Greg's death is listed. Proof it happened. Proof he existed. Something that, in reality, looking through the lace, seems to be slipping further and further into history.