Thursday, 10 September 2009

Lying Down On The Job?

Oh dearie, dearie me. And tut, tut, tut. Some doctors and nurses from the Accident and Emergency Department at a Swindon hospital are in serious trouble, it seems. The Hospital Management are on their case, big-time. They are facing a Disciplinary Hearing, no less. They've been very bad. Very bad indeed. In fact, it's a scandal.

So what on earth are they guilty of? What have they done? Did they turn up for work drunk, were they so hungover that they fell asleep whilst suturing someone's scalp wound, did they sneak out for a sly fag and set fire to the Plaster Room. Or worse?

Well, I'll tell you. They played a game and had some fun.

Let me explain.

For those of you not in the know or as in-touch as moi, let me fill you in on the latest craze to sweep the nation. Apparently, and you'll know this if you're as down with the kids as I am (joke), or if you read The Times today, there's a thing called The Lying Down Game which consists of lying flat, face down, hands at your side, palms pointed inwards, toes to the floor, in the most humorous, unusual and public place you can manage. You strike your pose and then get yourself photographed and post it on the internet. It's described as "parkour (free-running*) for those who can't be arsed." It all sounds a bit random but I have to say that this new sport really appeals to me. I may well take it up.

To people with a sense of humour like mine, it's bloody funny seeing pictures of people balanced on top of post-boxes, shelves, mountains, horses, fences and shop counters and as far as I can see, no innocent human being has been injured by this activity as yet. It seems a harmless pastime, as opposed to, for instance, the ridculously named "happy" slapping, or child pornography, or dog-fighting, but I guess it won't be long before some bloody idiot proves me spectacularly wrong by impaling themselves trying to balance on a spike, having not been warned that it's sharp. Ah well. That's what you get for ignoring Health and Safety regulations. If you ignore Infection Control regs presumably you can expect your wound to go septic too.

So, picture the scene. On a quiet night shift in A and E, several young doctors and nurses came up with the idea that it would be a bit of a laugh to play the Lying Down Game and take photographs of each other in unusual and amusing places around the Department and post them on Facebook. Unfortunately for them it seems that although they must have had a lot of fun posing for these photos, lying face down on resuscitation trolleys (unoccupied ones, presumably, or that would have been naughty), ward floors and even the hospital heli-pad, some snitch informed Der Management which has taken a dim view of these japes, sighting "infection control" and "health and safety" issues as the reason for the disciplinary action, despite the fact that no patients were involved and patient care was not compromised at all. They are taking this very seriously and heads may roll, apparently.

Bloody hell. Good job they weren't in charge of us back in the 60's when I worked at a large teaching hospital, or the lot of us would have been sent to Alcatraz. Our nightly parties would often culminate in someone's pants waving from the flagpole, or one of the doctors getting plastered, literally, from heel to groin and then left in a wheelchair to sober up in Out Patients. I seem to remember a young SHO getting his genitals painted bright blue with medical dye the night before his wedding (if you're reading this now, Professor, it wasn't me), and tied with his stethoscope to a radiator (that wasn't me either, honestly), a Health and Safety nightmare without a doubt. A cantankerous senior surgeon found a stuffed moose's head on his examination couch, covered by a sheet but left there by some minion he'd been particularly vile to (OK, that was me), an obvious Infection Control issue if ever there was one. Looking back now, I don't know how we got away with any of it, but no one got hurt and the job got always got done, and with good humour.

Ah, happy days.

So, although I wouldn't like to think that this sort of thing goes on with regularity, and with the proviso that the patients would never suffer from it, I expect a little light-hearted fun on the night shift in the A and E Department made a welcome change from being yelled at, spat at, punched, vomited on, bitten and stabbed, and I feel sorry that those medics have got themselves into such trouble for it. It's a shame they can't just have a stiff bollocking from Matron as we used to if she ever caught us out, rather than have this on their employment record for ever.

Anyway, must dash, am taking hubby and the digital camera down to Waitrose so that we can play The Lying Down Game and he can take a pic of me flat out in the fruit and veg aisle, amongst the pak-choi I think. Or maybe the Chanterelle mushrooms?

Watch out for me on Facebook?

*If you don't know what Parkour or free-running is, this must have been the most boring post you've ever read. Would you mind looking it up on Wikipedia? Thanks so much.

Friday, 14 August 2009

NHS In Free For All?

Poor old NHS, a creaking giant born of good intentions, the saviour of many, the tormentor of some. Say what you will, a service where everyone payed in to provide health care for all seemed to be a good idea at the time. Or was it? According to critics both here and in America, the National Health Service of Great Britain is a disgrace. They say we are subjected to governmental control and tyranny in order to access basic health care for which, they say, we wait and wait for no good reason. And what's more we have awful teeth. Nice. How kind of them to mention it.

I've worked in the NHS all my adult life, and quite frankly despite all the negative press I'm proud of what can be achieved, although I'm the first to agree it isn't all good news. That much is obvious. Since 1969 I've seen many changes, many different incentives and initiatives relentlessly pursued only to be abdandoned and tried again years later with the same disappointing results. I've witnessed the rise and rise of superbugs, the lowering of cleaning standards, the out-sourcing of basic services which are often substandard, the ridiculous obsession with producing statistics rather than genuine improvements in patient care. Whole hospital departments exist merely to collect raw and sometimes inaccurate data, mould it into the required good news format to be used in the never ending game of ping-pong politics in which the NHS has become the continually battered ball. Point scoring results can be manipulated to order, depending on who's asking the question and what they want the answer to convey. Legions of career focused hospital managers now spend their time in meetings about finances, targets and cuts whereas at one time they used to know more about patients' needs, the local population, the value of their staff. Sadly, that's all in the past.

Yes, there's plenty to be negative about if we want to look and look and look for it, but whilst we're having such a close look I'd urge anyone who's at all interested in fair play and a balanced argument to take care not to ignore the tremendous good that is also achieved.

In the years I've worked in the health service, I've seen kids who would never have previously survived into adulthood given transplant surgery which has provided them and their families with a future. There are chronically ill people in the UK who are being kept alive by combinations of drugs/therapy/care, all free at point of delivery. What would happen to them if it wasn't for the NHS? Babies smaller than bags of sugar (much smaller, actually) are now routinely cared for in amazingly expensive high-tech units until they're big enough to go home, when the nursing staff joyfully hand the parents a baby, not a bill. Every day we can freely go to our GP's surgery, or take part in some sort of health screening, or be seen by a consultant without taking a credit card with us (although change for the carpark would be handy), but these treatments come at a cost and these costs come from our contributions, and we who contribute do so on behalf of everyone. I think we can be proud of that.

I'll not try to pretend that there isn't massive room for improvement in the NHS and admit that there are very, very many cash-strapped services which are not up to a good enough standard, and yes, our demands for health services outstrip the available supply because there simply isn't enough to do everything everyone wants, so yes, we sometimes have to wait. And sadly, yes, some people have been very badly let down by the NHS for many different reasons. But please don't forget the millions and millions of people who owe their health and wellbeing to it, who have been treated successfully and well and are living proof that when the National Health Service is allowed to work, it works. It may be a long way from perfect, but at least you can rest assured that the first question a patient is asked before treatment in a British A and E Department is never going to be "who will pay?"

For me, the sight of people in the US with no health insurance queueing up before dawn in order to see a doctor, certainly vindicates our NHS warts and all.

And yes, in this country you can get those treated for free too.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

New Balls Please

Well, here we are in the middle of the year - the sun's been shining, Wimbledon's well under way and at last we've got a tennis player in with a chance of winning. We've had several BBQs, already eaten more than enough strawberries and drunk far, far too many jugs of Pimms to be sensible when in charge of a barbecue. At work there's a permanent aroma of fake-tan in the office and we've broken out the fans. Anyone would think we're having a summer at last.

All in the garden should be lovely.

Well, it would be but we haven't booked any holidays yet which probably accounts for the gently gnawing sense of anxiety that I'm feeling right now. It's the same every year. If you've been a reader since this blog began you'll know that I have trouble with holidays because I am a total wuss. Part of me wants to go everywhere/do everything/see the world, and another part of me (the fairly large dithery part, unfortunately) is scared shitless by taking the risk of going into the unknown, even if it's only a few hours Easyjet away. I spend ages on the internet searching for the perfect location for us (is there such a place I ask myself, does it really exist?), get to the point of actually booking it and then, and then.........nothing. I just go off the idea because I read something dodgy about pick-pockets in the area we're thinking of going to, or someone tells me a horror story about the hotel we're booking, or my husband makes a negative comment and/or fails to look, a) interested, b) keen, or c) awake. I slink off defeated, read more travel magazines and worry that we're missing out on the big adventure. Which of course we are.

Annoying isn't it?

What's to be done with me? Last year we threw caution to the wind, went into the travel agent and willingly, although unknowingly, chucked away enough money to pay an MP's food-bill on the holiday from hell. I thought we were being spontaneous, exciting and adventurous by booking at the last minute, packing and leaving the UK all within three days, when it actually turned out that we were just gullible idiots reeled in to fill a travel agent's quota and ended up somewhere which was totally the opposite of what we really wanted.

I asked you all for help in finding a good holiday venue, somewhere not too touristy with nice restaurants, lovely coastline, friendly people, you gave me your suggestions and what did I do? I ignored them all and took a flyer, thinking I was being really brave. Mistake. Big mistake.

This time I'll listen.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Britain's Got Talons

Well, it's been a gripping week. Our government's in melt-down, we've got so cross with some of our less than honourable politicians that several of them have been forced out of office, the Prime Minister could possibly be dusting off his suitcases and ordering the removal van for some time next week, I guess, and the vultures are circling over the Houses of Parliament, barely waiting for the juiciest carcasses to draw their last gasp expenses cheque before tearing them to shreds and speculating upon the new pecking order.


Who'd have thought that "the court of public opinion" would have produced so many hanging judges? Is this what happens when we, the public, dig our claws in? Has our anger really made this happen? It seems that everywhere you go - the hairdressers, supermarket, restaurant or pub, the talk is about one thing and one thing only - the expenses scandal. I don't think I've seen people so stirred up about anything as much as this, ever. And it shows no signs of abating any time soon.

I am quite stunned by it all, to be honest.

So what on earth's going to happen next? What do YOU want to happen next? For the first time in ages, I feel as if we have a say in what happens next, so what shall we ask for?

Friday, 22 May 2009

A Few Good Men

"It is necessary only for the good man to do nothing for evil to triumph" - Edmund Burke, 1729 - 97.

Whatever did we talk about before the expenses scandal of MPs' moats and duck-ponds, bath-plugs and plasma TV's? Each day brings fresh revelations which shock and infuriate us, closely followed by whingeing, whining excuses from those we trusted to lead us and not to rob us blind.

"I was only working within the rules, I've done nothing wrong" has so far been the number one get-out line trotted out by thick-skinned on-the-take MPs outed by the Press, a phrase which raises my blood pressure a notch every time I hear it. How can they not realise the ridiculousness of such an excuse when they themselves have written the rules, have been responsible for the oh-so-generous interpretation of them and have apparently happily worked within those "guidelines" until public outrage has shone the spotlight of shame upon them?

And now we have MPs coming forward who apparently always thought that their expense account procedures were a bit dodgy, but who nevertheless continued to use these procedures whilst ever so quietly raising their doubts about them. Their protests apparently fell on deaf ears (probably such a high-pitched squeaking that only dogs could hear it) but instead of shouting louder and louder until they made their point and forced reform, they waited it out for someone else to blow the whistle hard enough for it to be heard, in this case a national newspaper. Now these same MPs are trying to use the fact that their back-dated protests were rejected as a defence for continuing to work within a rotten system, as if retrospectively we will accept that they never really wanted to be part of the classroom naughty gang after all, and let them off detention.

But they were part of it simply because of their tacit acceptance of the status quo, however reluctantly, and as such are almost as responsible for this unholy mess as those who dived snout-first into the trough with that infuriating sense of entitlement which has enraged so many of us over the past few weeks.

All of this has got me thinking about my own character. Would I be strong enough to keep my integrity when all around were losing theirs? Would you? In reality, who knows until tested how any of us would react. I suppose we all like to think that there are some things "up with which we will not put", but where do we draw the line? Would you or I continue to be part of a system which we know is intrinsically wrong because we fear for our personal future, or would our consciences get the better of us and force us to stand up and be counted? Would we have the determination to try very hard to change things, refusing to take no for an answer and making ourselves extremely unpopular in the process? Could you be a whistle-blower and face the consequences?

Being the trouble-maker that I am, I think I have my answer, but then again I don't have powerful colleagues with ducks desperate for a little island to sit on, manor house moats that need cleaning or several mortgage interest paid houses to "flip", all on the taxpayer, so that makes my choice a whole lot easier.

Monday, 4 May 2009

A Quiet Sort Of A Do....

You know you've had a really good 60th birthday party if, when clearing up the morning after, the three most random items left by guests departing at daft o'clock the night before, are:

a) A Pyrex bowl.
b) A single jewelled flip-flop.
c) A Screw-Fix catalogue.

I'm not really sure which of those things I find the most puzzling.

Maybe someone felt they had to bring their own Pyrex bowl just in case our party food turned out to be a bit more stomach-churning than usual, or they intended to get raucously drunk and weren't sure if they should partake of vast amounts of alcohol whilst on medication. That sort of fits in with the age group.

Re the single flip-flop - I tried to remember if we'd entertained a female unidexter*, or someone with their leg in plaster, or if any of our friends had arrived and left in an unusual hopping style, but I can't recall anyone who fits the bill.

Maybe the thing that mystifies me the most is the Screw-Fix catalogue. WTF was that all about?

Creative answers only please:

NB: Travelling and Knifepainter - try and keep it clean dear boys.


Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Sixty's Chic?

Hey, guess what? I am officially an O.A.P. as from last Sunday.

Weird, I know. And to be honest, it's a little bit scary. I'm wondering just what happened to the time, to the long-legged mini-skirted girl, striding out into life in white PVC boots and Mary Quant mini-skirt, dancing the night away to the Sweet Soul Music at Le Metro,The Rum Runner and Opposite Lock; smoking, drinking, laughing, loving my days and nights away. Well, she met her match, married him, made a Habitat home and settled down. Became a mother, (definitely not a swearing one), wiped bottoms and noses, pushed prams, liquidised carrots, washed nappies and floors. Bathed sore knees, kissed them better, made cakes and excuses for lost homework. Did the school run, forgot to wash gym kits, searched for nits, dealt with worms, had a perm. Learned to worry, worry, worry. Put on weight, wore big earrings and shoulder pads. Watched Dallas, bought some lip-gloss, thought JR was a bastard but kind of fancied him. Became a nag, a working Mum, an always knackered cleaning bore, a mother of arsey teenagers, a picker-up of rancid socks, a drug tsar, a lecturer on STD's and unwanted pregnancies, one half of the bank of Mum and Dad, a taxi-driver, a tennis partner, made Henry Kissinger and his peace-keeping force look like a bunch of amateurs. Wiped away tears, tried to allay fears. Took worry to higher level, became an ever vigilant witch, a total wreck, couldn't sleep until that key went in the door at 4 a.m. Became a Uni Mum of brainy son and mother of the bride, glowed with pride. Watched them pack, wanted them back, broke my heart. Learned to start again with a different life.

Nearly forgot to remember that once, long ago, there were only the two of us, and two of us once more there would be. Had trouble with the sadness the empty nest brought with it. Had trouble with the tidy house, the quiet house, the empty house. Thought that black hole would definitely get me.

Decided to get a grip. Started a blog. Made some more friends. Had a laugh. Learned to swear in print (fucking liberating, I can tell you). Bought a sports car, had a new hairdo, rediscovered who's the Daddy round here, decided I still really liked him, started to have a bloody good time. Learned to be a bit selfish, self-indulgent and flash, discovered high maintenance hair-do's, facials and the gym. And then, suddenly, I was sixty.

Bloody hell. Now how am I going to deal with that, my dear friends?

Friday, 10 April 2009

Quick, Let's Buy That Man A Briefcase!

Well, well, well. Whatever next? In a week that has seen published lists of items claimed for by MP's more reminiscent of the conveyor belt on Bruce Forsythe's Generation Game than reasonable work-related expenses, (stone sink, patio set, barbecue, etc) there is something that most of us would have gladly provided - and I don't mean the deep fat-fryer or cuddly toy.

For goodness' sake, why didn't anyone treat Bob Quick, Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner, to a brief-case? Or maybe a plastic document holder? Or even a big brown envelope?

Whilst it's very worrying that such a senior officer in counter-terrorism would be so daft as to carry Top Secret documents in plain sight of journalists with long-range lenses, I'm not really sure if his resignation will do anyone any good or not. He obviously felt he had to go, and I suppose the least we can say about him is that having dropped such a monumental clanger, he's bitten the bullet and done the decent thing. I guess many of the MPs who are currently working their way through piles of expenses receipts with black marker pens this Easter weekend will be thankful to Mr Quick for getting their subsidised shopping lists off the front page for a few days. Having someone else held up to ridicule must come as a bit of a relief to them, and a very welcome change no doubt.

It's hard these days to watch the news and not have the feeling that the lid is about to pop off yet another can of worms, or several cans for that matter, with more revelations that embarrass and diminish us as a nation, which I find both infuriating and rather sad.

But anyway, enough already. See what happens when I try to get more politically aware? They all start to piss me off and then I'm forced to rant. I can't do anything about any of it so no more sniping from me. I'll just go back to reading the fashion pages of the newspapers, try to ignore the political bits and turn off the TV after Eastenders. All this intrigue is wearing me out.

I will now definitely be resting my case.

Unlike Mr. Quick of course, who sadly hasn't got one.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Would You Adam And Eve It?

Sorry to go on about this dodgy expenses claim thingy, but go on I must as long as this unsavoury episode continues. Now our Home Secretary’s husband has been dragged out of the house to explain himself to the media and apologise for what he’s done - viewing films which he subsequently (and stupidly) charged to the wife’s expenses, two of which were of the, ahem, "adult entertainment" kind.

She appeared to be absolutely furious but no more furious than we, the poor suckers who paid for them, have every right to be. What concerns me is that she seems to be far more cross with him for his taste in films and for embarrassing her rather than being truly regretful that the taxpayer was asked to foot the bill for something of such a personal nature.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t care if he was viewing adult films, among others. Good luck to him, if that’s his bag then let him get on with it. What he does in the privacy of his own home is entirely up to him. The bit I find more shocking is that he claimed for any of the films at all, regardless of their subject matter. To me the fact that they were paid for on expenses is the truly offensive thing here, not the content of a couple of them.

So what's the next episode in the sorry saga of the Home Secretary, Her Expenses and the Husband Who Will Be Sleeping On The Sofa? Are we soon to be treated to more insights of how the other half live, at our expense?

If recent events are anything to go by, my guess is that having funded the films for a cosy night in front of the TV, Joe Public will be getting the bill for the Chinese takeaway any time now.

With tip, no doubt.

Monday, 23 March 2009

My Other Home's on Expenses

For those of you living without any form of media stimulus because you can't afford newspapers any more, or if your television has been repossessed along with your home, recent news regarding the clever personal accounting of some of our MPs must have come as a bit of a nasty shock. We have learned that it’s apparently a widely accepted practice amongst our elected representatives to claim expenses for whichever of their several residences yields the most dosh, and it doesn't seem to matter whether it's the constituency home of the MP, or where Mum and Dad live, or a sister's house in London as long as there's money to be made from it. By performing this devious switcheroo, some MPs are taking huge amounts of cash from the public purse to which they are not morally entitled. It appears that the lax guidelines (I won't call them "rules" as there obviously aren't any) allow claims regardless of the true validity or necessity of that claim as long as the criteria is loosely met. We are told by the newspapers that it's actually possible to charge for alternative accomodation in London when an MP's actual home is itself only eight miles away, something which must really piss off thousands of rail commuters who strap-hang every day on sweaty overcrowded trains for many more miles than that and pay a large chunk of their salary for the privilege of doing it.

For us ordinary people who have to pay our own bills (no John Lewis list for us, unfortunately) and are trying to survive the current financial balls-up (or "down-turn" as it is quaintly known) imposed upon us by a sleep-walking government and a criminally greedy financial sector, news that some of our very own public officials are apparently shafting us via their expenses claim forms is, putting it mildly, a bit sick-making. For the thousands of people facing eviction from their homes having been lured into borrowing more money than they could ever hope to pay back should the financial climate change, as it has, learning that some of our own political masters are allegedly raking it in by means of some very nifty financial footwork is somewhat galling, to say the least. If only they could have managed our economy as efficiently as they've managed to line their own pockets, we wouldn't be in the monetary mire that we currently find ourselves splashing around in. It really pisses me off to think of our student children racking up massive debts in order to get an education which many of these public servants got for free, yet with tuition fees set to rise again those self same government officials are still receiving way more than their rightful share of public funding. It just doesn’t seem fair. How can they take this unearned money when it is so badly needed in very many more deserving areas? Hospitals, schools, pensions? Impoverished public services? Many people in this country can't even afford to see a dentist, let alone run a second home to make going to work a bit easier. It makes my blood boil. But even more seriously, my heart breaks for every young service man or woman sent to war on our behalf, ill-equipped and vulnerable and put at risk because of cost. Put into this context these expenses' fiddles become, quite frankly, obscene.

So far, outed MP’s say they’ve done nothing wrong when what I think they actually mean is that they haven't broken any laws or fallen foul of any party policy. However, there is a difference between being regulated by law or adhering to an expected code of decent behaviour, a distinction which is obviously not understood by some. As dear old Eric Morcambe used to say "they can't touch you for it", so this type of monetary manipulation has become common practice and is therefore deemed by some creative thinkers to be OK, simply because until now it has been allowed. A blind eye has been turned, thus giving credence to the scam. Worryingly, many more MPs than we know of are probably getting away with this sort of thing on a continuous basis and are legitimately, if immorally, helping themselves to public money - grabbing seats on the UK gravy train even as it runs out of steam, dipping their bread into the fat of the land which is oozing out of Great Britain plc as we, the tax-paying public, face the most serious financial roasting of our time.

Now the excrement has hit the rotating blades and the newspapers have got hold of the story, is anyone going to stop this dodge? Can these people be shamed? And, if not, within a self-regulating system who is going to stop them? We are told there’s going to be a full review, but I for one won’t hold my breath to see if this legalized pocket-picking is going to end any time soon.

One thing's for certain. I'd really like to ask any of the guilty parties to stop pretending that this abuse of position is all right when it definitely is not OK. I'd like to say "C'mon chaps, do the decent thing." I'd like to feel that elected Members of Parliament know the difference between right and wrong and that the trust put in them by their electorate wasn't misplaced.

And I'd like them to stop taking the piss.

That's it. Rant over.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

No Business Like Snow Business

Liking the weather are we? Enjoying the deep and crisp and even?

I have to admit, I'm a dithering wreck in this weather. Despite the fact that I have walking boots which can take me up vertical frozen rock faces (not that I've ever asked them to, but still), my legs turn to petrified tree-trunks the minute I put one foot in front of the other on even a lightly snow-kissed pavement. A pig on stilts is more graceful. I'm not alone in my fear of going arse over tit - all my female colleagues feel the same, whatever their age and/or fitness level. We are, to a woman, scared to death of slipping in the snow.

Walking from the car to the office (a good twenty yards at least), bundled up like people trying to avoid the excess baggage charge on Ryanair by wearing every item of clothing they possess, we clutch each other's arms and scream like banshees if there's even the tiniest possibility that our feet will go from under us. Even indoors we are trussed up as if this is the coldest place on earth, despite the fact that we work in a building kept at tropical temperatures day and night. We take it in turns to be on "Snow Watch" and by 3.00 p.m. each day, should a few flakes of snow begin to fall, we down tools saying that we've got to get home before the weather closes in, and abandon the office. We have a developed siege mentality, filling our freezers with bread just in case we can't get out tomorrow, despite the fact that most of us live within slithering distance of Sainsbury's. Being "snowed in" has become the excuse du jour for being very, very late and going home very, very early.

With all this extra time at home, I've taken to making soups, venison sausage casseroles, even baked apples with proper home-made rice pudding - comfort food usually unheard of at my house during the working week. To increase the snuggle factor we've added another quilt to our bed and I've bought some sheepskin slippers. I am well prepared for more snow and, to be honest, I've secretly started to enjoy myself.

As long as I don't have to go out in it of course.

Hope everything is OK where you are.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Ding-Dongs Merrily On High

Hi, long time no write. Here's one I wrote earlier and didn't post, for whatever weird reason I can't remember now.

Good Christmas? Happy New Year?

In Casa Swearing Mother Christmas and New Year went predictably, which is both a good and a bad thing. On the positive side, we were all together, had enough (more than enough, in fact) to eat; a warm, clean and cosy home in which to enjoy the holidays and on the whole, we did. On the negative side, it's always difficult to keep the peace between people who rarely spend more than a couple of days together and, although devoted to each other as much as humanly possible, have the capacity to get up each other's noses without very much effort at all, season of goodwill or not.

In our family, we are argumentative. We are very rarely bored or boring. Everyone has something to say and fights to say it, usually in a good humoured way but sometimes it can get a bit out of hand. We can argue about anything and everything, from leaving the bathroom light on to the state of third world economics, and back again via "who the fuck moved my keys?" I'm not sure quite why it happens or how the niggling starts but I think it's something to do with kids returning to the fold and regressing back to patterns of childhood despite the fact they are now grown up, and we as parents forgetting to back off and let them be the capable adults that they actually are. That's theory number one anyway. And then there's the other problem; we olds think we know best because we always used to, way back when our kids took any notice of us, but now our grown-up children are filled with knowledge far greater than ours about a variety of subjects I don't necessarily give a toss about, which can and does breed a certain amount of intolerance at times. Yes, I am concerned about global warming but not enough to worry about it when I'm trying to cook Christmas dinner and chopping carrots in the dark because someone switched the frigging lights off in an effort to save the planet.

I admit to being very small town in my attitudes. When my son says he's got something serious to discuss with us, my heart leaps into my mouth and I think "oh shit, what's up with him?", when actually he's worried about the Palestinian Israeli crisis. Phew. I feel guilty at my relief - so that's all, I think, thank goodness for that. I realise my margins are set way too narrow and that I must appear infuriating and insular, but first and foremost I am relieved that he is OK. I really do care about those who suffer but my sphere of influence is small and my own family is at the epi-centre of it. The rest of the world has to get in line behind them for my total devotion and compassion, and I make no apologies for it. Yes I do care about the starving millions, global warming, the homeless, the victims of violence, the fight for democracy and so on. And so on. But there are those about whom I care more, heated discussions or no.

So, although it would be an exaggeration to claim that the home front was a bit of a war zone this Christmas, let's just say there were times I wished someone with a harmonica would start playing "Silent Night" and instigate a kick-about conversation in the comparitive safety of the neutral no-man's-land of small talk. Or that predictable conversational landmines could be skirted around instead of being deliberately triggered with both feet (husband) just for the sport of it, or some hapless idiot (me) would refrain from unintentionally lighting the blue touchpaper. And, in fairness, maybe it would help if the junior snipers didn't have such touchy trigger fingers when it comes to other people's opinions.

After reading a few articles in various papers and magazines about family rows at Christmas, it makes me wonder why sometimes families find it so much of a challenge to be together over the festive season, more than any other time of year. It's especially sad when so much effort has been put in to make it perfect, but maybe that is the problem - do we invest so much time, money and effort into a few short and precious days together that if it doesn't work out exactly as we'd like, trouble ensues? I wish I knew.

Generally speaking though, we had a happy Christmas and New Year and now we've gone our separate ways once more until the next time we all get together and wind each other up again. It was good to have a houseful and, looking on the bright side, mercifully we didn't actually throttle each other.

But it was close.

Happy New Year everyone and peace be with you (especially you, Gaza).

It seems such a long time ago now, but if you can still remember Christmas and New Year, how was yours?