Archive | January, 2013

Lift up the T-shirt, what did you find?

30 Jan

Today, I bumped into a person whom I hadn’t seen for a number of months. He’s not exactly a great friend or a passing stranger. I met him over a year ago. Well, actually, he said he recognised me from somewhere and introduced himself. We started talking and from thereonin, every time we saw each other, we would exchange pleasantries and I would get to hear how life was treating him.

In December 2011, I heard that his young daughter had passed away. I don’t think anyone knew how James was coping. All I knew is that he wasn’t himself. As I was working as a volunteer in a charity shop, I observed his behaviour when he popped in and informally monitored his mental health state. After working for so many years in the care sector, I can’t help but assess people and would do anything to help someone in need if I could. I waited for James to approach me but he never did. All I heard through a colleague was that he was receiving Counselling and was on anti-depressants to cope with his grief.
For all his bravado and pleasant conversations, James is a relatively private person. So I owed it to him to respect his space.

As I said, I hadn’t seen him for some time, so when I saw him in the British Heart Foundation charity shop, we took the opportunity to catch up on our news. We spoke briefly about holiday destinations and work. Small talk. Then James said he had cancer. He pointed to his chin and neck and explained he had enlarged lymph nodes, although some people said he “looked like a hamster”. He pointed to his groin and indicated it was spreading. Then he said he had it on his back and promptly lifted his shirt to expose what looked like a large cancerous hole on his back, about the size of a cricket ball. James coolly explained how it first came to his attention. He had happened to be wearing a white T shirt and a friend pointed out that there was blood on the back of the T shirt. James touched the area in question “as you do”, he said and could feel what appeared to be a mole. He then went to the doctor who promptly investigated the mole. James was informed that the cancer may have been lying dormant for about 20 or 30 years and something like stress may have triggered it off. The immune system may begin to shut down and become more susceptible to infection or any other ailment, disease or medical condition, he said.

James said he could deal with it and is fortunate to have adult children who motivate and support him throughout his “ordeals”. He said he could cope with cancer and finds it easy to talk to people about what he is going through. But he said talking about the death of his daughter leaves no room for discussion.

For now, that is a closed door and he cannot bring himself to speak about it. Bereavement, loss and grief are strong emotions and it is shame we cannot speak more openly aboout death and dying as much as we can speak of the other ills of this world…

James said he remains optimistic, lives each day as it comes and is fortunate to have his family and loved ones around him, to support and re-assure him.  For all that he has gone through, I have to admire and respect his  determination and magnitude of inner strength.

Sporadic encounters with James made me feel that all I could offer him is a helping hand if he needed it, an ear if he wanted to speak and a cup of tea if he ever felt the need for informal respite or a break from the emotional and mental toils of the day.

I think that is all I can do.

 

The Learned Kat

 

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Les Miserables

28 Jan

According to IMDb website, the plotline is : “In 19th-century France, Jean Valjean, who for decades has been hunted by the ruthless policeman Javert after he breaks parole, agrees to care for factory worker Fantine’s daughter, Cosette. The fateful decision changes their lives forever”.

From the opening scene of Les Miserable, it seemed as if we were going to be in for an epic journey. Hugh Jackman played Jean Valjean, singing the opening words and is accompanied by the chain gang. The singing continued and even though I am familiar with a number of songs from the theatre production, I really wasn’t familiar with the whole storyine and did not realise that the whole script or dialogue is sung word for word, line by line. It was in my naivete that I expected some spoken words but alas, it was foolish of me to think otherwise. We know Hugh can sing and dance as he’s been nominated for and won many awards for his Broadway and musical productions. But it still seems at odds for such a masculine character actor to be heard singing, as to the majority of film fans, he is better known as Wolverine from the X Men movies.
Russell Crowe as Javert appeared comfortable in his role as the police officer. His attempt at singing reminded me of Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia! Not a bad thing but at least he made an effort in “doing a Rex Harrison”. That means we know he’s not a great singer like Pavarotti or a respectable tenor, but can hold his own and that is enough to carry the story forward.
Anne Hathaway steals the show with her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” and it looks as if her performance may be nominated for an award or two. I though she offered an emotional performance and you really feel for her character Fantine, especially when you know that in the scene where she has to cut off and sell her hair, Anne really sacrificed her own dark locks for her art and brought a tear to the eye.
Amanda Seyfried, played Cosette. Amanda really seems to be carving out a niche for herself in playing these lightweight love lorn young women with a touch of pain and anguish.
Helene Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen add light relief as Madame and her husband Thenardier, especially when they sing “Master of the House” I like Helena but it seems that she is playing the same cockney, boozy, floozy time and time again. Strange how years ago she complained that she was being typecast as a young English Rose and deliberately set out to play a cockney rebel/prostitute back then and has never quite stopped playing that role ever since…

Amongst the other young Brit actors, Eddie Redmayne and as Marius and Samantha Barks as Eponine brought understated, solid performances to their characters. Eddie singing “Empty chairs and empty tables” was pitched just at the right level of loss of friendship and remembrance and Samantha, who was the only cast member who had performed in a live theatre production of Les Mis, sang about unrequited love with compassion in the song “On My Own.”

The set, production and design really made an impact and I did feel as if I was transported back to the time of The French Revolution. Make up and costume added to the whole atmosphere of wretchedness, poverty, filth and squalor and the realms of what the poor had to do to survive.
My only gripe is that the young blone street urchin who played a minor yet pivotal role was a stereotypical EastEnd boy from modern day London rather than a French pauper from the 19th century.

Other notable songs such as “Do they hear the people sing?” and “At the end of the Day?” are rousing vocal collectives and Hugh singing “Bring Him Home” has real depth, empathy and quality of brotherhood. I remembered these more for the fact that I performed them as an ensemble at Birmingham Town Hall when I was s student in 1987! and I wanted to see how it transferred to the screen adaptation. Ah! it did bring back some memories and I found myself humming and singing along…

At times, it did seem that the production was really pushing the emotional boundaries, the vocal outpourings became a tad too indulgent or irritating and any attempts of falling into one emotion was soon scuppered by another jolt of negative vibes such as hate, anger or frustration. This musical really makes you feel as if you’ve gone through the wringer with the characters.

However, it is good to see that musicals in one form or another. are making a return.

The Learned Kat

Two Walnut Loaves

26 Jan

I spent the evening cooking and baking. There wasn’t anything worh watching on television, I hadn’t any special plans for this evening and there wasn’t an open invite to a social event. So, to entertain myself and keep me occupied, I cooked chicken curry for dinner and two cakes in the loaf tin. One cake was Date & Walnut, and the other was Coffee & Walnut, filled and covered with whipped double cream and a smattering of walnut pieces.
I cut two slices of the Date & Walnut cake before wrapping it up to give to our elderly friend in the morning. The other cake was stored and served up over a period of three days. No wonder my glucose levels are going up and down but I can’t help but enjoy baking!

Date & Walnut loaf cake

150g Margarine softened

150g Self Rasing Flour

150g Light or Dark Brown Sugar

3 Large eggs

About 30 pitted and chopped dates

125g Walnut pieces/chopped walnuts

Mix the margarine and sugar until light, creamy and fluffy. Add sifted flour, mix and add the eggs.   Blend the mixture until it becomes a creamy batter. Then combine the dates and walnuts into the mixture. Place it in a 7in x 4in loaf tin and bake for about an hour or until golden brown at  170 degrees. Check the bake by inserting a skewer or clean knife in the middle of the cake. If it comes out clean, the cake is ready to come out of the oven.

Coffee and Walnut cake

Use the same ingredient as above but replace the dates with a cup of black coffee. Allow it to cool and then pour it into the mixture. Once the cake is baked and cooled down, pour more cooled coffee over the cake. Not too much but just enough to flavour it further and make it moist. Whip up some double cream and throw in a handful of chopped walnuts (optional) Cut the cake in half horizontally, spread the cream on one half, cover with the other half and on the top. spread with more cream and decorate with whole walnuts (optional)

Enjoy!

Ah, Baking!

The Learned Kat

A chemical conclusion

26 Jan

Chemistry between humans is a strange thing. It’s one of lifes unfathomable designs. We talk about emotions and feelings like love and hate, fear and fancy, mutual attraction, or sheer dislike of people or whaqtever else that we “feel”. But what is it about human nature that makes chemistry so open or closed? Why is it with some people that we are either introduced to, sit next to, see in the street, work with or just exchange a look or word with can either make us feel good about ourselves or make us feel uneasy or uncomfortable.
I’ve always said if the chemistry isn’t there, forget it. Basically, what that means is that if you can’t bring yourself to speak to someone in the first instance or feel comfortable in their presence, don’t make the effort to take further action. But if you do sense there is an opening to speak, the barriers are down and the person exudes warmth or pleasance that you feel comfortable with, go ahead and ignite that spark of conversation or dialogue. It may lead to new opportunities, friendships or a more rewarding experience.

For example, on holiday, I was introduced to a young British couple. We exchanged greetings but for whatever reason, I just couldn’t bring myself to talk to them afterwards. There was just a blocked chemical pathway between the three of us. Even when they stood next to me, we couldn’t communicate or make eye contact.
Yet a Russian couple who happened to be bathing on two sunbeds adjacent to mine on the beach, made eye contact, smiled and introduced themselves with ease. Within seconds, I could see they had warm, big personalities. This was evident when the husband drew attention to himself and dived off the pier. He brought humour, laughter and applause from the other holidaymakers to the proceedings. Although we didn’t speak much on the holiday, the couple came over to greet us and said hello. They even took a photo of us when they were departing from the hotel and returning to Russia!

Then, there was the woman who sat next next to me on the plane. A complete stranger and yet by the end of the flight, we were speaking easily within the confines of the plane. We didn’t see her at all during the holiday. But on the day of departure, as she was on the same plane returning home, she came up to us at the airport and we spoke as if we’d known each other for years! We exchanged similar sense of humour, experiences and telephone numbers! We aim to keep in touch.

These are just several unrelated experiences of how chemistry between individuals can either enhance or squash a relationship of any description. I believe that even one incident, word or action can change the chemistry or dynamics between people:

I worked with some one for a year and we had a relatively good, healthy working relationship. She asked me to bake a chocolate cake, which I did and took it in to her. She thanked me and placed it on the side. She didn’t offer a slice of cake to anyone, not to me, her colleagues or subordinates and at the end of the day, she took the whole thing home. To me, that speaks volumes. She may have her reasons for doing it but I felt it was a selfish and greedy act.

Years ago, a woman who appeared to be self-absorbed and insular and I wasn’t particularly too fond of at that time, was the one person who showed true compassion, full support and re-assurured me that everytihng would be ok when I was taken ill. When I recovered, I developed a new found respect for her and her selfless, thoughful and kind gestures to support me at work.

There are many people in our lives who come and go, improve or destroy it or are simply ignored. We try hard to communicate with everyone and even harder to impress. For some people we meet, conversation flows nice, gentle and easily. With others, no matter what you say or do to make it better, it fails to raise the required level of decent conversation, trust and likeability. But if the chemistry isn’t working, why bother?

The Learned Kat

Graham or Graeme? Death of an Alcoholic

25 Jan

When we returned to live in Bearwood in 2007, we used to see a stocky, middle aged man sipping cans of lager and standing outside the local Londis convenience store.

When I’d wake up and look out the window at 7am in the morning, there he was walking up the road towards the corner shop. When I’d leave for work, he’d be standing outside the shop, pulling the tab off his can. When I’d returned home in the evenings, he’d still be standing there, with a number of empty cans or bottles on the side. I couldn’t bring myself to speak to him.

Then, after a period of time, he started to walk down the road and began to stand on the opposite side of the road facing my house. He would either stand there for ages or take the opportunity to sit on a wall and he appeared to be peering inside my front window. For a while, I felt uneasy and thought about reporting him to the police as “being a nuisance and invading my privacy”. I mentioned him in passing to my neighbour, and she said “Oh, him! He’s alright! That’s Graham/Graeme. He’s alright, just a little bit lonely – I think he just wants to talk to someone.”

This made me think about Graham or Graeme? in a different light. Who was I to turn my back on him? However, a number of women in the neighbourhood were beginning to feel vulnerable by his constant presence down our road, and several reported him to the police. The police, in turn, cautioned him about sitting on the garden walls and staring into peoples homes and suggested he use the bench on the main road for his “private thoughts” or else faced the possibility of arrest.

So, Graham/Graeme, found a spot outside the Londis store where he would stand practically all day, everyday, trying not to cause a nuisance of himself but still managed to raise a few eyebrows and remarks about his daily intake of alcohol.

A day or two after my neighbour mentioned his need to talk to someone, when Graham/Graeme greeted me, I returned his hello. He looked as if he was going to launch into a full conversation, but I made my excuses and left. It was several days later, when T and I were standing at the bus stop, that Grahama/Graeme spoke to us and introduced himself. We provided him with our names and he said it was nice to meet us. We couldn’ say more as our bus arrived and we boarded it as he saluted a goodbye.

Over time, he told us bits about his story:
He was orginally from Smethwick and had emigrated to USA when he was about 17. He lived in the USA for 35 years, had worked his way up a chosen career path. He had worked as an engineer and airline pilot, had a condo and wife in LA but his world changed after 9/11. He said he satrted to develop panic attacks and anxiety levels raised considerably and his business began to suffer with the recesion as well. He was very wealthy in America he said. He lost confidence, his wife left him and he started to drink. Then, he decided to return to the UK to care for his parents. He returned to live with his parents and was able to say his final farewell to his dad who passed away.

Slowly, we began to empathise with Graham/Graeme and his plight. We tried to offer him support, even suggested he look for work as a volunteer or do something to keep him occupied and off the streets but he said he was fed up with the bleak weather conditions here in the UK and couldn’t find his way out of living with his mum without any financial commitments. It was evident he was alcohol dependant and found solace and escape on the strong liquids.
We spoke to Graham/Graeme him about seeking advice but he appeared to be very intelligent, articulate and had insight as to his benefit entitlements. He knew that within the UK, a single man did not receive any extra financial support or be considered a priority for housing. His life, as he knew it, was as bleak as the weather. He stayed out in the sun as it reminded him of sunny california, he said. His only other form of escape from the confines of the four walls in which he “survived”. It was difficult to know what to say or do with Graham/Graeme as he appeared to be so negative about life and yet we knew he had potential. We couldn’t invite him in to our home as he was socialsing with others who were alcohol or drug users and we didn’t want to risk our own private world becoming an open door for chancers.

As a professional, I didn’t want to cross the boundaries with the one alcoholic that I spoke to on a daily basis in my own community and Graham/Graeme seemed to understand that. He never encroached upon or asked to come into the house either. My perceptions of him began to change. What remained constant was the thought that he would die early of either heart attack or alcohol related diseases.

Sadly, just as I was about to come to terms with his somewhat negative outlook on life – I had to learn to accept and respect that he didn’t want to change – I was informed on Sunday 13 January 2013 by a neighbour that he had passed away. A heart attack she said, although the details of his death were later clarified by my immediate neighbour. She said Graham/Graeme had gone into the bathroom at his mothers, and he did not come out. His mother went in and apparently, he had suffered a haemorrhage… It was either just before Christmas or on Christmas Day itself…

Although it came as a shock and it saddens me to think that it was a life wasted, taken by alcohol maybe? It didn’t come as a surprise… I just walk past the Londis store now and imagine him to be there but of course he isn’t. I have to tell myself that we are surrounded by death and dying on a more regular basis now and it is easily within reach.

I never knew how Graham/Graeme spelt his name. I never thought to ask him. It was just enough to know his name and speak to him on a daily basis, yet brief period of time. Some people just need someone to talk to.

I hope you are at peace now.
R.I.P.

The Learned Kat

Hurghada From sun and desert to snow and deserted…

24 Jan

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I’ve always had a desire to go to Hurghada, Egypt. So, when T won a bit of money recently, we took the opportunity to book a last minute deal to the desired destination.

On arrival at Hurghada airport, we had to pay the £13 GBP for the visa. It’s not like Sharm El Sheikh, said the Customs Officer, where you have a choice over there.
We made it through the security checks and passport control and were awaited by a man waving a placard with our names emblazoned on it. We were then introduced to our Egyptian Rep, who accompanied us to a small minibus, greeted by another British couple and we sat down and soon set off to our designated hotels.
We had booked the Elysees Hotel, a four star hotel about 3km outside of the main town of Hurghada. It was clean, pleasantly decorated and suitable for our needs.The Rep mentioned that our luggage had to be left at the entrance so the porter could carry it to our room. We thought we were on a different floor or some distance away from the reception/foyer but we were only about a 100 yards away on the same floor. So it came as a bit of a surprise when the Porter placed our suitcases in our room and expectantly waited for a tip. I only had £1 sterling on me and explained that I didn’t have any change. He suggested that I when I did manage to have adequate change, Egyptian or British, to hand it to him when possible! I was unimpressed by his direct approach and felt he had placed me in an awkward position. After he left, we unpacked and explored the town nearby.
It was chilly that evening, as were most of the evenings, but we managed to see the stores that offered the usual ware for the tourist- leatherware, brass goods, glass ornaments, Egyptian art on papyrus, counterfeit designerwear, bric a brac. Why do they still insist on producing this tat and do tourists/holidaymakers still buy into this cheap souvenir market? Obviously they do or else these businesses wouldn’t survive.

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The roads are wide, and I noted that there wasn’t any traffic lights, pedestrian or zebra crossings. It appeared that the motorist was truly the King of the Road and to cross the road was a task you undertook at your own peril. As well as the numerous black and orange taxis which drive up and down the main street on a very regular basis blowing their horns in order to gain attention or potential fares, large articulated lorries, trucks and buses would speed by and hardly consider the safety of the pedestrian.

Most of the hotels and buildings are modern looking and with the very heavy presence of Russian people in the hotels, it came as no surprise to learn that the majority of investors which are currently driving the coastal economy are Russians who are helping it to develop into a highly sought after destination favoured by their own people. The posters dotted around Hurghada proclaiming the good strong links between Egypt and Russia confirmed this special relationship.
On a different level, I observed how some Russians, chose to drink vodka and sprite, rum and coke or brandy and coke at any given time of day and night. In the Lucky Dolphin pub attached to the hotel it was from 8am until last orders!

We also learned that Hurghada as a coastal town does not have a centre as such. It is a large sprawling resort, if it can be called that, divided into three distinguishable areas. Where we stayed is or will be a predominantly hotel based area for holiday makers tourists, short term breaks etc. The surrounding shops and nightlife caters for such a client group.

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The main part of Hurghada again caters for the wealthy holiday makers and tourists. Hawkers, street vendors selling cheap cigarettes, watches, faux leather belts and “silver” chains and necklaces jostle for attention against the high street boutiques or cleaner looking stores, malls and bazaares. Sitting almost incongrously amongst them all would be a Pizza Hut, the ever almighty Golden Arch of Mcdonalds, Burger King and KFC. Faced with competition from the more local cafes or cuisine it came as no surprise that we didn’t try it as we happened to have seen a local seller hawk into his handkerchief and proceed to clean a serving dish with the same cloth! Then there were the unusually exotic smells of cooked foods, meats and sweets camouflaging the smell of burnt/singed meats and decaying flesh in some quarters. To see some of the meat was off putting to say the least but at the same time, I was shocked, impressed, in awe, disgusted, tempted and inquisitive about what the local food actually tasted like. In hindsight, I think I should’ve been brave enough to try it but don’t think my stomach would’ve been able to handle the side effect…

The third section of Hurghada was really the most exhilarating and exciting part of Hurghada. Known as El Hur or Dar Har , head towards the Elzohour Hotel, only about 30 Egyptian pounds (£3 GBP) from the main part of town. A “dustbowl of a community!” it catered for the indigenous population. A market place which is incredibly cheap and cheerful, the hustle and bustle stimulated my senses in more ways than one. At last I felt alive and realised that yes, here I was certainly experiencing something new and diverse. A culture still yielding up to traditions and customs. A predominantly male presence, a slightly agressive and menacing atmosphere in a community which did not allow me to take any photographs, that almost made me fearful that I maybe accosted or assaulted, robbed or romanticised, treated with respect or terrorised with request to buy, buy and buy. It really felt less superficial than the other parts of the town and the heart of Hurghada. It buzzed with the beat of traffic congestion, human consumerism, and you could almost feel the ancient vibe of mysticism and spirituality.

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As it was approximately 30 degrees nearly every day, we spent the days sunbathing on Dream Beach, a private beach allocated to Elysee Hotel. Most hotels have their own private beach and if you were to venture further, there was a small fee or charge of 20 L.E or more (approx. £2 GBP) for the privilege of sitting on another beach. At Dream Beach, we listened to old classic standards, “chilled out/House/ambient music” with the imam calling the community to prayer in the background, watched the sunset over the Red Sea and on two occasions at approximately 4pm, we witnessed two flying fish skim the waters and veer to the left before disappearing from view under the pier. We waited for this to occur again for the third time but it did not happen. But just when we were about to come to terms with our disappointment, we saw two dolphins diving in and out of the waters! A serene and majestic sight indeed!

The sea water was cool and refreshing and you are surrounded by all manner of tropical fish…The irony of it is that although the Government of the Red Sea claim to conserve the Coral Reef and surrounding bays, pleading with the world to save the area, with the amount of tourism building up and boat trips offered, wouldn’t the amount of pollution going into the water be killing it off? Oils, effluence, a number of fish restaurants, lots of fish tanks on display in shops and restaurants, fish spa treatments, pieces of coral on display for sale…

Streetlife at nightime offered more charm and glamour I suppose, and any other opportunities that may have arisen were quietly rejected or declined.
Three times we searched for Hurghada Marina but we could not find it. Although it is clearly marked with blue lettering “MARINA” and a large red arrow on a large, orange beacon in the middle of the main road, we still found it difficult to find. On the second occasion, we walked down a dirt road and chanced on small workshops which were reminisce of old world charm. Young men sitting on their haunches sewing blankets, old gnarled men smoking tobacco and sheesha working with iron to make gates, trendy lads selling fabrics, young shoeless children playing in the dirt and running after kittens and cats, rummaging in rubbish tips and boxes, men gathered discussing the design of handmade upholstered furniture and sofas, greasy, dark skinned men sitting at tables with sore, blackened hands working with oil and various car parts, electricians sitting in dirt ridden units, waiting for their next customer. The craftsmanship and attention to detail and work was inspirational. It is such a shame that in the Western world, this is an art form that is slowly dying…

We eventually managed to find the Marina at our third attempt. It is near to the road full of small workshops but it is a gated community geared for the rich and affluent. Yachts, fancy restaurants, designer labels and wealth in sharp contrast to the outside world of dusty cars, dirt road tracks, poorly paid staff and illiterate children. Locals are not allowed in and it does make one wonder how the poor within the surrounding areas feel about this exclusive and elite domain.

One thing to remember about Hurghada – Dust fills the air and permeates most items in shops, stores, clothes, nostrils and mouth but that is to be expected as we are in desertland. So don’t expect it all to be pristine pretty and clean.

EL GOUNA

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A purpose built luxurious village which catered for the more discerning clientele. About 40 minutes away from Hurghada, it costs approximately anything between 50 – 70 LE (about £5-7 GBP) to get there. It all depends on how well you negotiate or barter with your taxi driver! The brochure stated that this was an experience not to be missed and declared that “there is nothing like it in the Red Sea”. We decided to spend a day there and found that the brochure was not wrong! It reminded me of several things : The Stepford Wives, because it was so clean and carefully planned out, a luxurious holiday village in Gambia (not that we’ve ever been there) and something quite futuristic in that there were small tuk-tuks driving up and down, the heat made it appear surreal and the lack of people in the area provided an air of solitude, isolation and sheer indulgence. Small Islands with villas that had individually numbered designated seating areas on the beach, sunbeds and parasols, surrounded by lagoons and a beach which meandered around. It was an oasis of calm and brilliance!

The Marina was full of yachts and we likened it to St Tropez (not that we’ve ever been there either!) But we could imagine parts of it to be very similar!

I am fascinated by Egypt and all that it has to offer: the customs, traditions, artefacts, history…as one road sign in Luxor reads “It is where Ancient Civilisation began”. I would loved to have been there for the dawn of the Millenium period.

One day, I would like to be a passenger on one of those ships that cruise along the Nile…

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We returned to Birmingham after 7 nights away. The contrast in weather conditions was truly unbelievable. Within 8 hours, we were transported from hot sunshine and desert to freezing cold.Snow blanketed the UK overnight and left the streets deserted.

The Learned Kat

Call The Midwife by Jennifer Worth

11 Jan

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From the minute I saw the trailer of ‘Call The Midwife’, a new BBC drama, I was swayed to watch it as it appeared to be a sweet and sentimental journey down memory lane. It was only on seeing the credits, that I saw that it was based on the same titled book by Jennifer Worth  ( published by Orion House ISBN 978-1-4072-2804-4)

So, I managed to find a copy in my local charity shop and couldn’t wait to read it, expecting it to be as whimsical or nostalgic as it appeared on the screen. How wrong I was!

The paperback version of  ‘Call The Midwife’ states on the front cover that it is “A true story of the East End in the 1950’s”. I didn’t realise that although the television series comes across in a slight dewy-eyed , soft focussed light, the elements of certain scenes in the book are written with  much more explicit detail and real-life characters are depicted as being more practical, robust, naive, ignorant, cruel and needy in the cold harsh light of reality.

Jennifer starts by questionning her decisions or reasons as to why she chose to become a midwife, and immediately you can almost hear the warmth and good nature of her being in her voice. She then describes the landscape, her workshift with a soon-to-be mum and the eventual birth. This then leads to how she came to Nonnatus House,  a private hospital run by nuns, her introductions to the Sisters and other trainee midwives…

Most of the people Jennifer wrote about appeared to have have “heart and soul” and as a reader, you feel for their plight or situation. Each chapter introduces you to either the members of staff she worked and lived with, her patients and her working relationship with them. Jennifer writes with passion and sincerity. She has the ability to draw you in and then, just when you wonder what happened to the person, like a good medical practitioner, she fills in the outcome of each individual story with as much information she can provide before moving onto the next segue.

Each chapter gripped my imagination and fired my thirst to read more. The style of writing is not sentimental, and does not hold back on  describing birth scenes, the stench and decay of homes and the inhabitants, the sordidness of brothels, the exposure of one young girl named Mary to prostitution, the social stigma associated with unmarried or single mums and racial tensions of the time. Discrimination rears its ugly head in many guises and the author does not gloss over the issue. There is dry humour as well as drama and tragedy in some cases.

Her observations of life in the East End of London accurately described the poverty, the conditions of living in tenement blocks, the home and work life of individuals. As well as interspersing the story telling with timely, professional information and how midwifery has changed since then, Ms Worth also wryly observed how bureaucracy, medical advances, technology has either improved the way in which hospitals and medical staff relate to one another and their patients  or seemed to have reduced the kindly, friendly, compassionate caring nature of the medical profession.

What started off as reading a book about one womans’  journey into the realms of training to becoming a midwife, became a wonderfully engaging piece of social history.  An evocative, thought-provoking book which led me to re-assess my own professional aspirations and my place in the caring profession.

I can only hope that if I were to write about my own experiences, it would be as worthy as ‘Call the Midwife’ by Jennifer Worth.

 

The Learned Kat