Blue Bell update

Blue Bell conservatoryBlue Bell hotel, Burton Agnes: turns out they not only have a number of ground floor rooms but at least one is disability equipped and the others are pet-friendly so how’s that for getting it right?



Dennis is a case alright. Big, thick-set, yellow hair thinning on top now he’s hitting forty. I’ve known him for years; first when his exasperated mum hauled him into the Centre hoping to get him fixed and him trailing behind with a wicked grin tweaking his mouth in which was stuffed the Mars Bar he’d half-inched from our shop. Dennis was a LAD…continued on Nano fiction page

Wanted: Brit-lit lady sci-fi short story publisher

union jackAny takers out there for a nice bit of SF drama hot off the presses? Oh well, it was worth a try. I’ll get out my hair shirt, stick pebbles in my shoes, invest in a self-mortification programme (I expect there’s an iPhone app for that), and join the supplicants’ queue like everyone else. How on earth do you writers of novels cope? A couple of thousand words and I’m wrapped up and ready to move on! Attention span of a gnat and no stamina, clearly.

Cross-over blog: exciting but not as exciting as CSI…

I’ve been away this week on a part business, part family trip such that the experiences, some of them quite unspeakable, straddle my two online identities in terms of blogworthiness. If you live in north America or Australia you won’t be impressed but for us Brits, a trip of 300 miles or more demands military grade attention to detail and personal fitness. This is because we don’t expect to spend more than an hour in our vehicles or encounter anything approaching inclement weather and so we are constantly outraged when that happens. Our outrage is justified because the builders of our roads don’t expect this either and so they provide us with inadequate signage, invisible markings, and nowhere to stop even after the signs that say ‘Tiredness kills: take a break’.

For a few months now, I’ve been conversing by phone and email with Dr Sanjeet Pakrasi who is a consultant psychiatrist in Newcastle. Sanjeet has put together a care service for people with dementia that I would like to see researched for adults with learning disabilities as it seems to have potential not just for improving care delivery but also reducing costs. At its root is a touchscreen and broadband connection between client, family (optional), and a care hub which gives people live and spontaneous access to recognisable others who are able to provide help and support. Increasingly, it is also offering entertainment in the form of digital painting, jigsaws made from a person’s own pictures, and life story books. The beginnings of a client-driven social network is also emerging. I drove to Newcastle on Monday in conditions that had me wondering if I should be in charge of a vehicle at all. The speed of other drivers implied that they could see when I could not and, at a point where my three lanes were joined by another three lanes and all I could see was spray, I seriously questioned my sanity. Another 100 miles of headlights, poor visibility, and lousy road markings got me to my approximate destination some three hours later than expected and, with an empty tank and a full bladder, I was not best pleased to find that my satnav had misconstrued its position relative to its target. We were out by a parallel road, as it happened but when incontinence threatens, you’re not up for taking prisoners!

I phoned my host who came to get me and, with the kind of luck I would almost have traded for a bit less nonsense on the roads, it transpired that I had come to a halt right outside the house of a friend of his and so I was propelled through the door of this very kind stranger to park myself with immense relief on his loo.

Despite that quite horrific journey, during which I seriously feared for my life more than once, this was well worth the trip. Sanjeet had brought together people from the Technology Strategy Board (Assisted Living Innovation Platform), Microsoft, Northumbria University, the Department of Health, and the Connect for Care user council to generate discussion about development and research.  My part in this would be evaluation of an extension of this service model to a different client group where the potential for better use of outreach time seems likely to improve considerably the service we can offer to vulnerable adults. In addition, people whose needs currently preclude independent living for safety reasons might, with this technology in place, find they are able to cope well with their additional needs. More discussions on my return, this time at Brighton university, and hopefully out of that, an application for research funding. Crossing fingers as of now!

On a more personal note, I was astonished to find that the hotel, The Falcon’s Nest (one of the Innkeeper’s Lodge chain), had no lift, despite being quite a new development. There is also no attendant so that anyone needing assistance, as I did with a hefty case that would have toppled me back down the stairs had I tried them alone, has to go back outside and over to the pub to find the staff. There is no warning about this when booking and the next day, as we made the return journey to retrieve my case from the first floor (which they called the second floor, oddly enough), I asked what would have happened had I arrived in a wheelchair. There are several disability access parking bays just outside and so the response that ‘We would have shuffled things around’ (to get me a ground floor room), seemed a little unprepared. Be warned!

The next hotel on my trip, the Blue Bell, necessitated by a detour to Yorkshire for family reasons, was quite different. Although this too seemed not to have a lift, there was a very obvious and constantly staffed reception with helpful people who did not need to be asked regarding luggage. I am not sure what would have happened had I appeared in a set of wheels though, as there did not seem to be any ground floor rooms. However, this is an old pub that has been thoroughly upgraded and the comfort of it rather distracted me from my minor crusade! Family visits seem likely to be more on the cards than previously and so I will be back, and I will be back to this hotel too because of its aesthetics, its comfort and its personal warmth. Anyone who can combine elegance with sociable homeliness gets my vote and for that reason I’m putting a link here in case you are planning on visiting east Yorkshire and would appreciate a recommendation.

Breakfast room, Blue Bell Hotel, Burton Agnes large conservatory-style room for meals


Conservatory for meals, Blue Bell Hotel, Burton Agnes friendly, clean, good prompt service

There is also a small brasserie for evening meals and a rather splendid bar which I was too tired to sample! TV and wifi in the rooms, bedside sockets for those with charging needs and separation anxiety should their iPhone get more than a couple of feet away from their grasp!

Burton Agnes is rural but much of the York and east coast area is accessible from there.

When I returned, I found a blog item titled ‘Seventh Weekness’ detailing the ephemera of what had been the seventh week of the new year. Well, this was mine and if I ever, and I mean EVER, say I will drive to Newcastle again, please come after me with a large butterfly net and a plate of profiteroles to distract my attention while you remove the starter motor. I will gladly visit Sanjeet again but I will take the train or a wing-ed beast such as our internal airlines can offer. Or I will nip over to my science blog and quickly invent the teleport device.

Unexpected visitor

a rat!is rat! As Basil Fawlty would say ‘Is not hamster – is rat!’ Lady rat in fact, and a fit looking one as well so I reckon she’ll be bringing the kids along soon. The birds seem unperturbed and so the inter species melee of feathered flutterings and furry scuttlings expands and contracts with reference only to some programmed circuit of visiting schedules rather than the sudden acquisition of a verminous mammal.

I quite like rats. Kept a few in my time, mostly black hooded lever-savvy types, so this one’s appearance doesn’t freak me out. Can’t say the same for the neighbours though whose vegetarian, animal-friendly instincts seem likely to exclude rodents. So bird lovers, now what? Remove the food, lose the rat and the birds or live with the rat and its thousands of offspring and risk becoming host to a local infestation. Can’t imagine what that would do to my popularity rating! Oh wait, yes I can…

Rehabilitating ‘Man Flu’

rhinovirusThis is it, take a look, a rhinovirus in all its bumpy, canyony, proliferatingly infective glory – nasty little blighter! It arrives by stealth; hanging about in the air after someone has sneezed, or lurking insidiously on door knobs, papers, tables and chairs, following the trail of unwashed hands. It gets into your nose, wrecks your cells, mucks about with their DNA, then expels itself in search of new victims. But that’s not all it does, oh no! To call it  ‘just a cold’ is to misunderstand and to minimise entirely the impact it has on every other aspect of your functioning. If all it did were to make us sneeze, what would be the problem really, beyond mere containment?  If all you needed were extra tissues, go buy extra tissues and get on with it! This virus, without the benefit of elevated temperature or reduced oxygenation, sneaks into your brain and disengages quantities of valuable IQ until you’re singing ‘Daisy Daisy’ and wondering which way is up. It destroys your will, your incentive, and your capacity to think. It does not, (unlike flu – wherein lie both a differential diagnostic criterion and an unwritten mercy), destroy your sense of urgency or guilt. You’re still driven by the ‘shoulds’ and ‘ought tos’ of your moral imperatives, you still try to meet your deadlines because others are dependent on you. Your head is empty of intellect from the eyebrows up but you don’t quite want to die. That’s what a cold is, an invader of noses and nervous systems, a hijacker of thought and creativity, a sock in the outlet of your cerebral sound system.

I’ve run out of tissues so I’m starting on the kitchen towel roll. My nose will display the ravages for some days to come but no one will ask why. Maybe I have Man Flu and maybe men have actually got a better handle on the real nature of the so-called common cold than the rest of us would care to admit. Take a look at this link – Science Musings – and tell me I’m not right!

Getting the bird

garden and bird feeder

Imagine this in a blizzard!

Last weekend, on the instructions of the RSPB and the BBC so who was going to dare decline, the nation counted its birds. For an hour of our own choosing on either the Saturday or the Sunday we were to sit peering into our  gardens cataloguing the wee wing-ed beasties as they dropped in for a visit. Robins – 2 of, Collared doves – 3 of, Sparrows – 4, no make that 5 of, Blue Tits – 2, 5, 3, DAMN keep still will ya! Starlings? Who’s here for Starlings?


long tailed tits

The instructions were to watch only for an hour and to list only the maximum number of any given species present at the same time so as not to count the same bird repeatedly. Ok, easy enough you’d think but what if you don’t know your House Sparrow from your Dunnock?  Your Coal Tit from your Great Tit? And then there’s the female of each species which, frankly and especially without glasses, ALL look like sparrows. I bet there’s no one who didn’t cheat. I bet there were folk still sitting up at 2 a.m and claiming to have seen thirty six ravens, a Charm of Goldfinches, and a pair of Barn Owls in the same time slot.

barn owl

barn owl

My garden is quite shrub-intensive. Some would call it over-grown, I call it habitat. In the middle, up near my window, is the pond, pergola, table, chairs and now infamous parasol. The birds dart out from the borders, grab a chunk of seed or a raisin, and dart back again. So that’s ONE Robin on the list. Two Blue tits and an unspecified finch arrive en group and then disappear off left while another group appears from the right. This can’t be the same group can it? Surely I can count them as separate? Meanwhile, from the rustlings and flutterings in the branches each side, I know there’s an entire flock of feathered census-dodgers just out of range and deliberately pacing its arrival in the open so as to depress my figures! On a good day, I see wood pigeons, doves, wrens, long tailed tits, greenfinches, goldfinches,  and the usual coterie of blackbirds, starlings, sparrows and thrushes. On a bad day it’s the heron after my fish. But on census day there was barely a simultaneous peep and so my list was quite impoverished which means that, if they do with the data the converse of what doctors do with your reports about your alcohol intake, I’ll be down to next door’s budgie through binoculars if I’m lucky.





Today, with the new feeding station in place (one arm of which is upside down so I’ll have to dismantle it again; I’m a girl – don’t expect me to match patterns to objects please and then mentally rotate one of them to fit the assembly), my population of avian hangers-on has undergone an exponential increase.  Knowing they are not being counted, they are out there in gangs, lingering on the table, pottering about on the bee house, dangling from the peanut feeder, and posing on the tail of the metal scorpion bought at a craft fair and now coated in Hammerite to stop its legs falling off. I want to retract my submission, send photographic evidence, have my scores reviewed. I want justice damn it!

Photos from anonymous internet sources.