Ukraine, Crimea and missing plane MH370

LIFE in a critical airplane incident and a country’s rights and borders both no longer seem to have the value they once did.

You’d have thought that if anyone was going to stand up for a country or state’s independence then it would be the United Nations.

And you’d actually be right, but for a long time now the UN has been a guard dog without any teeth.

That situation was starkly revealed by the crisis in the Ukraine, the UN Security Council being overwhelmingly resolved to censure the Crimea independence referendum.

But just one problem. It had to be a unanimous censure, Russia is a member of the Security Council and, what a surprise, it used its veto to torpedo the whole process.

The secession referendum for the Crimea to leave Ukraine, an independent state since 1991, had rightly been deemed unconstitutional by Ukraine.

Forces deemed “pro-Russian” took control of Crimea in February after Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president was overthrown in February.

Ethnic Russians make up 58 percent of the region’s population and they called for  a referendum to vote on joining the Big Bear.

But Russia, far from accepting it had no business interfering in the affairs of an independent state, claimed its military presence was merely support for those ethnic Russians.

A few little things like having no right to be there and firing over the heads of independent observers was apparently scarcely worth mentioning…..and so it goes on.

The UN continues to give its famous impression of a malfunctioning geyser – lots of spluttering but no action – allowing Russian might to get the Crimea it wants and possibly a lot more besides.

That military might takes me neatly on to the missing MH370 flight and a scandal of international proportions.

Confusion reigns over the whole incident with the plane first being lost, remaining missing despite a huge search and wreckage being found which turned out not to be wreckage.

In the latest twist it seems person or persons on the flight may have switched off various pieces of equipment to confuse detection of the aircraft while you can take your pick with theories from a crash in the sea thousands of miles off course to a touch-down on land so passengers can be ransomed.

But one thing looms horribly in the background of this terrible incident.

There is a very real possibility that countries involved in using their hardware to try and track the course of the plane may have delayed the release of information or withheld it altogether in order to conceal just how powerful their military capability might be.

Just the thought of doing that when potentially lives were at stake doesn’t bear thinking about.

A Chinese satellite image on plane wreckage eventually turned out not to be plane wreckage but, even so, that image was not released until four days after it was recorded.

What if it had been aircraft wreckage and, because of its size, a potential life raft for survivors?

 In those circumstances those survivors would have been condemned to four days exposure in waters where there are considerably more menacing things than sardines.

Crash investigation experts know what they are talking about and one didn’t mince his words by openly exploring the scarcely credible fact that every country in the area had just missed seeing the plane.

Far more likely, he suggested, was a scenario where sophisticated equipment had not only spotted MH370 but could considerably narrow the search area if not pinpoint pretty closely where it was.

But therein hangs the dilemma for the country with that equipment or satellite savvy. If it releases those facts then it reveals crucial information about its capability.

Far more likely, the expert suggested, was that the country or countries in question held off, hoping to be baled out by the international rescue operation finally finding the plane….only it didn’t happen.

I believe that if the plane is ever found then any inquiry into what happened will raise huge questions about the availability of satellite data, who potentially had it and why it wasn’t disseminated.

At the end of the day, neither the Ukraine situation or the misery surrounding flight MH370 does much to show military might in a favourable situation.

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What An Inch Of Rain Means

WE have all been battered by rain this winter, but this is nothing new as this except from a 1920 newspaper shows.

 

Our television screens have been jammed with flood scenes and experts talking about rising floodwater, giant pumps and how much rain is expected from the next storm to hit us.

 

But all this speculation is nothing new as the 94-year-old article shows.

 

It, too, mused about just what a downpour might translate in to and came up with this scenario about what a wet day really means when an inch of rain falls.

 

It urged us to picture a canal four hundred miles long, stretching all the way from London to Edinburgh.

 

It would be 24 feet deep and so wide that fifty vessels of 5,000 tons and more could steam abreast along its whole length….adding that every drop of water in this imposing waterway could be supplied by one-inch of rainfall over the United Kingdom.

 

The article, which was written long before modern meteorological equipment was available for evaluation, still correctly pointed out that people talk lightly about “an inch of rain” which is the familiar result of a wet day.

 

Yet Stye in Cumberland had 197 inches of rain fall in 1897-1898 while a bludgeoning 20 inches of rain fell in Darjeeling in a single day.

 

Still, all this pales when stacked up against Cherrapongu in Assam, India, where the rainfall for 1861 reached an unbelievable 905 inches.

 

The article points out that by comparison “a mere inch of rain seems but a summer shower”, yet, if spread over the country, it represents something stupendous.

 

The article adds: “It means, for example, that if we allow our 400 mile long canal to empty its water into the Thames at the rate of three million gallons a minute then a whole year must elapse before the last gallon is drained from its bed.”

 

Almost prophetically, the article goes on to choose, of all places, Somerset – famous for the 2014 flood devastation wrecked on the Levels – for its next observation.

 

It says: “Let us in fancy level the whole county of Somerset and convert it into a reservoir with stout embankments six feet high.

 

“Now let us drain into our vast reservoir all the water represented by an inch downfall over the British Isles. We shall then find that our reservoir or lake, of over 1,600 square miles, is full to the brim.

 

“If we convert the more familiar county of Middlesex, with its 178,000, acres, into a gigantic reservoir, we shall find that our inch of rain will fill it to a depth of 36 feet.

 

“Similarly, if we girdle the County of London (roughly 117 square miles) with strong embankments, and let our inch of rain flow into it, Greater London would be under water so deep that, if Cleopatra’s needle were dropped into it upright, it would be lost to sight eight yards below the surface.

 

“Our inch of rain would fill a reservoir covering the site of the City of London – a little over a square mile — to such depth that, if you were to drop 3,560ft-high Mount Snowdon into it, pile Scafell at 3,210 ft on its summit, put Skiddaw at 3,045 ft on top of Scafell then the topmost peak of these three lofty mountains would only be visible for a height of about 100 yards. The contents of our reservoir would be 1,723,042 million gallons.

 

“Let us fancy, essay the task of emptying our City reservoir and transporting its contents. For this purpose we will requisition every locomotive in the United Kingdom. We shall see that, if each engine makes a couple of journeys dragging its maximum weight, a whole year must elapse before the last wagon tank is on its way from the drained City.

 

“Every horse in the British Isles, each drawing a ton of water would have to make ten journeys daily for twelve months before our gigantic reservoir is empty. While the entire population of the world would each require the strength of a score of giants to raise the weight from the ground, for the average individual the load would weigh 4¾ tons.

 

“So vast is the quantity of water represented by the fall of an inch of rain over the United Kingdom that it would allow a distribution of 160 tons to every man, woman and child living on the earth today. The equivalent of 35,840 gallons which, spread over a year, would furnish a daily allowance of ninety-eight gallons.”

 

Time marches on and it is interesting to note that, 35 years after this article was written, a record was set at Martinstown in Dorset on July 18th, 1955, for the most rain in 24 hours. Eleven inches of rain fell in just 15 hours.

 

The highest rainfall recorded in Weymouth over 24 hours was also on this date with seven inches.

 

Bet you’ll never consider an inch of rain in the same way again!

 

CANCER: AN HONOURABLE DRAW

NOBODY beats cancer because it can always come back, so to be told I’ve lost a prostate but gained a life is a wonderful stalemate.

As an initial reaction I’d like to thank my agent for agreeing not to operate on me and Mr Karim and Mr Afzal who actually did operate me. That was in another town and another county in what still seems to be a surreal take on another existence I’m still not sure happened to me.

I was actually cleaning wild garlic, mud and grass blades off my hands after a brief healing spell in the garden when the phone rang.

On the other end was Dorset County Hospital, Dorchester, and Mystic Meg lookalike Alison Lownes who, in a nutshell, told me that I no longer needed to contemplate drinking my entire stock of blackberry wine in the next few months but could plan a life which focused less on cancer and more on my longevity gene. My father is 94 and counting.

It got better. Six weeks after my make-or-break major operation, my blood PSA count (a chemical released by cancer which the medical professional can plot to determine how advanced it is) was the absolute most brilliant best it could be – just 0.01 or nearly a thousandth of what it had been.

On top of that tests showed my tumour had only attacked just three percent of my prostate and, crucially, had not reached the edge of my prostate and so had not spread to other bodily parts.

But don’t get your hopes up. You may still be rid of me yet.

I was told by DCH that there was still the possibility – however remote – that microscopic cells might bring cancer back into my life at some stage in the future, so they will be monitoring my PSA progress every six months or so with blood tests for the rest of my life.

That said, I still feel that I’m in a poker game where I’ve been dealt four aces….with the fifth tucked cautiously into my sleeve.

This has to rank as about the best news I have heard since I qualified for beer support tax!

I could have stayed in and spent hours on the phone ringing everyone up with my good news, I could have ignored that and just gone out with a few family and friends for a celebratory drink. In the end I did both.

My beer suddenly seemed packed with taste, my companions’ conversation both incredibly intelligent and witty and my surroundings at The Boot pub superbly atmospheric and up to the occasion, so maybe beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

I beholded about four pints, way more than I should have, but who cares. Life is life and all the sweeter for it.

Don’t get me wrong. I am on cloud nine at the moment, but I will still be turning up for all those six-monthly tests.

I am a bit euphoric at the moment, so I will close now with a huge thank-you to the many hundreds of people who have stuck by me and wished me well over the last six months.

My close friends have been brilliant, but it is a lot more than that because the community has genuinely supported me through a horrible time – don’t eat vegetable soup in hospital – for which I will always be grateful.

Only today I had five more best wishes from people who hoped I would pull through without – like myself – knowing that a few hours later I would be given a lifeline on life.

It just goes to show that, in the great annual scale of things, your cancer may force you to focus on February but good news means it’s Christmas all the way.

Have a great weekend to you all. I certainly will….and that celebration night I have talked about is definitely in the offing. Enjoy the rest of your life.

 

STORMS

                               STORM

 

TAKE a stroll along Portland’s sea defences, Weymouth Esplanade or Preston Beach Road and you see something which mirrors many of the storm problems being faced nationally.

Televisions have been full of excavators and bulldozers frantically trying to push back pebbles to the higher half of Chesil Beach while there have been more grim-faced television presenters talking about waves sweeping up and over Weymouth’s golden sands.

Still more presenters lecture us about Preston Beach Road being closed, painting a seething scenario of half the Channel cascading over the sea wall to obliterate Lodmoor nature reserve….well nearly.

The fact is that the British are obsessed by the weather and like nothing better than a good moan about death, doom and destruction caused by rain, storms, snow, landslides, anything will do.

All this is extremely bad news for the politicians who are on a hiding to nothing when this happens.

Not only are they pilloried for lack of action, lack of investment which could have prevented the damage and lack of foresight in making proper arrangements to deal with the bad weather when it arrived but they suffer something far worse which they really hate. They look even worse than usual in the public spotlight.

Being upstaged by several trillion gallons of floodwater must be galling enough but, to stand any chance of regaining the television centre stage, they must actually be pictured wading out into said floodwater and be smiling when they do it.

On top of that it is very difficult for a politician to claim they are responsible for saving everyone from Armageddon and even harder for them to deny they are not to blame in some way for people’s misery.

This leaves them only one choice. Their mouthpiece must be some MP who has a riverside mansion with a fair sized puddle in its garden to evoke maximum sympathy and the “we’re all in this together” spirit.

Fortunately for everyone’s sanity we also see the reality of Environment Ministers and Environment Agency bosses getting the sharp edge of a few tongues when they literally wade into the debate surrounding worst hit areas.

Naturally no-one is to blame unless you heard the Government saying it was the Environment Agency’s fault for bad advice or the Environment Agency saying it was the Government’s fault for restrictions which limited what it could do.

Now, of course, everyone is suddenly all friends together with the Prime Minister praising the Environment Agency and the Environment Agency saying it is doing its best.

But this instant friendship may owe everything to withering public opinion directed at both sides for their “schoolboy” slanging match over responsibility which actually saw MPs swear.

Mr Cameron has apparently urged his more fiery Ministers to “rein it back a bit”, particularly after the Environment Agency fought its corner and refused to be a whipping boy for the Government.

The bottom line now is that half Somerset is underwater while anyone with a house near the River Thames is rapidly moving furniture upstairs.

Not to be upstaged, poor residents in Worcester now have a county cricket ground which looks like an outdoor swimming pool and a city centre which looks like, well, an outdoor swimming pool.

Weathermen are now starting to say that we are having the wettest winter for more than 200 years and they won’t get too many arguments about that.

Holland, which knows a thing or two about floods, has allowed some of its super pumps to be brought over to England where they are now spouting floodwater into rivers so it can be carried downstream to flood other areas so the misery can be shared about a bit.

All in all, the best place to be is an armchair by a nice fire in a house on ground which is high enough to avoid flooding and low enough to avoid being smashed to smithereens by hurricane-force winds.

Anyone ready for Spring and a few April showers yet?

Wexham Park Hospital, Slough: A Patient’s View

WEXHAM PARK HOSPITAL, SLOUGH: A PATIENT’S VIEW.

 

THIS blog details my 13-days at Wexham Park Hospital in Slough for a recovery period following robotic surgery to have my prostate removed because of cancer.

It details incidents, accidents, staff, facilities and equipment in the hope that future patients can read it and learn about Wexham and that Wexham can read it and use my observations to improve care quality. The blog will also be made available to the Care Quality Commission.

I arrived at Wexham on the morning of Tuesday, January 7th at about 7.20am having travelled up about 140 miles from Weymouth, Dorset, two days before to start medication preparation for the operation.

Initial impressions were that Wexham was vast, a huge complex, and it swiftly emerged that more needs to be done to help orientate patients and visitors because no paperwork sent me ahead of my operation showed me how to get to where I was supposed to be going.

This difficulty and stress levels were made worse by not being a local resident, so on arrival at main reception I had no site map, no directions and no destination name to guide me to my operation point.

Solving this problem should have been simple, but I knew I had to check in by 7.30am as ordered, so time was tight only for me to find out that main reception didn’t open until 7.30am.

 In fact, by nearly 7.40am there was still no-one there, more stress I didn’t need on an already stressful day so myself, my wife and our friend desperately launched out in to a hospital just coming awake to try and find out where I had to go.

Over the next 30-40 minutes we received something like six different and often conflicting sets of directions – all from hospital staff – all of whom were friendly but all of whom seemed mystified by the presence somewhere at Wexham of a surgical unit which did radical prostatectomies.

We finally realised that a series of little coloured symbols related to various medical functions – no-one had told me in any form of prior correspondence that this was how to navigate Wexham – and we finally tracked down where I was supposed to go, arriving pretty stressed not at 7.30am but just before 8.10am.

Staff welcomed me and I was asked to get ready including a toilet visit if I wanted.

The first toilet I tried seemed fine but, on pushing the door wide open, I was shocked to see a large pile of blood-covered faeces on the floor. A bit rattled, I reported what I had found before getting ready as best I could. I was then taken to a small room outside the operating theatre where I received anaesthetic.

I woke up later in Bed 28 of Ward 2 where to my delight I was told by my wonderful surgeon Mr Omar Karim, that the operation had gone very well indeed.

Mr Karim deserves nothing but the highest praise. He may be recognised as the top robotics surgeon in the country but there is far more to him than that because he is also friendly, knowledgeable and informative on top of that, all qualities a patient values. He even personally visited my bedside five times during the next 13 days to monitor my progress. Very reassuring.

What followed next on the night of January 7th in to January 8th was the worst night I have spent in any hospital anywhere in the country.

It underlined the true state of Wexham – and perhaps the NHS on a wider scale – with clear evidence of chronic understaffing with all the diificulties and dangers that involves.

Not a wink of sleep did we get all night during which:

  • Three men screamed out in agony at the top of their voices at different times of the night
  • An estimated 300+ buzzers, bells, bleeps, alarms or klaxons went off
  • Patients were constantly startled by night staff’s use of ring folders which were opened with a “crack” and closed with a loud “snap”
  • Constant comings and going, lights turned on, then off, then on again, sometimes for the whole ward but also for individual beds as staff worked on patients.

I’m sure all this may just have been a bad night but it was unfortunate that it was my first night recovering from a major operation, so it was difficult to just lie there. Sleep was impossible.

I was shown the bed up and down button but not where it was being stored and I was not told about the call button at all

January 8th was a growing nightmare with slowly increasing pain and I just couldn’t face doing anything.

On January 9th the drip in my left arm was removed but my wound drain stayed in while my catheter started to bypass and I started to experience acute stomach bloating.

At this point I will flag up heavy praise for Staff Nurse Ashling Clancy – who later left to join a new hospital – and her colleague, Sarah Ababio-Kissi.

It was Sarah who, after I had endured 27 hours of absolute agony with my stomach – now nearly three times its normal size – said she was concerned that something wasn’t quite right.

She decided to change my catheter bag from a solid plastic bed box type to a flexible leg bag type. It was then she noticed that the catheter  pipe clamp had been put on too tightly.

In the time it took her to fit the new bag, turn away and put the old bag to one side and turn back towards me the new bag had filled.

By the time she had finished, Sarah had drained 800ml of urine and blood from my stomach where it had backed up because the clamp had been put on too tightly.

Instantly I began to feel a bit better, but it was still 27 hours of pain because of someone’s mistake which brings me to the serious concerns I have over the documentation system at Wexham.

There was no doubt in my mind that the clamp had caused the major stomach problem I developed, no doubt in Sarah’s mind, no doubt in the mind of the urology staff and consultant who saw me and no doubt in the minds of my visitors that I showed dramatic signs of improvement once my stomach had been drained.

But Wexham at this time was already the subject of a damning CQC report on its failings and a warning that it could be fined if it didn’t improve, so somehow the incident of the clamp – which everyone knew had caused my condition to deteriorate sharply – only appeared on my Hospital Leaving Letter under “Inpatient Management” as “patient developed abdominal distension post-op”, implying that my condition had somehow been a reaction to the operation.

This is a lie. My agonizing stomach swelling was due entirely to the catheter pipe clamp being put on too tightly which backed 800ml of urine and blood into my stomach. Wexham may want to gloss over what happened but I don ‘t.

I also have other serious concerns with Wexham’s documentation system – notably over one incident where patients in the beds opposite me were given each other’s drugs by mistake – but I will deal with that when I get to it.

Having had my stomach drained, the real recovery began. I was given lots of lovely enemas to help me open my bowels after that setback and I had a much more restful night on January 10th. It was still no picnic but I was able to draw bed curtains and just lie there until John, a seriously ill pensioner who was losing a lot of blood, was brought back at 1am. I had to make loo visits at 2am and 6am but in between it was very peaceful just lying there.

Several milestones on January 11th with my first bowel movement and the delights of two Weetabix for breakfast. There was also a nice touch when one staff member brought their children on to the ward who passed round a box of chocolates for patients. Much appreciated.

But the day was marred by a terrible incident just when we all thought the day was over.

The lights were lower at 10.20pm when an 82-year-old man in the bed opposite me was given the drugs of a 30-year-old man in the bed next to him after their case notes were wrongly left on each other’s beds.

Shockingly the 82-year-old had already taken two of the wrong medicines – powerful morphine-based pain killers – before the rest of us began to smell a rat.

It was pure luck that we were able to something because the 30-year-old was normally asleep by now but had had a bad afternoon and was now sat cross-legged on his bed doing a crossword.

The drug trolley nurse – we understand she was an agency nurse brought in because Wexham was so short staffed – asked the 30-year-old to take his first medicine to which he commented that he wasn’t usually given this item. When she offered him a second item he not only said he didn’t usually take it but questioned whether she had the right case notes.

The nurse replied that the items were all written down in the notes, the nurse then offering the 30-year-old double his usual level of morphine which was dangerous.

It emerged she had the wrong notes belonging to the 82-year-old and we asked her to report the incident immediately in case his life was in danger.

She replied that she would report what had happened but only once she had completed the drug round.

Quite clearly the 82-year-old might have become seriously ill or died by the time the round was over, so the 30-year-old and I forced the issue, got it reported to senior staff and a major inquiry was launched.

We were told that senior representatives would come round to see us later but that didn’t happen until 12.25am. Cynical us wondered if the delay was so we’d fall asleep waiting which would allow the bureaucrats to say they hadn’t wanted to wake us up! Eventually the hospital’s only Junior Doctor and its Senior Surgical Wards Manager did visit to apologise to us all for what had happened.

We heard two days later through the excellent ward manager Sally Cooper that steps were being taken to both identify what had happened and what needed to be done to prevent it happening again. I should add that the agency nurse in question failed on both occasions to ask the name of the patient she was administering to or their date of birth. Other nurses before and since did this. She did not. A simple check but it works.

The aftermath of the incident meant the 82-year-old wasn’t able to go home the next day as planned. His bowel movements had been fine, but being given the wrong drug bunged him up, his bowel motion stopped and staff rescinded his leaving and put it back a day when he was able to leave.

January 12th was my first natural bowel movement for five day. Toilet facilities both help and hinder with this. One toilet has a lot more space and was therefore ideal for patients like myself with restricted movement. The other toilet was much tighter for space and more suited to those who could manoeuvre themselves about a bit. The larger toilet often needed cleaning, but staff were good about this and did so pretty much the moment the need for cleaning was pointed out. With such heavy use of the two toilets, this situation was not surprising.

This was also the day we read about Wexham Park being criticised by the CQC. There was also a damning national newspaper report on the appalling situation at Wexham which allegedly included arguments and fights among some surgical staff, sometimes actually in the operating theater with a patient lying there unconscious.

The CQC report is interesting because it claimed to have found “short-staffed wards” (Very true. They were cripplingly short of staff while I was there); “evidence of poor record keeping” ( I totally agree with this. Just on my little ward there were numerous incidents of patients’ records being written up in an ambiguous fashion. This meant morning staff might do or say one thing but, by the time night staff came, the notes often didn’t make it clear whether the drugs in question had been discontinued or whether the mention was for them to continue).

As a patient, this meant I was often told one item was being stopped only for me to be offered it again by the evening drug round. Very confusing and more than a little worrying.

On January 13th I was offered as part of my meal a cup of vegetable soup which was the worst hospital food I have ever had anywhere. It wasn’t even acceptable to grout tiles with. This must be a source of some concern for the hospital and for the CQC because appetising food has to be a key element of all patients’ recovery. On a scale of 10, the best I could offer Wexham was a 3 or 4 and that’s being generous.

On January 14th there was another serious mistake made by staff which unfortunately again involved myself.

I had been scheduled for a sigmoid check and was therefore given an enema at 8pm and another at 10pm to clear my bowel overnight ready for the procedure the next day. This would allow the camera to check that my bowel was not damaged and was not linked to the problems I had been experiencing.

So I went through 17 hours of no liquid by mouth, 24 hours of no food and a sleepless night spent shunting back and forth between bed and toilet only to be wheeled down to theatre the next day to be told by staff there that they couldn’t deal with me because I had been given the wrong preparation procedure!!

I then had to go back on ward, have a quick meal and then begin the starving and nil-by-mouth process all over again, this time being given the right preparation treatment. I was very unimpressed by that.

On January 16th I had my sigmoid tests and the results were fortunately very good and I was taken back to my ward to enjoy lunch, only the second out of the previous eight meals I had been able to have.

More delays then followed with a different scan. This one had been ordered by my consultant so he could see how my stomach wounds were healing. I was told I wasn’t on the scan list that day. The next day my consultant, Mr Karim, specifically discussed my scan at a big morning meeting during which it was upgraded to a “priority scan”. This was also ignored.

Only on the third day of asking at about 4pm did I get the scan. Throughout the whole of this period I was just left to stew. No one told me why there was a delay or when I might be dealt with.

The scan did reveal that the healing for one perhaps two of my wounds had been affected by the earlier clamp error and I was told I would have to wear my catheter for an extra eight days because of this. Just the thought of that was awful and the reality of eight days of extra catheter use is very nasty indeed with all its inherent problems.

Finally on January 19th the big day came when I was discharged and could be driven the 140 miles home. It was not until I got there and looked at my discharge letter than I realised the mistake with the catheter clamp had been whitewashed over as “Patient developed abdominal distension post-op”.

This is, of course, an accurate statement but it completely hides the reason why I developed such a grossly distended stomach and instead makes it appear like it was a physical reaction by me to the operation rather than a mistake which made me seriously ill. I can only presume this was done to avoid drawing CQC attention to the incident. Fortunately ward manager Sally Cooper is on the case and she is very good.

So in all, watch your step as a patient at Wexham. I cannot speak too highly of the nurses there whose devotion shines through 15-hour shifts. They genuinely care about patients and wer crucial in helping me get through my stay at Wexham, but I wouldn’t give you tuppence for the bureaucrats, the paperwork system and organization or the way staffing levels are approached.

Over to you CQC.

The English Pub

An English pub deserves ranking with the Pyramids or the Taj Mahal, perhaps more so because of the way its architecture is embellished by the people within it.

It starts with a rich brew of pub names which, in my county of Dorset alone, includes the likes of the Piddle Inn, the Silent Woman, Worlds End, the Boot, True Lovers Knot, Oddfellows Arms, the Tickled Pig and the Grasshopper.

Many pubs have a simple tale behind that name, a good example of which is my old village’s pub in Doddiscombsleigh in Devon which was called the Nobody Inn.

That tale goes back centuries and involves a weary traveler walking along a country lane who comes across the pub. He decides to break his journey and have a tankard of ale and a meal, but despite repeated knocking on the front door he could get no answer as there was nobody in. And that’s how that pub got its name.

Then there’s the pub’s actual architecture.

This can range from chocolate box scenes when the pub has a thatched roof, black wood beams, white plasterwork and is perhaps set near a duck pond or open fields to more industrial pubs which may just have a red brick slightly wider frontage on an ordinary street, their presence only revealed by the sign swinging over the entrance.

What can happen inside is a tribute to this country’s quirky approach to drinking establishments because I’ve seen ancient coaching inns which look absolutely glorious from the outside but which are a disaster in plastic once you step inside.

By contrast, ordinary looking pubs can reveal some wonderful quirks if you pluck up courage to venture inside. One simple example of that is the Wellington Arms in Weymouth which contains a large history board inside plotting the record of landlords there back into the 19th century. It even has details of when it was “damaged by enemy action” during the Second World War.

There are pubs with spires, pubs with weird roofs, underground pubs, pubs up staircases and even, God bless ‘em, pubs in former religious buildings.

The décor inside will always include a few ornaments, various pictures and perhaps a horse brass or three, but beyond that it is what the landlord can think of or tolerate.

One pub used to have a macaw in a large ornate cage who had a long list of victims who spilled their beer when the bird screeched while the number of pubs containing a glass case with some impressive fish in it is legend.

A recent trend has seen some pubs go for the telling famous quote picked out in black paint copperplate on some prominent section of wall or ceiling such as W.C.Fields’ gem: “A woman drove me to drink and I didn’t even have the decency to thank her!” My favourite of his is: “Always carry a small flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite and furthermore always carry a small snake.”

But, when it comes down to it, the people who use the place make an English pub what it is.

There will be Old Bill who comes in for two halves of best bitter every Friday night and who feels the whole world has gone to Hell in a handcart ever since Churchill died.

By contrast, there will be “Mad Mohican” Mike, a teenager proud of his ability to drink ten pints of Snakebite even if he doesn’t remember doing so.

And then there is the lovely Wanda, a warm-hearted slightly overweight 30-something who is sure Mr Right is waiting for her just around the corner…..and while she’s waiting she’ll have a double port and lemon please!

No pub would be complete without its “lads”, a loud, proud and unbowed bunch who talk loudly, use the “f” word a lot and provoke widespread sighs of relief when they leave.

There are many other characters including the family with a baby “you’d think they’d have a high chair in this day and age”, the loving couple who sit and gaze soulfully into each other’s eyes while their beer and wine get warm and, of course, the group of girls dotted with butterfly and seahorse tattoos and armed with piercing giggles and skirts which are either up to their waist or down to their ankles like a tent.

It takes all sorts but that is all part of the charm of the English pub. Cheers!

Preparing for Christmas

IF Christmas is so familiar to everyone then how come so many people get the preparations wrong year after year?

I mean, Dad took down the Christmas tree lights and put them away himself last year, so how come he’s surprised they don’t work this year?

And how come he’s even more surprised when he sticks his finger in a broken bulb socket that connecting himself up to the National Grid hurts? Perhaps the smoke curling out of his Y-fronts will teach him to be more careful next year and get his children to do it.

Mums are no better. What fool would take a small glass bowl, add cream, milk, custard powder, a nice dash of sherry and a shot of brandy only to then stick an electric whisk in the mixture and turn it straight on before checking the control wasn’t on high…which it was. Have you even seen a custard-coloured kitchen? Not pretty.

The only reason children don’t join in this disaster is that they are too busy opening presents so Mum and Dad can find new ways to hurt themselves.

Remember that easy assembly CD Cabinet? Well it’s not easy and it’s not assembled, at least not since Dad stuck that screwdriver in his hand. Strangely enough, blood transfusions were not among the list of instructions.

And how about the chocolate fountain? A simple mechanism to switch on but not when activated early by Dad on Christmas Eve so everyone wakes up at 3am on Christmas Day to the stench of burnt sugar wafted upstairs on clouds of smoke.

Still, it won’t take long to repair the fusebox once all the electricians go back to work after New Year and it was kind of the firemen to open all the windows to ventilate the house. Central heating’s gone, they said. Oh, and Merry Christmas.

Getting ready to welcome Santa Claus may not involve providing bedding and food for reindeer but it can involve bedding and food for the kids’ new pet dog.

People who have never had a pet dog lack even the semblance of an idea about just what is being taken on, but by Boxing Day they’ll have a pretty good idea.

For a start, no-one will have had a wink of sleep on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as new arrival, Hamilton, will have spent two nights howling the place down or whimpering his displeasure at being parted from his Mum.

So nerves will be in tatters by Boxing Day morning, a state not improved by Dad descending the stairs in the morning to a delirious welcome from Hamilton only to find that his prize new golf shoes not only have a hole in one but in both. In fact they’ve been chewed to pieces.

Mother joins in her spouse’s wails of anguish with a few shrieks of disbelief that Hamilton has tipped over the Christmas tree and eaten all the chocolate ornaments which doesn’t please the children much either although they love the piles of regurgitated silver paper dotting the carpet in a miasma of vomit.

Yes, there is plenty of Christmas cheer for us all to look forward to and, because we’re all veterans of planning for the Big Day, nothing can go wrong….can it?

Dog owners face prison

TOUGHER penalties for irresponsible dog owner are being proposed by the Government after news that 5,500 dog attacks have been recorded on postmen since 2011. So what will it mean for man and his best friend?

 

“Brutas, is that you?” growled Max. “Talk to me buddy.”

There was a scuffling sound and then a tear-streaked muzzle was thrust between the cell bars.

“You’re still here then, Max. We’re never going to get out of here are we?”

“Don’t talk like that mate. Barkhurst may be top security, but if we wag our tails and don’t bite anybody maybe they’ll transfer us to a Category 2 prison like Woofwood Scrubs.”

“Perhaps for you, but there’s no hope for me, not while my master’s still here on C Wing. Five years he got. You can hear him scream in the showers.”

“Don’t cry Brutas, get even! Think what we’ll do to that postie when we get out. A couple of  nips, that’s all we gave him as he bent over to put that Second Class through the letter box. A bit of innocent fun is all it was and for that they throw away the key.”

“I don’t think my master sees it that way. He told the court I was just playful and they still sent both of us down.”

“That may have had something to do with your 29 previous convictions, the restraining order and that unfortunate incident with the Chihuahua at No 27.”

“Well I was hungry and it was all fur anyway. Stupid little dogs.”

“But the courts don’t see it that way any more. All they see is a tearful owner who says Fluffykins, who never hurt anyone, was gobbled up by a fat bull terrier which then chewed her walking stick.”

“It wasn’t a walking stick. It was a crutch…and who are you calling fat! Being thin didn’t do you much good did it. Four years for attacking a group of children at a picnic!”

“I was only after the sausage rolls.”

“Yeah, but the kiddies didn’t know that did they. Took one look at a big Alsatian with bigger teeth coming straight for them and ran away straight across a road. Hell of a mess.”

“All right, all right. Maybe I could have been a bit more subtle and sat up and begged, but it’s so undignified.”

“Better undignified and free than doing four years for a few sausage rolls.”

“Anyway, we’re locked up now for years. Look! Here comes a warder. Must be time for exercise! Wonder if I’ll get to use the tree first.”

“You’ll be lucky. That lot from E Wing goes out before us. Be six inches deep before we get out there.”

“Still, there’s always dinner to look forward to. Meaty chunks tonight.”

“Yeah, keep your head up. Maybe we’ll get time off for good behavior. Here we go then! Race you to the security fence.”

The Great Storm

THANK God we have all survived “The Great Storm”.

Weymouth wasn’t swept into the sea and Dorchester wasn’t blown off the map, but both towns were given a damn good shaking.

We’ve had winds gusting to 98mph in Portland Harbour and police say more than 100 trees have been blown down all over the county.

Pockets of flooding on rural roads almost everywhere and the A354, the main road artery between Weymouth and Dorchester, was closed for hours by 20 trees blowing down and the route being hit by a small landslip.

Some truly spectacular waves along Chesil this morning and many trees have been stripped of their leaves.

But does all this justify its billing as The Great Storm, a weather monster to rival the Great Hurricane of 1987. The answer is clearly a big “No”.

Twenty-six years ago I stood in an office window in St Thomas Street and watched total chaos descend on the area.

Leaves fluttered through the air as the town was battered by terrible winds, but what people were actually looking at wasn’t leaves but the slate roof of the Crown Hotel being slowly torn off to fly through the air.

Police had to step in and cordon the whole area off with tape because it was too dangerous for pedestrians to go out on the streets near Town Bridge.

We had vehicles blown over, countless trees came down, numerous buildings were damaged and I lost count of how many roads were closed.

Yachts were trashed, local woodland lost thousands of trees and the wind was so strong in places that it bent road signs.

Compared to all that I think our 2013 “Great Storm” has been a bit of a pussycat. Still, better safe than sorry.

Police stations could close

DORSET Police could cut the opening hours of police stations across the county, but officers say shorter hours or the actual closure of stations would badly hit rural areas.

Some villages aren’t taking any chances and are already making plans to fight any cuts.

The current police station at Piddle-in-the-Pond, which has operated for years in an alcove off the snug in the Horse & Plough pub, may not have many staff but it has been a huge success.

News that the station might reduce hours or even close was a bitter blow for PC Ivor Thirst who has run the station almost singlehandedly for nearly forty years.

His popular brand of community policing carried out in front and behind the bar has created the only zero crime area in the country.

There is no theft but only things that have been “mislaid” and no violence unless people don’t do what he says.

At 6ft 6in and 23 stone, few people have been unwise enough to challenge PC Thirst. Well there was that American tourist who complained about the surcharge on his beer, but a “spot” sentence of a week working on the pig farm soon smoothed that over.

PC Thirst said: “I just can’t see how them headquarters people can cut station hours here. The pub has got to open and I open the station with it and close when old Dan’s had his last pint so I can walk him home.

“I’m right on the edge now. Harvest time is over but there’s all the cider to make. There’s only so many hours in the day left for all my policing and the Widow Bedworthy gets tetchy if I leave too soon.

“That Heath feller Prime Minister has got to realize that rural life can’t be rushed. Slow and steady wins the day and if I’m told to shut the station early there’ll only be Albert’s Tuesday and Saturday night lock-ins when folk can do a bit of business with me if you gather my meaning.”

Villagers, too, are worried that less policing could lead to a rise in serious anti-social behavior incidents.

Eileen Dover-D’Wall, who lives up at the Manor, broke off from waspishly directing a Fortnum & Mason’s van away to the rear courtyard to say how appalled she was that Dorset Police could even consider such a measure.

She said: “What on earth are they thinking about? Don’t they realise that without proper policing one might get tradesmen at one’s front door, perhaps even a Labour canvasser?

“PC Thirst does a fine job ensuring such riff-raff know their place and it will be a sad day if his superiors interfere with the proper order of things. I shall be writing to the Chief Constable about this today.”

So there you have it. Nothing has definitely been decided yet, but Dorset Police are clearly facing a rural backlash….and no-one wants to be on PC Thirst’s black list.