Saturday, May 30, 2009


Am in the process of rebuilding my website (or rather getting someone to do it for me properly!), so if you happen to stumble across there at the moment you won't find anything. Hoping to get it up and running soon, with a much more proactive and zingy website, and news of and I hope cover of Last Christmas. Will keep you posted!

If you like cooking I may well be putting recipes up there from time to time, as part of pr for the new book (my heroine does a lot of cooking, and so do I.)Haven't quite worked that one out though, and entirely unclear as to the copyright issues relating to recipes, given that I never have all the ingredients so do tend to make stuff up as I go along. Cooking. A metaphor for my life...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A birthday trip down memory lane (not for the faint hearted)

This time of year is our birthday season. And today it's no 2's turn. Her birthday coming only two weeks after no 1's, means no 2 sometimes feels no one is quite as interested in her big day. Added to which, it being in half term means it's often a bit of a damp squib. Five of her birthdays have been spent away from home (though on the plus side, last time we went away she got three cakes as a result). We also missed her 7th birthday because Spouse took me to Venice to celebrate my 40th (and has she ever let us forget that one? Why no. I think she'll be reminding me on my deathbed.) This year she was mighty pissed off when she discovered that no 1 would be on a school trip to Germany, and has only been mollified by copious texts and no 1 promising her an "extremely coolio Geburtstag pressie" (any parody of Georgia Nicholson fully intended. I think no 1 fantasises about being Georgia Nicholson - I don't think the reason she now calls us Mutti and Vati has anything to do with learning German properly.)

I meant to mark the occasion of no 2's tenth birthday as I did no 1's here with a rhapsodising post about the joys of her birth, but somehow didn't get to it last year. So instead, as I muse rather sadly that I am losing my second little girl to a preteen hormonal world of secondary school and semi independence, I'll take that nostalgic look back now....

After no 1's birth which was hugely traumatic, I did think for a while I couldn't face going through the whole shebang again. But Nature is a cunning Old Bird, and when no 1 hit one, she got me bang between the eyes. One year old babies are just beautiful. Gorgeous, funny, engaging. Doing new things all the time. Not so demanding as when they first come out. So you get completely besotted with them to the extent that you forget all the horror of their birth and the early weeks of no sleep and no life, and suddenly your body is screaming at you I WANT ANOTHER ONE NOW!!!! So it was that I forgot my resolve that no 1 would be an only one on whom I could shower all my love and affection, and by the time she reached her second birthday her new sibling's arrival was imminent.

I never seemed to manage labour straightforwardly - well, ok does anyone? -but my babies all went into stop start mode, so I'd have really strong contractions for a bit which sent me scurrying into hospital, only for everything to stop and I'd come home the next day with my tail between my legs feeling both disappointed and stupid. It was very very tiresome.

And after all those shenagigans which went on for weeks before the baby arrived, the little buggers turned up late.

No 2 was due on 23 May, but showed no signs of arriving so I had an appointment on 28 May to do a swipe (you don't want to know, but clever way of getting a baby moving) and was given another appointment for an induction should that not work. As no 1 was induced I wasn't keen to repeat the experience, so it was a mighty relief that no 2 showed signs of arrival in the afternoon.
My mother was staying with me on standby to look after no 1, and by midafternoon was keen to get me into hospital. I wasn't budging till I knew for definite the baby was on its way, so I made her take me for a walk around the park, during which I had to pause for the odd contraction. I was strangely relaxed. After the absolute hideousness of having no 1, doing it naturally seemed like a doddle in comparison.

At teatime the contractions were coming closer together, but I insisted on feeding no 1, and then bathing her, even though my mother was practically pleading with me to go in. It was only when reading no 1 her bedtime story that I conceded defeat. I had a rather puzzled two year old, saying Keep going, Mummy, when I kept having to pause from reading as I breathed my way through contractions which were definitely on the wrong side of painful.

So Spouse and I set off for the hospital, which is luckily only ten minutes away. All was calm when we arrived. We were ushered into a labour room, examined, I was strapped up to a monitor, given some gas and air and we were left to it for a bit. Being in a labour room is really really strange. You lie there looking at your bump, trying to think about something other then the pain, and trying and failing to imagine your new baby lying in the empty crib awaiting it. Everytime I did it, it felt weirdly surreal.

The midwife was popping in and out checking up on me, and it became very clear after a bit, that the ward was incredibly busy. To the point that, having examined me and discovered I was still only 2cm dilated (another incovenient fact of the way I gave birth was my babies took HOURS in the first stage of labour, and because I wasn't at 3cm and therefore officially in labour, no one ever took my pain seriously) she suggested I go home. I'm sure they needed the room I was in, as although I really really didn't want to budge, somehow we were persuaded that going home was a really good idea. Have a nice hot bath, were the midwife's parting words.

Now. I had been to antenatal classes for nos 1&2. I had read nearly every book on childbirth I could lay my hands on. I knew that labour takes two stages. Stage one when the cervix contracts. Stage two when the baby is born. I also knew that in between stages one and two there is a transitional stage, which can involve: confusion, irrational behaviour and violent shaking. Did I recognise all of these things when they happened to me? No dear reader, I did not.
So there I was lying in my bath, thinking, oh yes, I remember this from last time, this feels soo nice, and all was going swimmingly as it were, when all of a sudden, the nice easy controlled contractions I'd been experiencing turned into the most godawful shuddering bodyshaking pains I have ever felt. I hadn't a clue what was going on, but suddenly that lovely feeling of being in control vanished and I was a gibbering wreck. I fortunately had enough presence of mind to get out of the bath, and just about enough to resist the temptation to go the loo, but otherwise I was a complete mess. I wandered up and down the landing moaning pathetically, dripping with water, resembling no doubt a rather large and sad looking fat whale. I called downstairs to Spouse, who couldn't hear me (my moans really were that pathetic), but I couldn't quite work out that I needed to either get dresssed or shout louder. Eventually, I must have done the second, as Spouse came and found me. To do him credit he didn't burst out laughing, as I think he would have been quite entitled to, but instead tried to find me some clothes.

At that point I turned into Mad Labouring Mother From Hell.

Where are you leggings? he asked
In the drawer, I replied, not actually telling him which one.
Not that bloody drawer, you idiot!!

He had to put up with quite alot more of this until he managed to get me back in the car. I can remember clinging to the passenger handle for dear life everytime one of the enormous body wracking contractions hit me (which seemed to be about every five seconds), and then when Spouse miraculously got us to hospital in one piece, I climbed out of the car, and felt the most incredible urge to push. Wtf? I'd left hospital less then two hours before, I couldn't believe the baby was on its way.

Somehow between contractions which involved me stopping where I was, refusing to move and clinging to Spouse like a drowning woman, we managed to get up to the labour ward. By now I was raving like a lunatic and demanding an instant epidural. They tried to give me gas and air instead, and I kept spitting it out, effing and blinding that it was doing no good whatsoever. In the midst of all this, I was dimly aware that all the staff seemed to be moving swiftly into battle stations, and someone was ripping my leggings off. I spotted Spouse with a silly grin on his face. Suddenly the penny dropped.

Oh. Is the baby coming? I said stupidly.
Er, yes, was the patient answer. Followed by a stern lecture from the midwife that I needed to get myself under control if I wanted my baby to come out and be placed straight in my arms.
Three pushes later, and suddenly I was being presented with a wriggling writhing little alien. Spouse and I were so shocked at the speed of it we could barely speak.

I looked down at her in awe. Second baby. I was now a mother of two. It felt just as good as the first time.

Still does. Actually.

She might feel neglected, and overlooked sometimes. But no 2 has always made her presence felt since her dramatic entry into the world. And on her eleventh birthday I thank her for the fun she brings into my life, for the laughter, even for the tantrums. She's one in a million.

The first eleven years have fled by far too fast. Can't wait to see what the next eleven bring...

For my special, A. With love on your birthday.

PS just realised, the word I was looking for was sweep, not swipe. Blame the next phase of my hormonal womanly journey. Am having huge trouble remembering the simplest of words. Not very helpful for a writer...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Five Live Richard Bacon show

If you are a chick lit fan, if you like the brilliant Kate Harrison, and if you happen to be near a radio at midnight tonight, tune into Five Live to hear her discussing chick lit with Richard Bacon.
You can read more about it here. If you don't have the stamina for late night radio, you can always listen again tomorrow...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Teenage Kicks ( a slightly self indulgent, spoilery post)

As of last Friday we have a teenager in the house. (She is already thoroughly sick of jokes about turning into Kevin, particularly as she has never seen that episode of Harry Enfield.)

And inevitably of late we've also been watching a lot of current teen movies. Along with all her peers, no 1's current obsession is Twilight. (If you haven't heard of/read Stephanie Myers bestselling series, you clearly don't know any teenage girls.)

Twilight interested me from the off, as in my previous existence, when I had a proper job and everything I used to edit a teen fiction series called Point Horror. (So anyone reading this, who was a teenager in the early 90s, you partly have me to thank for any nightmares you may have had.) Actually, by today's standards PH was pretty tame: the stories in the main were fairly formulaic: a group of high school kids would a)find themselves in an isolated location b)be stalked/terrified by local looney/ghost/vampire/any other terrifying thing you can think of c)there was usually a love interest who may or may not be trustworthy and d) it all worked out in the end. (Apart from a brilliantly shlocky mini series called The Babysitter, which went through to Part IV - the original heroine who was stalked by scary person while babysitting ended up so demented she became the stalker/looney tunes by the end.)

I absolutely loved working on Point Horror. The stories were formulaic, but they were incredibly well written and pacy, and one or two were a cut above the rest. (I still rate my favourite PH, The Fever by Diane Hoh incredibly highly. A teenage girl is trapped in a hospital suffering from a mysterious fever, and hallucinating wildly. Someone is trying to kill her. Or are they?.... - use of ellipses is essential in describing any PH - It's such a terrifying premise, and Diane Hoh so brilliantly captures the vulnerability of being stuck in hospital with no one believing a word you say, that I think it could almost work written for an adult audience.)

I learnt masses about the appeal of popular fiction, how to write cliffhanger endings (master of the CE, a certain Mr RL Stine, who was also responsible for terrifying a generation of 8-10 year olds with his brilliant Goosebumps series), and how important such stories are in reaching kids for whom books and reading has passed them by. One of the very best bits of my job was receiving letters from kids, often wildly misspelt. So many of them said, I'd never read a book till I read a Point Horror, now I'm reading lots of different things. It made my job incredibly rewarding (and ok, yes, of course I loved reading the stories, and thinking, hey I get paid to do this.)

I see Stephanie Meyers' series in the same tradition as PH. Things have moved on of course, now. We weren't allowed to do sex ever (though I spread into other genres and I did publish and outrageously cheesy Beverley Hills 90210 lookylikey series called Ocean City which was pretty much a shag fest - all done in the most impeccable good taste), as though our target market was 12+ we knew that PHs were being read by 1o year olds. (An aside to that, we got into terrible trouble at the time of the Jamie Bulger trial, as two of my crime books: School for Death/Shoot the Teacher ended up in a primary school thanks to our book fairs, and the head teacher accused us of moral corruption. Story got picked up by the mainstream press, and Sunday Sport ran an article with a picture of one of our PH covers, which featured a bloody trainer - of course there was blood on the trainer that was used to kill Jamie, therefore we were responsible for the moral degeneration of today's kids, dontcha know? Anyone reading this who was a PH fan, please enlighten me if you think I debauched you. I'd love to know (-:)

Twilight is probably a lot more graphic then anything I edited, but as it focuses more on the emotional intensity of the relationship between the heroine Bella and the vampire Edward, to whom she is irresistibly drawn (and boy does it focus on that - jeez, I was all emotionally intensed out by the end), the sex angle is quite downplayed. And though the bad vampires (Edward and his family only feed off animals - in a rather witty quip, he tells Bella they're "vegetarian" vampires) do some fairly nasty stuff, it isn't graphic (just compare it with Interview with a Vampire and you'll see how toned down teen vampires are.) With my editor's hat on, I'd say Twilight could have been cut considerably - the most exciting bit happens in the last third of the book, the first two thirds have far too much of Bella and Edward mooning over each other (although Edward is an exceptionally sexy vampire, so I do get the appeal). Having watched the film yesterday, I'd say it suffers from the same problem (although it is quite moody, and I liked the grainy way it was shot). There were A. Lot. Of. Significant. Looks. And. Pauses. Which. I. Could. Have. Done. Without. And I found Robert Pattison's Edward deeply unsexy. I could have also done without so many vampire characters (a failing of the book as well) as I got them all muddled up. However, Kirsten Stewart's Bella is wonderful, and I also loved the character of Carlisle (he is outstanding in the book too) - the honourable vampire who is teaching them all to be better then they are. Interestingly enough, as Spouse pointed out, the whole thing is a metaphor for sexual restraint, which is quite refreshing in an era when our children are bombarded with sexual imagery and the expectation that they will be doing it before the end of their teens (before they're even legal in some cases....)

So. Not a bad effort, for a teen film. But not as good as the teen classic of my era: Gregory's Girl, which Spouse and I caught the end of last night. Actually, I have to fess up and say I've never managed to see this one all the way through (what can I say? I didn't have a boyfriend at the time, and it was a dating kind of film. My twin did, so she went and told me the plot, so I didn't need to go(-:) Watching it last night I was first struck with an OMG Did I really wear that moment? as one of the girls was wearing a print skirt with a Hawaiian beach scene, horribly reminscent of the one I had aged 16, and which I sadly loved. And secondly, I thought despite the sweet innocence of it, Susan who manipulates Gregory into going out with her seems way ahead of him in experience terms. And I loved the way it was her that walked him home, a really forward thinking stroke, that, for the time. I really must watch the whole film sometime...

A better modern comparison with Gregory's Girl, though, which is another of No1's favourite films is: Angus Thongs and Perfect Snogging (the UK book from which this film comes, is actually, Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging, but the US market still hilariously pretends to be prudish). The film is based on Louise Renison's best selling series, and features Georgia Nicolson, who is the inner teenager we all were.

I absolutely loved this film, because, while there are comments about thongs, and bras (hilariously, the bitchy character pads herself up) and slight whispers of sex, it is, like Gregory's Girl, a really innocent film. As a parent, I completely love the relationship between Alan Davies and Karen Taylor and the wry looks they throw one another as Georgia embarks on one potty scheme after another (guilty as charged. Spouse and I do that ALL the time.) But I also love it because it captures perfectly (as every good teen film should) the agonies, the ecstacies, the sheer embarrassment of teenage life. It's also superb on female friendships, and the awkwardness of dating boys. And it cheered me up to think that perhaps teenage life hasn't altered that irrevocably from my day, and despite my fears about the next few years featuring sex drugs and rock n roll, it might all turn out to be tamer then I think...

Here's hoping anyway...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Just cos you can, doesn't mean you should

Many many years ago when I was a very junior production assistant at an academic publishers, I was taken to visit a printing factory, as periodically happens when you work on the production side of books. Part of the deal is you usually get a fancy lunch out of it, and with this particular printers, they offered you a choice of free books from the bookshop attached to the printing works. I was very new to the job and the industry, and not entirely sure what the form was. Should I demand a huge thick hardback, or find the cheapest paperback going? Eventually after umming and aahing for ages, I panic grabbed a selection of Metaphysical poetry (which still graces my shelves now, as it happens).

I was mortified about the whole thing, particularly as my work colleague refused to accept anything. He told me later, that he didn't like being given presents by printers (it was the end of the 80s and we were frequently given bottles of wine or spirits, particularly at Christmas. The printers I knew then were so generous, I didn't buy any alcohol at all for our engagement party ). His thinking was that by accepting the gift, he was in effect accepting a bribe - you give me a case of wine at Christmas, and I promise you work in the New Year, irrespective of the fact that your work isn't a) competitively priced and b) up to scratch. He was right too. Our boss at the time was far too cosy with one particular typesetter, and it didn't seem to matter how crap their work was, we still had to use them.

I mention all this now, because of course I have been totally transfixed by the MPs expense stories. I'm inclined to agree with Stephen Fry that as usual the media have blown it out of proportion, and that everyone is guilty to a greater or lesser extent to taking/accepting things in the course of their work life to which they're not entitled. You don't think so? Ever taken a post it note pad or a pack of pens home? MPs have been doing the same but on a greater scale. We live in a society which more or less dictates that you should get something for nothing, even if you don't deserve it. It's your right, don't you know? So I disagree with Stephen Fry that it doesn't matter that a few MPs (and let's face it, it really isn't all of them) have gone up to their limit on expenses, because as he rightly points out journalists are probably just as guilty of doing the same, because the whole point about it is that while technically they may not have done anything wrong, morally I think they have. Just because you can claim expenses for your second home, doesn't mean to say you should.

For a very brief period when I was an editor I was given a company credit card. It was mainly for business lunches, a part of the job I loathed - it is a perk for an author, and it's very nice being taken out for lunch now, but it's not strictly necessary - and for business travel and other work related expenses. It wouldn't have dawned on me to go and stay in a posh hotel, or travel first class and charge it to the company. (Although I still feel guilty about the bottle of champers I was persuaded to buy at a Christmas party which technically I shouldn't have. Luckily there was a mistake and it never came through on the bill (-:) Apart from the fact that in my view it would have been wrong to do so, I also felt quite strongly that if we all wasted company money we were shooting ourselves in the foot, because it necessarily would impact on the company profits and ultimately, our jobs.

Such considerations don't seem to have held any water at all for MPs. Indeed, some of them genuinely don't seem to get why people are so upset, that the people paid to represent them are using taxpayer's money to improve their properties, escape CGT and make a profit at our expense, particularly during a recession. Hazel Blears still doesn't get it. I can't stand Hazel Blears, she always looks so bloody perky, like a demented little elf. And there she was on the news last night, perkily showing off a cheque to show she was going to do the "right thing" and pay the money back, which she should never have had in the first place. She was smiling away like we should be bloody pleased for her, still unable to grasp that we all know she's only paying it back because she's been found out. There's no moral integrity there whatsoever.

I shouldn't just pick on Hazel Blears though. Michael Martin's performance in the commons, slapping down the likes of Kate Hoey (now Hazel Blears could learn a thing or two about integrity from her) was atrocious. He's another one who arrogantly thinks that the common people don't need to know what their lords and masters are getting up to in the Commons. But then it's not in his interest to make the system more transparent and open, given that he's had investigations against him in the past.

The Tories haven't exactly been squeaky clean either (though I applaud Cameron's swift and decisive action in vowing to stamp out bad practice) - what the fuck does Douglas Hogg need a moat for? And does David Willets really not know the cost of lightbulbs? How can these guys represent us, when they're so out of touch? The most depressing discovery for me, though, has been finding out that our MP, Chris Grayling has claimed for at least two, if not three flats outside of his family home in Ashtead. He can easily commute to Westminster. Why does he need a flat in London? (I can understand the logic for MPs who live miles away, but anyone within the M25 should not be allowed to claim on a second home, I reckon. I always had to get myself home after work functions. So should they.) I had a lot of respect for Chris Grayling - he's a good constituency MP and I voted for him on the back of it. I think my vote may well be going elsewhere next time, unless he can prove that the £68000 he has apparently claimed in expenses is all legit.

The Lib Dems, so far don't seem to have come out of it too badly. After the disappointment over Chris Grayling, I was hoping against hope there wouldn't be bad news about Vince Cable, who has been a beacon of light and common sense during the global financial crisis, so I'm glad to see my faith in him is borne out. And having thought of Nick Clegg as a Cameron clone, I've had a lot more respect for him this week - although I've just looked his expense claims up and he's pushed it to the limit. Vince Cable, incidentally always commutes by train. Yay, for Vince Cable. Make him leader of the Lib Dems and I might just start voting for them again.

This has been a crap week for democracy in this country. A once honourable institution is looking severely shabby and dishonourable (mind you notions like honour don't cut much ice these days, so maybe we shouldn't care so much). There is a possibility of redemption: if Parliament can put its own house in order, remind MPs of what a privilege it is to represent the people, and teach them to abide not just by the letter of the law but by the spirit of it, then maybe we can get the government we deserve.

If not. We all know there's going to be an election next year. We have an opportunity to punish the lot of them. We should use our vote, and use it well.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Tempus fugit

We're just starting our birthday season - 4/6 of us have birthdays between May and July, leaving Spouse and no 4 alone a week apart in February.

The festivities have already kicked off as no 1 had her 13th birthday party on Saturday, although the big day itself is Friday.

13. I cannot believe I have a child who is going to be 13. It feels like I've blinked and she's gone all grown up on me. It hasn't helped that recently we found a whole bunch of videos we took when she was tiny - I don't feel I've changed a lot in the last decade (well ok, I have aged ten years, sigh), but my little toddler is now unrecognisable, and what's more her younger sisters who all seemed so tiny, only, what? minutes ago, are fast catching up.

Having moaned incessantly about the hardship of coping with babies and toddlers when they were small,, I now find myself in the inconsistently hypocritcal position of mourning the lack of littlies in the house. Come September I won't even have a child in the infants any more. How did that happen? And I can remember soooo clearly saying to one of my sisters when no 1 started school that I had nine years to look forward to of this, and now, poof! they've vanished. Mind you with the vanishing years has gone any impetus/enthusiasm I once had for helping out at Christmas fairs and the like, so it probably is Time To Move On.

Come September, no 2 will also be off to secondary school to join her sister (I am hoping with somewhat less trauma then no 1 had, at least no 2 knows what's coming), so for the first time ever I will only have two children on the school run (which of course, had I been sensible like normal people is what I'd have had all along). It feels like a massive change. And I'm not sure I'm ready for it.

Apart from anything else I keep having conversations with parents of teens which fill me with horror. Not only do I have my current maternal angsts of worrying about them being out and about on their own or getting run over because they think they are too grown up now to look both ways when they cross the road, to contend with, I apparently also have to look forward to them: drinking at a far earlier age then I did, having sex at a far earlier age then I did, and probably throwing a few druggie experiments in too boot. I have a feeling the only way to stay sane through all of this is to shut my eyes, hold my breath, cross my fingers and wait for them all to grow up. Maybe they will be like Zagazoo, Quentin Blake's hilarious take on parenthood, where a couple get a baby called Zagazoo, who as a small child is sometimes an elephant, or a dragon or a monkey, but when he turns into a teenager is more of a monosyllabic Yeti. Then one day they wake up and he is a polite young man offering them cups of tea. Yup. I think I could settle for that...

In the meantime I think I'll lie down in a darkened room waving a fan over my head, and praying that somehow they'll grow up all right, without me getting a day older...

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Sod's law dictates...

... that following my last post I have been struck down with the mother of all colds. Have been feeling so rotten, if I were a man I'd be sure to think I had bird flu. (Actually will exempt my man from that comment as he most definitely doesn't do man flu and if he is ever ill has to be forced to lie down to get better.)

Anyway. Said horrible cold has led me to observe a number of things, which suggest some fatal flaws in the catch it, bin it, wash it approach to keeping diseases at bay...
  1. As I started sneezing in Sainsbury's on Thursday when all the newswires in the world were going crazy about swine flu , I did try to discreetly sneeze into my shoulder as suggested, as not realising I was going to be so afflicted I'd come out without any tissues. However, this doesn't work when you are overtaken by a series of quickfire sneezes that take you so much by surprise you wouldn't have time to catch them, even if you HAD a tissue about your person...
  2. Once I had purchased enough tissues, I thought to keep me going till Christmas, I realised how inherently wasteful the catch it system is. You sneeze into a tissue (if gunfire staccato type sneezing allows you time to), throw it in the bin and before you know it you've whipped through yet another pack of Kleenex's finest. It isn't exactly environmentally friendly. Which generally seems to be the case about trying to wage war against microbes. Spouse came back from a scary talk given by a microbiologist some months ago to announce that from now on all his lab coats had to go on a boil wash at least, or we were all going to die from the terrible microbes attached to the fibres of his coats which had come out of his patients' gobs. This doesn't sit very well with our environmentally friendly eco washing machine which suggests we wash everything at 30 degrees... (I do so love it when two mutually exclusive ideas clash).
  3. Even though I spend most of my time at home, do you know how HARD it is to wash your hands every time you sneeze? Particularly when you are firing rounds of ammunition at a rate of about five sneezes a minute. Sneeze. Check. Catch it. Check. Wash hands. Check. Sneeze again. Check. Caught it. Just. Wash hands. Check. Sneeze. Check. Damned missed it. Shit. Forgot to bin the tissue from first two sneezes. Better do that now. Damn. Sneezed again, and didn't have time to catch it in my tissue, or my sleeve. Now hands, nose, eyes everything dripping. Should I just go and stand under a shower of dettol???

And don't get me even started about how hard it is to maintain at night. I spent the early hours of Tuesday morning sneezing every time I put my head on the pillow. If I'd gone to wash my hands every time I'd done it, I'd have probably created a local water shortage.

Still. It's nice to know in these credit crunch times at least tissue companies are going to be making money. In fact. It might just be worth us all investing the little money we have left in Kleenex...

Friday, May 01, 2009

Don't panic, Captain Mainwaring!

So. We're on the verge of a flu pandemic apparently.

Pig flu out of control! screeched the responsible Super Soaraway Sun the other day, and that was before they'd upgraded to level 5. Mind you, I didn't think the BBC News on Tuesday night was much better - as the newsreader solemnly told us we were currently at a level 3 in terms of seriousness of the situation, a colour code showing levels 4 and 5 popped up on the screen, erroneously giving the impression to anyone walking in the room at that moment that we were already at level 4. Don't panic indeed...

I do appreciate the government is treading a tricky path on this one in the sense that if they don't mention the fact that we should be concerned (and I think there is a genuine worry that this may well be the pandemic all the health professionals have been talking about for years) and it goes global it will be a disaster, but if they do panic everyone and then nothing happens it's another situation where they've cried wolf. And then when the real pandemic happens no one will believe them.
Because the pandemic will happen at some point - Spouse has been coming back from courses for years telling me this. The NHS have spent billions getting ready for it (so a little cynical part of me thinks they need it to happen now to justify the expense. Either that or it's a good way for the government to divert our attention from the financial mess they've got us into).

However, even if this it - and I think it probably isn't because a)we're coming to the end of the flu season and it's likely to die out b) by all accounts the version of the virus that's come here is quite weak and c) in Mexico they're already reporting fewer cases - I think some perspective is needed here.

Flu is a seasonal disease that is most virulent in the winter. Under normal circumstances it affects the vulnerable and the elderly (the vulnerable include asthmatics - so my two who have it will definitely be getting the flu jab this year, a precaution I don't always take) and in this country roughly 12000 people die a year from flu. The concern about any pandemic is that the demographic changes and everyone will be affected (though, not those apparently over 45 - there is a plus side to getting older, I said sweetly to Spouse earlier in the week, given that he has just turned 45. He tells me that is irrelevant actually, he's just as vulnerable as we mere 43 year olds.) However, the projected death numbers are expected to be in the region of 50 000. Of course that is a vast number of normally healthy people to die, and if it was anyone in my family I'm sure I wouldn't be so sanguine. But. Out of a population of 6 million people it is a very very small percentage. Plus think how many people are dying weekly across Africa of a variety of different diseases.
If (or more likely when) we do have a pandemic at some point, the main thing really is not to panic, to observe sensible hygiene routines (my friend who attended all the courses says use tissues, bag and dispose of them straight away, and WASH your hands. You wouldn't believe how many people don't. Spouse says (gross as this sounds) you should cough/or sneeze into your shoulder. Everytime you sneeze on your hands and don't wash them, you risk infecting every surface you touch. THAT'S how flu spreads, so very simple precautions can minimise that.

Having said that, I don't think ultimately we can stop it happening once it starts, because the global village has simply become too small. But are we likely to have an apocalyptic Survivor type plague? Nah. I don't think so.

So I'm not panicking...