Saturday, 28 April 2007


Aren't they darling? My husband and I tossed bread crumbs to the baby duckies (and the grown ones, too).

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Canal boats and graffiti

I went for a scoot (my version of a walk, but using my mobility scooter) along the River Kennet yesterday and found this spot on a little island in the center of the canal. It looks like various bits of old refuse -- a rowboat, some shopping carts -- and a shed fill this part of the island. It seemed somehow interesting and romantic to me. It's the kind of place that would have sparked all kinds of wild imaginings and a desire to explore when I was a kid -- I'm sure I could've convinced myself it was the final resting place of King Arthur or something equally enthralling (and ridiculous). If my knees were good and I wasn't afraid of what might be living under all that junk, I'd still want to explore it today.

I also saw this moored canal boat. They sometimes go up and down the river outside my window. As far as I can tell, they are merely for pleasure rather than some purpose like delivering goods. They're very long and narrow and have a long, low, windowless (as far as I can tell), enclosed cabin that I've never been able to see into. There is always someone standing outside the cabin, I guess to guide the boat (and enjoy the passing scenery).

Also interesting is the local graffiti. Just like anywhere, you can get a sense of the people and a town based on the scrawlings of local vandals (some of which can be quite artistic, but most completely moronic and disfiguring to an otherwise nice area). Someone painted "GOSH" on this side of this trash can (at least that's what it looks like it says). I'm not sure why that would be something someone was just burning to scrawl for everyone to read, except that the vandal was probably bored and unimaginative.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Health care -- the English way

Everything in this country runs about as efficiently as trying to button your shirt with your toes, and that includes medical care -- at least the care you get through the National Health Service, known as the NHS. I've used both private care and NHS care, and I can tell you private care operates much more efficiently. But you basically need to use an NHS GP for your prescriptions, so I do. I have hypothyroidism, for which I have to take medication every day for the rest of my life. Which means I have to deal with the NHS.

When I first came here, I discovered that it takes literally about 7 or 8 visits to the GP to accomplish what I could have done in one visit to a doctor back in the States. And keep in mind that I have mobility issues due to knee problems, so getting around is hard for me and each visit to the doc's office required a trip there and back via cab, costing $10 plus tip EACH WAY. I don't think the problems and inefficient manner of operation I encountered were a fault of my GP's office in particular, I think that's just how things are done here. I think the basic idea here is, since the NHS is "free" (you don't pay for treatment when you go in, but you do pay a lot in taxes to fund the NHS), the feeling is that the patient has to go to a LOT of extra trouble to get the services and treatment she needs rather than the GP and his staff going to any extra trouble, no matter how small, to make things run more efficiently and prevent the patient from having to return constantly to get anything accomplished.

It worked like this: First, I had to register with a GP in whose area I live. There are several nearby; I picked the closest less than a half mile away. We had to go in and register, which meant showing proof of address (our lease) and ID (our passport). We could only do this in person, and we couldn't see the doc that same day -- that required another visit. So we made an appointment and I came back and told the doc about my need for thyroid medication. He was unfamiliar with the medication I was on (they don't sell that same brand in the UK), so asked me to go to a pharmacist and find out what the equivalent was in the UK. In the U.S., the doc would've looked it up or asked one of her staff members to call and find out, and then would've either mailed me the prescription or called it in to a pharmacy. I called a pharmacy and found out, and then called the doc's office to tell them. They said I had to come in to the office and fill out a form with the information! Hello, knee problems! Hello, if I didn't have knee problems I'd probably be working 9-5 right now and couldn't keep going into the doc's office every couple of days! Fortunately, they said it was OK if my husband came to fill out the form for me. Then, of course, they didn't have the prescription right then -- that required coming back another day to pick it up.

But the visits were far from over. I also had to make a separate appointment with one of the GP's nurses to take my medical history. They do not give you a form to fill out on your first visit with the doc like practices in the U.S. do -- you have to talk to the nurse (I assume because they think she'll fill out the form more accurately, though she didn't with my husband -- he noticed that when he told her he quit smoking 12 years ago, she wrote down that he had smoked for 12 years). And of course you don't get to see the nurse on the same day you visit the doc -- you have to come back for that.

So I came back, paying another $20 in roundtrip cab fare. And because of my thyroid condition, they needed to do a blood test, which the nurse there could've done. But after hearing the history of high blood pressure and cholesterol in my family, she wanted me to do a fasting blood test. This even though I had had my annual exam four months earlier and had all the results to show her -- she felt four months was a long time ago and I needed to be rechecked. Because the test had to be fasting, I had to go in on another day, this time to the hospital. Another $20 in cab fare later, I got tests. I was told to call the doctor's office in X amount of days for the results. When I called, they told me I needed to come in and see the doc! In I came, yet again, and was told my cholesterol was a little high. That was it. He said he wasn't telling me anything particular I should do about it, just that it was a little high and that I should come back in three months for another blood test! In the U.S., the doc would've either mailed me that info in a letter or else called me himself (or had a staff member do it) to tell me. But not here. Here it's perfectly reasonable to expect the patient to return needlessly, even when you see she can barely walk. Again, I'm not trying to pick on my GP's office, I think they are just doing things the way they have always been done and that it seems perfectly reasonable from their perspective.

What sparked my rant down memory lane was that I was going to send my husband to Boots (a drugstore) to refill my prescription today. This was the first time we'd refilled medication in the UK. We weren't sure how to do it, because the containers the pills came in didn't state the number of refills left, and we had a slip that the pharmacist had torn off of our prescription and handed back to us that said we had 5 refills left. I thought we took that slip back to the drugstore, but my husband thought we took it back to the doctor for another prescription. I was sure he was wrong, as that's amazingly inefficient and a waste of time for us, the doctor and his staff. So of course it turned out the inefficient way is what we have to do! My husband brought the slips for both of our medications back to the doc's today, and in two days he can pick up a new prescription. Boots does have a service where you can request them to pick up the prescription for you (if it's to one of the doctor's offices that they regularly make pick-ups from). I had thought that meant they'd get a new prescription for you when you run out of refills, but now I see they mean it's a monthly task for people who have remaining refills.

It's a crazy-ass country.

Monday, 23 April 2007

Project Runway beats out UK knockoff

Thank God Project Runway has finally come to the UK! It's only on season one, but season two , which I didn't see, starts next week. For a fabulous play-by-play of the show, go to Project Rungay. My husband mocks my like of a few reality shows, but I've got to defend this one as it has a twist: the contestants actually have the talent and skills to design and sew an outfit in a crazy-short period of time.

The Brits have made their own version of this show called Project Catwalk. Now, the U.S. has been known to pilfer and remake many a Brit show, and that includes reality shows (I think half of the DIY shows in the U.S. originated in the UK, and the UK versions were way better -- think Changing Rooms beating out Trading Spaces, and What Not To Wear topping, well, What Not To Wear). But in this battle of the copied and rehashed TV show, the U.S. took names and kicked butt over the weak copy made by the Brits.

In Project Runway, the beautiful and always amazingly dressed Heidi Klum rules the roost. In the UK, her counterpart is ... wait for it ... Kelly Osbourne. That's right, the high-strung daughter of rocker Ozzy Osbourne. She does have a unique style all her own, but it's far from, well, stylish. She often looks like she's wearing a costume rather than clothes, but it's a look that works for her. Her look does not, however, make one think of beauty and fashion. I don't want to slam her too hard because her mom, Sharon, has been known to send people she doesn't like a package of poo (a reviewer of "The Osbournes" who called her kids fat got a steaming load of reprocessed Osbourne nutrients in the mail). But the original Brit counterpart to Heidi was Liz Hurley, who fit the beauty and style standard laid out by Heidi Klum to perfection. Apparently producers thought she was "wooden" (I never saw an episode with her at the helm), and Kelly got the gig in the end.

Another difference is that the show is designed to make the contestants much more adversarial and snarky than in the U.S. version. Anyone who's seen Project Runway may wonder how that could be possible, but believe me, the Brit version is just plain mean, and it's unpleasant to watch. The contestants brought out on the runway are asked things like who they think the worst designer is. Granted, in the U.S. version the contestants were asked who they thought should go if they had worked in a team, but they usually weren't horrid, seemed reluctant to have to pick anyone to go, and sometimes picked themselves as the one who should go. You won't see that reluctance in the UK version. I just saw one episode and couldn't take anymore.

I may buck up and try to watch more episodes of Project Catwalk, but I doubt I can take the enforced meanness of it all. Long live Heidi!

Sunday, 22 April 2007

Swan River?

My husband and I just went for a roll along the river (he was on a bike, I was on the scooter I bought on eBay to help me around until my knees get better). Wow, did the river stink! When I pointed that out to my husband, he just laughed and said, "It's filthy," (meaning, "Of course it stinks, what did you expect?") And it is dirty. I can't understand why people throw trash in the river when there are trash cans all along the walk.

Anyway, we came upon a colony of swans ... maybe. My husband looked it up on Wikipedia and now thinks they may have been white geese. We'd never seen so many "swans" in one spot. It was swantastic (or goosrific, whichever the case may be). Whatever they were, they made an odd noise -- they snorted.

Edited to add: My friend, Shaun, says these are in fact swans. Which is nice, 'cause it's way cooler to run across and bunch of swans than a bunch of geese.

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood

It's another lovely day in southeast England. I'd always heard that it was rainy and gloomy in the UK most of the year (and my source was British friends, so they should know). So either it's been an unusually sunny winter, or maybe my friends are a bit pessimistic. If they could be here now to see the sun shining in through the balcony windows and gleaming on the rippling River Kennet below my window, or to hear the ducks quacking away, they'd have to admit there really are more than two weeks of nice weather in England. They'd still find other things to be pessimistic about (perhaps it's a British trait?), but I've already found several things to complain about, too. This is a crazily inefficient country. It's maddening and even upsetting when you're dealing with a problem, but it's good for a laugh once the trauma and drama of trying to get some agency or business to complete a simple task is over. And when it's all done, there's still that kickin' river view to offer consolation.