Monday, June 20, 2011

Bus of Ages

I note a number of superb bloggers get their muse whilst taking a ride on the bus. Apparently, this is a rich seam of human anthracite in the bedrock of society, ripe for the mining, ready to be thrown on the fire of blogging to warm the hearths of . . . well, you get the drift.

On the bus are people to write about.

We are a one car family and, apparently, I'm not allowed to take the kids to school on the motorbike no matter how much duct tape I use. Because of this, I must resort to the bus when the wife goes off on her little hobby of being a state-registered nurse.

So, after a morning spent wrangling a 4 year-old boy off his trampoline and wrestling a 1 year-old girl into her tights, off we go to the bus stop, which is just round the corner.

"What do we do now, daddy?" my son asks.

"Now," I narrow my eyes, look to the horizon and put on my Ray Bans. "We wait."

And wait we do. Past the time the bus is due, which is pretty much normal. Past, in fact, the time my boy is supposed to start school, which is also not uncommon.

My daughter pulls my Aviators off my face and licks the lenses. If she breaks them that'll be another twenty quid on ebay wasted.

Eventually, just as I'm about to give the school a ring to say we'll be forty minutes late because I'm going to have to walk there at the pace of a small boy, the public transport device hoves into view round the corner. It is elderly, and erratically driven, and about as aerodynamic as a sofa. It meanders down the road like a brick being pushed by a dog, hissing to a stop in front of me, a cloud of oily smoke arriving at about the same time.

"New model?" I ask the driver, conversationally. He turns his head slowly to look at me, then his left eye, and then his right one. His brow furrows, and he glances desperately at the signs on the wall. From past experience I know he is looking for the "Do Not Distract The Driver With Pleasantries Or Queries About The Age Of The Vehicle" sign, but they have been taken off because people want friendly drivers, not automatons. Unfortunately, they got neither.

All he can see are signs that say "DayRider Ticket - £3.50" and "Work For Us; Good Wages And All The Used Chewing Gum You Can Scrape From Under The Seats", so he is forced to interact.

"Uh . . ." he says.

"Single to the school, please." I say, putting him out of my misery.

"Uh . . ." he looks at the children, his mind wrestling with the concept of three people on a single ticket. I enlighten him that they are free because the company's own policy allows under-fives to travel gratis.

"Uh . . . wanton." He mumbles.

"Oh . . .kay . .?" I wonder how to respond to this, before my brain translates it into 'one pound and ten pence'. I consider giving him a tenner to see if he might explode, but the bus is late enough already so I hand over the correct change. Wanton.

By now, my son has managed to sit at the back next to a window, so I join him. Next to us, a kid in a hoodie, looking like he's trying to be cool, quiet and mysterious, looks at me, grins widely and says "Hello!"

"Hello." I say back, settling in.

"I have to go on this bus to school now because I've got to go to a new school, because it's further away, do you go on this bus a lot, because if you do I might see you, because I'll be on it every day, so I hope it's not too busy, but it was the only school that will take me, even after my tablet, where are you going to, do you know why I have to go to a new school?" He takes a deep breath in.

ADHD I immediately think, and we begin a conversation about the emergency exits, and about how a very fat person wouldn't be able to get out, about how he doesn't like his new school, or being twelve, and a load of other subjects in between.

"Have you heard of ADHD?" he asks me at one point. "They give you tablets, and you get these lessons where . . ." he actually looks quite perplexed at that point, almost sad. "I have to go to a new school," He concludes.

"I have." I say. I decide to confront the subject head on. "Got any hobbies?" I ask.

"Er . . ." His eyes flash left and right, trying to recall. "No!" He announces proudly.

"Get some." I tell him. "And do you like writing?"

"Yeah." He says, enthusiastically, "English! That's not so bad! I'm good at spelling"

"Get a note book and a pen." I say. "Write a load of stuff down. Don't show it anyone unless you want to. See how much you can write in one day, starting with who you saw in the bus."


"Helps with the ADHD." I say, "Maybe.

"Does it?" He asks, and I can see the expressions on his face chase the thoughts in his head, like watching the ripples on a pond made by a fast moving pike beneath.

"Yeah." I think about my own notebooks from those days. "I think it does."

Our stop arrives and we say goodbye. I gather my son up, preventing him from trying to touch the blackheads on an elderly chap's enormous ears on the seat in front of him.

In front of my son, not the elderly chap, because ears like that would be worth writing about.

We get off and, amazingly, aren't the last to arrive at school. My boy, the epitome of young confidence and wonderful carelessness, legs it into his classroom without even a backward glance.

Those notebooks are long gone, as are my school days, but I recall I always had a backward glance.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Pox On None Of Our Houses.

Being a man who knows how to entertain children, I took them to see the birth place of immunisation last week:

Pass me my silver-ended bulls horn old chap.
As you can see, it was like a fairyland grotto for my kids. What four year-old boy doesn't dream of being taken to a museum dedicated to Edward Jenner? That's right kids, it's his genuine desk where he actually worked, or an accurate facsimile thereof yay!

Okay, so even I know the limits of the child psyche, although they did enjoy running around the rooms trying to eat original manuscripts and get some scalpels out of a locked cabinet. The real reason we went was because there was a hedgehog awareness day going on in the grounds, and I want to ensure my kids respect hedgehogs and are never seen smashing them against the wall trying to get the conker out.

Obviously, hedgehogs are the poster animal for immunisation, what with having a back full of needles, that and acupuncture, so it's not quite the topical non sequitur you might initially think, having a hedgehog open day in Jenner's garden.

It was pleasantly informative. They had various hedgehog accoutrement on display, including what they eat (anything smaller than them) and what eats them (anything that needs a toothpick), as well as other dangers inherent to being a wandering spiky insectivore, such as dogs, ponds and conker hunters, as well as a stunt hedgehog who only had three legs as a result of an entanglement with a strimmer.

Spank me! I dare you.

After a while we had exhausted the hogaciousness of the hedgehog gazebo and went for a wander through the grounds.

That day young, enthusiastic archeology students from Bristol University were rooting around in big square holes in the grounds. My one year-old daughter is fascinated by anything which feasibly involves a dangerous fall and went over at once to examine the dig. On that day they had various finds, such as a square shard of pottery, a triangular shard of pottery, a brown stone, a red stone, and a reddy-brown stone.

And two days after we'd been there, a skeleton.


We moved from archeology to horticulture and went for a walk around Jenner's garden, which had lots of pretty things like borders, and grass, and flowers, and an orangery for growing grapes in. Technically a grapery, I believe.

Edward Jenner was one of those wealthy, scientific types with interests in natural history and medicine, but it was his research into vaccinations that earned him the epithet of Father of Immunology.

And Stabby McStabberson.

Vaccination involves introducing a denatured, weakened or dead version of a virus into your system so the body develops an immune response to it without actually having to go through all that palaver of being particularly ill.

But if you haven't got the technology to denature a virus (presumably some sort of small apple-corer) you need to look elsewhere. In the case of smallpox, Jenner found a naturally less potent but nonetheless related virus. Enter cowpox, essentially a wuss version of smallpox.

Folk lore had noted (and peer reviewed, by other folk) that people exposed to the relatively benign cowpox rarely went on to develop the much more dangerous, often fatal smallpox. Jenner inoculated a boy with cowpox, left it a few weeks, and then valiantly tried to give him smallpox but couldn't, thus providing and benefiting all humankind with the glory of vaccination.

Good job for the kid that it worked.

Word got around and vaccination became the thing to have done, and it shows a forward thinking mindset to be rather taken with the idea of vaccination and immunisation, because they came from miles around to be infected and protected. Farmers and field hands. maids and Morris men (presumably), all queued up to let Jenner inoculate them with cowpox in order to provide immunity from smallpox.

Of course, a gent such as Edward Jenner wouldn't want (potentially diseased) oiks dragging their muddy hooves through his gracious home, so he sensibly set up an external surgery where it could be done in the comfort of his own garden. Known as Jenner's Shed, it was where the actual vaccinations would take place. Jenner even named it The Temple of Vaccinia, showing he had the naming skills of a fourteen year-old writing a fantasy novel.

Anyway, it is rather pretty and any self respecting bloke would be proud to have it as a man-space. Here it is:

Roll up! Roll up! Roll up your sleeve!

The small urchin on the floor there is my daughter, The Bonobo, who has directly benefited from Jenner's work because she has herself been fully immunised from a host of once dangerous diseases. This is lucky as she's eating pebbles.

In  the late 1970s, an extensive survey of the world found no signs of smallpox in the human population with no natural reservoirs and so, in 1980, it was finally declared extinct in the wild.

Of course, like any decent horror story, it's not completely gone. There are still tiny pockets, small living colonies kept alive in laboratories under high security in case it or anything similar ever made an appearance in the future. Much discussion has gone in to whether we should destroy these stocks once and for all, with governments arguing that it would be foolish to burn our bridges, should we ever need to study it again, and critics suggesting that its genome has been fully sequenced so it could be recreated from closely related viruses should the need arise, which is a scary thought all on its own.

If we do go ahead and eliminate smallpox utterly, it would be the first deliberate extinction of another species by humankind in all our history, which opens up all sorts of ethical discussions.

Whatever the outcome, I'm hope that, with a thirty per cent fatality incidence from smallpox infection, there is at least ominous music playing in those storage labs just to remind the technicians exactly what they're responsible for, and to be extra, extra careful when storing their butties in the fridge next to the smallpox tin.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bucket o' pies

Putting things in a bucket is a sound sales technique, obviously. Fried chicken, mussels, bolts, dinosaurs, worms, raw black pudding and, at last, pies!

Bucket o pies by The Jules @ Gravel Farm

This could easily  develop into  a rant on packaging, or wasting resources, or convenience foods, or obesity, or . . . are those pasties two for 99p there

The real reason I'm posting this is because I was testing Flickr out yesterday and sent it to my blog, whereupon it doesn't just save it as a draft but publishes it in all it's unprepared glory. I haven't yet worked out how to stop it doing that what with having the computer savvy of a dugong so I just ended up removing it. 

Then I get comments hassling me about the bucket o' pies post that was only up for a few minutes and telling me to get on with it.

I'm looking at you Pearl.

Also, although I'm currently up to my earballs with domestic and employemental drudgery at the moment, I  couldn't let the beginning of June arrive without at least the semblance of a post, so what better way to celebrate Summer than showing a picture of a bucket? With pies in it.

Right, I'm off to see if I can find a bucket full of diversions for the kids.