Feeling Hot Hot Hot

The heatwave has come and gone. Every year in the UK, we get one week of heat and this week was it. Hotter than Tenerife/Jamaica/Sahara/the sun, the weather forecasters inform us. On holiday abroad that is lovely, here not so much.

               Popular UK hot weather traditions include:

  • People on beaches complaining there are too many people on beaches
  • Ice cream vans running out of chocolate flakes
  • Endless discussions regarding air conditioning units (that will never be installed)
  • Zoo animals with large ice cubes
  • Houses being full of insects within 5 minutes of opening a window
The Glasgow Science Centre melting…

Another warm weather favourite is things that are not supposed to melt yet somehow do go on to melt. Tarmac, railway lines, paint on railings, the list goes on. In 2018, I noticed a news story about Scotland’s hottest June day in history which led to the (allegedly) weatherproof roof of the Glasgow Science Centre turning to liquid and dripping down the side of the building. That night I met a couple from Glasgow who hadn’t heard about this event and told them all about it. They were intrigued and both got their phones out to start researching the story. I went back to see them later on.

“Did you find out any more about that roof that melted?” I inquired.

“It is a bit awkward really” the lady answered, “my husband designed it”.

“Oh” I left a pause before asking him “will you be involved in the repairs?”

“I doubt it” he replied before walking off.

One day I will try this

Something that has always fascinated me is the phenomenon of frying eggs on outdoor surfaces during a heatwave. The most obvious is on a car but sadly, Google informs me that frying an egg on a car bonnet affects the paintwork which is a shame. Perhaps egg proof paint could be an innovation for the future so my new ambition will have to be somebody frying an egg on a pavement. I would try it myself but I am not that keen on eggs.

Working on the cruise ships, where it was summer wherever we were, I got used to the heat and I have become one of those annoying people who are not too bothered by the warm weather. The hottest temperature I remember being in was when we were sailing through the Panama Canal. One of my colleagues was outside for 9 minutes and got so sunburned he needed time off work, the rest of us were clever enough to shelter under the ceiling fans indoors.

Looking back on this, perhaps I missed an opportunity. Should we have tried to fry an egg on him?

Where Am I?

               Recently I spent a long weekend in Bristol for my niece’s third birthday. It was the first time I left my town this year and it was wonderful to do things I had forgotten about. Meeting family, going out for lunch, to the cinema and even on a bus! After coming back from my weekend away, I took my covid test and it was negative. This came as such as surprise, I took another one to be sure. The test also proved to me that I can start to do things again.

               Using my new-found courage, I went into the city centre of Manchester on the train. I hadn’t been on a train for ages and it was all very exciting. One thing that hadn’t changed is my inability to show my ticket to the inspector within a reasonable time. I can never remember what pocket I put the ticket in and it takes me several attempts to find the right one. I was particularly annoyed with the fact this was the only train I had been on in over a year and yet the first three tickets I produced were all for previous journeys. I must sort my bag out.

Now, where is my ticket?

               While wandering through the city I stumbled across the Blue Peter garden. It came as a surprise to me that the garden has been moved out of London and (if I am honest) I had assumed Blue Peter had finished years ago. Intrigued to revisit my past, I poked my head into the garden to discover it is about the size of my tiny childhood bedroom. It was also overgrown, muddy and mainly filled by a shed and a whole lot of fairy lights. On this evidence, I could have been correct about Blue Peter finishing years ago…

               One thing that has genuinely baffled me during the pandemic is the requirement for shops to put in the window how many people can go in at a time. What do we do with this information? Are we supposed to stand outside and count people through the window to see if we are allowed to enter? That is fine with a small corner shop but in the city, there is a large department store which (a sign said) took 252 people. How do I count them all? Do I bring a calculator with me? Perhaps the idea is that an employee counts the shoppers in and out. If that is the case, what is the need for the sign telling everyone? It is all very confusing.

It looked better on TV…

               While waiting for my train home, I noticed on a screen that the government had (in the last hour) put out a travel advisory telling people not to go into Manchester for non-essential reasons as yet again covid cases are rising in the city. After a lot of soul searching, I decided that reminiscing about children’s TV and counting the shoppers in John Lewis doesn’t count as essential so my adventures will be paused for a while.

               Doesn’t mean I will get round to sorting my bag out though…

Texan Trouble

It isn’t unusual for a cruise ship not to complete its advertised itinerary. The reasons for this are wide and varied:

  • Port closures (strikes/disasters/civil unrest)
  • Onboard medical emergencies
  • Mechanical failures
  • Late supplies or people
  • And occasionally things like pirates or volcanic eruptions,

But the most common is the weather. Strong winds or large waves can happen anywhere (often with little warning) meaning the ships can’t travel as fast or physically can’t get near enough to the dock. Sometimes the company will find an alternative port or change the order but more often than not, we simply have an extra sailing day.

Whenever this happens, a conspiracy theory goes round that the company doesn’t want to dock as they make more money when people are onboard spending their money in the shops. Actually, this is untrue. The huge mark up they make from selling tours vastly outweighs the takings on souvenir t-shirts. One extra sea day isn’t such a problem. Most passengers are supportive. Loosing more than one port day is a disaster. However this is nothing compared to the catastrophe of missing a turnaround day.


Turnaround day is when the cruise ends and the passengers leave. It is also the same day when the next cruise starts. Many people think there are days in between but the reality is often less than an hour. In that time the entire ship needs cleaning, all the food and supplies need loading plus sorting out ten thousand suitcases lined up on the pier. Any delay on turnaround day means not only an avalanche of complaints but also throws the next port out too. Which brings me to the Port of Houston.

For those unfamiliar with the gigantic state of Texas, it is almost triple the size of the UK with just over half the UK population. It is enormous. So a port near its biggest city is a major draw. Not having to take a plane is a major plus for all of us. However, the Port of Houston is not actually by the open sea, it is more than 50 miles away.

To solve this obvious geographic problem, a narrow channel has to be navigated to allow the ships to reach their final destination. Well, unless it is foggy. In the event of fog, the coastguard closed the channel and we have to sit and wait. The problem with fog is, it is unpredictable and notoriously hard to forecast. Sometimes we would be waiting for a few hours, other times it was days. How long would it last? Nobody knows. We couldn’t go anywhere else as our supplies (and next set of passengers) were on the dock waiting for us.

Our passengers had booked a seven day break and because of the fog, it would turn into 8, 9 or maybe ten days. Lucky them, except the ones who had to get back to work, or needed to rebook flights multiple times. The really unlucky people were the ones waiting in the car park not knowing when their holiday would begin. Their seven day break might only be four or five days (plus most of the ports would be missed in order to make up time). We were entirely at the mercy of the fog. It was the only topic of conversation for months. There were other problems too, including the chefs having no idea how long the food needed to last (the menus on day nine of the seven-day cruise were a little limited).

This went on week after week for months. Every day multiple people would ask why we don’t go to Galveston instead (a beautiful port town actually on the Texan coastline). The scripted answer was that people liked the convenience of being near the city. The real answer is that the Port of Houston was cheaper to dock at.

In 2016, it was announced that the cruise lines were stopping their visits to the Port of Houston. Can’t say it will be missed…

Sent to Coventry

About twenty years ago I was auditioning for something in Coventry. I have no real recollection of the audition itself, where it was held or if I was offered the position. The thing I do remember is having the following day to explore the city as the next audition was still a couple of days away and there was no point going home.

I had chosen a cheap B&B which was by a main road, a short walk from the city centre. It was a morning in winter, the rain was pouring and I had planned a lie in. Unfortunately, my room was where the towels and bedding were kept so from about 9am onwards there was a string of disturbances from the landlady getting pillow cases or face cloths while hinting (not so gently) I should get out of her way. This was an example of getting what you pay for.

My other memory of that visit was getting a minor electric shock from an exhibit in the near empty transport museum. I reported this event to somebody working there who helpfully told me ‘it must have been static’ and ‘it happens sometimes’.

Another day in May….

This week I found myself back in Coventry with time to kill. Once again it was raining but this time I had a plan. I was here for the City of Culture festival, I went to the last one in Hull four years ago and was very impressed, so feeling braver following my second covid vaccination, I hoped to repeat my experience.

As I got off the bus I noticed a teenage girl who was screaming down the road at a boy around her age who was walking quickly away from her. I am not sure what led to this tirade but it ended with her screaming the brilliant phrase “you are the blood clot in my life”. I enjoyed this insult so much I could have broken out into spontaneous applause, but I feel my actions would have been unwanted.

This time, I headed to the cathedral where there would be a concert and three exhibitions. Due to the ‘current situation’ pre-booking tickets was essential through their website. It was a time-consuming process, an account needed setting up, password created and lots of boxes to fill in. Anyway, I was prepared with my ‘exhibition and entry pass’ for 1:30pm.

Tiny pictures in massive frames….

Part of the reason I had chosen the cathedral to visit (other than it was free and very little else was open yet) was an exhibition which sounded so bizarre I just had to go. I love an unusual museum. I have previously been to a pencil museum in Cumbria, somewhere in Cheshire that had over 600 cuckoo clocks and was a regular visitor to a place that specialises in cat pottery (much of which is broken) in Norfolk. My eye had been drawn to “Concrete Collar by Tom Illesley… explore the beauty and complexity of Coventry’s ring-road in a unique photography exhibition”. A whole exhibition about the complexity of a ring road? I can see why pre-booking is so necessary

Due to the rain and vast amounts of construction work happening everywhere, I had exhausted the delights of Coventry by 12:45pm. Rather than risk death at the transport museum, I headed to the Cathedral thinking I could loiter outside for a while. Instead the lady at the entrance waved me in with a smile. She wasn’t interested in seeing the ‘exhibition and entry pass’ I spent so long applying for. It became fairly obvious this is because there were about four other people in the whole building (and some of those were staff). Sadly, the lure of the ring road exhibition on a wet Monday afternoon had proved very easy to resist for the good people of Coventry. Shame.

I sincerely hope in another twenty years, I will get round to visiting Coventry again, when the building work is finished and it isn’t raining. Perhaps it will be to see something called ‘the blood clot in my life’. That would make me very happy.

Oh What A Circus

In my ongoing discovery of what it means to be autistic, I have often come across the idea that autistic people take things literally. I have always thought this is one that didn’t apply to me. After all, I enjoy a bit of sarcasm… However, this week I saw a circus big top arriving in town and it reminded me of a time where my ‘taking things literally’ caused a major (if unusual) problem.

It must have been about 2004 and at the time I was working for the radio station, it was a really exciting time in my life and my work meant there was always something crazy going on. We were the only radio station in the area and so anything that happened on ‘our patch’ always involved us, meaning we got a lot of free stuff.

Because I had no money, I accepted every offer going no matter how rubbish the thing was. I have blogged before about how I opened a branch of Subway, went backstage at music events I knew I would hate and got some free cholesterol testing kits. None of this mattered, it was free and exciting. So when the circus came to town, complimentary tickets came my way and I shared them with the team.

For the purposes of this, I am going to change the name of my boss to Paul as he is still working on the radio and doesn’t need people like me bringing up idiotic stories from years ago. So, Paul was my boss at the time and became a good friend. He is a very generous man and I would often go into work very early and help out on his program, answering the phones and researching items. I wasn’t paid for this but it didn’t matter, I loved it and Paul’s team were great company.

In the days running up to this, Paul said he was going to be the ringmaster and open the circus from the back of an elephant. In retrospect, this was clearly a joke. He is a radio DJ and not a member of a travelling circus. However, my autistic brain didn’t register this and that evening I announced on my program that Paul would be riding an elephant at the circus. I just took it as true and made a feature of it “have you ever ridden an elephant?”, “if you were in a circus, what would your act be” and so on. The phones were busy. Several people rang to find out what performance Paul would be at and I told them it was opening night. As was standard when we did an event, I also contacted the local newspaper who agreed to send a photographer.

It seems like Paul must have been listening (or perhaps, people contacted him directly about it). Either way, all our friends rushed to get tickets for opening night which must have given poor Paul a problem. He was now committed to riding an elephant at the circus. A commitment the people running the circus were completely unaware of.

 Either way, he worked his magic and made it happen. My memory of that night is that he was dressed in a white suit (think John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever) on the top of an elephant and looked completely terrified, his vertigo may have kicked in. I, however, was fairly distracted by being backstage at a travelling circus with complimentary popcorn which I promptly spilled and went on to be eaten by a Shetland pony (the popcorn, not me).

I have been trying to find the photos from the newspaper report but with no success. I think the moral of the story must be, don’t make things up and try to show off to autistic people. We might just announce it on the radio.

Quiz Master’s Rules

               Quizzes are everywhere. There are pub quizzes, school quizzes, charity quizzes, online quizzes and many more but what makes a good quiz? As somebody who has been running them for more than 20 years, I have a few thoughts…

The Players

There are two types of players. The first group are the serious players, they have come specifically for the quiz and will ask for a paper within 3 nanoseconds of arriving. These people are very serious, speak in a whisper during the questions and will inevitably shout during the answers convinced they (rather than the quiz master) must be correct. They don’t care who is listening, they must be right. I was listening to Radio 2 this morning and somebody stopped the game to argue with the DJ that their answer was correct, of course it wasn’t and they just wasted the time of 8 million listeners with their quibbling.

The second group are people that didn’t know there was a quiz and just happened to be there and decide to play on a whim. These people usually chat loudly throughout and will need the questions repeating multiple times as they were not listening. They are also, often drunk. The second group will also check through their Facebook account and take photos during the quiz.

These two groups do not get on. However, it is not true that the serious teams always win. Although this is a huge stereotype, team serious often have large gaps in their general knowledge. Asking questions about mountain ranges, royal history and classic novels will suit them nicely however it is not hard to trip them up with topics like last weekend’s football results, music released since 1990 or the plotlines of Coronation Street.

It is also not unusual for me to pick topics I think the most annoying people in the room will struggle with. Drunken singing halfway through means more questions on Monet, arguing about the pronunciation of words means more questions on the X-Factor. Simple.

The Questions

The easiest way to get a set of quiz questions is to use a book or website, hundreds of options with no effort required. However, there are potential problems with this.

  • How old are the questions? Could it be out of date?
  • Who were the questions originally written for?
  • Is it possible the answers are wrong? Absolutely every question asked will need running through a search engine beforehand because the players will do exactly that. Even people with no realistic chance of winning will run up to the stage with their phone if they think there is any chance of a correction. Years ago, people would bring me photocopies of reference books to prove their point, at least that took time. Now the arguing can start instantly. What fun.

The Answers

Unless you are playing for huge prizes, the best way is getting the teams to switch papers to be marked. Allow time for this, they are never expecting it and it takes ages for people to rewrite their answers legibly and explain that they wrote their answers in the wrong places. It is surprisingly common for people to write the answer to question six next to a number other than six.

My own rule is “if you know what they mean and what they mean is right, give them the point”. Perhaps this is generous but there is nothing more tedious than a five-minute discussion after every answer about what counts as the same thing as the answer, dodgy spellings and “do I get half a point if the surname is right?”.


Now that everyone has internet access in their pockets, there has been an obvious rise in people cheating by looking stuff up on Google. The other teams know this and will make a fuss if they see anyone using a phone for any reason. If is best to ask everyone to put their devices away and not use them at all for half an hour until the questions are over. However, many people can’t survive without their phone for that long and within 10 mins will start checking their inbox. There is little that can be done to stop this and it makes the life of a quiz master harder.

So rather than fact-based spoken topics, start using photos instead. What flower is this? Name this footballer? Where is this building? All these things are much harder to discreetly Google under the table.


I really enjoy a tie-break situation, it brings excitement and is the only time everyone shuts up to listen. In my experience, the easiest way is ask a question where the answer is a number and the nearest answer wins. That way, there will be a winner straight away and we won’t need another tie breaker. The question should involve a large number that isn’t a round number – the Guinness Book of Records is great for these…

For example – ‘In his hometown of Lima, Peru, Otto the bulldog, set a record for the longest human tunnel travelled through by a skateboarding dog but how many people’s legs did he glide through?’ Nobody will know this kind of thing and although the serious teams will moan, it is completely fair and provides a humorous end to the evening.

Expressive angry businessman in formal suit looking at camera and screaming with madness while hitting desk with fist

In summary, I love hosting quizzes. I have accepted long ago that people will always tell me I am wrong (often at great volume from across the room) but as long as my research is done, I can happily brush them aside and as the quiz master the power is mine. Plus, I have the option of petty revenge if a winning team has been a lot of trouble – souvenir tea towels as a prize.

PS – Otto skated through the legs of 30 people. So now you know.

Uncharacteristically Me

               Today I have done a number of uncharacteristic things. Perhaps this is the reason I have come back to my blog. For months now, I have found updating my blog a real struggle. Nobody wants to read about writer’s block, it is very dull but this is not what I had. My noticeboard has a list of titles I have not yet written “on the plus side”, “quiz master’s rules” and “have you seen Granny” among them. The problem has been that I had lost interest in writing, it felt like a chore and I gave up. Then today happened…

  • This morning I managed to fall down an entire flight of stairs while holding a glass of water. I must have bounced spectacularly as I have lovely bruising on both the front and the back of my legs. It doesn’t hurt too much yet but lets see how I feel tomorrow. I managed to keep the glass from smashing, but the water went in every direction (including all over me)
  • I walked to the supermarket to do my weekly shop. It is about 20 mins from my house, then I realised I had forgotten my mask (I had put it in the wash) so had to go all the way home and get another one. Once I had finally got my shopping and taken it home, I found I had purchased a ‘paper pot maker’ which according to the box allows me to ‘make a limitless supply of biodegradable seedling pots from old newspapers’. The thing is, I have no memory of putting this in my basket or seeing it at the checkout or any point until I found it in my shopping bag at home. I checked the receipt and there it is… I am already racking my brains to think of somebody I don’t really like who has an upcoming birthday…
  • Then I went to take my washing out of the tumble dryer. I had kept an eye on the timer and after the cycle had finished, I went with the basket to empty the machine but it was empty. It turned out that, everything was still in the washing machine and I had set the dryer to do a full cycle with nothing in it.

So, clearly my brain is melting. Perhaps this is why I spontaneously applied for a dream job that I don’t believe I have any realistic chance of getting.

The job I currently have is fine. I was supposed to be doing a part time job in a care home running activities, then my colleague left a month ago and since then nobody has applied for the vacancy which means I am now working full time, I don’t really mind, I appreciate the extra money and it’s not like I have a full diary…

Working in a care home is an unpredictable environment. Every day is different and entirely dependent on the mood of the residents, most of whom have dementia. Two separate people think I am their son (they had an argument about it last week) while one lady screams every day as she thinks lizards are dancing on her stomach. There is also something weird about logging in to my computer each morning and seeing if any of my clients have died overnight. This happened ten times in six weeks earlier in the year and is certainly a challenge to deal with. I must write sometime about the positives of being autistic but not getting emotional about all this, is certainly one of them.

I noticed a job ad for an apprentice journalist for a national radio station based in central London. It is four days in the studio and a fifth at college getting an NVQ. I thought that it would be fun and so today, I applied. I have no reasonable hope of getting it. Who wants an apprentice who is unqualified and nearly 40? It will doubtless go to somebody in their early 20s and because I know this, I won’t be disappointed when I never hear back (after all, I am sure they will have hundreds of candidates).

As part of the application we were asked three questions. The first two were ‘tell us about yourself’ and ‘what do you think of the radio station’. These are easy, I know about me and I listen to the station so have plenty of thoughts. The third question was ‘give us an example of a story you would like to cover’. I wrote about the care home and my time there. Why are there so many vacancies when millions of people are unemployed? Perhaps this is my advantage, I have real world experience. On the other hand (and equally likely) I might win the lottery and all this will be void.

In the meantime, I have work to prepare for. I wonder if the over 90s have any use for a paper pot maker?

*** Update – 11th June. After just six weeks after the closing date, today I got an email “We have carefully reviewed your CV against the role and unfortunately we have decided not to take your application forward at this time”. Oh well…

Eggy Easter

               Running activities on a cruise ship with an international staff, I was often asked by my team about the national holidays of England with a view to recreating them for the enjoyment of our guests onboard. Many people have a basic understanding of the major events of other nations such as Chinese New Year or Rio Carnival. There are also holidays of other cultures that many tourists didn’t previously understand but really enjoy finding out about like Diwali and then there are holidays that are just a big party like July 4th, Australia Day or St Patrick’s. In fact, there are many brilliant national days from around the world that we could introduce our guests to. The problem comes with trying to explain the holidays of England.

               There are only eight public holidays here (one of the lowest in the world). Christmas Day is a fairly obvious one, after that it gets trickier. What actually happens on any of the others? New Year’s Day is when many people get a day to sleep off a hangover but what is the August Bank Holiday for? What do people do on May Day? Are there any Easter Monday traditions? Even the purpose of Boxing Day is hard to explain to my international friends. Many would say that the national day of England is St George’s Day which isn’t actually a public holiday and that might be because we don’t seem to do anything for this either. In brainstorms all we manage to come up with for most of these is going to a beer garden, which is often not the greatest idea in early April.

               This brings me to Easter. I have been trying to run events for years at Easter time but they are often a bit of a failure. A few years ago, I ran an Easter Egg hunt, only two people came to take part. It seems children have been eating Easter eggs for weeks by this point and now get so many that they loose all impact. I have tried dressing as the Easter bunny but this seems to make children cry (although maybe that says more about my performance than the costume).

Perhaps this bunny would be less scary

So, the team meetings go, ‘what else is there to do over the four-day Easter weekend?’ ‘Is there a traditional Easter meal?’ ‘It must be lamb, or is it chicken?’ ‘Isn’t it served on the Sunday?’ ‘Does that mean it is just a normal Sunday lunch?’ ‘Then what about traditional Good Friday food?’. I feel I should know the answers… Let’s be honest, the only things we are certain about for Easter are Church services (which only certain people are interested in) and chocolate. So, eggs it is.

At the meeting this year, I thought we agreed I would get the eggs. So off to the discount supermarket I went. I had 38 people to buy for plus a few spares for prizes so I got 50 eggs for £1 each (bargain!) and at the till the lady told me somebody else had just bought 50 eggs too. I thought nothing of it until I got back and of course, my colleague was the ‘someone else’ and now (on the evening of Good Friday) we had 100 eggs to get rid of. Cut to this morning when an email arrived from the manager “don’t worry about the Easter eggs, I picked them up on my way home”. So somehow, due to a communication failure, there were now 150 chocolate eggs sitting in my office (to be shared by 38 people).

So many eggs….

Now, everyone is getting chocolate. Eggs for staff, eggs for the families of staff, eggs for the neighbours, eggs for the chef to melt into recipes, we even tried giving eggs to people passing by but it seems taking chocolate from strangers is a little taboo.

As I write this, tomorrow is Easter Sunday and I will be going round again with more eggs, hoping people have eaten the previous ones, I will be doing this fairly slowly as nothing else really happens at Easter and then going round again on Easter Monday…

“Eggs, get your chocolate eggs”.

“Please, take some”.


I’m An Artful Dodger

We are about to reach the first anniversary of the UK Covid-19 lockdown. As a result, there have been a lot of articles recapping the events of the last year (as if we had forgotten). Generally these are fairly similar in mentioning zoom quizzes, banana bread, graphs on TV and outdoor clapping. I did an internet search to try and find who the clapping was for and found the answer was ‘clap for the NHS’, ‘clap for carers’, ‘clap for key workers’ and also ‘clap for heroes’, each vaguer than the one before. No wonder we got bored of it all.

There is also a lot of coverage featuring people who have learned new things about themselves. Some are more resourceful than they thought while some are better in their own company. I have seen several reports of people ditching their city lives for more space in the countryside. Other people have discovered new skills or taken up new hobbies. For me, a number of discoveries have been made.

Firstly, I can’t be bothered with art. I have spent years going round art galleries pretending to understand, feeling there must be something faulty with me as I don’t get it. The galleries themselves are echoey and often overcrowded, the prices are expensive and it takes me longer to get there than I spend inside. I fully appreciate that other people love going to see art but I am now happy to admit that it is all wasted on me and I am fine with that. On a similar note, I am also going to stop trying to understand Shakespeare. Just typing that feels like a weight lifted.

This was also the year I finally realised that living on meal deals from supermarkets is a terrible way to live. While it is true that I am still awful at cooking, making my own sandwiches (rather than buying them every day) is cheaper, easier and tastier. It is slightly embarrassing that it has taken a global pandemic to teach me that. I am also no longer terrified of chip & pin cards and have not used a cash point in months although my new phone (the one that took me days to sort out), remains unused, sitting on my shelf next to the old one, so some things remain consistently unchanged.

Next, I always thought I was the kind of person who enjoyed working. Actually, this year with its enforced ‘stay at home’ has shown me, that I work to live rather than the other way round. I have started dreaming of retiring very early and buying lottery tickets to make it happen. I was very excited last week when I got an email to say I had a winning ticket. Upon logging in, I found all I had got was a free entry for the next draw, which in turn got me nothing. Still, maybe one day…

Although, even if I do miraculously win enough to retire, I still won’t be spending it on pre-made sandwiches in art galleries.

Flowing Laterally

               ‘Don’t worry, it’s very easy’. This is always a terrible thing to hear. It generally means, ‘Don’t ask me how to do it’. In this case the ‘it’ in question is the Lateral Flow Test (LFT) which as part of my work at a care home, I am required to do twice a week for the Coronavirus.

I am also required to take another weekly test, the PCR, which according to Google, stands for polymerase chain reaction, a term somebody brighter than me will have to explain. The results of the LFT are said to take thirty minutes but in my experience, are obvious after about two minutes which is very handy. The problem is, they are said to be unreliable and also require the user to honestly declare the true result into the Government website. This is why we need the PCR backup which is sent away to a lab, the result appears by text message in the middle of the night. I am not sure why the results can’t be sent during daylight hours thus avoiding waking everyone, perhaps this is a question I could ask at a forthcoming Downing Street press conference.

Upon opening my box containing 25 Lateral Flow Tests, I encountered 16 pages of instructions written in a font so small, that a microscope is needed to decode it but ‘don’t worry, its very easy’ they said.

  • Step One – Specimen Collection

There is something awful about the word specimen in a medical context and collecting my own specimen is not something I look forward to. There is a medical swab to unwrap and I am instructed to ‘wipe the pharyngeal tonsils’ with ‘moderate force at least three times’. This sounds like a line from a horror script. I am guessing that ‘pharyngeal tonsils’ just means ‘tonsils’. Then the same swab should be ‘rolled five times along the mucus inside the nostril’. How lovely. This process inevitably leads to gagging and sneezing so should probably not be done in polite company.

  • Step Two – Result Extraction

The swab should be placed into something called an extraction tube which is basically a small plastic bottle. The next step is to ‘press the extraction solution bottle to drip 6 drops of extraction solution into the extraction tube’. On a side note, perhaps a thesaurus could have been located to avoid having an extraction solution bottle, extraction solution and also extraction tubes. Six drops strikes me as a strange number and when I try and get the correct number of drops, I always end up with more of a small squirt. I am yet to discover how many drops equals a squirt.

Anyway, only two drops from the tube are needed for the test cartridge and the manual tells me to ‘start the timer’ which makes it sound very exciting, like we are breaking a world record. There are three possible results. A line appears at C, means negative. A line appears at T means the test is invalid and a line at both C & T means positive. Why the letters C and T are used remains a mystery.

  • Step Three – Reporting

With the phrase ‘don’t worry, it’s very easy’ still ringing in my head, I am asked by the government website to create an account. It needs to know my gender, ethnic group, ethnic background, date of birth, address, email and phone number. After answering all these tedious queries, I am now ready to enter my result which I was hoping would be much quicker but no such luck. More questions come:

                              Who are you reporting a result for?

Who was the test for?

What is their unique code?

Which of these best describes you?

When did you take the test?

What is the test strip ID number? (which I need to enter twice)

Do you know your NHS Number?

As more and more questions arrive, I wonder if a set of breathing exercises could be suggested to ease the stress. Eventually the big moment comes and I am finally allowed to enter the results. The sense of relief is overwhelming, that is until both my emails and phone ping simultaneously with an automated message telling me:

Even for people who are a little forgetful, it seems unnecessary for the government to send out messages telling me things I only told them moments earlier.

And with that my LFT is finally done, until I need to do it all again in three days time, complete with obligatory sneezing.