I saw this a few weeks ago, and have been meaning to share it. Unusual!

a cyclist on the road on a tricycle - three full-size wheels, two at the back, one at the front.

The roads here are too dangerous for cyclists of any description – you can tell by the daily death toll of bicyclists and motorcyclists (whereas car, truck, and van wrecks/injuries/deaths are quite rare) – which is why I never bicycled before I got a car, even though it’d have been a huge help in my daily life around town, since it’s so much faster and lower-impact than walking. (You’re not supposed to bicycle on the sidewalk, which is sometimes stupid and sometimes sensible, but they have to make blanket laws for all situations instead of assuming anyone has any brain anymore.) But for the suicyclists who’re going to do it anyway, I did notice that cars were tending to give this tricycle more space than they give bicycles when passing, despite it not really being that much wider than the person.

Snow Day!

It is well and truly snowing today.

8:30am, from Dinting Arches

8:30am, from Dinting Arches

It was snowing when I first looked out at 8am, and it hasn’t stopped once yet – it’s now 12:30.

Looking up Chunal Lane at 12 noon.

Looking up Chunal Lane at 12 noon.

There’s a chance of snow forecast to carry straight on through to 6am tomorrow morning.

The little tree on the left in the foreground is a cherry tree - it's in blossom, though you can't see that.  There are also a bunch of daffodils in flower buried in the snow at its base.

The little tree on the left in the foreground is a cherry tree – it’s in blossom, though you can’t see that. There are also a bunch of daffodils in flower buried in the snow at its base.

There are traffic accidents all over the place, naturally. One year ago today we went to collect our UK car from the dealer – thank heavens it wasn’t like this then!

Amazingly, we’ve actually gotten our milk and mail deliveries today. We’ll see if the eggs come later – I’m betting they’ll be snowed in on the farm.

Adventures in Dentistry

Chris broke a tooth on Wednesday while he was eating his lunch. We don’t have a dentist, and aren’t terribly certain how this all works; we had to learn a lot about dentists very quickly. We did what we tend to do: the person who wasn’t broken took charge of the situation. So I tried to calm Chris down, and found him a dentist to go see. I also learned that apparently broken teeth are a common dental problem, according to the many dental practice websites I looked at and friends I spoke with who’d been through it. I also versed myself slightly in dental knowledge, so I’d avoid that feeling I can’t stand of complete cluelessness in preparation for talking to a dentist. I learned more about crowns and fillings in that 24 hours than I ever wanted to!

I’d looked into getting set up with a dentist awhile back, but gotten bamboozled by the apparent complexity and difficulty of it all and put it off. We’ve been very blessed and lucky with good dental health, or at least whatever problems we might have haven’t been apparent to us, so there wasn’t much motivation to navigate the complexity and get this sorted. However, I decided that I’d take this as a wake-up call and get us registered with a dentist while or after sorting out this emergency. Now, I’m going to tell you some about what dentistry is like today in the UK – at least, how to navigate it as a patient, at the beginning.

Kinds of Patients

In the beginning, the NHS covered dentistry the same as it currently covers doctoring: no payment required at point of need (paid for out of everyone’s paycheques instead). At some point, they decided to break dentistry off and treat it differently – and start charging for it.

Currently, there are 3 kinds of dental patients, in terms of how the work is paid for:

  1. NHS patients who pay nothing.
  2. NHS patients who pay something.
  3. Private patients who pay everything.

#1 is a fairly small group – basically those on certain kinds of welfare, those under 18, and pregnant women or those who’ve given birth in the last year. See “Who is entitled to free dental care?” on this page.

#2 is where the rest of us would usually like to end up. Essentially, any course of treatment has a specified co-pay. You’ll pay either £18.80, £51.50, or £222.50 (at the moment; they raise these amounts slightly every year) for your course of treatment. Not per visit – so for a crown, it’s £222.50, but you’ll have to (I think) go in, get a mold made of your tooth, and then go back once the crown is ready to put in. If something went wrong and you went back about that crown, it should still be covered under that one payment.

It seems most NHS patients will get some treatment paid for by the NHS and some they’ll pay for privately (all from their same dental practice), so it’s a mix. It depends on what their priorities are, basically, as each issue comes up.

#3 – This might be your only option at the time you need to get registered with a dentist, depending on what waiting lists are like. The charges for private patients are much higher, but they do give more freedom in what you choose.

I read somewhere but can’t find now, so could be wrong, that the NHS will only cover, for example, a metal crown for a molar; if you want a tooth-colored crown (porcelain, emax, lava, inVision, procera, and many more choices), you’ll need to pay extra for this, or maybe you’ll need to just pay the private cost wholemeal, I don’t know yet. An example I can cite is “the use of tooth-coloured fillings on back teeth is considered purely cosmetic” – so the NHS would only cover amalgam fillings on back teeth, made of “a mixture of metals including mercury, silver, tin, and copper.” As a private patient, you would automatically be asked to choose among all the different filling materials your dentist offers.

As a private patient, you generally have two options:

  • Sign up to a membership plan
  • Pay as you go

Based on the number of dental practice websites I’ve perused in the last couple of days, what the membership plans seem to have done is take everything they want to have you do annually – one or two exams by the dentist, two or four hygenist appointments, maybe an xray (it’s different from practice to practice) – and add up how much they charge for that, divide it by 12, and tell you that’s the monthly payment for the plan. Then they add in free emergency appointments and some discount on the rest of the work you might need – fillings, crowns, etc – I saw 10% and 20%. You’re still paying vastly more than the NHS patients (#2) – this example would have a full set of upper dentures for £432, versus £222.50 from the NHS. For the difference, you’re usually promised more time and more choice of whatever you want done and materials used.

If you don’t sign up for the membership plan, you can just pay as you go, paying for each of the services as needed. You get no discount, but then you’re not tied to that dentist for a year’s plan, either.

How To Register As A Patient

In all cases, this is what you do as a registered patient. You become one of those by finding a dentist who’s taking new patients and signing up – they’re usually (but not always) taking new private patients, but they only have a certain number of NHS patients they’ll take. Some will have waiting lists going; some will only open registration from time to time, and if you catch them when they do, you’re lucky. Some practices are private-only, but not many.

Your best bet to start with is to look at the NHS Choices Service Search and start phoning the dentists to see if they’re taking on new patients. The website tells you what the NHS knows about who’s taking on new NHS patients, and it was reasonably accurate for us yesterday, but I think it’s best to just phone any that you can get to, build your own list of who’s taking on NHS patients and private patients, and go from there. There are some reviews on that site as well of the practices, which you might find useful.

Then pick one or more practices, and do what you want. We’ve found 4 in reasonable reach that’re taking on NHS patients, so we’ve decided to visit all of them, get a feel for the places as best we can from the property and the waiting area, and then decide which to register with. Near as I can reckon, our first appointments should fall into that £18.80 band; we’ll decide after that whether to carry on with them or keep hunting for a dentist more to our liking.

Mayday! Mayday!

So what do you do when you have a dental emergency? If you’re a registered patient of any sort, you phone up your dental practice, and they fit you in as soon as they can. Same day appointments are rare, it seems – I boggle at these peoples’ idea of the meaning of “emergency”.

If you’re not registered anywhere, or I suppose if your dentist is on vacation or something inconsiderate like that, find the urgent dental care provision for your area. Google something like “urgent dental care” plus the name of your town to find it. In Manchester, the provision is to go to a clinic that runs from 9am to 12noon Mon to Fri, and just sit and wait. You show up as early as you can – doors open at 7:45 – and they’ll triage everyone and try to see you.

Living in Glossop, we could’ve gone to that, but we could also phone an appointment line, 0161 476 9649 from 8am to 6:30pm and 0161 337 2246 outside those hours. I think what happens is the first number opens at 8am with a certain number of NHS emergency appointments available at dentists throughout Tameside, and they make appointments until they run out of slots for the day. Then you’re told to try back the next day.

There’s also a clinic, the George Street Clinic, here in Glossop, that might have seen him had he been in pain and had we phoned them before we sorted out anything else. I didn’t phone them til we were hunting for a regular dentist, and they’re full up for that, but they seemed ready to see what they could do if he needed immediate attention, so I’m noting this here for my own future reference, and anyone in town who might somehow find and read this.

Our Adventure So Far

Chris broke his tooth at 1pm on Wednesday, so the Manchester clinic was closed. I phoned the Tameside appointment line first, and they had no more appointments available that day, so I phoned around to different dentists til I found a private dentist to book an emergency appointment with, and did so. The earliest I could get was 10am on Thursday; the practice I’d have preferred couldn’t book him in til Friday; some wouldn’t see a patient not registered with them at all. Private emergency appointments range in this area from £40 to £100 for that one appointment, but we knew something needed to be done to keep this from turning into an infection and then an abcess, so that was top priority. Thankfully he didn’t have pain, and he could eat.

I’d asked the various dental receptionists what he could do in the mean time before his appointment on Thursday – or some were offering Friday – and the best they could suggest was consulting a pharmacist. On his way home that evening, he did. There’s a kit he could’ve tried – they sell some sort of at-home kit for broken teeth – but there was a possibility that he was allergic to one of the ingredients, so between them, they decided it’d be fine til the next morning’s appointment, and he left it.

I phoned the appointment line back the next morning and managed to get an NHS emergency appointment, so I cancelled the private appointment and we went to our NHS appointment where the dentist had a look and told Chris what he thought (he thinks he needs a crown), and put a plastic cap on to keep out infection, and now Chris can talk correctly, too. Progress.

Remember what I said about the meaning of “emergency” up there? The dentist asked Chris approximately when it happened, and he said, “Yesterday at 1:00.” “Wow, that’s not approximate at all. I’m used to people saying, ‘Oh, a week or two ago.'” Both of our brains broke a bit when he said that – how do you forget that your tooth broke, and how do you leave it that long?! Seems like you’re just begging for an infection and abcess by then!

I’d been under the impression, after reading the NHS website and speaking with that dentist’s receptionist that morning on the phone, that this dentist would then do the job – the crown that Chris needs – but no, he just put the plastic thing in and sent us on our way. After some initial discombobulation (on both my part and the receptionist’s), I’m happy about this: I was tolerated, but not actually included. My husband and I are a team, so this is no place for us.

So then we went to the website above – the receptionist, at least, was helpful, and pointed us there – and started calling around to the different dentists. The first one I called said they are accepting NHS patients for one-off treatments, so I took that to start with, and told them what’s up. We now have an appointment for the 29th with that dentist, so this plastic cap need only last 11 days.

We then found 4 more practices that said they’re accepting NHS patients. We only had time left to make it to one before the close of day, so we went there. It was nice, from what we could tell, so we’ve put our names on the waiting list there – apparently it’s just a few weeks long at the moment. By the time they call, we’ll have been by the others, and be able to tell them to go on to the next people if that’s what we decide.

Thankfully catchment area’s not an issue with dentists now – it used to be that you could only go to certain dentists, based on where you live, but now you can choose any dentist. (Catchment area’s still an issue with doctors, though.) This is whether you go as an NHS patient or as a private patient. This is really good, because we only have five dentist practices in Glossopdale; 2 have treated Chris extremely poorly in the past, 1 gives me a very bad feeling, 1 has bad reviews I have trouble ignoring, and 1 has recently put someone we know on their waiting list and told her it’ll be a year. Out of town it is, then!

So that’s where we’ve been, and where we are. Wish us luck!

My new letter holder!

My new letter holder, made by Chris!

My new letter holder, made by Chris!

I send lots of mail. I delight in brightening others’ days with a bit of personal mail – we all get far too much spam and bills in our mailboxes these days.

Some time ago, Chris thought of making me a letter holder to help hold and sort outgoing mail, and this got compounded to also sort my mail paraphernalia. He’d made me one awhile ago, but never finished it – he gave it to me before he finished it, and I immediately put it to use, so then he couldn’t well take it away to finish it. He tweaked the design, anyway, added a drawer, and this and that, and so that became the prototype, and now he’s made the finished product. And it’s done! Yipee!

It’s beautiful, and smooth, and the drawer glides nicely, and it’s exactly what I need, instead of me having to make do with what’s available.

Thank you, Chris!

A primer on planning applications

One thing I do on a regular basis is look through the local planning applications and consultations. It keeps me informed about what businesses might be going in where, or expanding; the Derbyshire and Peak District National Park ones in particular educate me about town names beyond the area I know well; and, of course, it keeps me abreast of anything I may have strong feelings about one way or another.

I don’t actually know how the equivalent of planning applications might work in various places in the US. For one, as I keep reminding my UK friends, each local place in the US has its own rules and regulations, so “how does this work in the US?” is rarely a question that can be answered in a sentence or two if it’s the truth you want. For two, I didn’t get involved in this stuff when I lived there, so I don’t even know how it worked in one place. I can only tell you how it works here.

Why people file planning applications …

First, we’ll talk about planning applications. When someone wants to modify a building or plot of land, they have to put in a planning application. I think they only have to do this for modifications that can be seen from outside, unless the building is listed (that is, it has some special historical status, so it is protected), in which case all modifications seem to have to be submitted for planning application. In and around the Peak District National Park, rules are stricter in order to keep it looking nice, so some things must be applied for here that aren’t applied for elsewhere, as well as restrictions on materials used that I’m told aren’t enforced elsewhere – things like our stone buildings, or at least buildings that look like stone, as the price of stone buildings becomes prohibitive, and slate roofs (again, or slate-look roofs), and so on. I see ordinary householders applying for permission to change their windows – I hope this is because of these tighter restrictions because of the park, and not more widespread than that.

When someone wants to change the use of a building or piece of land, this requires a planning application, too. Currently, there’s one for a change of use in the Glossop Market Arcade from a clothes shop to a nail salon, for example.

When the planning department grants planning permission, they usually do it with a number of conditions attached. Once the applicant has fulfilled one or more of those conditions, they then need to come back and file another application, a Discharge of Conditions. This means they’ve met it and they need permission to proceed with the rest of what they want to do. Often they need to show the planning department the materials they want to use, or more specific blueprints, or another bat survey, or some such, before they can proceed to this or that step of the development.

Commenting on planning applications …

Anyone can weigh in on any planning application that they want to. The planning officer or committee charged with deciding that application should consider all submissions (including source and what was said). Naturally, lots of hard feelings abound when the planning decision goes against popular opinion, but people forget that they’re dealing with bureaucrats – they have to tick boxes. They have rules they have to follow, and as with all bureaucrats, it works best if you speak to them in their own language: most of them can’t translate.

If you want to comment on a planning application, don’t just write, as I see so many people do, “This is a stupid unneeded thing, don’t let them put it here!” or something vaguely like that. Realize that when they reject planning applications, they can’t use that argument at all. They must, instead, use their rules to reject it. Go find those rules and tell them what rules the proposed thing would break. Loss of amenity is always a favorite.

Finding the rules was great fun for me, starting from scratch with absolutely no knowledge of how the UK government works, when I first was riled up enough to object to a planning application, but I managed it. I spent about two days familiarizing myself with the regulations, and then another day drafting my eight-page letter telling them, rule by rule, all the ways I could see their proposal broke the rules. After that, I’m familiar with it, so it doesn’t take nearly so long when I get riled up enough to comment on an application. What are these rules? All of us in the UK have the National Planning Policy Framework to start with. After that, check here (type the post code or town you’re interested into in that search box near the top) to see what local authority deals with planning there. If you type in Youlgreave, for example, you’ll get a drop down menu – Youlgreave has both the Peak District National Park Authority and the Derbyshire Dales District Council to contend with. Choosing the local authority you’re interested in gives you a host of links; the Local Plan link is the one you want.

For the Glossop area, we have these currently:

  • High Peak Borough Council Local Plan – until the one currently being reviewed is approved by the Inspector and published, we’re using the 2008 Local Plan (pdf) (link)
  • Peak District National Park Authority Local Plan – (link)
  • Derbyshire County Council Minerals and Waste Planning Policy – link
  • National Planning Policy Framework (pdf) (link)

Planning applications have to abide by all of the policies for the jurisdictions applicable for their site, so figure out which those are, and then go through these rules and find which apply to the application you’re looking at, and use those rules to bolster your argument.

You can read more about the process on wikipedia. Another good summary is on the website of one of the local councillors, Anthony Mckeown, here.

Right, I came here to tell you about a particular case I’ve tripped upon today, but this primer has grown so long that I’m going to leave it to stand on its own and share The Case Of The Caravan Park with you in another entry.

Helpful Hint: Use Soda Crystals in Laundry

This is mostly for my British readers. I told this recently to an English friend, and she was so surprised, and I was so surprised that it wasn’t common knowledge, that I reckoned I’d go ahead and put it out there.

I used to live in a place with extremely soft water. I hated it; where ever I live, I will likely never be among the legions buying stuff to make their household water softer. One thing you learn right away when your water is that soft is that you need much less soap. You learn this even if you’ve just called in and have to visit the porcelain furniture before you head back out again. The water there was so soft that a normal amount of lather could be worked up with just a grain of sand’s worth of soap. Any more than that, and you’d be standing there an extra five minutes just to rinse the soap off. I’m not exaggerating.

My friends there told me of a door to door salesman showing up one day, trying to sell water softening systems. He was laughed right out of town. Always know your audience!

Anyway, when we got our washer-dryer, I became vividly aware of how much more dear laundry detergent is here. ((I’ve just pulled up a few examples; prices based on package size that yielded cheapest price per load:

Category Detergent Price per load (Current Conversion in parentheses)
US cents UK pence
For sensitive skin All Free & Clear 10.0c (5.9p)
Ecover Bio Liquid (46.6c) 27.7p
Popular Tide 10.0c (5.9p)
Fairy (31.6c) 18.8p
Generic/Own Brand White Cloud, Walmart’s Brand 6.7c (4.0p)
Tesco Non Bio (24.0c) 14.3p

)) (What follows applies equally to washers, with or without drawers.) However, I eyed this drawer that holds the detergent/etc, and I mused over the knowledge I’d gained at some point: soda crystals soften water. Hmm.

Soda crystals are also called washing soda, soda ash, and sodium carbonate. ((Not to be confused with sodium bicarbonate, which is new British for baking soda — older cookbooks just say baking soda, interestingly.)) I don’t know if I’ve ever come across them in the US, which is why I prefaced this by saying it’s mostly for my British readers. If you know of these things by some other name, for whatever country you are familiar with, or even by that very name, say so in the comments! I quite likely just didn’t know what to look for before, is all.

After thinking about these things, and experimenting with various amounts, I now place 15 grams / 15 mL of soda crystals in the detergent dispenser drawer of the washer with the detergent. It softens the water enough to be able to use half the called-for detergent. My skin’s very sensitive, so I use the Ecover line (various ones depending on the clothes going in); how much you need to use for the same effect may vary based on your detergent. I encourage you to experiment – maybe it won’t work for you at all, and you’ll end up re-washing that load altogether, but what if it does? Soda crystals cost nearly nothing; it’s nice to halve the laundry soap bill with almost no effort.

Remember all the soda crystals will be flushed away by the time the last rinse cycle happens, so you’ll need the same amount of softener (conditioner), if you use it, and besides, I’m not sure softer water would increase the effectiveness there.

Happy washing!

And then a part FELL OFF the bus…

You know how we sometimes joke about how someone’s “left the transmission back there” if they’re changing gears really rough? Or we joke about a car being in such poor repair that (unspecified) bits will fall off?


Until it did, yesterday. It wasn’t the transmission, but it was a hunk of metal from the engine, steaming mightily.



We’d just alighted (gotten off), and the bus had set off again, but the part stayed right next to us, and the bus stopped rather suddenly, about 100 feet down the hill. People poured out, and looked around, and we pointed out the part in the road, and so they came up to look at it – the driver, for his part was already on his phone, presumably to the bus company. We looked around for a stick to move this steaming hunk of metal out of the road, but there were none; Chris kicked it up onto the grass, since it’s just after a bend in the road, and we certainly didn’t want anyone to run over it.

The part is part of the drive train. As I understand it, the business part of a four-wheel-drive vehicle looks basically like this:


Figure 1; Source

The left is the front; the right is the rear. The engine (on the left) does a lot of stuff to create motion to pass to the wheels to make them go round. This motion, on a 4-wheel-drive vehicle, is passed to the rear wheels along the straight rod that runs back to them. (Ignore the funny bent one; that’s the exhaust.) That straight rod is the drive train, and if you look closely, you’ll see it’s not one rod, but actually 3. The two joins between the 3 rods aren’t secured completely, so that they can slide about a very little bit when the vehicle hits bumps and the like.


Figure 2; Source

The middle section of that drive train (the straight bit in the middle) is actually three parts instead of the one it looks like. There’s a central rod, and then either end has a hunk of metal that is a U-shape at one end, and a cup at the other end that fits over the rod. It just sticks over the rod, like a push-on lid for a tupperware container, though I’m told there should be teeth inside to help it stay (what with it not being able to harness the plastic magic that tupperware does). The U-shape at the other end is attached to the next portion of the drive train via pegs: on Figure 2, you remove the somewhat decorative-looking disc towards the left, and then a hole presents itself. You put a long peg with a bit of screw threading at the bottom into there, screw it into the disc in the middle of the two U-shapes, and the rest is just bare metal peg, with bearings on either side, to let the peg swivel around as needed. Do this at all four points around that disc (both ends of the two Us), and then do it again on the other side of the drive train rod. So you get some give that way, and you get some give because the other end isn’t affixed firmly, either.

So what happened with the bus yesterday? Near as we can figure: Looking again at the steaming hunk of metal, we see that the two bits that were fixed via the pegs were sheared off – too much stress – and when turned just enough, the cap end just fell off the rod and ended up in the road. Why? We suspect a combination of (1) that driver driving that bus like a maniac along these winding High Peak roads – we had him both ways, and I was grasping the bar in front of me almost the whole time* to keep from being flung more than necessary – and therefore stressing that part, and (2) High Peak bus company’s lackadaisical approach about maintaining its fleet – breakdowns are pretty common on that line.

(*On the way home, we got behind another bus for a piece of road, the Stagecoach 358, and then I got to sit back and enjoy the ride, not being flung about endlessly. Really wish that driver we had would calm down and learn that there are more speeds available than “slam on brake” and “slam on gas.”)

While still a mile from the end of the line, we were thankfully close enough that all the passengers were able to easily get where they were going. There was one woman all in a tizzy because she needed to catch the last bus to Huddersfield at 5:10pm, and it was 4:50pm; it would be dear to get to after that (£15.50 by train or perhaps £40 by taxi). Thankfully, one of the other ladies summoned help in the form of a relative to come drive that lady to the bus stop, so she was taken care of. Not that this stopped her from laying into the bus driver with her problem once he hung up the phone, mind you – as if he was somehow supposed to magically make the bus instantly work again. It perhaps would have struck me as fair if she didn’t already have a lift on the way, and if she’d phrased it better.

We were so lucky that, of all the places for the bus to break down, it did so in a relatively convenient place, and not out in the middle of nowhere – not on Long Hill, not on the hill between Glossop and Hayfield, no. We’d have all been stranded. It took an hour and a half for a tow truck to arrive for the bus. I just really hope they didn’t leave all the people stranded who were expecting the bus going back again the other way – it had one more run to make before the end of its day.

Chris explained all these nitty gritty details to me, and showed me various diagrams, and so I understand it enough, but I’m still absolutely shocked that a part of the bus literally FELL OFF IN THE ROAD. Thank heavens it didn’t hit us!

Monkey Nuts

Even after six years of living here, I occassionally come across things that throw me.

On the menu this week is Kung Pao Chicken. This means I need peanuts. We’ve had Kung Pao Chicken before; I’ve bought peanuts suitable for cooking with before. In Tesco, nuts generally come in a small bag (about a cup’s worth), and will sometimes be with the baking stuff, or with the health food stuff, or now they have a bit in the produce section that has some nuts and dried fruits, or there’s one or two other places to look. Before I got there, I was at the greengrocer’s, Sowerbutts, so I checked their stock of nuts – nope, no peanuts. Right, Tesco it is.

I looked high and low, in all those different places. I found no peanuts. Almonds in twenty different forms, walnuts, pistachios, even macadamia nuts, but no humble peanuts. I then thought, this is crazy, peanuts are the most common snack nut – surely there’s at least some in the snack aisle? So I went slowly down the aisle with the crisps (chips), etc, and nope, no nuts at all. This is insane. How can a whole supermarket have no peanuts? I’m sure I’ve bought them from this very supermarket before!

The quest continues …

At last, I found a worker, who led me to the display of snack peanuts (which wasn’t with the crisps, of course). Hooray, peanuts! Now, could there possibly be any that aren’t salted for snacking, but rather plain, more suitable for cooking with? Not these … not those … what are these, down on the bottom shelf?


Monkey nuts? What in the world are monkey nuts?


Hey look, roast peanuts. In shells. So they’re peanuts. Where do the monkeys come from? Who knows.

Hooray, I have some unsalted peanuts now for my Kung Pao, even if I have to shell them myself. Don’t think it’d be quite right with almonds…

On loss: the Why


Phyllis was one of the loveliest ladies I know, and I will miss her greatly. Words will never do justice to her charm, her sparkling wit, her understated ways, her matter-of-factness, her straightforwardness, and so many other qualities that made her such a wonderful, lovely lady.

She left us yesterday, finally at peace after her struggles.

I don’t know, and will likely never know, what happened – why she’s gone. In the way of grief, part of my mind has become focused on this tidbit, convinced that if I understood why she was gone I’d be more at peace with it. The rest of my mind isn’t so sure, but would like the chance to find out.

Click for more …


I realized last night that for almost none of the deaths that have affected me since moving here have I ever been privy to the causes. The only exception was when my mother told me when “my” cat passed away. PC – Precarious Cat – always liked my mother best, so she stayed living there with her; besides, she was 17 by the time I married and settled here, and very set in her ways, so it felt wrong to contemplate uprooting her. Mom told me about coming home to find PC in a state, rushing her to the vet, what he said, and everything that happened next.

For every death that affected me before I moved here, I was privy to the cause of death. Not generally a blow-by-blow as with PC, but “he had cancer” or “he drowned” or “he was allergic and died of anaphylactic shock.” I suspect the difference is mostly down to the fact that these deaths local to me here have been of my friends and acquaintances, and I’ve not rated as someone worthy to tell what exactly happened; I suspect that the people telling me didn’t rate either. The deaths before were family members and kin (more distant family), so I rated then, and was automatically told.

Phyllis went into the hospital with a chest infection. I visited her a few weeks ago. She was tired, and weak, but she seemed okay. She said she was having trouble catching her breath, so they were trying her on different pills to try to fix this problem. I don’t understand why they didn’t try giving her oxygen. She said she was weak, and couldn’t walk too well; she lived alone, so this needed to be sorted out before she could go home. I knew from a friend who’d visited her before that she was having trouble eating, but there wasn’t a nutrient drip for her, or even a saline drip to make sure she at least stayed hydrated.

I listened to other mutual friends before and after my visit, and I heard, between the lines, them preparing themselves for her death. I didn’t – don’t – get that line of thinking; she was tired, and weak, but she hadn’t seemed anywhere near death’s door to me. I realized, back then, weeks ago, that this is probably a self-preservation measure of theirs, and that I have nothing like it; rather, I always experience any death as a great shock, because my subconcious assumption is that everyone will live forever. This is odd for me, given that I think a lot (relatively) about my own demise; I have a folder of instructions for my own funeral compiled already to save a bit of trouble for my survivors, for example. Yet, it’s true: death is generally a shock to me.

When I got the call, I let my poor friend tasked with telling me keep talking after she’d broken then news, hoping for some explanation. All I heard was the same anger towards the patient that I’d heard in the wake of these other losses (last year there were four in a four-month span): “She hadn’t improved at all.” “She wasn’t eating.” And so on. This victim blaming is undoubtedly done under the just-world fallacy paradigm. They’re blaming the patient for not doing what she was supposed to do, and thus they’re able to comfort themselves that the same won’t happen to them: they’ll do what they’re supposed to do, naturally. It’s the same thing many do with rape victims: they blame the victim for wearing the wrong clothes, etc, comforting themselves that they’ll never be raped because they’ll do what they’re supposed to do.

It occurs to me that it could be a cultural difference, rather than a relationship difference; if it is, then I bet it’d be founded on the biggest underlying difference I’ve noted between these two cultures: Fairness. In the UK, things are supposed to be fair: laws are written to this end, campaigns aimed at making things fairer succeed, and so on. In the US, it’s widely accepted that things are not supposed to be fair, that fairness is a myth. Fair and just go hand in hand, so if the victim-blaming is part of the just-world fallacy, then it’d be based on this notion that life and death are fair – when, in fact, the only fair about death is that it eventually comes to us all.

When I’ve asked (not yet in this case, but last year) what happened, why have they left us, I’m met with stock phrases such as “Well, she was old,” or “She’d been ill.” Those gems were regarding an acquaintance who’d fallen a height of some six feet and broken some ribs. She, too, lived alone, so needed to be able to function again before they sent her home (hospitals here are much quicker to admit and much slower to release patients than any hospitals in the US I’ve ever been around, in my limited experience), so she was in the hospital for a couple of months, I think. But before that? She kept up a very busy social life; she went line dancing every week – she was more active than me! Vera wasn’t old. As her son said at the funeral, “We shouldn’t be here.” No, we really shouldn’t have.

This belief that age is some sort of automatic cause of death really grates on my nerves. People don’t actually die of old age; I wish that myth would kick the bucket already. My friends are simply my friends – they never seem old or young to me; they’re people I can count on, people with open hearts and open minds, people interested in what I have to say, with things to say that I’m interested to hear. Phyllis was one of those, and she never seemed old to me.

This mystery of why she’s gone makes me feel as though I’ve stepped back in time, to the 1600s or some such, when we knew little about how our bodies worked, and you just had to cope with the knowledge that they’d died. I don’t get it; when the electricity or water goes out, the first thing other people ask is why, which is such a trivial, unimportant thing for the customers – something’s broken somewhere, and the company’s fixing it, which is the salient point. All these deaths I’ve been around, though, and no one asks or tells why. Coffins are closed, and it’s generally seen to be poor form to actually cry at a funeral (from what I’ve gathered); how are we meant to come to terms with loss?

Snow! – and how it causes chaos

It’s sunny right now!

I do hope it stays this way. It snowed earlier, but didn’t stick on the roads around my house, thankfully, and the sun’s melting whatever little bits might have done. Elsewhere, it was thicker.

I really, really hate it when it snows here. Other places can cope, but this place can’t. I have vivid memories from childhood, from our winters in Michigan, of deep snow on the yards, but the road completely clear of snow – and once the sun would shine for a bit, even the wetness would evaporate, and the road would be completely dry and safe. I also remember having great fun with a pair of my old sneakers (trainers), a couple of sticks, and some knee-high socks: we stuck them in the mound of snow that the snow plow’d made, simulating a girl having gotten stuck in the snow. We watched from the kitchen window as people passed by and did a double take. Most laughed; it was good.

Click for more …

I also have an acquaintance who lived in Canada for three or four decades before emigrating; she assures me that the scraping noise of the snow plow on the road surface is one of the sounds of winter there. I wish it was so here. Here, the plow stays a good 2″/5cm or more off the surface of the road; the salt they spread behind that plow (one vehicle: pseudo-plow at the front, salt spreader at the back) can’t melt that much snow. Not clearing snow means it almost invariably freezes, making the roads perilous – when there’s no need for it.

Here’s some of the traffic chaos caused by this morning’s light snow:

  • High Peak Bus Company – serves most of the High Peak, the local borough I live in, including the road I live on:
    • 9:03am: Transpeak. We won’t be be serving Taddington or Chelmorten due to the weather conditions.
    • 9:51am: Cat and Fiddle closed in both ways
    • 9:53am: Service 199. Will not be serving Peak Dale due to snow
    • 9:56am: Snow is causing problems for services all across the High Peak
    • 10:46am: We have various road closures in the are affecting many services. Cat & Fiddle,Chunal,A515 and A623 are blocked. We are doing our best!
    • 12:23pm: The road conditions are improving but our 58 service remains suspended.
    • 12:35pm: Service 61. Will recommence full service at 13:00 from Glossop.
  • 11:33am: Cat and Fiddle Road:
    2014_0211 cat and fiddle
  • 10:30am: Update on the county council’s webpage about closed roads, etc:
    All these roads are open and passable with care:
    • A57 Snake Pass
    • A537 Cat & Fiddle
    • A53 Macclesfield Road
    • A515 Ashbourne to Buxton.
  • 10:50am: Disley Police: Please be aware that the Cat and Fiddle road has been closed due to snow. Other roads over the tops may be affected as well.

That’s the roads; the sidewalks don’t get cleared or salted, but do get walked on, so the snow there freezes into interesting shapes. You know, for values of interesting that mean “you take your life into your hands by walking on it.” Fun times!

How much snow was it? Here’s the top of one of our hills, at 10:53am:

2014_0211 kinder scout

More photos: Bottom of Mam Tor Old RoadTop of Mam TorView over Chinley (about five miles south of me) … Buxton town centre (about 15 miles south of me) … and lastly, the view Chris just saw from the train coming into Glossop:


It’s pretty up there on the hilltops. It can stay there, and stay off the roads and sidewalks.

Snow shouldn’t be so anxiety-inducing; it was fun once, I remember. If only it were managed better, it could be fun again. I know my brother who lives in Michigan loves getting out his monstrous snow blower and clearing his two-car driveway in about two minutes flat. Maybe one day I’ll buy a snowblower and just push it in front of me everywhere I go. Just have to figure out how to keep it secure when I go into each shop. Hm.

When I rule the world, I’m putting heating elements under all the roads and sidewalks!