Monday, August 21, 2017

The Wonders of Tech

I had to go to Sainsbury's this morning. I didn't have to purchase too much so I wasn't in the store very long. When it came to pay and use a check-out I usually prefer to use a manned check out (sorry to sound sexist. They are usually operated by women, but a few male operators are employed in this store) One such human-operated check-out and there were long queues to use any of the checkouts. I had no choice but to use one of the self-service checkout. There are plenty of these, those which are more like a traditional check-out with a conveyor belt so if you have a lot of items to scan, then it's a relatively easy process to load the belt and then scan as the items move along towards the scanner and pack it all the other end. I walked towards the area where the other self-service checkout were. These are the more familiar form of self-service check-out, which are probably intended for those shoppers with only a few items to scan and pack. I had bought two 'bags for life' which you are now expected to use rather than rely on plastic bags which are used once and then disposed of and if you use them you are charged 5p for each one. I organised myself so as to scan each item from right-to-left so as to pack each item and place it in the bag in the bagging area. The first bag was a reusable one we'd bought in Waitrose and was presumably to heavy for the system as it told me 'unknown item in bagging area' and the digital screen asked me to get assistance. So a staff-member came and scanned his I.D. card to get the machine to clear and allow me to continue scanning my shopping. Several more items kept setting off an 'unrecognised item' message and stopping the scanning process once or twice more. I had to use the second bag and this didn't faze the machinery, thankfully, but it seemed to take a good deal longer to go through this process than was reasonable. It makes me wonder whether it's really saving time and effort to use one of these self-service check-outs when there are so many glitches and it requires a staff member to oversee their use. Just employ enough people to operate the traditional check-outs rather expecting shoppers to rely on these self-service check-outs.

From self-service check-outs on telephone sales and marketing. I have had a subscription to BBC History Magazine for a couple of years now. In February we had a slight financial hiccough when a lot of our subscriptions to the various magazines we subscribe to (and probably a few other direct debits which are related to such things as insurance, council tax, etc etc.) came out at around the same time and therefore depleted our bank account considerably. As a result I went into our bank and cancelled many of these subscriptions. You have to go to your bank to cancel a direct debit, no good going through the company to whom payment is made. Anyway, after some consideration, I have decided to reinstate the subscription to BBC History Magazine as it's so good and if you have a subscription you get your magazine delivered via the post and quite some time before it's on the news-stands. Also, you pay quite  bit less than the cover-price, so all in all it's well worth it.

I rang the customer line which is printed in the magazine. They currently have an offer of 5 copies for £5 and then so much a year for your subscription. I got through relatively quickly to speak to an agent and I was going to quote my subscription membership number as I wanted to know how many magazines were left on my current subscription. Logical really, as there was no point in setting up a fresh subscription if there was the possibility of them over-lapping and I might end up receiving two copies of the same magazine. But when I tried to do this I was told that the system was being up-graded and therefore I wouldn't be able to do this. A crazy situation for a business to get into, up-grading their computer system which meant they couldn't access your details. A good way to surely loose a customer. I shall attempt to ring at a later date when, hopefully, their computer system has completed being up-graded and I can complete my transaction. it just goes to show how we have become controlled by these bits of technology and when they don't work properly how much inconvenience they cause.

More Niggles: Television- Part 2

What's next on my list of niggles regarding television? How about the over-abundance of similar shows, such as antiques and cookery? One or two would be fine, but why do schedulers think that the viewer is going to relish the possibility of a rash of the same sort of show? Crazy. All the fuss about Great British Bake Off transferring to Channel 4 was totally over-the-top. I can't honestly see how it can be worth £75 million or thereabout, even if it's for five years. There are a couple of antique shows we watch and enjoy, such as Bargain Hunt and Flog It! Well, they just happen to be on at the right time, when we have lunch or tea and at least you learn something about antiques. Then there's 'lifestyle' shows, doing up houses, 'Escape To The Country' as well as 'Homes Under The Hammer.' Why do the people who go on something like 'Escape To The Country' want to move to the middle of nowhere, North Yorkshire or somewhere in Cornwall, miles from anywhere, a long drive to the nearest supermarket or a hospital or doctor? They generally have more money than sense and they want a huge house with more bedrooms than they really need. If you're going to move once you retire, why not just down-size and spend the money you have left over because you've gone for a smaller, more economical house? It's just so you can invite your friends and family and impress them with your new, huge home.

Day-time television is awash with selling things. Virtually every programme has some aspect of selling, such as houses to antiques. It's the same thing as I've already mentioned. Once a show is found to be a success with an audience they seem to think that we'll want more and more of the same.

Why do these shows have the same music on their soundtracks? I can't understand why, when they make some programmes, usually documentaries, they have to use the SAME music which gets recycled endlessly. Perhaps the budgets for these shows don't allow for original scores and they use royalty-free library music. It's the most likely reason, but the same rather clichéd music seems to do the rounds of such shows as 'Antiques Road Trip.'

Not just antiques and cooking, but during the afternoon there seem to be endless gameshows. There's nothing wrong with a really good gameshow. 'The Chase' is currently a huge hit on I.T.V. at teatime. It's main selling-point would be that Bradley Walsh is the questionmaster. He has a good repport with the contestants and can, occasionally, corpse when a rather risqué answer comes up on the three answers the contestants have to select. Then there's The Chasers, who are usually good value for money. Then the questions are quite difficult. I hate those gameshows which have questions that are, frankly, an insult to one's intelligence. The worst offender in that department is 'Tipping Point.' We've watched this addictive show, but some of the questions are, to be honest, an insult. Such questions as 'What month is Christmas?', 'What colour is the sky?' Doh! Who really thought that a gameshow that is really a version of those machines that you'd find at the fair or on a seaside pier, where you put a few pennies in a slot and the machine has different shelves or 'layers' that move backwards and forward and you have to get the coins to fall over the edge to win? Crazy.

Day-time television is awash with selling things. Virtually every programme has some aspect of selling, such as houses to antiques. It's the same thing as I've already mentioned. Once a show is found to be a success with an audience they seem to think that we'll want more and more of the same.

Why do these shows have the same music on their soundtracks? I can't understand why, when they make some programmes, usually documentaries, they have to use the SAME music which gets recycled endlessly. Perhaps the budgets for these shows don't allow for original scores and they use royalty-free library music. It's the most likely reason, but the same rather clichéd music seems to do the rounds of such shows as 'Antiques Road Trip.'

Something that really gets on my nerve and that's the need for producers of television shows to have 'what's coming next' at the beginning of a show. 'Bargain Hunt' does this. I quite like this show, but why do I need to get a glimpse of what's going to happen? I'm quite capable of staying with a programme to find out. I don't need this stupid element. It's taking up valuable running-time. Then, most drama series have to have 'Next time . . .' and you get a glimpse of the next episode. Totally unnecessary. Something pinched from American television which is best off being ditched. I know that a lot of our shows are either sold to American television or are co-productions, but it's as if you're not going to stick with a long-running series (or 'season' as we have to call a long-running drama series, also pinched from America.) And a great deal of fuss is made out of the final episode of a run of shows, or 'series' or 'season.' Now called 'Finale.' Which sort of separates it from the rest of the run of shows.






More Niggles: Television- Part 1

I have written in several blogs on some of the niggles of life. I shall discuss some niggles I have about television. I'm sure it's not just me that notices such things, so if anyone reading these thoughts has any further comments to make, do, please, feel free to write in the comment box at the end as it would be interesting to know what other 'niggles' regarding today's television people can come up with.

Why do sports programmes have to have people talking on them with very loud voices? As a person who has no interest at all on the subject of football (and, indeed, a great many other sports, apart from athletics and possibly rugby.) These persons seem to speak in CAPITAL LETTERS as if those to whom they are talking are either incredibly deaf or stupid, or else, to someone who has English as a second language and can barely understand what it being said. Or they speak with such basic English it's an insult to the average person who has an I.Q. above about 120 or so. Or as if they were Sun readers, or at least, tabloid newspaper readers, which always seem to use very basic language (from what I've seen of such papers when I've visited the supermarket and have inadvertently seen the headlines of them. Generally in huge bold, very black print with about a 2inch square block of type for the story the headline is for.)

Then there's the patronising tone that some presenters have. A sort of Primary School teacher-type voice. Kate Humble uses this voice whenever she's presenting certain programmes, usually with cuddly animals on. A lot of the presenters on Countryfile speak like this. A sort of 'we know better than you, so shut up and listen' type of voice. Infact, Countryfile has a sort of smug tone to it, a very patronising and insulting sound for townies who know nothing about life in the country, where their food comes from, the fact that meat comes from animals bred and living on farms and are ignorant of how it is slaughtered and butchered and don't think the nice little plastic packets they buy in supermarket which contain meat, neatly presented and covered in cling film, comes from a living animal.

Let's move on. How about this niggle? Why do the credits at the end of television programmes have to go past so rapidly you can't possibly read them? Why do they have to be crammed into a very small box, generally squeezed up so small you can't read it and the other half of the screen will then have a trailer for another show that's coming up, or about the next show, and an announcer will talk over the music from the previous show? What is all this about? Is it because the television schedulers are scared you're going to loose interest and turn over to another channel? Because we now have so much choice, so many channels on multi-channel platforms, as well as down-load, catch-up, streaming services such as Amazon and Netflix? All this is so annoying when you want to find out the name of an actor in such-and-such drama or film, or even, who wrote the music, directed the thing or any other detail that the credits should show. It's a bit of an insult to those who have laboured long and hard over a piece of television to then have their name rushed past the viewer in such a fashion.

Advertising. A general beta noire of many television viewers. I realise that many channels have to be funded by advertising, but why do many of these commercial interruptions (for want of a better way to describe them?) have to be so CRASS and AWFUL? We now get 'sponsored by . . .' promotions at the beginning and end of programmes as well as during the ad breaks ('wrapped around' is probably the technical term.) Adverts for sofas get on my nerves. Do companies such as D.H.L., Sofa World and others ever sell their products at full price, and do people always want a new sofa at Christmas or Easter? Why do they insist on using that stupid woman with the high-pitched voice, very annoying (almost as annoying as Kate Humble) nauseating and awful. Then there's the constant ads for such things as stairlifts, funeral insurance, P.P.I., Saga holidays and so on, which seem to be aimed at people of a 'certain age.' Something of an insult in a way and generally on the, how should I describe them, the 'lesser' digital channels, the ITV channels 2,3 etc which seemed to show programmes aimed at older people, with repeats of Midsummer Murder, Poirot etc etc.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Television Documentary About Milton Keynes's 50th Anniversary

2017 is the 50th Birthday of Milton Keynes. I moved here in 2007 when I married Carol, having previously lived in Bedford, around 20 miles to the east. BBC television has shown a documentary about the town (I can never decide whether it's a town or a city, and it seems, do other people. Which is it? You decide.) It was built as an over-spill for London. Half-way between London and Birmingham and between the A5 to the west and the M1 to the east. The Grand Union Canal cuts through the town and is around half a mile from our home in Eaglestone, walking down the Redway. To some extent, according to this documentary which was co-producted by the Open University, which is based in MK, the town was built as a sort of social experiment. All manner of different architects were employed to have a virtual freehand in the design of the various 'villages' which were conceived within each of the 'girds' which make up the town.

The documentary was told from the point of view of one man, Richard Macer, who lived and grew up in the town, left to go to university and came back to visit the place again. His parents continued to live in the town, in Great Linford. He went to school at Stantonbury Campus, where Carol was a teacher before transferring to her current school, Milton Keynes Academy.

Milton Keynes has been the subject of quite a few jokes over the years, not least because of the number of roundabouts, and in particular the so-called 'Concrete Cows' which have become the unofficial symbol for the town. Also, described as 'dull', 'soulless' as well as uninspiring. Having lived here for a little over ten years I can say I have not found it to be any such thing. Infact, it's got plenty going for it. I particularly like the fact that there's so much open space here. As you'd drive along the grid roads you almost forget the fact that you are driving through a town at all, as the design of the place means all houses and most other buildings, can't be seen from the road, that there are plenty of trees to screen the grids which contain the 'village' like communities within them as well as cleverly landscaped sections, banked up with the plants and trees on them as well as having all housing beyond a fairly wide margin of each road, giving a pleasant feel to the place, unlike many other modern towns which have houses almost on the roadside. The town has been highly successful in creating employment. The rate of growth is amazing. The amount of homes being built is startling and Milton Keynes is expanding at a great rate. We drove across the town a few days ago and went past Crownhill, the area we originally lived when we were married in 2007. The fields along the side of Watling Street as you drive towards Stony Stratford and Wolverton have been developed and now it's all houses. On the approach-road from the M1, coming in from Bedford, there is a large amount of construction going on. Since I've been living here, a vast John Lewis warehouse complex has been built along that stretch of road, as well as for their partner company, Waitrose. The road system has been vastly improved, partially duelled along that piece of road, where there is a roundabout with an impressive steel statue of Greg Rutherford, the Olympic Gold-Medallist Long Jump winner at the 2012 London Olympic Games who lives within the Milton Keynes area. There is further building going on at the newly-improved roundabout which used to be a point where there were long traffic queues before it was widened and with new traffic lights and then going towards Newport Pagnall there is even more development of not just houses but more warehouses, no doubt going to be distribution centres for more companies. Infact, Milton Keynes has a higher rate of employment than more areas of the United Kingdom.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Carol Discharged From Hospital

Carol has been in hospital since Tuesday. As I have mentioned on these blog posts. I have been visiting her each day and walking to the hospital from home, which isn't actually far, around a 10-minute walk along the Redway and then into the hospital campus. I've mentioned the difficulty of navigating the site, with the long and complex system of corridors and signs within the site.

On Thursday we had hoped that one or other of the doctors who had been looking after her on the ward she eventually transferred to would be able to give us some idea of what their investigations had found, having done some scans and from observations since she arrived on Ward 19, having been mored from the Accute Ward which she had been on after her time in Accident and Emergency which we had gone to early on Tuesday morning.

I'm not going to explain here what the problem has been causing Carol so much pain as it would not be right to do so on here. Just let me say that it has been very difficult to see her in so much discomfort, regardless of the medication she has had. A lot of paracetamol, co-codemol and ibuprofen which doesn't seem to have helped in the long-run.

On Friday morning I was eating my lunch. Cheese and Rivita crackers. I got a text come in from Carol. I had taken her mobile so she could at least text me if I wasn't at the hospital. She told me in the text that the doctors were about to do their rounds. I couldn't eat fast enough, and it would take me at least 10 minutes to walk to the hospital. The weather had done what it always does, it changed dramatically. I had done a load of washing very early in the morning and it was out on the line by around 6.30. Nothing like being early when it takes me. But by the time I was due to begin the walk to the hospital, it began to cloud over. Those black clouds brewing up to deliver a downpour. I was in two minds to bring in the two lines of washing but having gone out to check how dry it was I decided against it. I also wore my big blue jacket which has a hood and plenty of pockets in it to carry my mobile and wallet as I believed that Carol was likely to need cash or perhaps we would be coming home together and would need cash for something or other at the hospital. Something out of a vending machine perhaps.

On arrival on the ward the nurses were making her bed.   No doctors in sight, unfortunately.

They bought round the lunches to the patients. Not exactly over-whelming. Fish and chips, but not exactly likely to achieve a few stars from Egon Ronay or any other restaurant reviewer.

By 2 o'clock Carol had a doctor's visit and it was decided that she could at last be discharged, thank goodness. She would have to return for further investigations and we'd have to wait for a letter to give her a date and time for an appointment. She already had a consultant's appointment for this week, 23rd August. We just had to wait for the paperwork to be done and the pharmacy to make up her medications for us to take with us.

By now it was threatening rain. A few drips seen outside. I had to walk home to get the car. I got home in time to avoid the rain, which started and it was torrential. I drove back to the hospital and parked in the ground-level carpark which we'd used when we'd come in to A and E on Tuesday morning. There was a flat roof just outside the window near Carol's bed on the ward. As it had been raining there was quite a large amount of water in a large pool on this flat room. The rain fell and filled this pool considerably. A couple of rather stupid looking pigeons came and paddled in it. It needed a few water lilies, ducks and perhaps some carp and it would have been complete.

As time was ticking by and it was taking longer to get the paperwork sorted so Carol could be discharged, I walked home to fetch the car and some clothes for Carol.

It took a good forty-five minutes to walk back to the house, collect some clothes for Carol in a carrier bag and drive back to the hospital. By now the rain was starting to fall heavily and I was beginning to feel a certain deja vu, having walked the same bit of path several times during the last couple of hours.

We eventually left to walk to the car, with all the things Carol had come in to the ward with. We went to pay for the carpark by putting the ticket I had collected when I'd parked earlier but for some reason the coins we put in wouldn't work. Neither did my debit card which we inserted. It just got rejected. Without paying by inserting your card into the machine and paying the required amount there was no way we would be able to leave through the exit barrier, but when we got to the exit barrier a little bit later we found it was up, so we assumed that there was some technical problem with the ticket machine or the barrier so we were able to leave without having to pay, which was actually a relief.


Friday, August 18, 2017

Hospital of Confusion

Finding your way around Milton Keynes Hospital is something of a nightmare. For a start, they are in the middle of up-grading the place, with the main entrance moved from opposite the main, ground-level carpark. It would appear that THAT entrance goes into Accident and Emergency. When we arrived on Tuesday morning, very early, it was closed off with a sign up telling us to go through another entrance (I think we landed up in A and E through the original door, but I can't remember now.) They've now put the main entrance to the side of the hospital, opposite the multi-storey carpark. A lot of new building going on near the road that goes to the Urgent Care centre (formerly known as the Walk-In Centre.) I think it's going to be a medical teaching centre, as Milton Keynes is a teaching hospital. A lot of the nurses who were in the ward Carol is on have uniforms with 'University of Bedfordshire' or 'Buckingham' and other universities embroidered on them. When we were in A and E there were a couple of A Level students 'shadowing' some of the doctors. I thought they were nurses training, but apparently not.

My main headache at the hospital is finding my way around. It's the craziest layout imaginable. It's in a series of what look like separate buildings, linked by extremely long corridors. You have to make sure you know where you're going and find the colour code for the area that department is in. Carol is currently in Ward 19 and its's in the 'Blue' sector. It's not necessarily finding the ward that causes problems (particularly as the corridors all look identical although they have some really good artworks hung along some of them, which I enjoy looking at, so these are a sort of guide to remember where I am at any particular time.)  but finding my way out, back to ground-level and back to the carpark or the Redway as I walk in along this from Eaglestone. Fortunately, if you get lost, there's always someone to ask and the staff are helpful.

Why, I wonder, did they not just build a series of blocks, instead of having two-storey buildings spread over a large area? It seems such a waste of space somehow. Surely, a six or even eight storey block is going to be more economical as regards space, with less waste with those dreadful long corridors. And then there seems to be so much wasted space BETWEEN the various buildings. Although, saying that, in some places this space is utilised as gardens and quite pleasant courtyards for staff and patients to enjoy.

Frustrating Walk-On Jobs

I've mentioned in earlier posts on here about my work doing 'Walk-On' work. On such television shows as 'EastEnders,' 'The Bill,' 'Lovejoy' and many others, over around 30 years, on and off. During the 1990's I think I was on something or other virtually every month during the summer. It trailed off as the new century started, basically because I was doing care work. As I'm now officially retired I thought I'd like to get back to doing SOME sort of supporting artiste work (please don't say 'extra' as it's a bit of an insult. I've been directed by the actual director on stuff I've worked on as well as A.D.'s (Assistant Directors) who are generally the people who work with the S.A's (Supporting Artistes) and give direction. I've never had any lines to say, but that doesn't mean you're not an important part of the film, or television programme-making process. If you make a mistake or don't take direction it means that a shot has to be re-done. Actors get annoyed, as they have every right to do, and it means that a 'take' has to be re-done. You have to be extremely patient, as many 'takes' can be done of a lot of the shots. From different angles, which means that the camera or cameras in some cases, have to be moved about, along with the lights, props have to be reset, along with furniture and this all takes time and effort. The S.A.'s can be the last people to be called onto the set and have to wait in a holding area, away from the actual shooting, usually on a bus or coach. Days can be long and VERY boring. You might have to arrive at a particular location at an unholy hour, say 5.30 a.m., and you might have had to drive some considerable way to get there, in the middle of the countryside perhaps and then, when you arrive, get herded around, sent to wardrobe and makeup and the, once in costume and 'made-up,' have breakfast and sit on the bus to eat it and wait for hours until you are used, maybe for 20 minutes during the whole day, or perhaps several stints of work over the whole day.

Well, having said all that, I used to get called by telephone from the various agencies I used to be with. Mostly in the Anglia area of East England, with the best (during the 1990s at least) Jaclyn, who were based in Norwich. I'd get a call from the ladies who ran it then, and they'd say 'can you work on . . . such and such a day? It's to work on . . . 'Lovejoy', 'Middlemarch' or whatever. I'd say, yes, or no, and then you'd pencil it in in your diary. Usually regular work on 'Lovejoy' and none of the 'you've been put forward . . .' business. You just said 'yes' to a job and then went to the location or studio on the allotted day and time.

I signed up to a couple of agencies. A couple of years ago I went up to London to register with Casting Collective. My stepson Daniel even came with me to make sure I got there. I think there was some concern that I was going to get lost or something. Hardly likely, but who knows? My photograph and my details were collected and put on their website. It seems that most casting is done using this technology. I can imagine it's easier than producing the more traditional 'Casting Book' that most agencies used to have. Probably less expensive as a print book must cost an arm and a leg to produce and then distribute to television and film companies as well as advertising agencies and other people most likely to need walk-on's as well a photographic models. After a while I began to get text messages. No such thing as a telephone call. You have to answer very quickly to these texts. Really  no personal touch with an agency ringing and speaking to you direct. I got quite a few 'you've been put forward for . . .' bites, one for something called John Carter of Mars and another for The King's Speech. A pity I didn't get to work on that, because it won the 'Best Picture' Oscar the year it was released. But no joy on either movie, unfortunately.

I also signed up with an agency in Birmingham called Extra People or something. We actually drove up to Birmingham to have photographs done at their studio in the Jewellery Quarter. A photo was posted on their website but I heard nothing for years. Until a few weeks ago I had an email from them telling me that they'd put me forward for a job as a gardener on something near Chipping Norton, at some large country house. I have a hunch it was to work on an episode of the popular series 'Father Brown,' which is filmed in and around Oxfordshire. It wouldn't have taken too long to get to the location, but then I got another email a few days later to say I hadn't been chosen. More recently I had another email from 20/20 after I'd responded, through Facebook, to a call for people to work on something at Cardington, in one of the former balloon sheds which have been converted into a film studio. I heard nothing further until a week or two ago when they sent yet another email asking for people to fill in for people who couldn't presumably fulfil a very long commitment to filming something called 'Big Ears' which I believe, after doing a Google search, is a live-action remake of Disney's 'Dumbo,' and being directed by Tim Burton. I sent a selfie, as well as my NI number and other details but, as Carol isn't well and now in hospital (see previous blog post) I couldn't accept, unfortunately. As it was for about a month-worth of work it would have been quite lucrative money-wise. So, after all the excitement of being even considered for work on something and then being told you haven't been selected, it's somewhat frustrating, to say the least.

There was YET ANOTHER call for work, again via email, for something filming in Milton Keynes. Don't ask me what it was for, or, for that matter, where in Milton Keynes. So, you can imagine I was keen to say 'yes' to it. But, you've guessed it, nothing came of it. You would think, would you not, that I'd be in with a chance with something that was being filmed virtually on my doorstep? But, no, I didn't even get a sniff.

I just don't understand this thing about being 'put forward' for this sort of work. It's not as if you're going to do an actual speaking part. You just have to be able to take a certain amount of direction, behave properly, not take any photographs on the set, be extremely patient and not trip over the scenery. They seem to make a big issue over something quite straight forward. I've been booked for work where you accept or decline the work offered work and then just go to the location and do the day's walk-on and that's the end of it. Then you sign the clit at the end of the day and get paid a few week's later.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Pouring Rain and Hospital Parking

I woke up last night to hear absolutely torrential rain outside. It seemed to go on for ever. I imagine there'll be flash-flooding. No doubt the road coming round the Four Bridges roundabout near Eaglestone will be flooded. Well, with Carol still in hospital, there's absolutely no chance of us getting out and about as we had planned. I think they are getting to the reason for her health-problems at last. I'm going to see her at 10 o'clock this morning and I'm hoping the doctors will be able to tell us what's going on and how they can sort things out.

I'm appalled by the cost of hospital parking. When we first went the other morning, early, we went in the car and at Milton Keynes Hospital you have to go into the carpark and take a ticket from the machine. When you leave, you have to use the ticket machine across the road. You put your ticket in and you're told how much the charge is. You can use coins or notes (but the machine won't take 5p pieces) and can use your credit or debit card to pay. Trouble is, you can barely read the digital display. It's very faint and rather like some older A.T.M. machines which have displays that are unclear, particularly when the sun shines on them. Also, the screen is very low and not at a height that makes it easy for someone as tall as myself. I was shocked that I was charged £4.50 that first day, even though I'd been at the hospital since well before 6 a.m. Yesterday it was £3.50, and I was only there barely two hours. Considering you don't really want to be at the hospital, it seems a bit of a liberty to charge for parking. It just seems to be just another way to make money. I realise that the carpark needs maintaining, but why does it have to be paid for from car parking? There's even a branch of Costa coffee in the new reception area of the hospital. I suppose it's a good idea and great to have such a facility at a hospital, but I begin to wonder whether it's just another money-making scheme. I presume that Costa pays rent for the site and the hospital takes  some of the profits. Having been to Addenbrook's Hospital in Cambridge, I've seen the mini shopping centre in their reception, with a W.H.Smith and other high street shops.

I don't know whether people who don't know about the parking arrangements at Milton Keynes Hospital that you need change to use the machine or whether you can use your card to pay, but it's a good idea to have enough change to allow you to pay, otherwise if you don't, you'll be stuck in the carpark as you need to put the ticket you got when you entered to get out as there is a barrier at the exit which will only rise once you put the ticket in the machine. You won't be able to get change from anywhere in the hospital and even if you go to reception you won't be able to get change.

Another annoying factor is that they're currently upgrading the hospital. The former reception has moved around to be opposite the multi-storey carpark and it's quite a long walk there from the ground-level carpark. Also, if you're new to the hospital, it's not entirely clear where you have to go as signage is a bit vague or if there is any, it's not exactly prominent.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

New Car and other things-Part2

We made the decision to go with the Renault Captur at Evans Halshaw. We discovered that there's no Road Fund Tax to pay on the car because it has low emissions. After so many years of driving it seems odd to not pay for a licence.  We had to go into the NatWest to have the money transferred to the dealer's account. No end of identification details at the bank, presumably to make sure it was all legal and above-board. I can see why, because of criminals laundering money and the threat of possibly funding such things as terrorism. It all went through without any problems. We had already paid a £200 deposit from my Nationwide account and we couldn't collect the new car until the next Monday as it had to be MoT'd and valeted and have final checks done before we could take delivery. The old car had to be cleared out and we needed the paperwork to hand over to Evans Halshaw, such as the Registration documents as well as MoT certificate. After a hunt around the house they were located, so fortunately there was no problem. The Registration document sent off to Swansea to make sure we are no longer the registered owners of the old car. It has since been acknowledged by them as the document had arrived and they responded that all details were transferred.

The new car has a built in SaNav. We already have a portable Garmin model which we got last year and we've managed to set up and use successfully. It's important to upgrade the computerised maps these things contain because roads are constantly being changed, new roads added when new housing estates and roundabouts are opened and constructed. The TomTom within the Renault is somewhat out of date so we need to discover how to upgrade the maps within it.

The other thing which is new to us is the fact it doesn't have a traditional 'key' as such to start the car. You get a sort of 'card' with the usual remote buttons to unlock the car doors and to start the car you insert this plastic 'key' into the slot in the dashboard and put your foot on the brake and clutch pedal and then press another button to activate the engine. Takes quite a lot of time to get used to, but far more economical in the long run.

Anyway, we went to collect the new car on the Monday and Carol drove it first. When we eventually got home I drove round the estate. It's probably that bit bigger than the old car. For a start it has four doors and probably a bigger boot.

We drove back towards Milton Keynes and stopped off at Marston Mortaine, to the Millennium Country Park which we've visited on several occasions. To use the toilets and to have a snack. Quite a nice café and a great place for children. We sat and could see children and parents outside, the children happily playing in the playground. How many parents dump their children in these playgrounds (generally safe, with a fence all round and a gate which stops dogs getting in and fouling the area.) but some parents are more keen on sitting and gossiping with their friends, drinking coffee and constantly checking their mobiles. I sometimes think these things cause more problems than they solve.

We had planned to do a wide variety of things during Carol's school holiday break. We've been members of the National Trust for quite a number of years now. We visit some of their sites frequently, as you will have discovered if you read these blog posts on a regular basis, such as Stowe Landscape Gardens, Waddesdon Manor and Wimpole Hall and Home Farm. We'd rejoined English Heritage. Both the National Trust and English Heritage allow you to pay in monthly instalments, which I suppose means that more people can afford to pay in instalments which makes it far easier. A good move on both their parts. English Heritage manage a good many historical sites, one near here being Wrest Park which we've been to on quite a number of occasions. Also, the H.H.A. (Historic Houses Association). We have been to Blenheim Palace using our H.H.A. membership. Last summer, which was really hot virtually throughout, we managed to visit many places. With Carol not being well it has been difficult to visit any of these places although we have been to Castle Ashby, not on either organisation's 'free entry' list but well worth a visit. It's not too far either, through Olney and driving towards Northampton. Lastly, Carol revived her Fellowship membership of Z.S.L. (Zoological Society of London) and we've already visited Whipsnade twice since reinstating the membership.

Last week we visited somewhere new which we only discovered, quite by accident. I was on Google Maps looking for something entirely different and found a place marked on the map, called Crocodiles of The World. I told Carol about it and she was more than interested to visit. Not only were there crocodiles there but a komodo dragon which she was keen to see. A large pool containing no less than 30 crocs which we saw being fed, which was quite spectacular as the man feeding them stood on a sort of platform over the water and kept feeding them with a pole with a sort of hook that could release the bits of chicken and each time he held it out over the water many of the crocodiles would jump up to get the food!

New Car and other things-Part 1

I haven't been posting on here for quite some while. Life seems to get in the way, in quite a large and uncomfortable way. I had intended updating on happenings around here, but had only just got round to doing it. Carol hasn't be well. A urinary infection which has been impossible to shift. We've been to the doctor's at Ashfield Medical Centre on several occasions. She's been given antibiotics which just don't seem to work. She's been in a great deal of pain and taken paracetamol, cocodomol as well as Ibuprofen. Helps with the discomfort for a short while but then the pain comes back. She eventually saw one of the practice nurses and has an appointment with a consultant at Milton Keynes Hospital next week (23rd August.) Fortunately this came through fairly rapidly and we only wish the doctor could have got this referral a good deal earlier. As a result we've not had the summer we would have liked. It's supposed to be a long relaxing break for Carol, off from work. It's just as well we didn't have anywhere booked for a holiday as it would have been cut short.

On a far better note, we now have a new car, a Renault Captur. The old car a Peugeot 1007 Dolce, had caused us so many problems, what with breaking down twice, once, when we went up to Newcastle to move Daniel into his new flat and then on the way home from our visit to the National Trust Property, Calke Abbey, when it broke down on the M1 and we had to be rescued from the 'coned off' area within the roadworks and then we had to have the big end replaced (at great expense, after the repair done in Newcastle. Then the driver-side sliding door wouldn't work properly (and was never repaired, hence having to slide it manually which was a real annoyance. I could go on: both coil springs had to be replaced when it was MoT'd earlier this year and no end of squeaks and odd noises which really put us both driving the car. So, you can see it hasn't been the most successful of cars. It was definitely time we replaced it. But, the only way we could possibly afford a new, or at least, second hand, car, was get a loan. I managed to arrange an overdraft on our NatWest account, more as a sort of safety net so that, if the worst happens and we don't have sufficient funds in the account when one of the direct debits comes out, it will be covered and we won't be charged something like £30. At the time I was told that we might be able to get a bank loan. After all our problems with our finances which have not been paid off it seemed that at last we might be able to get a bank loan so as to buy a replacement car. It would be a good idea before the winter sets in and the possibility of us spending out vast sums to keep the old Peugeot on the road, what with the possibility of more repairs. In a way, throwing money away on an old car when we might just as well put it towards a newer one.
We visited Brayley's at Westcroft one Sunday and were really taken by the Renault Captur. It was, of course, no use thinking of buying a car without first seeing whether we'd get a loan. Then a few weeks ago we went into our bank, NatWest, and made an appointment to see whether we'd get a loan.
It was a Thursday when we ventured forth with trepidation and went into the bank branch. The staff were very good and we went through the formalities. It's all done on computer and our credit score is taken ito consideration. And, low and behold, we got accepted! The money would be available the following day. So we began the search for a suitable car which would fit our budget. We went back to Brayley's and they had a Captur which was newly in, second hand but not ready for sale, needing servicing and valeting. We couldn't manage to beat them down on the price. So we left it. We went home and did a search on the internet and found that Evans Halshaw in Bedford had a good selection of used cars. So we drove over there and saw a Renault Captur which fitted our budget. The only downside was the fact that it was a diesel and not a petrol model. Also, would they accept our old clapped-out Peugeot in part-payment? What was it worth, if anything? When we bought it, only three years ago, we part-payed with exchanging our old Atoz and were surprised when we got £50. The salesman had to get someone to do an inspection and it turned out it was worth £200. So, we could have spent that easily to get it through it's next MoT and it wasn't likely to make it through the winter.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Electric Cooker Breaksdown

So, after an eventful couple of hours attempting to get Carol's prescription of antibiotics, we arrived home and began to prepare our evening meal. On attempting to cook some potatoes in the oven, Carol discovered that the oven wasn't heating properly. We came to the conclusion that the oven had broken-down, and was, frankly, past repair. It seems that a great many household items, such as washing machines, ovens and fridge/freezers, are never built to last. I have to say, the electric oven which is a Beko, hasn't worn well. It has rusted very badly, the surfaces are not sufficiently robust enough for family life. I would say that it gets a fair amount of use and used daily. It has a ceramic hob which is it's best feature and far easier to clean than a great many other styles of cooker-hob. The cooker which was in this house when we arrived around 6-7 years ago had been installed by the landlord. As you will be aware, if you've read these blog-posts over the years, you will have discovered that our beloved landlord doesn't like parting with cash. He replaced the cooker when it broke down only a few years after we moved in. That wasn't up to much. I believe it was a Bush. Cheap and cheerful, although I can never understand why 'cheap' and 'cheerful' are placed together. Definitely nothing cheerful about that old cooker. It eventually came to a sticky end, when, one morning, I came downstairs to make tea as I usually do, to discover the thing sparking dangerously. I cautiously turned the thing off at the wall and we realised that it would need replacing. No point in contacting our landlord as he would make a fuss and anyway, most likely say that he'd already replaced the thing (thinking back, perhaps we did contact him and that was his response.) He'd just buy the cheapest model which would end up being scrapped after about two or three years. So we were left with no alternative but to buy our own. We went on Amazon and found a decent model, also, bearing in mind that we would need to buy a model to fit the space once the old cooker was removed. Always a good point to not get one too wide as it wouldn't fit the space.

We have a Very account and have bought quite a lot of items through them. So we decided to buy our new electric cooker through them and chose a suitable Hotpoint model. It will be delivered on Tuesday and will be installed and the old cooker removed and disposed of. So that is one less problem to worry about. Just have to make sure we're in on Tuesday to receive the cooker and to oversee it's installation.

Medical Matters

Carol has been off work for about a week. We've had several doctor's appointments and she's had no end of different prescriptions for quite a range of medications, including antibiotics as well as an electrical gadget called a TENS machine. (T.E.N.S. is short for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) Having been injured when I worked at Vincent House I had one because I had physiotherapy which, on one occasion was 'out-sourced' to a private physiotherapist when I lived in Bedford. The twenty-minute session consisted of having these electrodes fixed to my back and shoulder (where the pain from the injury was, mainly.) these battery-operated machines work by creating a mild electrical current by connecting to the skin surface with small sticky pads called electrodes, very similar to what are used when you have an E.C.G. reading taken. The current stimulates the production of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers. Actually quite effective and I thought I would get one for myself as I do occasionally get a recurrence of the pain, even though the original injury was over 20 years ago, and that Carol might get some relief for her pain if she used one. I hunted all over the internet and eventually bought one from Boot's. It wasn't cheap, around £60, and I was somewhat annoyed to discover, a good deal after I bought the one in Boots, that it was possible to buy a similar, it not exactly the same, model from Amazon, at about a quarter of the price. The same except for being given the Boots brand. No sooner had I bought it and read the information on the packaging, than it said 'not to be used by those with any sort of heart condition.' Which would never have occurred to me, as this would include me, having had a heart attack. I asked the pharmacist in Boots and was told that it might set off a sort of irregular heart-beat, which is why it would be dangerous for me to use. So I bought it anyway, and Carol uses it on a regular basis.

I've mentioned in earlier posts the difficulty of getting a doctor's appointment. I don't think it's necessarily just our surgery at Ashfield Medical Centre, and no doubt every other doctor's surgery in Britain is the same. You can't ring much before 9.30 and when you do eventually get through, you'll then have to wait for a doctor to ring you back in order to ascertain the seriousness of your requirement and possibly book you an appointment for later in the day. They seem to have improved the telephone technology and there's a simplified menu and the music is better. You also get told where you are in the queue, for example it will say 'you are number three in the queue.' But it can still take around 10 minutes before you speak to an actual human being.

Carol wanted to get a repeat prescription of the antibiotics she has been on for the last week. Mid morning on Friday she rang the surgery. A long wait before she got to speak to a real person and was told a doctor would ring to arrange an appointment. She was hoping that it wouldn't actually require a doctor's appointment and that they would let her have a prescription regardless. No telephone call forthcoming, by 3.30 I suggested she ring again. She had been signed off from work since Wednesday anyway, and I had to go to the surgery to collect the doctor's certificate to take to The Academy. The usual procedure if you're off work for a certain length of time. Actually 'signed off' until Monday, even though by Friday afternoon the school will be closed because they've broken up for the summer.

As she was speaking on the house phone, my mobile rang and it was one of the doctors, so I handed her the mobile and the doctor said he'd arrange for a repeat prescription. Carol asked for this to be sent electronically to Sainsbury's pharmacy (our selected pharmacy for our repeat prescriptions, although it's not run and owned by Sainsbury's any more as Lloyd's runs it now.) So we decided to go to Sainsbury's to get the prescription, with the hope that the doctor had sent it and that the pharmacist there would have received the electronic prescription and got it made up for us to collect.

On arriving at Sainsbury's we went to the pharmacy to then discover that the prescription hadn't been sent (I presume if it's electronic then it's sent as a sort of email). The pharmacist then rang Ashfield to find out what had happened to the prescription. It hadn't been sent electronically as promised. After some considerable time, in which we did some shopping in the store and also went to have tea in the café, we returned to the pharmacy and they said one of their staff would go to Ashfield and collect the printed prescription and bring it back to have it made up.

We had to wait for the lady to return from Ashfield Medical Centre with the prescription, and fortunately we were able to complete our shopping, buying ingredients for the evening meal. By which time the prescription had arrived and was made up and we collected it from the pharmacy and left for home.
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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Roadworks Annoyances and Other Matters Relating

The grid roads within Milton Keynes are currently being re-surfaced. Considering the condition it's a good thing. There are many potholes. For a relatively new town it's not good to have roads in such a state of dis-repair. They are gradually getting the job done and as a result it can cause some inconvenience. We've had plenty of warning, with signs being placed at strategic points around this area. They have stated that the work will take 4 days. The workmen have taken off the surface of some of the road, which means that as you drive around you have to negotiate ramps as the old road surface is at a slightly different level, making it quite difficult, particularly if you were to drive to fast. The surface of the road around the roundabout at what is called 'Four Bridges' has been re-surfaced first. It's around two or three inches in height and if you don't drive carefully, most probably at speed, you're in real danger of damaging your car, most likely the suspension and exhaust system. As a lot of drivers are impatient they tend to drive really up close behind and if you don't get out of their way they attempt to get you to drive faster. There is absolutely no excuse to ignore the fact that there is a lot of roadworks in this area currently because there are large signs to warn you, particularly that there are 'raised ironworks,' most likely in regard to manhole covers and drains as well as the ramps which are between different road surfaces, old and new.

Carol is experiencing a lot of pain due to a trapped nerve. She's been to the doctor's several times. I have to make an appointment for her. It's not easy getting one, as I've mentioned on here before now. You have to ring, after 9.30. It's no good ringing before because the telephone lines aren't open. It's gone 9.38 before I eventually get through to a human. You get a long menu and then 'press 1' to book an appointment. When I eventually get to speak to someone, I have to describe the symptoms and get told 'a doctor will ring back' so as to decide whether the appointment is necessary. Well, it is, otherwise I wouldn't put myself through the ringer in order to get through. I know why they have this, relatively new- system. It's to weed out the time wasters. A doctor does eventually ring back, after 20-30 minutes. I explain what's the matter and that the appointment is not for me. I manage to get an appointment at 3 o'clock that afternoon. I then text Carol to give her the news.

I have to go out to buy salad to go with the cold meat we're having for tonight's meal. Due to the fact that there's roadworks continuing on most of the Grid Roads within the vicinity of Eaglestone, I'm not sure where to go. It would be fairly easy to drive to Waitrose or Asda. I drive out onto Saxon Street, the exit opposite the Academy. I turn left and make for Standing Way. Because of the roadworks, I end up going to Sainsbury's, along Marlborough Street and towards the city centre. Having bought what I wanted in the supermarket, I drive out of Sainsbury's underground carpark and drive a good deal further round Milton Keynes, back towards Standing Way and back onto Saxon Street because the road is closed off just beyond the entrance back into Eaglestone. As a result I have drive around four-five times the distance to avoid the roadworks. As I drive in there is a mini traffic jam, entering and exiting Eaglestone. It seems most drivers are using Eaglestone as a sort of rat-run, or short cut, rather than driving around the city as I've just done.

I go to collect Carol from the Academy at around 2.45. She is waiting just inside the gate. It takes a while for the automated thing to open. Really on it's last legs, if you can so describe an automated gate. Just a lick of paint might freshen things up. It is a rusty old thing. Not that old, come to think of it, as Milton Keynes Academy can't be much more than 6 years old.

We arrive in the carpark at Ashfield Medical Centre in Beanhill. Why do cars have to park in the road outside, when there is a perfectly adequate carpark? We manage to find a space in the carpark at the rear. Not a particularly well designed space to park your car, as it's a really tight space to turn and when you exit you have to make sure that no vehicles are coming in.

We don't have to wait long before Carol is seen. There are that many other people waiting. The appointment was booked for 3 and her name comes up on the digital display very quickly, more or less exactly on 3.00.  She is seen by a nurse, not a doctor.

Carol reappears after about ten minutes with a prescription. As she's diabetic she doesn't have to pay for prescriptions. We take it to Cox and Robinson's chemist, which is only a short walk from the doctor's. Unfortunately I didn't bring my wallet with me, which has the N.H.S. card which you have to show so you don't have to pay prescription charges. We leave the prescription to be made up and say we'll come back to collect it after 5 o'clock. I have to take Carol back to work. She's not over-enthusiastic as it's for some meeting or other which are generally very boring.

I drive out of Eaglestone, having remembered this time to take my wallet complete with the N.H.S. exemption card, with the intention of driving straight over Saxon Street, so as to collect Carol from the Academy . But as I come out onto Saxon Street it appears that the road is back open in both directions. I can't make a safe crossing into the Academy so turn left and decide that, instead of going to collect Carol I might just as well drive to the chemist and collect the prescription and then go back to The Academy. This done, I text Carol to inform her of what I've done. Mission completed, we return home.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Radio Sit-Com

Having discussed sitcom in my last blog post, it's easy to write off one area that sitcoms are really successful. We tend to dismiss radio's contribution to the genre, and think that television is the only place for their production. But if it wasn't for BBC Radio Four (or, up until around 1967, when the stations were re-named) Home Service and Light Programme (which became Radio Two) we would never have had such delights as Hancock's Half-Hour which is considered, by many, to be the grandfather of sitcoms. The early episodes, right through to the much later episodes, are broadcast regularly on the digital station Radio Four Extra (originally called Radio Seven up until a few years ago.) A huge range of shows were, and still are, produced by the BBC. I could name not only 'Hancock's Half Hour' but also, 'The Navy Lark', 'The Men From The Ministry' and those shows which were adaptations of successful television shows such as 'Steptoe and Son' and 'Dad's Army'. Lesser-known, or indeed even remembered, are shows such as 'Marriage Lines' which starred very young actors of the likes of Richard Briars and Prunella Scales. 'Not In Front of The Children' which I seem to recall from the 1960's and which starred Wendy Craig. Some shows work really well on radio, whilst others don't seem to adapt too well. Perhaps if you're familiar with the television version the radio version would work for you. With radio you have to do quite a lot of work yourself as an audience-member. You have to concentrate harder when you have to listen to fairly complicated dialogue and when there's a difficult plot-situation. With radio you do have to LISTEN and CONCENTRATE, with television you don't have to work anywhere near as hard because so much of it is visual. Fairly obvious I suppose, because it has pictures as well as sound. You can have visual gags which, obviously, radio can provide.

It seems odd to think that you'd adapt a successful television sitcom for radio, as with 'Dad's Army' and 'Steptoe and Son.' Particularly 'Dad's Army' which had so much visual comedy in it's television version. 'Hancock's Half-Hour' used the idea of Tony Hancock having a sort of 'stage personality' an 'alternative' persona. The pompous, lazy, 'actor' or 'comedian.' It didn't (one presumes) really reflect his 'real' persona. It wasn't until the writers, Galton and Simpson, were rejected by Hancock as writers when he moved to I.T.V. that the B.B.C. allowed them a free hand with creating several 30-minute comedy plays that the eventual series of 'Steptoe' was developed from one particular episode called 'The Offer.' Putting character actors into the main roles meant that there was room for more character-driven plots and far more believable situations than they could write for Hancock.

As for the 'Navy Lark,' there is a certain amount of what can only be described as 'slapstick' in this very amusing show. I know it sounds crazy to describe it in those terms, but having listened to it recently on BBC Radio 4 Extra, there is nearly always some sort of incident when the ship it's set on H.M.S. Troutbridge, ends up crashing into another ship or a harbour wall or something and there's a great deal of noise and commotion as a result. In fact, that's why so much radio comedy work better in some respects than television, the sound effects that are used. I know 'The Goons' can never be classed as a sitcom, more a string of sketches, but it must have been quite revolutionary in it's use of sound effects. Feet running, explosions, clangs, pianos falling, etc etc which are just completely nuts and very funny.

A favourite radio comedy of mine is 'Clare In The Community.' It's based on the comic strip which appears in the Guardian 'society' section. Clare is a social worker who manages to sort out other people's problems but can't deal with her own, more specifically, her relationships. There's a good mix of characters and it works well on radio. I just don't want it to move to television because it will lose it distinctive flavour. Imagining what the characters look like is one of the best reasons for any form of radio drama or comedy. It's a bit like reading a novel and imagining how the characters sound and look. It can be a real disappointment when there's a film or television adaptation of your favourite novel when you see how a particular character is cast and presented, it can be a real let down.

One of the best things about radio, again particularly with comedy but also with drama in general, is that it can really stretch actor's abilities. Thinking in particular with people like Kenneth Williams, who was one of the supporting actors in 'Hancock's Half-Hour.' He had an incredible voice range and could conjure up an almost endless parade of weird and wonderful characters to support Hancock, whether it be an annoying neighbour, policemen, doctors or whatever a particular story required. It's no wonder that Hancock became obsessed with how he was so 'up-staged' by not just Williams but by Sid James and as a result they didn't move to television with him in the early 1960's. 

Friday, June 30, 2017

More About Sitcoms

I'm continuing to watch 'The Good Life.' For something that is well over 40 years old, it stands up remarkably well. I'm more than certain I saw it when it was originally broadcast in 1975. It's the sort of thing I would have watched with my family. I think my mother would have loved it. I know it was on at about the same time that 'Fawlty Towers' was first shown, but she hated that. I can see why, as Basil Fawlty is actually quite an objectionable character. Loud and a real bigot. 

Regarding 'The Good Life.' What makes this show work so well isn't necessarily the central characters of Tom and Barbara Good (Richard Briars and Felicity Kendal in tip-top form) but the secondary characters, particularly the neighbours Margo and Jerry Leadbetter. They make a good contrast with the self-seficiency lifestyle of the Goods. Both are materialistic to a large degree. We see the homes; the Goods house deteriates a good deal the further the Goods get into their way of life while the Leadbetter's house appears very neat and tidy, expensive furniture and fixtures and fittings. What really rounds out the character of Margo in particular is the clever use of what I'd call 'Invisible' characters, those characters which have an 'off-stage' presence. Miss Mountshaft, the doyenne of the choral society of which Margo is a leading light. Although we never meet this woman, we get a great deal of description of what she's really like, and in particular, during the episode where Margo is rehearing 'The Messiah' and turns up on the Good's doorstep in a long white shift dress which she wants Barbara to take up for her and she says that Miss Mountshaft had one set of measurements, her own, so we get the idea that she must be a very large lady. The very name Miss Mountshaft is likely to get a couple of laughs as it's definitely got the potential to raise a titter or two as it's got a sort of double entendre sound to it.

Another sitcom which has an 'invisible character' is 'Keeping Up Appearances.' The Buckets have a son whom we never see, but who has a habit of telephoning and always wants something from his mother or father, usually money. This son, Sheridan, is supposed to be at University (how old is he? If Richard is retired, how old were they when he was born. If he's at university he must be in his 20's. From what we discover, he comes over as incredibly camp. Is he gay? Does Hyacinth realise? Does his father? Again, like Miss Mountshaft, this invisible character helps to round out the characters of Hyacinth and Richard.

In 'One Foot In The Grave' we hear about the Meldrew's son, who died at an early age. Although not actually an invisible character, mention of this deceased child helps to give us more information about the back story of the Meldrew's. Although Victor is generally a somewhat irritating and annoying character, giving the background of their child does give them a bit more believability and makes Victor a good deal more three-dimensional and less of a comudgeon.