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And I managed to be spectacularly uninterested in the plot, even for me. But I think I just exploded from squee.
I found out today that I was on Blue Peter last week (skip to about 18:10), standing in back-of-shot and making a thoroughly unimpressed face at the attempts at bagpipe playing.

Um. Yeah.

mama sefkhet is all grown up

Once, years ago, I mentioned to Mama Sefkhet that when I'm all grown up, I want to spend some time working for Medecins Sans Frontieres or the International Red Cross or, you know, one of the international aid agencies, anyway. I brought this up as a hypothetical something while we were lying in bed on a Saturday morning, and she threw a fit. I was not working in a war zone, ever, or in the developing world, ever, and yes, she could stop me. And I quietly dropped it and never brought it up again. I figured that with NHS training being what it is, I wouldn't be able to find the opportunity for this until after I'd reached the dizzying heights of consultancy and so there were a good fifteen years or so to let her forget about it.

I have never figured out how she was planning to stop me, but that's somewhat beside the point.

So, we're out over the weekend and she quite casually said, "You know, one of the girls at work said to me that she can really see you, when you've finished being a junior doctor and done all your training, she can see you taking a few months off every so often and going off to Haiti or Darfur or somewhere and doing work for Doctors Without Borders or somebody like that. I think you might. I think you would be really good at that."

I finished choking on my coffee and told her, "I said something like that to you about seven years ago."


"And you threw a hissy fit and said that under no circumstances would I ever be allowed to do that, and I've just very quietly never mentioned it again," said I.

"Oh. How did I think I was going to stop you?" she asked.

"I've no idea," I said. And: "I think maybe sitting on me might have been involved, but we didn't get that far."

"Gosh. Wow. I don't remember that at all. I don't think you should do it as, you know, a full-time job, but I can really see you going off and doing that for some of the time. I mean, you want to be a doctor for the people who need doctors, right?"

Silent Witness: The Prodigal, Part 1

The guy who wrote this was responsible for the two South Africa episodes. Between that and the epic clusterfuck that was last week and the fact that the last episode of a series seems to be their reason to bring out the insanity, my expectations are not what you'd call high.

Spoilers.Collapse )

my running shoes are feeling neglected

I have a sprained lateral collateral ligament. It probably has less to do with the running injury, which may well have been ITBS, than it has to do with the fact that three days later I fell down a flight of stairs and landed on it. My instructions are to rest it and take NSAIDS, and to refer myself for physiotherapy if it hasn't improved in the next two weeks.


I will write an actual thing tomorrow, but:

Spoilers.Collapse )

Silent Witness: Bloodlines, Part 1

I realise that I never actually posted anything about the second part of last week's episode. I have watched it and I will get to that at some point, but not tonight. The writers this week are Dudi Appleton and Jim Keeble, who were freaking amazing the one other time they were let loose on Silent Witness and it is on that basis that I have been probably unrealistically excited for this episode.

the first part, in which there is an awful lot of runningCollapse )

omfg stabbity stabbity

I am no further forward, but I spoke to them again and asked how much this replacement valve would actually cost. Flatmate and I were considering whether it might be worth paying for the thing ourselves and then trying to get it reimbursed by the letting agents, and at least then we would be warm while they twiddled their thumbs.

She sounded quite shocked. She said: I can't discuss that with you!

Really, are they kidding me with this now?
Flatmate and I have had no central heating since last Tuesday.

It is January. It is Scotland. It is COLD.

I called the letting agents, they said that they needed to get authorisation from our landlord to send someone out. It took them until Thursday to do that and then they said that the gas repair company would call me either that night or early the next morning to arrange a time to come out. I explained that Flatmate and I would both be at work after lunch on Friday, so we would very much prefer if they could come out before that. I got no phone call. I called the gas repair company myself at 10am, yes, they had us on a list to be seen that afternoon. I asked if they had planned on calling to make sure we were home before they turned up, and, no, they had not. I did not make it to my lymphoma clinic. I called them again at 4pm to check that that they were absolutely positively definitely coming out that day, and was assured that they were but that it would probably be late into the evening. I could have gone to work! I called them again at 9pm and was told that it would actually be Saturday morning. I barely kept my head from exploding.

On Saturday, they showed up and poked around and said that there was a problem with the valve on the on/off switch and that it needed replacing. It being the weekend, they could do nothing then but told us that they would be able to do that for us on Monday. They would call us at 9am to give us a time.

Flatmate arranged to not go to her liaison psychiatry meeting today.

I called them on my lunch break to see what was going on, as neither of us had heard anything at all. They were waiting to get authorisation from my letting agents, and then once they had that they would go ahead and order the part. And when would they then come out and fit the part, I asked. I was expecting the answer to be later tonight or sometime tomorrow. I was not going to be happy if it was sometime tomorrow, but I was prepared for it. It usually comes in within a couple of days, she said perkily. And then we'll call you and arrange a time to come and fit it. But we can't order it until we've had authorisation from your letting agents.

Now, I do not get angry with people who have the unfortuate task of dealing with the public via the phone. I do not get angry with them because I have done that job and it sucks. I... I got quite cross, then.

I don't think you understand exactly what the problem is, I said. I sounded considerably more snappy than I usually do on the phone. I have not had heating for six days. It is the middle of January. I have taken a day off work to hang around my flat for engineers who never came out. My flatmate has taken a day off work to hang around the flat for engineers who you are saying we should never have even expected to come out today. And you're telling me that the earliest we can realistically expect this to be fixed is Thursday? Honestly, that isn't good enough.

And then she got flustered and said she would call me back and hung up. It has now been fifty minutes and I am still waiting for her to call me back and I am pissed off.
My iPod has finally finally died. It has been with me since August 2005. It was the first iPod to ever have a colour display. It had been used every day for five and a half years. It got me through BSc finals and three lots of medical school exams and a four week trek that took it from New York to Honolulu and multiple journeys across the United Kingdom. It had been resurrected from iPod sadface on multiple occasions, by the time honoured method of giving it a good whack. It is completely obsolete. It was bought at the same time as my last laptop, and it outlived it by two years. It has served me well.

So, after much trying and failing to convince myself that this was something that I could well live without (see above re: used every day for the last five years), I took myself to the Apple shop on Buchanan Street.

I don't know, what do you even do with 160GB?

But the Nano is too small and the Touch is too expensive, so I've ended up with the 160GB Classic. And when the guy rang through the sale and asked what had made me decide to buy a new one, I pulled the old one out to show him. It is 2011 and people tend to not believe you when you tell them which model you've been using this entire time.

He said: if you hand that in, I can give you a ten percent discount on the new one.

This? I asked. Really, are you sure? This ancient iPod that is both dead and obsolete?

Yes, he was sure.

Apple Customer Services are so wonderful sometimes that if they didn't exist, I think we would have to make them up.
A thick blanket of freezing fog has descended across the city. It's nothing like so cold as in December (I have not yet forgotten walking to an MDT meeting when it was minus twelve degrees outside), but there's a distinct bite in the air, enough to make me shiver and walk that little bit faster if I need to pass through the main lobby of the hospital. It feels all the colder for the few days of almost autumnal weather we had last week.

It's the second week of my second SSC, which was supposed to be on haematological malignancies and has ended up being on general haematology. I'm rethinking my career choices.

I am not alarmed by this. I always do it. I work in a field for a little bit and enjoy it so much that I cannot help but think, "I want to do this for a job!" I spent two days in October thinking that I would really rather enjoy being a cardiologist, even with the seven hour ward rounds.


I don't know, I think there's something different about this. I think there are a lot of things to like about haematology, a lot of things that seem to add up to the sort of doctor that I've been working out that I want to be. I think the thing is that I want to do oncology, and this isn't not oncology. It's more specific and yet more generalist than that, but it still is that. In America, haematology and medical oncology are one specialty and I suppose in my ideal world we would do something like that. I understand why we don't, though; it seems like a dauntingly enormous specialty. I think that this is one of those paragraphs that maybe made more sense inside my head.

Truthfully, it's the fact of it involving lab work that makes me think twice. The lab and the MRCPath, oh God.

And a little bit because I should perhaps not make these sorts of decisions based on what nice people all the haematologists are or how happy I am to be back in medicine after five weeks of mostly surgery.

I have time to make my mind up. Years.

I do, though. Now, at this moment. I want to do this.

BRB, the universe is just imploding

Mama Sefkhet has got for herself a Facebook account. It is really very much freaking me out.

Silent Witness: First Casualty, Part 1

In terms of the sheer number of minutes during which none of them appear on screen, this must be the most pathologist-lite episode of Witless, well, ever.

Spoilers.Collapse )

Further to the Elective Nightmare

So far today, I have discovered that the medical school office is about as much use as a chocolate fireguard. Basically, they have shrugged and said that there's nothing they can do and that I should have looked at both sets of dates. And while I accept that that was my responsibility and I failed in it, I don't think it's monumentally out of line to suggest that it's their responsibility to provide accurate information and that they failed in that.

The people who are in charge of my hospital placements and my accommodation and my airport transfers and whatnot are fantastic and have waived the administration fee that I should have been charged for mucking my dates around with them.

My travel agent is... less fantastic, and is charging me a £110 administration fee and also £400 because the actual cost of the flight is more expensive than it was in November. It's not their fault, but it is galling. "I am having an epically bad day," I said to the agent, who has gone off to make sure that he is allowed to make the changes that we are trying to make. I am now waiting for him to call me back.

The response I've had from the medical school suggests that I will not be able to claim any of that back from my travel insurance, as, even if it had been something that they'd have allowed me to claim against, I would have required written evidence from them.

After he calls me back (and he says something that allows me to bite my fingers and sign my life away via Visa, I hope), I have a call to make to the Student Loans Company. I am entitled to travel expenses, and they have reimbursed me for the original flight and so perhaps they might also reimburse me for at least the flight cost. It's a shot in the dark and I'm not holding my breath, but the worst they can do is say no.


Doctors vs Midwives

Dara O'Briain does a routine about antenatal classes and midwives. It was in his last tour and I think the people sitting next to me at the gig thought that I was having an asthma attack. If you skip ahead to 3:30 on this video, you'll see it and then I'll wait for you to fetch oxygen and tissues and stuff.

It is very funny and has more than a little bit of truth in it, but you do not expect someone
to very seriously start doing the routine at you.

But apropos of really not a great deal, an ex-midwife started telling me today all about when she was a midwife and they avoided calling the doctors for as long as possible because it was better for the patient if the doctors weren't around except if it was a complicated birth, and, really, even then, it would have been much preferable if they hadn't been because with the knives and the getting in the way... And then she broke off and blinked and said, "Gosh. And you're training to be a doctor, aren't you?"

"Yes," I said, with perhaps a little more force than entirely necessary.

"Oh." For a minute, she tried to decide whether to look embarrassed or apologetic or defensive. Eventually, she shrugged and said, "Oh, well. It's still true."

Sefkhet, You Are A Dolt

Our term dates are listed in two places on my faculty website. The first list, which is the one that I have been using, says that the elective period starts on June 27th. The second list, which I didn't know existed until this afternoon, says that our elective period starts on July 4th -- and our core rotations don't end until July 1st.

Right, guess who's going to be in Tanzania on June 27th?

So, I am going to be spending tomorrow on the phone with various people trying to change my flight dates and my elective dates and EVERYTHING ELSE.

If that doesn't work I have to go into the office on Monday and explain very clearly why this is mostly their fault and beg for permission to finish my GP rotation a week early and then make that week up when I get back.

Silent Witness: Lost, Part 2

You should feel free to blame the St Mary's knitting group, the City of Glasgow Chorus, and my consultant's penchant for evening teleconferences and early o'clock radiology meetings for my not having been both at home and awake enough to watch this until tonight. The same thing is likely to happen next week.

I might have taken the whole thing more seriously if I hadn't been constantly suppressing the urge to giggle inappropriately at the guy from the Nationwide adverts.

SpoilersCollapse )

Silent Witness: Lost, Part 1

I'm watching both parts of this week's episode on iPlayer, and will doubtless have a great deal more to say afterwards but I am seven minutes and fifty seconds into the first part and have two things to say.

Spoilers.Collapse )

Great Winter Run 2011

I spent most of my day today in Edinburgh for the Great Winter Run. I'd spent most of last night talking to a friend from my summer elective who was also running it, during which we both moaned about the unexpected snow and questioned our collective sanity. But my race entry was paid for and this was supposed to be my kick in the arse to get over Christmas, so it was up earlier than I have been in quite some weeks and on the train to Edinburgh Waverley with a vat of strong coffee. It was as the train went through Falkirk, when I had started to fill in the emergency contact details on the back of my race number, that I realised that I'd forgotten something important. See, in races with a big field it takes longer than a few seconds to get over the start line (or, in my half-marathon in September, forty five minutes) and instead they use computer chips that activate when people pass across it. It means that the official results are accurate. Except that I was running late and on a train in the middle of the Forth Valley and had just realised that my chip and the little sandwich tie things that went with it were on my desk back in Glasgow.

The Royal Mile is a lot longer than it seems during Pride or on those trips when the lazy stroll down it gets broken up due to my need for coffee and Scott's need to visit every shop that might conceivably sell Lego. And so it was that I found myself hiking down it at speed and presenting myself to the information desk at 11.52am, whereupon I became one of the people who shrieks, "I have left my timing chip in Glasgow, what the hell do I do?" It's not like I didn't know that those people existed, but I'd harboured a probably irrational hope that I would not be one of them. Falkirk is far enough away from Edinburgh that I'd had time to convince myself that they would refuse to allow me to run. I owe a ridiculous amount of thanks to the woman who got me a new chip and attached it to my shoe for me and sent me off to the start line with all due haste.

The race was up Arthur's Seat. I had had a text message from Great Run to say that they would be using an alternate route due to the snow and ice and had convinced myself that this meant not up Arthur's Seat. Well. No. I was a long way back in the pack and could see a long way ahead, and we were barely at 200m when I looked at the field and thought, "Hey, for a route that isn't going up a hill any more, those people up in front do seem to be going up an awfully big hill." The normal route goes up the hill and around St Margaret's Loch and back down the other side of the hill. Yeah, we still went up the hill. The alterations were that instead of going around the Loch, we went in a different direction for a bit and then back down the same side we had gone up. It eliminated what I remember from two years ago as a wicked headwind from the Loch, but did nothing to get rid of the part where you're running up Arthur's Seat.

I passed someone on the way up. I was excited. I was less excited by the fact that the girl I passed was actually talking on her mobile phone, but I am not the sort of person who usually passes people even on the downhills and so I take what I can get. I like the part where you get to the top of the hill at 2km and the marshals say that the worst is over. I kind of want to kiss them all. Of course, the price for eliminating the headwind was that there were some smaller hills even after that, but they were right, that was the worst of it. 

As we got to the start of the real downhills, my Garmin beeped at me for two miles. I had told myself that I could speed up on the last mile and I started to pass lots of people and I got really excited. I wasn't running fast, in the grand scheme of things, but I was apparently running two minutes a mile faster than I had been in the first mile. I tried to give it a kick after the beautiful wonderful 200m To Go sign and my knee protested loudly. So I didn't. I had run 4.8km and I hadn't walked and I hadn't stopped, no sense in ending up in a Red Cross tent on the finishing straight.

Chip Time: 40:35.

Not a quick 5K and not even a PB, although two seconds faster than the last time I ran this particular race, but I felt like I ran well and strong. I felt so good at the end that I almost cried.

In addition to the usual water (oh, sweet nectar) and granola bar (oh, yum) and medal (oooh, shiny), Great Run had included a mini toilet roll in the race bags. I think that this is the best idea anyone has ever had and that all races should do it.


*bang crash wallop*

Voicemail from Mama Sefkhet: "Sefkhet, do you have £500 to buy a car?"

Mama Sefkhet is a woman who has driven twice in her life. My father refused to teach her anymore, after she crashed his car into my grandparents' neighbour's wall at the beginning of her second lesson.

Mama Sefkhet is also a woman who has never watched Top Gear.

I have spent twenty minutes trying to explain why the question of whether I have the £500 to buy the car is not the end of the story. To explain that this is a less important question than that of whether I can afford to buy it some petrol and insurance and road tax. Indeed, to explain that even those questions are less important than that of whether I can afford to pay the nice engineers to fix it when, being worth only £500, it inevitably claps out halfway to Greenock.

2011: Goals For The Year

I am refusing to make New Year's resolutions because it feels as though those are always doomed to magnificent failure. Instead, I have a series of goals that I'd like to achieve in 2011.

Professional Goals

1. To keep enjoying my rotations. I suppose this one is fairly self-explanatory. I've liked all of my fourth year rotations up to now and I don't want that to stop -- after all, I'm going to be doing this for the next 40 years. :)

2. To get something published. This actually relates to the audit that I'm apparently meant to be starting on Tuesday. My supervisor is said to be very keen on helping students to get their work published, and, without wishing to sound mercenary, it would be brownie points on job applications.

3. To get a job. UK Foundation Programme job applications are due in in November and allocations are made at the beginning of December. I do not want to be one of the 184 applicants who will make up the projected shortfall in jobs. It is simultaneously exciting and terrifying to think that next Christmas, I should know what general area of the country I'll be spending F1 and F2 in. Although I won't know the specific place or the actual job until early March 2012, the secondary part of this goal is to have a good enough MTAS score to have a good shot at going where I want to go.

4. To be organised enough that I'm not having a nervous breakdown in December. Finals are in February 2012. I would like to reach the end of this year with the vestiges of my sanity intact; January is still plenty of time to go mad. Er, this is probably the least realistic goal on the list but I'm going to try.

Running Goals

1. To run 500 miles. OK, this actually works out as less than 10 miles per week and so is not too terribly ambitious. The goal is about maintaining some sort of consistency, which is the thing that I've been hideously bad at in the past.

2. To continue running during finals revision. I know that this is an important part of maintaining my sanity. I could plot my third year stress levels on a graph, and they correlate to a) there not being any electricity in the medical school building and b) stopping running.

3. To get a place in the Great North Run. It's a big deal in British distance running, but it's a really big deal for people who are from where I'm from. I may not call it home anymore, but the idea of being one of the people who gets to run across the Tyne Bridge on that particular Sunday is a very special one. I have submitted my entry form into the ballot, which is the end of practical things that I can do toward meeting this goal.

4. To run a <2:45 half marathon. I am slow slow slow, and that goal would be a PB by a considerable margin. If I don't get to do it in the GNR, I'm eyeing up other autumn half-marathons. Royal Parks is a possibility.

Other Goals

1. To not press the snooze button. I feel I need say no more...

2. To complete the cross stitch that was meant to be for my grandfather. I stopped for a bit after he died, and now it's progressing slowly again and I'd like it to not be another year and a half before I finish it.

3. To read. I read very few books in 2009, for me. I miss it.

Silent Witness: A Guilty Mind, Part 2

So, now that I've stopped throwing my hands into the air and marshalled my thoughts into some sort of coherence. This is the review that I'd intended to write last night, but with less swearing.

Spoilers.Collapse )

Silent Witness: A Guilty Mind, Part 1

I have tea and am snuggled under a blanket, waiting for the new series of Silent Witness. Alison Graham has stopped writing the RT summaries, you can tell because Sad Mouse is referred to in tonight's as "frail and elegant". Ye Gods. The most exciting thing about this series is that the fourth episode has been written by Dudi Appleton and Jim Keeble, who last year wrote the episode with Harry nearly getting blown up.

Oh, so much more than you ever wanted to know about COPD and oxygen therapy.Collapse )

that's where I'll call home

I've stood on top of the Empire State Building and looked down on Broadway, sat on a boat under the Sydney Opera House and breathed in the sounds of Sydney Harbour, and danced under the palm trees as the sun set over Oahu, but there is a very special kind of beauty in looking through my bedroom window at twinkling headlights on the Clydebank Expressway as I feel the tension in my shoulders drain away and think, home now.


Jumping Off A Cliff

I came out to my family tonight.

Er, Happy New Year.

I can't believe I did that. I mean, I had planned it after getting so bloody wound up on Wednesday (and spending the better part of the next three days in tears) and I had told four people that I was going to do it so that it would be harder to bottle out of and I had sat all through dinner tonight with my heart going at a hundred miles an hour, but, still, I can't believe I did that.

Every time I come back to Newcastle, I feel as though I'm suffocating under the weight of a secret that shouldn't be one. It was well past time.

I didn't warn Mama Sefkhet and Les. I didn't want them to have the opportunity to talk me out of it. I think I nearly gave them both heart attacks.

It is distinctly ironic, then, that I haven't yet told those relatives who did an awfully good impression of Homophobes Anonymous and prompted my three days of wailing and teeth gnashing. They are the extended part of my extended family, and, ridiculous though I know this sounds, I'm actually less bothered by what they think. The people I care about, and the ones I cared about hearing it from me, know now and were amazingly amazing. As for the rest, I can't pretend that their opinions don't hurt or that what they say won't matter at all, any chance I might have had of pretending that went out of the window when I reacted the way I did last week to, well, them. The idea of telling them isn't nearly as terrifying, for some reason, but I will have that part of the story to tell when it happens.

I'm not saying that tonight was without its problems. I am telling you this now because some things were said on Wednesday that really hurt me, the response was still that that is different, and for the love of God, it's really really not, no, how many times. I couldn't turn tonight into an argument about gay rights, though, one step at a time and this was a big one step for me.

Tomorrow, I'm going back to Glasgow and will have a week to myself. I think I'm going to need the time to process it all.


why why why why

Well, I was annoyed by the Daily Mail's four page spread on all the reasons why Sir Elton John and David Furnish are the worst candidates for parenthood they can imagine, which is a lot of trees to essentially say that they'd prefer it if gay people didn't breed because ew. I will someday possess the self-control to not pick up the Daily Mail when my parents leave it on the kitchen table, but today is evidently not that day. I am not writing another letter to them, because my point would be a lot of variations on the phrase, 'oh, fuck off'. But I can get annoyed with the Daily Mail and still not take it personally, because they are not worth the energy. If the rest of my family sit down in my parents' living room and say the same things and insist that they are right and wind it up by suggesting that they must both be paedophiles, all while defending the rights of all teenagers everywhere to have as many babies as they so wish... well, they are not worth the energy either, but it's a lot harder to not take it personally when it's them.

I may not want children, but that is hardly the point. I shouldn't be genetically obligated to eat dinner with people who tell me that a same-gender couple will be worse parents than a fourteen-year-old heroin addict because but that's different, because it is also flat-out not true.

I mean, you know it's been a bad night when the least offensive thing about it was relentless use of the noun "queers".


2010: Year in Review

This is a little bit early, but I don't expect lightning to strike in the next three days.

2010 in Review.Collapse )

Merry Christmas

The underlying theme of my Christmas this year seemed to be, "we wish you weren't, but if you must insist on flitting off to Africa, we are going to take shameless advantage of this fact when choosing gifts".

Thus, I spent much of Christmas Day learning phrases such as Je, kuna dawa yeyote ambayo hupatani nayo? And opening boxes of what my mother thinks are necessary luxuries to take when one is going to be in Tanzania for a month, which is why I now own a White Company hand towel, which makes the whole thing all seem a bit like I live in My Family And Other Animals.
The very merriest of Christmases to you and to all whom you love.

The Journey from Not Quite Hell

I was going to call this The Journey From Hell. I've seen the news today, though, and, as there are now no trains going south down the east coast and people were evacuated through the roof of a train near Peterborough, I cannot be anything but grateful that I was travelling yesterday and not today.

In the morning, I ate breakfast and got dressed and finished packing to the tune of National Rail Enquiries' hold music on speakerphone. I was putting on my shoes to leave by the time I got through to an actual person, who said that my train was expected to depart as scheduled. I left my flat at nine o'clock. The first part of my journey, from Partick to Glasgow Central, went without incident. And when I arrived into Glasgow Central, it was to be faced with a departure board saying that my train had been cancelled. I suppose that was where the wheels fell off the wagon.

I explained to the man at the information desk that I had an advance single ticket to travel on an East Coast train to Newcastle, and that that train no longer existed. I wanted to know if I was cleared to go to Glasgow Queen Street and try to make a connection through Edinburgh, or if I still had ticket restrictions. Go to Edinburgh, he said. And I can get on any train once I'm in Edinburgh? I asked. Yes, providing it's an East Coast train.

On the shuttle bus between stations, I was temporarily adopted by a couple who were trying to get to Newark Northgate and hadn't been on a train for about fifty seven years. I got them to the departure board, showed them which platform they were going to need, and explained what should happen if their train was cancelled or late or if they missed any connections.

We made it to Queen Street just in time to see that the trains to Edinburgh Waverley had been reduced to a half-hourly service, which meant that the quarter past ten service disappeared off the departure board. I got onto one that was scheduled to leave at half past ten, and settled myself in. The first indication that not everything was going quite to plan was when the PA system said with a distinct note of panic that this was not the train for Inverness and could everyone expecting to travel to Inverness please get off the train and change platforms. The people who had been expecting to travel to Edinburgh sat tight and waited for twenty minutes. And then we were told that there was a technical problem and we would be moving as soon as possible, and, after another twenty minutes, First Scotrail regretted to inform passengers that the ten-thirty train to Edinburgh Waverley had been cancelled due to the engine having frozen.

We all got up and left.

I got onto the eleven o'clock train, which was now holding the passengers for four trains. It goes without saying that I did not get a seat. But as I told Nadia when she called, I had now been travelling for almost two hours and had gone two and a half miles and, crucially, had not yet left Glasgow. It also didn't have heating and was minus six degrees Celsius outside. So, you can see where not having a seat might have been the least of my problems. It took us an hour and ten minutes to get to Edinburgh, a forty-two minute journey on a normal day. I had lost all feeling in my toes. But when we got into Edinburgh, it was to find that we had just got out in time -- all trains from Queen Street had been cancelled and they were putting passengers onto buses.

In Edinburgh, I had forty-five minutes to wait for a delayed train that was going to Kings Cross and would call at Newcastle but that was all right. It was long enough to buy lunch and update Mama Sefkhet, who admitted that she would have been making stressed face at me by then. This might be an appropriate time to say that there wasn't actually that much snow and I still have no idea why everything had fallen apart, so I was dealing with it by finding the whole thing endlessly amusing.

I got onto a train. I had my one bag moved three times -- once from a luggage rack -- because other passengers had complained about where I'd put it, good God, people, we were all delayed, there is no reason to act as though you are the only person in Britain who has been inconvenienced. I had a book and I had sushi and I was quite happy but beginning to wonder why we hadn't moved out of the station when an annoucement was made that there was no driver and that we would get moving just as soon as they found one. It's not what you'd call a confidence-inspiring statement. I thought about calling one of my cousins, who is a train driver, and asking if he felt like popping up to Edinburgh and driving me home, but we got going eventually. Oddly, once the train was going down the east coast, which was where I'd been told that the problems were, we weren't delayed even a little bit and made good time into Newcastle.

Eventually I walked in my parents' front door at quarter past three, just over six hours after I'd left Partick. Not a long journey in the grand scheme of things, but long enough when you consider that it usually takes less than three hours.


I will be heading down to England in the morning, trains and snow permitting.

My packing sensibilities have improved immeasurably since first year at Durham, when what I packed for a three week break came close to turning the idea of everything-but-the-kitchen-sink right over on its head. No, I am not joking, I took the coffee machine. It turns out, though, that the real secret to travelling light is simply to take an actual Christmas holiday and therefore to not pack any textbooks. The Clinical Medicine Textbook of Giantness, which has accompanied me to Newcastle at every Christmas and Easter break for the last three and a half years, is staying behind this time and it is this that has allowed me to downgrade from a biggish suitcase to a small holdall. It has been a revelation.

As ever, I may not be online until I get back to Glasgow. I might -- Mama Sefkhet has got for herself an internet service provider and they have sent her all the makings of an internet connection and a wireless network, but, sounding more than a little bit sheepish on the phone last week, she told me that there is no actual internet and it would be quite useful if when I get there tomorrow I could put the bits together and make it so. Er, so if you don't hear from me it could well mean that I've been blown up.

In case I'm not around again before, be excellent to one another and I hope you all have a wonderful and peaceful Christmas.
Witless is back on January 3rd. YAY!

Information from the BBC Press Office is that Nikki will find herself in mortal danger. OH GOOD GOD, WATCH AS I TRY TO CONCEAL MY ASTONISHMENT.

Dear South of England

I am rolling my eyes quite hard.

I realise that I am being a grumpy Northerner, but BBC News keep on showing me lots of dramatic images of frozen Britain and... well, they're not all that dramatic. I can still see bits of pavement through the snow. I am quite interested to know if war has been declared somewhere or a 300% increase in income tax has been announced, if ever there was a day to bury bad news then this is it and yet we got a tiny fraction of this media coverage when Scotland was literally buried underneath snow for two weeks.
Yesterday, Mama Sefkhet coughed and spluttered at me down the phone and asked if I'd mind making a train reservation for myself on the off chance that she was unable to get up for our planned weekend. As we had planned to get the train together, my actual ticket is in her office in Newcastle. And despite there being no snow for miles around, Royal Mail have cancelled guaranteed next day delivery on account of inclement weather. She had every intention of dragging herself and her lurgy to Glasgow, she said, but in any case would feel more comfortable knowing for sure that I would be able to travel.

She rang this morning -- as I hid under the duvet and wondered if I was really required to attend the clinical skills session on how to do blood gases on a plastic arm, when I had been doing them for three months on proper patients who had real live arms and everything -- and announced that she was not coming.

At this point, I threw an incredibly immature fit. I sniffled at her, anyway. I was being ridiculous and selfish, but the weekend before Christmas is the only weekend in the year that we have to ourselves and, because my grandfather never did have any sense of timing, we didn't last year. So, we will now have gone two years in a row. And we had decorated for her. And that might have all been all right, if she hadn't gone on to say, it shouldn't matter to you because it's not as though you were going to see me much on Sunday. I have a rehearsal on Sunday afternoon and a concert which she has a ticket to on Sunday evening, it's true, but that's the deal, those things aren't peculiar to this year, I said, and you've always known that and if that's your reason for this weekend not mattering then we might as well just not plan to bother with it in the future.

I cannot be expected to be the rational, grown up daughter all of the time.

And then I got over myself. Because.

If there's a silver lining, it's that there are weather warnings and public transport disruptions and heaven knows what by Monday, and I'm much more able to cope with being stuck on a train by myself. Mama Sefkhet gets horribly stressed by train delays, and, as you ought all to know by this time, if I did that then I would be in a permanent state of high blood pressure by now. I was seventeen and travelling alone from Kings Cross on a weekend when the Midlands had all flooded before I discovered that, when faced with a departure board covered in delayeds and cancelleds, it is entirely permissible to sit down on one's suitcase with a book rather than to dissolve into a gale of tears. It's much easier to accomplish that when not sitting next to someone who is tsking and sighing and making a stressed face, too.

And I got over myself because I am the rational, grown-up daughter most of the time and I can't go that much against type. Nor can I guilt my mother that much when I can hear her wheezing through nearly two hundred miles of telephone cable. And because whatever it might sometimes sound like, I do love her. I wouldn't have sniffled at her in the first place if I didn't.

Bored. Bored. Incredulous. Bored.

I am becoming convinced that the sole purpose of the last week of term is to slowly suck the life out of all the fourth year medical students who haven't slept for fifteen weeks. This is Academic Week. It is five days of shivering in lecture theatres with inadequate central heating while being talked at about things that we already know.

Flatmate and I are getting through it by coming home, turning on the tree lights, and snuggling under our duvets with Bridget Jones and Doctor Who.

Yesterday, we sat through an afternoon that would perhaps have been useful if we had had it in Year 1, Week 1. Not Year 4, Week 16. The unfortunate soul who had been asked to deliver a lecture on basic immunology opened with a statement that nothing he planned to say would have any relevance at all to our exams. In a reference to Th1 and Th2 cells, he said doubtfully that some of us might have heard of those. It was kept from being a complete waste of four hours only because I got Brideshead Revisited out of my bag after an hour and twenty minutes.

Today, three separate people referred to the Disability Discrimination Act as though it still exists. I am probably not the only one who thinks that a conversation about disability law would be more valuable if it was had in the context of the actual legislation.

I live in hope that the rest of the week will be less painful, but I am not holding my breath.

Faith, and Losing It

I remember being young and idealistic and full of hope and politically naive, a bit.

I am seventeen and going away on a weekend retreat for young people who want to become doctors, someday. I am told that if I want, I will have the opportunity to take an entrance exam and be interviewed for a place at medical school in Prague. I am offered the place and I hold it as a reserve, in case I should happen to not get a place in Britain.

I am eighteen and in my headmistress's office. I am on the phone to the Czech Embassy in London, who don't understand me; and then to the British Embassy in Prague, who don't understand what I want; and then to the admissions office at Charles University, who, through all of my incoherence, realise what I am calling for and tell me that they have confirmed my place. I have come nowhere close to the grades that I had been asked for by either of my London universities. Later, I will call them back and let them know that I will not be coming. I cannot afford the tuition fees that they will charge me, an international student.

I will go to an ancient university in the north of England. It will become mine and I will grow to love it with a fierce pride. I will never have any regrets about any of it, ever.

I am nineteen and in my room at Durham. I am listening to my mum tell me that she had gone to Nick Brown's constituency office and flailed desperately at him, and I love her for it. I am watching all the MPs leave the chamber. I am watching Michael Martin tell them and all the watching world that the ayes have it. I am sitting on my bed and the tears will not stop. I am trying to find the words to explain to my flatmates why I am upset, why this is important, and they do not understand. I do not think that we will be back here in six years, watching promises be broken and things become so very much worse.

(It is a hot summer day. Yesterday, I voted Liberal Democrat. I am in a supermarket queue and Nick Clegg is looking up at me from the front page of every newspaper. I try to persuade myself that he won't sell us out.)

I am twenty-five and at my desk in Glasgow. I am about to learn that for people like me, their domestic fees are soon going to cost more than those international fees and so it will be in their better interests to leave England and become doctors in Prague. (I am grateful to be in Scotland and pray that the MSPs continue to hold out, and think about building an underground bunker for those who will soon flee to the north.)

I think about all the people I know, the ones who are coming after me. I think about my flatmate's sister and my goddaughter and all the children who are growing up in the place that I come from, looking for a way out. I feel like holding a wake for all of the sixteen year olds who have dreams.

Tonight, I am bitterly disappointed in my government. I am so much more disappointed in my party.


Sefkhet vs The Weather

It is so cold. -10 degrees Celsius, according to BBC Weather. I have no trouble believing that. In my MDT this morning, one of the consultants said that the thermometer on her garden shed had registered -13 degrees Celsius as she left for work. I have no trouble believe that, either. I walked into work this morning and felt every little bit of those thirteen not-degrees. I should be in an outpatient clinic this afternoon, but the proper bus to that hospital isn't running and the train that would take me to the train station where it goes from isn't running and even the little hospital shuttle bus isn't running. I have been excused on the grounds that in the highly unlikely event that I was able to get there, I definitely wouldn't be able to get home. The car park is still buried under snow.

I think they're trying to clear that, said my consultant. They've got a snow plough. Or, more like a tractor with a wee shovel on the end.

Canada and the northern United States and even mainland Europe get these sorts of temperatures all the time, I know that. But we don't. Even for a Geordie like my good self, this is cold. The only time in my living memory it ever even approached these temperatures... well, in fact, only last January, in Aviemore. It wasn't this cold, though. Anyway, if you go to Aviemore in the middle of January then it's not entirely so unexpected.

I don't think I'd mind so much if we had the infrastructures to keep the country running when this happens, but it seems that those infrastructures do not exist. The radio interviewed a Canadian newscaster last week and he mocked us, and he can hardly be blamed for doing so. Any sort of local public transport has all but ground to a halt. I went to buy a sandwich in one of my hospitals, the biggest hospital in Glasgow, and instead of sandwiches there was a sign saying that they had none due to adverse weather conditions. My former flatmate is in a hospital where the pharmacy is running out of drugs. It's beautiful and bleak, it is. But life shouldn't have to stop because of it.
It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up, something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.

But happiness floats.
It doesn't need you to hold it down.
It doesn't need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing, and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house and now live over a quarry of noise and dust cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own.,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records.

Since there is no place large enough to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you into everything you touch. You are not responsible.

You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it, and in that way, be known.

- Naomi Shihab Nye

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