Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Show jumping nostalgia

Stroller, Raimondo d'Inzeo, Vibart...


Monday, 24 October 2011

Friday, 21 October 2011

I am weak

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by someone who wanted to sell me their old Riding magazines. Any email like that is always two edged: hurrah, because there are still plenty I lack, particularly from the 1950s, and wince, because of recent months, what with writing the book and all, I haven't been very good in keeping on top of what I've bought. There were piles of elderly equestrian magazines all over the place in my office. 

So, I screwed my courage to the sticking place, and sorted.

I now know what I've got, and what I haven't. There are duplicates, which in one way is good, as now when people ask me if I have any for sale I can say yes. As long as they don't want the duplicates I want, that is. I've had a pile of magazines from the 1930s sitting in a thoughtful pile since the sort out. They are duplicates, because I have bound copies of all the 1930s editions. The thing with bound copies though, is that they don't have the front covers. And I like the front covers. How could I get rid of these? How?

They're so pretty. Look at the lovely typography, and those gorgeous period photographs. For the sake of completeness and historical accuracy I do need them, of course. I do. The covers are an intrinsic part of the magazines. Quite where I'm going to put them, now I've decided I do need duplicates, is another matter.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

War Horse - Fact and Fiction

The National Army Museum has an exhibition opening on 22nd October (and running until August 2012): War Horse, Fact and Fiction. It takes Michael Morpurgo's War Horse as a hook on which to hang the rest of the exhibition, which is illustrated with artefacts from the Museum's collection, "encouraging visitors to think about the millions of War Horses who have supported the British Army across time".

Entry is free.

If you've read the book, you'll know that it opens with a description of a picture hanging in a village hall, which shows Joey, as painted by the man who rode him into war.  Although Iddesleigh, the village, exists, as does the village hall, the picture up until now has been a complete fiction. Equine artist Ali Bannister has now made fiction fact. Michael Morpurgo has commissioned her to do two portraits, and one will hang in the village hall.  There's an example of the picture on The Times site - sadly it's behind a paywall.  If I can find a copy which is a bit more accessible I will post a link.

Edited to add: the picture will be on Ali Bannister's website within the next 4 weeks, and will also be appearing at the War Horse exhibition.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Miscarriage - why is treatment sometimes so bad?

When things go wrong, my first instinct is to come out fighting, generally in a loud and ranty way which I have had to learn to tone down over the years. A soft answer turneth away wrath, or at any rate is often more likely to get you what you want. That sort of thing.

So why didn't I protest after my first miscarriage; when the care I received was variable, and certainly in the case of my GP, incredibly insensitive? Who decided it "not relevant" for me to be told the sex of my baby (which, after a baby is born whole at 16 weeks is completely obvious), nor "relevant" for me to be told the results of the post mortem. Why, when basically told to go away and shut up, did I do precisely that? When told by friends and relations to complain, shrivel up and say no?

Because I quite simply couldn't, is the answer. I was wracked by guilt and grief. During my stay in hospital, I'd made several (unsuccessful) attempts to find out about the baby I'd had. When I came out, I girded myself to have another go with the GP, and it failed. I retreated into a dark cave of misery and loss, and there I stayed for quite some time. Neither my husband nor I had the mental energy to complain about the GP or any of our other treatment. We wanted to try and look forward, not back. There was no support; we had to find our own way back to a life of  relative normality.

When I was pregnant again, it was very hard to look back at what had happened before. I wanted to concentrate all my energies and hope on the new life. Allied to the day-to-day fear, every single day of my new pregnancy, about what might happen (and I was an early and frequent bleeder in all my pregnancies, which kept me teetering and on edge for months on end), I found it impossible to summon up the mental energy to try and put right what had happened to me before.

Many of my friends were trying to get pregnant, or pregnant themselves. How many of them mentioned miscarriage? Did I? People don't want to talk about it: most especially those to whom it might happen. There's a sort of sympathetic magic at work here, I think: if you even mention the word, it might happen to you. In the cold light of day, this is a completely ludicrous fear. Why would even mentioning the word make you miscarry? But it doesn't mean you don't think that way.

When I was asked to chair a conference by the Miscarriage Society, I was just pregnant for the fifth time, and I remember my first reaction was to panic and want to say no, just in case the very fact I was there made me miscarry.

I got over it, but it was a bit of a battle. Even when I was there, on the platform, introducing people and listening to the presentations, every now and then that little thought would creep in. "You could be making the worst happen by being here." And I am supposed to be a sane and sensible woman, educated to be rational.

Needless to say, nothing happened. My daughter survived her mother's fears, and arrived hale, hearty and with an obvious and steely determination right from day one.

I am particularly struck, with the Care Quality Commission's report on the treatment of the elderly in hospital in the news, with the similarities in what is experienced. The elderly can't fight their corner; neither, for different reasons, can miscarrying women and their partners. In both cases, what rushes in to fill that vacuum is not necessarily good.

Kindness doesn't cost anything. The good things I remember about my miscarriages are the people who found a few minutes to be kind. It doesn't cost anything for someone to say they're sorry. It only takes a little time. Whilst how nurses are trained is being examined, compassion for all should be at the heart of it, not just those who are young and able to fight their corner.  The grief-stricken generally can't fight theirs.  That's why the Mumsnet Code of Care for Miscarriage is so important.

As Salt & Caramel said:
It is becoming clear what the most important thing for these women is, and it is not immediate access to expensive scanning equipment (although that would be jolly nice) nor is it purpose built “miscarriage wards” as some commentators seem to think we want.
It is kindness. From the nurses, doctors and other health care workers.
Care doesn't have to be bad. The NHS can get it right, and did, for Kirsty. There are good models of care, like the one experienced here, which I've read several times with awe, and thankfulness that it can be got right.

Please, support the Mumsnet Campaign for Better Miscarriage Care.
  • Lobby your MP to support the Early Day motion. 
  • If you're on Facebook or Twitter, link to this blog or any of the others on the bloghop below
  • Tweet using the #miscarriagecare hashtag. Follow @mumsnettowers
  • Add your blog to the blog hop.
And talk about it.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Horses wear leg warmers

Look! Here! This is a yarn bomb - here is the deed in progress. (And any time Dilly Tante wants to yarn bomb my  hen house, she is welcome). Through the graveyard, over the electric fence. No problem.

Fancy dress. Sort of. With dogs.

Here is my dog, styled as a dog. A spoiled dog, who is allowed on the sofa, but a dog.

Here is a dog which is well, not.

Monday, 10 October 2011

The deep dark bits: miscarriage

I don’t generally blog about me; well, I do, but in the I did this sense, rather than I felt this, or here are the deep, dark bits of my life sense.  This blog is going to be an exception. Once I was editor of the newsletter of my local NCT branch. The first issue I did was on miscarriage. I wrote about mine; a friend wrote about hers, and the Miscarriage Association wrote about what needed to be done by the NHS to improve how women and their partners were treated during and after miscarriage.

We said things like: don’t put miscarrying women in wards with women having terminations, or worse still in ante natal wards. Treat women sensitively.

That was 17 years ago. Mumsnet is starting a campaign on how the medical service should treat miscarriage, and I’m sure you can work out what they’re asking for.  17 years later, not a lot has changed. What happened to me is still being repeated, and what we asked for then still has to be asked for now.

Miscarriage is still not something that is talked about. Growing up, I was dimly aware it happened, but as far as I was concerned, people got pregnant, and they had babies. That was generally that. I thought I’d have a large family, and was also quite hoping for large amounts of dogs and ponies. Too much Pullein-Thompson. Getting pregnant often enough to achieve part of that aim certainly wasn’t a problem: I got pregnant just like that. Holding on to the baby afterwards, however, was a problem. I have two children: five pregnancies, but two children.

After getting over the initial shock of being pregnant the first time, which wasn’t exactly planned, I settled down, and did what I always do when facing something new: I bought a book. Up to 13 weeks is the danger period, it said. After that, you are probably alright. Late miscarriage is quite rare.

13 weeks came and went. I relaxed a bit. By 15 weeks, I was starting to need to pee a lot. I consulted the book, which said that this did happen. Mmm, I thought. I had a feeling that what was going on with me was possibly not what the book meant. Give it a few days, I thought, and then off to the doctor if there’s no improvement. That weekend, we went into town on the train. I sat there, feeling more and more ill, and by the time we got to Waterloo East, told Jonathan I had to get off the train. We ended up in St Thomas’s, who diagnosed a urinary tract infection, and packed us off back home to South East London, loaded with antibiotics. I made it home, and then collapsed with violent shakes and vomiting. The on call doctor came out, by which point I’d stopped shaking. He told me to carry on with the antibiotics, and take the week off work.

No one could tell me whether the baby would be alright. I had my first ante-natal appointment due at the end of that week. I rang the hospital (Greenwich) and asked them what I should do. Just come to the appointment, they said. So, I spent the week in bed, glugging water frantically, swigging antibiotics, and seeing various on-call doctors (never actually my own) as I threw up and generally was not well. We went to the antenatal appointment with a university friend of mine who was also pregnant, and whose appointment was at the same time. Poor things. It was their first baby, and their first appointment, and there they were, obviously excited but trying not to show it too much, as we sat there, faces drawn and not really expecting the best. We saw various nurses. “Oh, you’ll be fine,” they all said. One of them hooked me up to listen to the baby’s heart, and there it was. A regular whoosh and boom. It was alive. Even now, over twenty years, later, the thought still reduces me to tears. Poor little baby. It did fight hard.

We saw the consultant. The thing was, by that stage I was fairly certain the outcome was not going to be good. Heartbeat and all. I described everything that happened. I thought that my waters had actually gone, and the consultant said he thought I was right. He couldn’t say exactly what would happen, but the outlook wasn’t good, especially as my lovely urinary tract infection was still raging along, antibiotics and frantic drinking notwithstanding.  All we could do was go back home and wait.  Nothing we could do was going to make much difference. By that point we were both relieved someone was prepared to be honest. All medical staff up until that point had simply not listened, once they’d worked out I was beyond the magic 13 weeks; and anyway, there I was in the antenatal clinic, full of lots of pregnant people. Going wrong didn’t seem to be an option.

Back home we went. During that week, I’d felt the baby move, but the day after the antenatal appointment, it stopped. I knew what this meant, but lay there hoping the flutter would start up again. It didn’t. The next day I was gripped by the most almighty pain. I took two paracetamol and screamed for Jonathan, the second of these two being I now realise the more sensible thing to do. After some drama, and a lot of blood, Jonathan rang the ambulance. One appeared fairly swiftly. They couldn’t, they said, take me anywhere, as I needed a transfusion, and they couldn’t do that. No ambulances that could were available. They rang for a doctor who could do transfusions. He got stuck in the Blackwall Tunnel. I lay there, aware of a rising air of panic amongst the paramedics, wondering if I might not survive, in 20th century Britain with a large hospital 5 minutes down the road.

This next bit is the hardest thing to write, and I have had to have a few goes at it over the weeks since I knew I would be writing this piece. Our baby was still there; it has been born and I had seen it fleetingly. I wanted to see it properly. I was also, in the midst of the chaos, scared, desperate, and wanting to survive. I thought I needed to stay in control. If I saw the baby, I wouldn’t, so I didn’t. I have bitterly regretted that decision ever since. I know nothing would have changed; the baby was still dead, but the least I could have done for it was looked at it, and I didn’t.

At last the doctor appeared and gave me a plasma transfusion, thereby rendering me completely useless for blood donating purposes in years to come, though none of us knew that at the time.

I was shifted off to Greenwich District Hospital, and an ERPC – the snappily named Evacuation of Retained Products of Conception: making sure the womb was properly empty, in fact. When I came round, I was aware of the most extraordinary feeling of physical relief: my body was simply thankful it didn’t have to struggle any more. My mind didn’t feel like that though. I wanted my baby. I lay there in the dark, trying to cry quietly. A sympathetic nurse appeared and asked me what was wrong, and I told her I’d just lost a baby. All sympathy promptly vanished. “Oh, is that all,” she said. “It’s very common. Be quiet now, or you’ll wake everyone else up, and they need their sleep.”

If I could have got out of the hospital then and there I would have, but I was attached to a drip; on intravenous antibiotics, and both hands were bandaged after numerous failed attempts to insert a canula. What I wanted to do was grieve; bawl and weep, but instead I mentally shoved it all away. Hospital obviously wasn’t the right place for any of that to happen. Grieving would have to wait until I got out. I had a long time to sit and think, so I worked out what I thought I could cope with without giving way completely. A couple of days into my hospital stay, I asked a nurse if I could see the baby. Even as I was explaining that I knew it had been born complete because I had seen it, she was whisking out of the ward, saying over her shoulder as she went that all there would have been was bits so there wouldn’t have been anything to see.

The kind nurse who did sit with me, and who I asked again, told me the baby would have gone for a post-mortem by now, so there wasn’t much that could be done.

What I did not know until much, much later, was that the baby had been left behind when I was carted off in the ambulance. Jonathan got back home from a traumatic time at the hospital, to find the baby still there on the floor. He sat with him all night until a midwife arrived to pick him up the next day. I didn’t know for years that the baby had been a boy; not until I went for investigations with a consultant, now being a recurrent miscarrier and therefore entitled to treatment. Jonathan was told not to tell me the baby’s sex as this might apparently make me disintegrate altogether mentally. I asked my GP out right about the baby’s sex when I went for a follow up appointment, and he refused to tell me. It wasn’t relevant, he said. I pressed the point, but he wouldn’t tell me. He refused to tell me the sex. He refused to tell me the results of the post-mortem, which I knew there had been. They weren’t relevant either, apparently.

As I also found out years later, there was nothing wrong with the baby. I’d simply been too ill. My body couldn’t cope with being pregnant and being ill at the same time, and had chosen not to be pregnant.

My next two miscarriages were not such events. Miscarriage two was early – about 7 weeks, and happened while I was at work. I’d not felt from the start that the pregnancy was ok, so wasn’t surprised, and wasn’t particularly upset. Miscarriage three was later – 12 weeks. By now, I knew my way around the sytem. I was desperate to see the baby, if baby there was. There wasn’t anything to see, but at least I knew that, because I had looked. I knew I’d have to have another ERPC, as yet again, the placenta hadn’t detached properly. I knew that after three miscarriages I could have investigations into why, so made sure the unsympathetic doctor whirling in and out of my room in A&E at lightning speed knew that.

I had the investigations, which turned up nothing. Just bad luck, said the consultant. It happens. I got pregnant again, for the fifth time, and had the slightly surreal experience of chairing a conference for the Miscarriage Society whilst being pregnant, in the pre 13 week danger zone, and not having told anyone save for Jonathan that I was pregnant. Miranda made it. We’d decided that if she didn’t, we’d stop. It was just too wracking to go through the possibility of more miscarriages, and Fred was old enough by now to know I was disappearing off to hospital, and to want to know why, and to know why Mummy and Daddy were sad. We were lucky, and we have our two children.

I have massive respect for anyone who can go through miscarriage after miscarriage as they try to have children. I certainly couldn’t have gone through any more. All these years later, what I remember best is the people who were kind. I remember the nurse who sat and talked with me whenever she was on shift. I remember the women on the ward with me, mostly hysterectomy patients, who made the unspoken but universal decision not to mention the loud, happy, woman who’d had the termination and left on the first day I was there, and who were quietly sympathetic. The ward sister who let Jonathan come in in defiance of visiting regulations for days on end. The anaesthetist and nurse who held my hands as I cried and cried before going into theatre for the second ERPC, having held it together up until then. The consultants who were honest. The woman I’d not got on with terribly well with at work up until that point, who sat in my office, and was so lovely I cry again to think about it now. And my beloved husband, who held his wrecked partner together despite being prostrate with grief himself. Lost babies belong to their fathers as well; but it’s the mothers who tend to get what sympathy is going. Everyone asked him how I was: very few, if any, how he was.

A lot of the care I got was excellent; but some was almost catastrophically bad, and certainly crashingly insensitive. Being sent the appointment card for my next ante natal appointment a couple of weeks after the first miscarriage was a particular high spot. Greenwich District Hospital must have thought I was a very stroppy mare when I was in there after miscarriage 3. By that time I knew what they were likely to get wrong, and snarled and snapped until I was certain I’d been removed from the antenatal lists; that I’d seen any possible baby there might have been, and that I was referred. It’s a pity it had to be like that. What I wanted was care, not to have to protect myself from an imperfect system.

Here’s the Mumsnet code, for all those women still needing care, and protection:

1.  Supportive Staff
GPs, Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit (EPAY) and A&E staff should be trained in communication techniques (including things NOT to say to women who are miscarrying), basic counselling skills and the psychological effects of miscarriage. Follow-up appointments and/or counselling for those who feel they need it should be routinely offered after miscarriage.

2. Access to scanning
Access to scanning facilities in the case of suspected miscarriage should be easier. This could mean Early Pregnancy Assessment Units (EPAUs) opening seven days a week and/or portable ultrasound and trained medical staff being available in A&E and gynaecological units at all times as standard. Those who are miscarrying naturally at home should have the option of a scan to check that there are no ongoing complications.

3. Safe and appropriate places for treatment
Women undergoing miscarriage or suspected miscarriage should be separated from women having routine antenatal and postnatal care, or women terminating an unwanted pregnancy. EPAUs should be sited in hospitals' gynaecology, rather than antenatal, departments or next to A&E departments, to ease women's referral route. Waiting times in confirmed as well as threatened pregnancy loss, but, in particular, for women who need surgery, should be kept to a minimum and not be spent in antenatal or labour ward settings.

4. Good information and effective treatment
Everyone who has a miscarriage confirmed should have the three options explained to them: 'natural' miscarriage; medication to speed up the natural process; and surgery. What each option involves, the amount of pain and discomfort that might be experienced, and the likely timescales for each should be explained clearly, sympathetically and honestly either by trained medical professionals or in a leaflet. Women miscarrying at home should be offered appropriate prescription pain relief. In the case of miscarriage occurring in hospital, doctors should discuss with the parents what they wish to happen to the foetus (i.e. it should not be disposed of routinely without prior consultation). Consideration should be given to renaming the surgical procedure Evacuation of Retained Products of Conception (ERPC), as many parents find this confusing and upsetting.

5. Joined-up care
Community midwife teams and GPs should be informed immediately when miscarriage has occurred, and subsequent bookings and scans cancelled, to avoid women who have miscarried being chased by HCPs for 'missing' pregnancy appointments.

Friday, 7 October 2011

How do you tell when a camel's overbent?

Round up

Here is the cover for Susanna Forrest's long awaited book:

It's out in March 2012, and you can read more about it here: Susanna says it far better than I ever could so have wimpishly not attempted to summarise.

Linda Newbery has written about the danger of horses, and some of what was going on in her mind when she wrote The Damage Done.

And if you like commercials, there are some gems here at Fran Jurga's The Jurga Report.

And at Piccalilli Pie, the purples of a North Western American autumn.

Thursday, 6 October 2011


I'm decorating the house for autumn.  Ha ha. Of course I'm not. It had never even occurred to me, I must admit, but I do every now and then read blogs where people do this.  I'm actually very glad that they do, as I like to look on at those wonderfully decorative lives that are completely, utterly and absolutely unlike mine, which is frankly rather pants at the moment, for one reason and another.

Even if I had the time, I know I wouldn't fill it with craft projects and decorating stuff, as what I do when I have any spare time is take the dog out and charge around the fields, or dive into a slowly rotting pile of ancient horse literature, seeking what I might find. Because that is my idea of a good time.  But I like to look at other people's crafts and decorative lives and appreciate what they do. Just as well we're all different, as I'd hate it if there was more competition than there already is when it comes to acquiring ancient and slightly smelly horse related ephemera.

Anyway. Stick with me, because there is some sort of a point to my ramblings. I get roped in to decorating our church at major festivals. Not because I can do flower arranging, because I can't. I am, however, younger than 80 and am well known for my inability to say no when asked to volunteer.

This usually leads to some strenuous brain work as I try and work out a way of decorating without actually arranging a flower. I have only to see oasis and buckets of shop bought flowers and I panic. So, this year's effort involved my trusty vegetable boxes and a lot of windfalls. As ever with my efforts, what is in my head bears no relation at all to what actually emerges.  I had visions of evenly spaced hop garlands, twining amongst the boxes, but couldn't make the hops, or my fingers, form my plan.  The dog, who accompanied me into church, had a fine time rescuing the apples that hurtled from above as I balanced on my step ladder. She eventually retreated underneath the ladder, which was sensible, as it was safer there, though no quieter, as my unchurchly swearing could still pollute her innocent labrador ears.

My other window involved even more swearing (I am ashamed) and some quite emotional deep breathing. I had visions of a wreath of hops surrounding my charming apple-filled basket. (I am not obsessed with hops - it's just we have an awful lot in the garden, and as I loathe the idea of spending money on flowers which I will wreck, my efforts are centred on what I can find at home.)  I was completely incapable of making my mental picture become reality, and ended up with hops strewn all around the altar after I had ripped them off in despair. The hops were pretty heady, and I was beginning to have severe doubts over whether having as many of them as I'd got was such a good idea, bearing in mind the bishop was coming to take the service, and was going to be taking it from my end of the church which by that point reeked of hop. 

Ah well.

Other people do very much better than me, fortunately.  I love the more is more school, and particularly like this one, which is a triumph of abundance.

And these, particularly the vegetables, which are all home-grown. Proper harvest.

Happy Harvest.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Even the walls

My parents didn't really do wallpaper - at least in the sense of applying any more.  Our house had elderly and dodgy plasterwork, and my parents took the view that removing the wallpaper covering it would only cause a lot of problems no one really needed, and what was wrong with paint, after all?

This did mean I didn't get horsy wallpaper.

Riding, August 1960

I would have liked horsy wallpaper. Our playroom had a field sports wallpaper with pheasants on it that I was very fond of. Shooting was a field sport, as was hunting, and hunting had horses, and that I knew was as close as I was going to get to wallpaper with horses on, so that pretty loose association satisfied me.

Fortunately for my parents, I had no idea the examples above existed.  And in all those colour ways too.  It is incredibly frustrating to have no idea at all of what the wallpapers would have looked like in the full colour flesh. Well, two colour flesh if I have read the copy correctly. Imagine the sunshine yellow!  Are there any walls out there with them on? Still? Or have they been Farrow and Balled out of existence?

A few years ago I saw a more glamorous and upmarket example of a wallpaper aimed at the adult market. On the Saddle Up forum pictures appeared from a house in (from memory) Aberdeen that had a Cecil Aldin hunting frieze. Alas I don't have any photographs of that frieze, which I remember as being a cracker, but here's an advertisement for the nursery friezes Aldin also did.

The V&A have an article on children's wallpaper which has an illustration of a scaled down Aldin frieze in a doll's house.

I haven't been able to find an example of the Aldin hunting frieze. The V&A article mentions a hunting frieze designed by H Watkins Wild for Sanderson, and issued in 1904, and Sanderson still do a hunting wallpaper. I wondered if there would be anything available showing hunting in full modern cry, bearing in mind the current situation hunting is in.  I dug up another period one: Alken this time.  Presumably a modern day hunt is too strong meat these days.

Today's child, however, is spoiled. You can live in your own stable. I'm sure you must be able to get My Little Pony wallpaper, but I couldn't face the thought of actually having to look at it once I'd found it.  Pony book children used to make their own murals, carefully cutting out pictures from magazines; begging them from friends, and then sticking them on a green line lovingly painted on the wall by their mother.  No need to do that these days.