27.10.19 – 13.13

The clocks have gone back.

It’s a sharp day with a cool darting wind and long spells of rich dappled sunlight, broken by wintry rain bursting quickly out of black clouds. The rich autumn colours dotted through the town are approaching their best and the ever changing view from the field is a soothing balm.

I’m sitting as close to the stove as I can and every so often, I’m engulfed in wafts of smoke as the wind darts in.



I have no energy to do anything and thankfully Sam has saved my life by emptying the muck midden. It’s days like today when the ranch becomes a haven and I can just rest and do nothing (apart from write).

As usual I started by putting on my wellies and walking round the field – there’s been so much rain. The little patch of watercress fed by the irrigation system from the well is doing great. I pick the autumn raspberries and pretend that they’re little magic sweeties that will make me better. I have to remind myself that it’s OK to do nothing once in a while.

Autumn raspberries


I gently sweep the spiders out of the gentleman’s den. The bedding is aired by the hot stovepipe rising through the middle and I rest with Cerys on in the background. The wind, outbreaks of rain and the noises rising from the town are all soothing. The soggy elder leaves on the roof make nice patterns.


I was up here early for the first time in five days. I’ve miscalculated and overdone the rat-race – roadworks, commuting, a twelve hour stretch of windowless rooms. It’s my own fault. The alarm bells ring when it stops me sleeping. I came home on Thursday aching all over and completely drained and couldn’t sleep for the second night in a row. The aches give way to stomach cramps and from then on I was up all night – it’s probably something I ate.

I spend the next day trying to recover enough to go to work on Saturday. I make it, but only just. Ratty phones in and it turns out he has the same thing. Uh oh. I wouldn’t have gone if I’d realised. It’s probably Norvirus. I’ve worked in hospitals through lots of 24 hour viral outbreaks and never ever caught one. It’s because I’m run down. I’m 100% convinced that being outdoors in all weathers + the right diet and exercise is the best health insurance of all.

Water cress


The end of an era.

A couple of weeks earlier and yet again I’m having a sleepless night. There’s an unexpected knock on the door. I look out of the window and it’s Louise’s sister Lesley. She’s been trying to phone. Louise and I have our phones switched off and haven’t heard the house phone.

‘She’s died.’ she says, as I open the door, meaning her mum, who lives just up the road. Louise and Lesley have been looking after her for the last couple of years. Louise went up three times a day every day and Lesley stayed a few nights a week. It’s most fortunate that Lesley was there when it happened – thankfully it was quick, but nevertheless unexpected. I shout up to Louise and Lesley tells her from the bottom of the stairs.

‘Do you want to come up and see her?’

‘Of course I do’, says Louise through quiet sobs.

I run them up in the car, then come home and sit in the chair dazed, before realising that I need to go back up. Robert, their brother has arrived. They’re upstairs talking to the police. After a while I go up.

Her mum is on the bed, so tiny, so frail but peaceful.

Louise is holding her hand, quietly talking to her through rending sobs.

‘Oh mum, you were no trouble. You were no trouble.’

‘What am I going to do now? What am I going to do now?’

The ambulance man arrives and I know him from the old place.

The undertakers arrive and offer to help but Louise and Lesley want to do it. My heart is filled with admiration for the way that they’ve looked after their mummy so well – such a remarkable woman – a nurse, a midwife, a mother to three children for two decades, then back to being a nurse. A grand-mother to our three kids, Lesley’s two and Robert’s three.

We used to go up there every Sunday with the children and she made the sweetest little lunches.

The funeral was nice. Most of the family were together for the first time in ages. Robert did a fantastic job of reading Carol Ann Duffy’s poem about her mum.

To my right, in the big hawthorn tree at the bottom, there’s a squirrel gorging on the ripe red berries. I’m watching it through the binoculars. It’s gripping the berries in its little hands and chucking away the seeds at a rapid rate.


The other Ranch:

Our department is very Irish and I seriously have no idea why. We have FIVE Irish consultants and loads more Irish doctors and nurses – maybe more than most Irish hospitals. I have a disproportionately romantic view of Ireland ever since we went on Dewy’s stag do to Kilkenny in the van. We camped in a field and survived off gentlemen’s requisites for a couple of days. On the Saturday we went into the town and guess who had the responsibility of finding a restaurant for twelve arse-holed blokes?

I’m so pigshit English that I couldn’t possibly claim any Irishness, but I used to have thick blond hair and my lads have ginger beards so I reckon we’re deffo Celtic stock – prob Vickings or similar.

Louise’s maiden name is Downes which we think is Irish.

I’m co-ordinating and it’s a rare coincidence that all three of the Derry Girls are here at once. None of them are actually from Derry. Erin is from Omagh, Eimhear is from somewhere near Dublin and Hornshaw isn’t Irish at all – she’s posh sounding – she could pass off as being the Queen’s third cousin thrice removed. Her rapier wit and raw vernacular observation are second only to mine. Between us we could piss all over the surgeons and orthopods in a vernacularity contest.

I pick my moment then I say the words: Derry Girls. They are instantly transformed. Erin, tall and thin as a rake, throws back her head and her eyes light up – she is there. Her eyes are sparkling and she recounts extracts from various episodes. It’s like when I wrote about that George Orwell book that I’d never actually read. I’ve never seen the series but they are painting a picture for me as all three of them spiral deeper into their imaginations. Clearly each one of them relates to a particular character. They are our three most recent consultants and thank fuck that they’re here. They’re the freshest breath of freshest air that could ever be.

TG chortles in the corner – he too is a fan.  Meanwhile Brendan mumbles quietly in my ear ‘Actually it’s fucking shite.’

Later in the afternoon we have a poly-trauma – a young chap in a bad smash. We tube him as soon as he arrives and we’re puzzled because despite a reasonably looking chest x-ray, he’s difficult to bag and his oxygen saturations are slowly dropping. There’s a three-way discussion between Eimhear, myself and a very sensible anaesthetist. We observe that the right side of his chest isn’t moving as much as the left and between us we conclude that there’s absolutely nothing to lose in putting in a chest drain. Eimhear does it within minutes with grace and aplomb.  Our reasoning was correct – the patient rapidly improves. Several onlookers – mostly un-introduced blokes in blue scrubs look on. Because she’s pretty with long eyelashes and a soft Irish accent they’re all a bit taken aback. Thankfully, the NHS is one of the most equitable of employers and sexism is on the back foot.

About a fortnight later, I’m just about to finish at 8 when we get two poly-traumas at once. I take one and Prof Dan takes the other with Smithy running the shop. The one I’m looking after is a young lady who has jumped off a bridge. We do our best. We put a chest drain in and the orthopods put a pin through her femur and put traction on her smashed pelvis. She survives our initial resuscitation but sadly dies later in intensive care.

Round where I live, we keep lurchers and whippets. We could go over to Ireland tomorrow and fit right in. Thomo, Rachel and Niamh are going to the Irish conference in Sligo and I’m jealous.

Here’s Joe in his plane. He’s come to pick up his sweetheart and they’re flying off into the horizon forever.