I’m still here, still filling a bed at Dorset County Hospital, but now with a joyful gleam in my eye that I might be released soon and allowed home.

It’s been quite a while since I was admitted, about eight days when I last counted, and in that time I have thoroughly learnt the ropes. I think you could say I am almost one of the establishment now, one of the smarty-pants types who is familiar with the nurses and remembers their names. Except, because it’s me, it’s a case of usually, not always. In fact, with just enough of a failure rate to be unreliable, so that’s all right.

There are a hundred things that happen around me that hold my interest and entertain, many of them involving snatches of conversation between nurse and patient.

Here’s one. Nurse: “Would you like a cup of tea, Elizabeth?” Patient: “Nine to five.”

Now where on earth did that come from? Way, way beyond the left field.

I have also enjoyed hearing a nurse exclaiming, “Oh, now why would there be a knife in your bed? From lunchtime?” A little later, close to the same bed, I heard a harassed nurse remark, “Good heavens! There’s a sandwich in your slipper. I’ll just clear it up for you.”

One of my delightful and interesting ward mates has the advantage, as do I, of a devoted, eager-to-please husband who will do anything to ensure the comfort of their respective spouses. Our whim is their command, so these two chaps are seen walking in daily at visiting time with a variety of items, from weird teabags to favourite handcream to my current staple, a bottle of soda water.

Sometimes the messages get not just lost but totally buried in translation, so that, for example, my ward mate’s request for her husband to bring, from the bathroom at home, her pack of anti-ageing face wipes saw her being presented triumphantly with a pack of anti-bacterial kitchen wipes. It isn’t easy explaining to an anxious chap that the two don’t do the same job.

This blokeish misunderstanding reminds me of an incident last month when my sister was quietly being sick into a bowl in her lap (it was her preoccupation at the time) and her husband remained totally unmoved because he thought she was reading her iPad.

Geoff has, I am happy to say, been beyond reproach through all this upheaval, showing endless thought, patience and resourcefulness. My request for a tin of mandarin segments in natural juice almost, but not quite defeated him. He braved no fewer than five shops and supermarkets until eventually hitting the jackpot. I could not have been more pleased than if he’d walked in bearing the keys to my release.

It’s funny how little things, like the taste and the feel of mandarin segments in the mouth, deliver not just freshness but comfort at times such as these. I probably last had them on a Sunday night before going back to school on a Monday. Yes, that sort of comfort.

Similarly, the bland bubbles of soda water seem to have hit the spot. Not sweet, not sour, just bubbly and a lot more fun than plain water. I know, I know, we’re into single-use plastic bottles, and I abhor it too, but I’m cutting myself a little slack at the moment and begging the oceans’ forgiveness with each gratifying slurp.


What sunshine! What heat! What opportunity to revel in the joys of this prettiest, most abundant of seasons!

Now please read that all again but with each sentence as a question and not a happy exclamation. What sunshine? And so on. Here is why.

In the middle of Sunday’s fabulous sunshine and under the bluest of skies I was being driven by Geoff to A&E at Dorset County Hospital.

Goodbye to all this, I thought wistfully as I shuffled away from the car. So much for the sunshine, the heat, and those breathtaking late spring landscapes criss-crossed by foaming, frothing hedgerows sprinkled with campion and just-over bluebells and crowned with hawthorn in full bloom.

As my arrival was expected, some joined-up thinking had ensured my notes were in the right hands, so I was fast-tracked through the waiting room (my apologies to those who must have been infuriated by a queue-jumper).

Incarcerated for several long hours in a hot, airless room in the Observation ward, Geoff and I kept each other’s spirits up while learning how many interpretations there can be of the phrase ‘I’ll be back with you shortly’.

That is not to be critical for there were procedures galore to be gone through, tests to be done and questions to be asked. I am nothing if not difficult.

Eventually, it was decided I should be admitted. As I had known this was a possibility I had brought a few useful things such as a toothbrush and some books.

By early evening I was in my new home, a side ward with six beds, of which only two were occupied.

I tried to learn the boarders’ rules: this is for this, that’s for that, don’t forget you’re hooked up to a drip, and if you need help from one of us you press that, and so on.

When you’re the new bug you just want to keep your head down and not be any trouble. It was a shame then, that after lights out a nurse came rushing to my bed and asked if I was OK. Yes, thank you, I assured her. And then I saw her lean over and turn off the alarm I’d set off. It seems I’d been unwittingly lying on the ‘Help’ button on a contraption clipped to my bedding.

Story of my life really: trying so hard to get things right and then some clod-hopping comedy aspect throws it all sideways.

After several minutes spent apologising to the nurse, I tried to make her evening better with some of my specialist patronising chit-chat. She came from Poland, she told me. “Oh, heavens,” I said, and with emotion welling over (it had been a long day), I added, “Let me say what millions of others would want to say to you too – you are so very welcome here and we are incredibly grateful for what you do.”

I’m not sure which of us was more glad that my passionate outpouring was over, but after thanking me the nurse slipped way and I snuggled back down under the NHS bedclothes. I slept well, but only thanks to the earplugs I’d thought to bring, a legacy of nights under the same roof as wailing grandchildren.

The odd thing about being in hospital is that it quickly becomes as familiar as home. You learn the sounds and the routines, you master the hideous Walk of Vulnerability in a gown that gapes at the back, and you very soon learn not to lie on red buttons.

It was when I read somewhere this week that the whole nation was ‘agog’ to learn every detail about Meghan Markle’s wedding dress that I realised I was a little way off the curve.

Not so much off the curve, perhaps, as lagging many miles behind it. Even so, if I’m not exactly agog, I do know the wedding is happening this weekend and where it’s going to be. think I can safely predict the dress will be white, there’ll be lace involved and the bride will look serene.

Those of us who don’t engage in such forensic examination will be content to be told by a shivering (yes, I fear so – they’ll have been in position for hours) commentator that the designer of the dress is someone we, or certainly I, won’t have heard of and that the £100,000 ensemble has been hand-stitched with 28 million seed pearls in a repeat pattern of entwined initials, H&M. On second thoughts, perhaps not H&M, though I bet the chain of fashion shops of the same name would have liked the commission to dress the bride. Maybe the dress will be embroidered with ‘Haz and Meg’ instead.

My interest in the time and place of the royal nuptials was piqued when I read an article about a professional bridesmaid service – a kind of wedding day manager who ensures everything goes smoothly. This is something that is popular in the United States, so Meghan might just like to hire one, even at this late stage. If she does, then please, Megs, look no further than me. I’ve never actually been a bridesmaid, but I can learn. Quickly.

For £100 an hour, the bride can have by her side an utterly reliable fixer. That’s me! I’d do it for £95. I can blow up balloons, make a collapsed cake look new again, reunite a pony with its runaway trap, or a trap with its runaway pony. Scale it all up a bit and I’d be invaluable at Windsor, I just know it.

I could even jolly along any grumpy guests and make their day with a few cartwheels down the length of St George’s Hall. I am sure there’d be plenty of volunteers to join me, what with all that standing around and checking of watches to see if another 20 seconds might have passed.

It’s the wedding photos that take such an age. Just when you think there’s hope on the horizon and the promising scent of food is drifting tantalisingly across the mob of uncomfortably suited guests, a cry goes up for ‘Bride’s family over here, please,’ followed an hour or more later by ‘Groom’s family, please’ (cue 12 generations of royals) until they get to ‘Anyone who didn’t fit into the other categories and is wondering why they were invited.’

This whole process takes for ever, but everyone remains polite about it, even if their flesh has turned purple, their feet are embedded in worm casts on the lawn and they have started hallucinating about food.

Now as pro bridesmaid I’d stop all that hanging around. I’d elbow my way into the scrum and hand out cards with an email address and instructions to send selfies. These would then be Photoshopped on to the line-up. Simple. Job done. Eating no longer delayed, photographer no longer required.

Get to your tables everyone, and do try not to stampede. We know you haven’t eaten since March in the hope of fitting into your dream outfit, but really. Manners, please. You don’t know who’s watching.

I listened to a very moving radio programme recently in which a man revisited the place where he had undergone a profound life-changing experience.

The place was in Norfolk where he had been driving one winter evening and had run over a pedestrian. He’d had no chance of missing him. A sudden dark shape in the pitch darkness, right there – bang. Unavoidable, everyone agreed.

A helicopter came. The hospital did its best. Six days later, the message came that the pedestrian, a man in his 70s, had not survived.

The programme made compelling listening as I found my emotions ranging from annoyance and a twinge of intolerance to immense sympathy and compassion for everyone involved.

What a searingly brave exposure of this driver’s vulnerability. I admired him for his courage and honesty in going back to that road and the community where the victim had lived.

The awful accident brought home how swiftly a life can end. Walking home on a quiet, rural and wholly familiar route became suddenly the most dangerous place in the world for that poor man. For both the poor men, of course, for the driver has never recovered from the horror of what happened.

He’s had therapy for many of the classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and it took him ages to get back behind the wheel. Even now, with the support of the victim’s friends who have been nothing but encouraging and sympathetic, he finds many hitherto normal tasks and events difficult to cope with.

I thought of him this week and how randomly lives can change. All it takes is one moment . . .

I was driving across a junction controlled by traffic lights, which were in my favour. I was going slowly anyway, but as I headed for the other side I slowed down even more because I could see a woman with two small boys standing on the central traffic island.

Something, an instinct about unpredictable little boys perhaps, might have prepared me for what happened next. One of the boys ran out into the road. I slammed on my brakes.

In that split-second, the child’s face was millimetres from the passenger side of my car, his small body still propelling forward. Somehow, and I don’t know how, child and metal didn’t actually make contact. He turned and bolted back to his mother.

My thumping heart felt as though it would burst out of my chest. I lowered the window and, in my distress, for it can only have been a reaction to that, I begged the woman to hold both her children’s hands when she’s crossing a road. She had the grace to apologise, which was the right thing to do and made me feel quite a lot better.

I pulled away and I swear I could hear my heart thundering in panicky fear as I cautiously continued my journey.

What a life-changer that would have been. How could I have lived with myself if I’d hit that child, even if it hadn’t been my fault? How would his life have changed? And would the mother ever have forgiven me?

I was thankful there’d been nothing following close behind me or I would certainly have had that embedded in the back of my car. Whiplash might have been the least of my problems had that been the case.

The whole scenario was like an illustration from a road safety poster: traffic lights, a busy urban road, a too-small traffic island, an unsecured child. The only thing missing, thank goodness, was an ambulance.

Geoff and I are standing at the edge of a hotel dining room. Around us, a couple of dozen other guests stride about with confidence, clearly knowing what they are doing. We, of course, don’t, which is why we are frozen to the spot trying to pick up on the general vibe of being dab hands at the business of a self-service breakfast.

It’s not easy, this lark, especially as the whole scenario is being conducted in French, by French people, and we are a long way from home. We’re staying in Normandy in a far-too-smart-for-us hotel whose special offer price includes breakfast.

This is not to be sniffed at, since we don’t plan to eat again until supper – and nor, by the loaded-up plates parading around us, does anyone else. We try and decide what the etiquette is here: do we find a table first and one of us sit at it while the other goes off hunting and gathering, or get something first to put on a table, thus claiming it as ours.

We decide on the latter, and coffee is the obvious choice. We have to tackle a hissing, gurgling contraption for this task, but we think if we can manage that then we can probably get the better of the intimidating-looking toaster later on.

I volunteer to go first with the coffee as I have brought my specs with me. Even so, despite trying to outwit its Gallic non-logic, it all goes horribly wrong and within a couple of minutes a lake of murky liquid is lapping across the table on which the contraption sits and I have nothing in my cup except a few drops of clear water.

A woman in a uniform appears and barks something at 100mph that I don’t grasp. I bleat back, pointlessly, in my default foreign language of Italian. She surrenders, retreating to the kitchen to bang her head in amazement at zee thick English.

Eventually, Geoff and I encourage the contraption to deliver and we carry our cups like world champs to claim a table.

Now, with our own territory, it’s time to colonise it with food. I can see it would be easy to go crazy and gather up a bit of everything from this veritable half-acre of petit dejeuner delights, but, unlike the majority around us, we choose to show a little decorum. Besides, who would willingly make a spectacle of themselves in the certainty of being labelled a glutton?

I can manage that by subterfuge, balancing larger things on top of smaller things, secreting bits here and there on a plate whose dimensions suddenly grow in a quite magical way. Thus it is that on my first morning I tuck away probably more than I have in a month of breakfasts, including a slice of French apple flan, two servings of fresh fruit and a torrent of granola that spills from a dispenser with a sensitive overdrive.

Old hands now, we challenge the contraption to deliver us each a second cup of coffee, and we are rewarded. I drink mine while observing our fellow guests.

Several have small children with them, exploding like firecrackers after being cooped up with TV cartoons in their family room, a few others are so loved-up they must be on a clandestine break from their respective spouses, and then there are the achingly slim women who pose about in everyone’s way while making a clear statement that they are Not Eating In The Face Of This Vile Temptation.

More fool them, I think, as I glance across in the direction of that flan.

Sometimes, just sometimes, when something goes wrong it can be put right to such a degree that the world appears bathed in a much brighter light.

Exactly this happened to me this week, and I want to share the tale with you because it illustrates what a huge value all firms should place on customer service. Some do, we know that, but an awful lot don’t, especially the ones which can hide behind their status – if not their reputation – as market bigshots.

It’s the smaller ones that tend to take the trouble to nurture their customers, and here’s a fine example of that.

I had been due to meet up with my dear friend and old work colleague Denise last Friday, but various unpleasantness in my life got in the way and I sadly had to cry off. Sensitive soul that she is, Denise knew how this was making me feel so she arranged for flowers to be sent to cheer me up.

Knowing my predilection for scented delights, especially if they are from down Cornwall way, Denise chose intoxicatingly perfumed narcissi from the Isles of Scilly. I was so overwhelmed when I opened the box that I burst into tears. Such kindness on her part! Such soppiness on mine!

The blooms looked a bit worse for wear after their journey by first-class post to Dorset, so I trimmed their stems and soaked them horizontally in cold water for several hours.

They revived well, so I divided them into vases and Geoff and I proceeded to wallow in their scented beauty.

Precisely 48 hours after their arrival, every single flower was dead, a dull, papery shadow of their former glorious selves. I felt sorry for them, quite sorry for me, but very sorry for Denise, whose gift was certainly not as she might have hoped.

I decided to do something about it, instead of shrugging and resigning myself to just holding the memory of the lovely gift. I emailed the flower firm and explained what had happened, seeking their thoughts on my experience.

That was on Sunday mid-morning. By Sunday late morning I’d had a response – and what a response.

I would love to print all of it here, so you can see how genuine and heartfelt it was, but there isn’t room. Suffice to say, apologies were sincerely expressed and gratitude given for my feedback.

As the excellent Josie explained, ‘Although our flowers are all thoroughly checked for quality before dispatch, unfortunately with a fresh product things can still sometimes go wrong.

‘Please be assured that we treat instances like this with the utmost concern and it is for this reason that all of our flowers are guaranteed. I have arranged for a replacement box of flowers to be sent to you this coming week. I hope this will in some way compensate for any disappointment caused.’

I wrote back to Josie with my appreciation for such good customer service and to thank her for getting back to me so rapidly. I also told her that she had made my little corner of the world a much happier place.

She then filled my heart by responding with her thanks again and adding: ‘It is very important that our customers and the recipients of our flowers are happy. In my opinion, the point of cut flowers is to inspire a bit of joy. I find great satisfaction in my work knowing this.’

Josie, you are a star for others to follow. Long may you shine in the work you so obviously enjoy.

While others fret about whether to close their Facebook accounts (Who cares? Just do it. Get a life) I am preoccupied with concerns of an entirely different nature.

Light years away from social media and the angst it has stirred up among many of its users, my focus is on the garden and, in particular, when I dare trust the combination of the weather and my unfortunately brown-tinged green fingers to get it into full seasonal flourish.

It has made it through the winter unscathed, with nothing either frozen or drowned into extinction, which is encouraging. In fact, I fear the only lasting damage in recent months has been caused by yours truly, who, in a fit of enthusiasm, was possibly too heavy-handed with the secateurs on a woody lavender.

When I admitted to Geoff that I feared I might have sent the shrub to a premature death, he sportingly suggested that it had had it coming. It had not performed well latterly, and my zealous attention had amounted to a case of kill or cure.

You’re right, I said. I had warned it last summer that its over-enthusiasm in doing all that growing with nothing nice to show for it could spell doom. It’s true that I envisaged that only being in the form of a short back and sides, so not doom in a completely doomy deathlike way.

But doomed it probably is, because my kindly meant efforts have not yet been rewarded by green shoots. Perhaps it’s waiting to surprise me and one day I’ll walk up to it, feeling guilty, and it will suddenly erupt, rejuvenated into leafy, floral life.

Above the sound of my relieved sobs, I’d be able to hear it saying, ‘I know you didn’t mean to kill me, so I’ve decided to come back but please leave me alone next time you’re inclined to get handy with the secateurs.’

During that same spate of murder in the garden, I also divided a perennial, leaving the healthier half in the bed and dispatching its other half to, let’s say, a different place. I know, it was cruel, but sometimes it can be a kindness. Happily, all seems to be progressing well with the half that was spared, so I am confident of a fine display of gratitude this summer. I mean, who wouldn’t be grateful for being given a much larger space in the bed?

I’m always just a bit later than I should be when planting out the sweet peas, but at least I’m consistent. The same goes with the annual herbs. It’s never intentional, but the spin-off is that these latecomers to the garden last longer into the season – as long as the weather plays ball, which of course can never be guaranteed.

The watering fairy has to be included in the garden survival programme, too, and so there almost always comes a time when Geoff and I say, ‘It’ll all have to take its chance. We can’t be slaves to the garden.’

Except of course we are slaves. Who, with any kind of a soul, could not love, tend and care for a garden?

Count me among the tribes of garden enthusiasts, and whenever I’m ingraining my hands with the good, composted earth in our own patch, I count myself so lucky to be out there, suffused with the joy of the outdoors, charmed by the birdlife, excited by what might or might not perform well this year – and chanting hopeful incantations over one particular lavender bush.