Posts Tagged ‘Dorchester’

Every single year, as Christmas approaches like an out-of-control express train, I am gripped by panic at the thought of The Cards.

Obviously there’s the perennial dilemma of what to do with the ones we receive, which we usually end up littering around every room, squeezed like squatters on to picture frames and any available surface because we have tried and failed to find any other sensible method of display.

Beyond that dilemma, though, is the one of ‘Are we sending cards again this year?’ This is usually a conversation – very brief at that – held in about the second week of December when my panic is reaching danger levels.

I know I have to have everything sorted well before the 25th, but life is rapidly going out of focus and I dream of darkened rooms and spa holidays in Mauritius.

If only Geoff would say ‘No, let’s forget about cards for once. People will just think we’ve gone away.’ But of course he doesn’t say that because, like me, he actually likes to keep in touch with friends and send them our greetings, however much of a toll it takes on nerves and time, not to mention my dreadful handwriting.

This year, however, I took an entirely different approach to the problem of cards. I went off piste, and, holding my breath, hoped Geoff would join me. He did! And that is why, for the first time, we have made a donation to charity instead of sending cards.

We’ve emailed everyone who would normally receive a card from us to explain what we’ve done and why we’ve done it, and included a link to the charity we chose to support. This is the Dorset Cancer Centre at our county hospital in Dorchester, a cause very close to our hearts for all sorts of reasons and one which we know will definitely help change lives for the better.

Geoff and I went to a talk earlier this year when we learnt about the proposed centre. It moved us greatly to hear how some cancer patients in the far west of Dorset have had to forgo radiotherapy treatment because their nearest centre, in Poole, is quite impossible for them to reach on a daily basis over a number of weeks.

Any patients without their own transport or, perhaps, with young children either still at home or needing to be accompanied to and from school, would simply find the routine out of the question.

The new centre at Dorchester will solve so many of those logistical problems. It will not only have the longed-for radiotherapy department but much-enhanced facilities for cancer outpatients, including a reconfigured chemotherapy unit that will be able to accommodate a family member or two alongside patients during their treatment, something which lack of space means is not currently possible.

There’ll be rooms for counselling and support services, too, and another significant bonus is in the extended range of cancers that will able to be treated at the centre, making the whole project an absolute win-win for north, south and west Dorset.

The £1.75m project is well on the way to being fully funded through supporters’ charitable efforts and the building is already taking shape.

Quite honestly, the satisfaction of supporting such an incredibly worthwhile project has totally eclipsed the pleasure of being in personal contact with friends and family through writing messages in 100-odd cards. Nowadays, with the ease of email and phone calls, we can do that when we wish, but giving something a little extra has taken on a new meaning for us this year.

Happy Christmas everyone!


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It’s funny when you think you are familiar with something, read about it, discuss it knowledgably, but in truth do not really know much about it until . . .  suddenly, you land kerplunk in the middle of it and become a world expert.

Let’s end the mystery: I’m talking about the NHS, the monolith that, if fortune is with us, grinds away mostly in the background of our lives.

Most of us have an opinion about it, about the way it works or how we feel it doesn’t work, the way it comes to our rescue or falls short, and the way – so many, many times – it makes us truly grateful for everything it stands for and does and without it where would we be.

I was catapulted into its caring arms last week, just for two nights but long enough for a procedure to be carried out that enabled me to remain in the land of the living and to be sitting writing these words a handful of days later as if nothing had happened.

Now, I shall be able to be a complete battle-hardened know-all about ‘our NHS’ whenever a conversation turns that way. I shall be the bore who prompts hands to cover ears and loud humming to start when I launch into my riveting tale of “When I was in Dorset County Hospital at Dorchester . . .”

I have also become, overnight, one of those people for whom nothing negative can be said about the NHS. I am in love with it. I adore its system that seems to be as joined up as anything on that scale could ever be, I am passionate about its staff at all levels, its wonderful volunteers who guide the bewildered to their appointments along seemingly identical corridors and who run the shops, the refreshment pit stops and the trolleys bearing kaleidoscopes of sugary temptation and reading material.

The porters? Oh, the porters! Cheerful and bright and funny and such skilful drivers. The nurses, from newly qualified to trusty old hands, are an unfailing source of efficiency and quiet calm and show the most amazing teamwork. Nothing is ever too much trouble for them, which is a cliché but true.

My mother used to drop hints to me about becoming a nurse, presumably to distract me during my long phase of daydreaming about riding in the Olympics. Needless to say, I achieved neither.

Thanks to having subsequently become a mother, I could, I hope, muster the necessary caring skills all these years later (though not the intellect, obviously), but at the risk of sounding shallow, it just wouldn’t be the same being a nurse nowadays without those starched caps and crisp uniforms pinned with a bouncy upside-down fob watch which, aged 10, I read about with a certain envy in ‘Jean Becomes a Nurse’.

The regular swoop through the ward of ‘the doctors’ (of which my son is one, at a different hospital) certainly made me sit up straight. Each little phalanx peeled off to have private chats with the patient in their care.

When my entourage arrived and swarmed around my bed, drew the curtains, and engaged me in earnest discussion, all I could think while these brains full of wisdom worked their miracles to set me back on my feet, was ‘Gosh, this is what my son does. He’s one of you lot.’

That was when I diagnosed a new ailment that threatened to overwhelm me: a serious case of Mother’s Pride.

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The first two days of my grandsons’ stay in Dorset saw us explore the county museum in Dorchester (the dinosaurs were a particular triumph), our own local museum, and a favourite bookshop.

How worthy it sounds, but in reality we had a wonderful time because museums nowadays are accessible places of discovery for small hands and lively minds. For a four-year-old and a two-year-old the very feel of an elephant’s tooth, its sheer weight and ridiculous size, must surely be unforgettable.

When I was a child (grandmas are allowed to say that at least six times a day) I spent hours in museums waiting for my father while he was in meetings or researching something arcane, and I’d stare but never touch, defeated by Latin names, appalled by displays of moths and spiders, tormented by stuffed birds, lost in awe in the picture galleries, forever conscious of being just a small person adrift in a strange adult world of musty fustiness.

One of the boys’ favourite places in London is their local museum, the Horniman, where the natural history displays offer endless opportunity for discovery and interest. It was not surprising, then, that they took such pleasure in the two they visited in Dorset, although each time they talked about dinosaurs and fossils I had the feeling they were referring to me.

With the sun out and the countryside glowing, our activities moved outdoors. Various playgrounds were tried, tested and declared “brilliant”, and a walk, lunch and some terrific chatter was enjoyed with their great-grandma, whose cup overflowed with joy at being with them.

We found bridges on which to play Pooh sticks and hunted in vain for otters. Kingfishers stayed disappointingly out of sight, too, although rabbit droppings were a pretty compelling distraction on some of our walks. So numerous, so small, so uniform in size – so fascinating. Funny, I’d never have imagined it possible to have such long conversations about rabbit poo, but then I’d never have thought I’d be making up stories about Dorothy the dodo and Bob the lighthouse keeper to help the boys settle in the evenings.

They both adored the model town in Wimborne and my daughter and I were charmed by it, too. In fact, Joe, aged four, was eager to go back for a second visit but I suggested we tried Farmer Palmer’s farm park where we would see animals and, pause for tumultuous cheering, tractors.

Aren’t tractors just the thing for whipping up a frenzy of excitement? Tractors and dinosaurs and rabbit poo. Dorset really has it all.

We spent several happy hours at Farmer Palmer’s and we were terrifically impressed. It has a lovely atmosphere, with everything aimed at under-8s and an absolute minimum of those spoilsport strictures about behaviour and ’elf n safety so we could all just get on with the fun.

There were tractors – small ones for pedalling and big ones pulling trailers for bumpy, giggly rides along muddy tracks. There were animals galore, some for stroking, some for just staring at in awe, and there were two adorable ponies, Charlie and Dinky, perfect for two small boys to have their first ride, huge smiles just visible under their hats.

It was a roaring success of a day, the whole experience rounded off for the boys with an ice-cream cone with a chocolate flake. Such is the stuff of holidays.

The spell broke on Saturday when Daddy came to take Mummy and the boys home, three hours away in another world. We’re left feeling sad, but on the bright side Geoff and I will soon be out of therapy.

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