What’s Up, Doc?

My mum has escaped from hospital. I say ‘escaped’ because it turns out getting discharged from hospital isn’t too dissimilar to applying for parole from prison.

First, you have to be assessed by a team of various people to check that you are fit to leave. Then you have to pass… The Stair Test.

The Stair Test is probably the biggest hurdle between being a hospital inmate and getting dispatched back into the big wide world. It involves two physiotherapists assisting you to a flight of stairs and then cutting you loose. If you can make it to the top unaided, you walk free; if you don’t, it’s back to bed with cold custard for one.

Luckily, my mother was already braced for this Krypton Factor-style physical challenge. The poor Scottish woman in the bed opposite (the one who was left stuck in the shower last week despite her cries for help) failed The Stair Test miserably and returned back to the ward with her tail between her legs. She also made the mistake of telling the nurses that she only had a bathroom upstairs. Schoolboy error!

My mother was so determined to get out of hospital, and away from Mad Margaret (another patient who had imaginary telephone conversations using the handheld device that moves the bed up and down), that she mustered up every ounce of her strength to reach that top step.

Now that she is convalescing on the sofa at home, she looks back on her hospital stay as ‘being to hell and back’.

Still, I think the nurses might miss my mum a bit. Each time I visited, she seemed to be living a real-life episode of Holby City. She was able to give a detailed explanation of all the other patients’ various woes and life stories. She was on first name terms with the doctors, nurses waved at her as they passed, cleaners chuckled.

As she was exiting the hospital, someone bore down on my mother clutching a questionnaire asking whether she would recommend the hospital to friends and family.

‘I was speechless,’ said my mother. ‘I told them I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy!’

‘It is a bit weird that they’re asking you to rate the hospital like a hotel,’ I said. ‘No-one goes into hospital by choice. Next, they’ll be on Tripadvisor!’

My father now seems to be occupying his days roaming around supermarkets, looking for things to cook for my mum, who is on a very strict diet.

He has also identified that B&Q have mobility scooters, should she fancy a day out when she’s feeling a bit stronger. Given that my parents are on B&Q Preston’s top 100 customers list, this is a distinct possibility.

My father was despatched to buy a white loaf (white bread for her no-fibre diet) from Booths.

Booths, if you haven’t heard of it, is like the Waitrose of Lancashire. Started in Blackpool in 1847, they have stores dotted around the county and have even reached as far as Ilkley in Yorkshire. It’s generally full of slow-moving, silver-haired trolley pushers who base their whole day around one supermarket visit.

Anyway, my father did manage to procure the white loaf. But unfortunately he somehow missed the huge label emblazoned across it that read, ‘now with all the fibre of wholemeal bread’ – much to my mum’s dismay.

In the midst of all this activity, it emerged that my parents’ rabbit of 8 years was taking its last breaths in the garage.

My father was so flustered about the rabbit’s imminent passing that he decided to drive 10 miles to a garden centre that he knew had cardboard boxes – to buy one to bury her in.

I offered to go to Booths and rectify the bread situation.

When I got back, the whole family – sister included – were assembled in the lounge, dabbing moist eyes with tissues. It was very sad.

‘What’s happened?’ I said.

‘Your dad thinks the rabbit’s dead but he’s only 95 per cent sure,’ said my mother wearily.

‘We’re all waiting for you to go and check on it,’ she added.

‘I’m not checking,’ I said. ‘I can’t cope with dead or dying animals.’

My sister and father weren’t keen on re-entering the garage either.

‘Shall I phone Mr Cummings from next door? He could come and have a look,’ suggested my sister.

‘I’ve heard of some odd things but phoning your next door neighbour to come and write a death certificate for your pet rabbit is pretty weird,’ I said.

‘I am sure the rabbit’s dead,’ said my father. ‘She felt stiff and cold. And I’m certain she had stopped breathing.’

‘Well, you need to get her in the box before rigor mortis sets in,’ said my mother. ‘Otherwise, she won’t fit in the box; her legs will be sticking out!’

My father disappeared for while. When he returned the rabbit was now in the box and he was now ’99 per cent sure’ she was dead.

I peeped in the garage. I could see a box with some white fluff sticking out, surrounded by 200 cooking apples. It didn’t appear to be moving.

‘Let’s leave her in state for now,’ said my father, who I suspect would do anything to put off having to spend the afternoon digging a grave. ‘We’ll bury her tomorrow.’

‘You’d better phone Uncle Stephen and tell him to come to the funeral,’ said my mother, gravely.

‘Will Uncle Stephen even be bothered about the rabbit?’ I said.

‘I think so,’ she said. ‘He used to bring the tops of his Brussel sprouts. The rabbit loved them.’

‘Maybe Stephen could say a few words about the rabbit and his sprouts at the eulogy,’ pondered my father.

‘Tell him to bring a spade too.’

Hospital Dramas

There’s something strangely reassuring that while my mum is holed up in Critical Care following a seven-hour operation, my father remains insistent on avoiding hospital parking fees by parking on a remote residential street at least half a mile away – simply because it is free.

My father never believes in paying for parking anywhere: a habit so firmly entrenched that even though my mother is lost somewhere in the cavernous corridors of Preston Royal Infirmary, he refuses to part with a few pounds for the convenience of the car park.

Lost in the hospital might sound a little dramatic but after an anxious wait all day, I phoned to see whether my mum had come out of theatre. There was a long pause and a bit of tapping on a keyboard. It seemed that she had left the admissions ward at 7am that morning but had yet to arrive in Critical Care, according to the computer. She was currently unaccounted for.

An hour later, I phoned back only to be told that the computer still said ‘no’.

At 7pm, with my father pacing around the lounge and fielding calls from feeble Great Uncle Keith, I phoned again and she was STILL lost in hospital No Man’s Land.

‘We don’t even need to come and see her,’ I told the nurse a little desperately. ‘I just want to know if she’s had the operation and if she’s STILL ALIVE.’

At 8pm, my father and I decided to go down in person. After parking in father’s aforementioned free parking spot, we set off on foot to the Critical Care visitor waiting room, swiftly renamed The Waiting Room of Doom. It was packed to the gills with desperate relatives but not a single member of staff in sight.

I had begun to imagine my mother languishing on a bed in a corridor somewhere, or stuffed in a store cupboard having to drink water from a vase. I was already penning my letter to the Daily Mail.

After what seemed like hours, someone eventually arrived and confirmed that my mum had finally arrived at the Critical Care ward, following a bed shortage. Relieved, we followed the nurse down the corridor.

We had been told that she might look terrible and would be covered in tubes. But as we rounded the corner, she was propped up in bed and looked remarkably well, all considering.

‘I feel like I’ve been run over by a double-decker bus,’ she croaked.

‘Everyone keeps telling my how well I look but I feel terrible. The nurses said I look like I’ve just stepped out of a hair salon!’

‘I have to laugh otherwise I’d cry.’

I took a closer look at her hair. It did – incredibly – look like she had just stepped out of a hair salon.

A doctor came over, ‘What is your date of birth and full address?’ he asked.

‘Ah,’ said my mother. ‘You’re doing this to check whether I’m compos mentis.’

She rattled off her particulars and for added effect said, ‘The current Prime Minister is David Cameron.’

‘What are your dislikes?’ said the doctor.

There was a long pause while both my parents pondered this.

‘She doesn’t like tinned tomatoes,’ said my father eventually. ‘And she doesn’t like going out to sea in the boat.’

My mother nodded in agreement.

Inevitably, now that my mum has been moved onto a ward, she has been put next to the most delirious woman in the whole hospital.

Mad Margaret doesn’t actually believe she is a patient; she thinks she’s a visitor. This means that she refuses to stay in her bed but wanders round ‘visiting’ other patients, including my poor mother. At one point she tried to climb on top of her. She is also perpetually preoccupied by when everyone’s birthday is.

‘She’s completely doolally,’ whispered my mother. ‘The best thing to do is keep smiling and be firm with her.’

Another patient – across from my mother – had a terrible experience in the shower this morning. Apparently, she was helped to the shower by a nurse who plonked her on the shower seat and then abandoned her.

Despite her cries for help and pulling the emergency cord, she was stuck in the shower for up to an hour! She’s still in a state of shock.

‘I’m just going to have a shower when I get home,’ whispered my mother, who is currently too poorly to move from her bed. ‘It’s just not worth the risk; I might never make it out.’

‘I couldn’t make it even to the door,’ she went on. ‘Just getting into the chair feels like I’ve climbed Mount Everest and run a marathon.’

So far, my mother’s visitors have been restricted to immediate family but now that Uncle Stephen is back from Benidorm, he’s planning a visit on Monday. Uncle Stephen, I’m reliably informed, absolutely loves hospital visiting.

My mum’s friend Valerie might also come but she can only turn left in her car so she would have to map out an anti-clockwise route if she were ever to make it.

In the meantime, I’ve been staying with my father which has been an enlightening experience in itself. In the garage, I found literally hundreds of cooking apples, which my father is insistent he is planning on eating, despite my incredulity.

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There’s also several boxes of onions from Uncle Stephen, who has taken to growing them again, now that his pyromaniac neighbour has finally been wheeled off by the men in white coats and can no longer set fire to his vegetables.

As a treat, the husband and I took my Dad to Nando’s which he rather liked although he insists on mistakenly calling it Nachos. We also had a coffee in Starbucks.

When we got to the hospital, my mother said: ‘How was Stardrops and Nachos?’

My father was about to answer, when his mobile rang shrilly. A look of horror crossed both my parents’ faces.

‘You can’t bring mobiles in here,’ cried my mother. ‘They’ll interfere with the machinery!’

My mother went on to say that the doctor had been round that morning and asked if she wanted any morphine.

‘Morphine?!” said my mother, horrified. ‘No thank you. That’s what drug addicts have!’

‘I definitely don’t want morphine,’ she recounted to us after. ‘I might get hooked on it.’

‘I don’t think you can get addicted,’ said my father, in all seriousness. ‘You haven’t got a dealer.’

Everybody Needs Good Neighbours

I never thought I’d type these words but I miss our nosy neighbours Susan and Dick. Every time I pass their apartment, I have a little pang of sadness that I won’t be able to feast on their moans and groans any more.

In a small tribute to Dick, I trotted across the road and half-heartedly picked a few blackberries off the neighbouring property. Dour Dick loved that bramble bush. He even carried his step-ladder down the road to reach the higher branches.

Although Dick’s long gone, I’m half-expecting to see him back at the blackberries in the next few weeks. He was never one to miss out on some free fruit.

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I’d like to say that SuDick’s departure was a ceremonial affair but in reality they just kind of sloped off quietly. Susan sent me a final email with her special ‘Welcome Pack’ attached (DON’T make any noise after 11pm but DO close the gate to the bin compound), should I wish to continue her tradition of passing it on to any new neighbours. (I think she saw me as a potential protege. I can’t think why!).

She gave me a final round-up of local goings on: ‘Apartment 6 is laying down new carpets as I write,’ she said. ‘Apartment 5 has a new owner; I think they might be retired.’ etc etc.

The woman who has replaced SuDick is very peculiar indeed. She’s straight out of Hollywood Housewives: heavily made-up, with big anxious eyes, hair permanently in rollers and constantly spring cleaning in a pair of marigolds. Her name is Diane. She looks like a Diane.

I had to knock on her door the other night to see if she’d taken collection of a parcel I was waiting for. Knowing that she spends most of her days dusting her apartment by the entrance gate, I told the parcel people to deliver it her flat.

I knocked on the door and waited.

There was a lot of clattering and eventually the door creaked open. Two huge doleful eyes peered back at me, marigolds donned and feather duster poised.

‘I was just wondering if you happened to take delivery of a parcel for me,’ I said, cheerfully.

‘Oh, I’m in a terrible mess here,’ she cried. ‘I did see a parcel man at the gate but I don’t think he could get in so he just drove off.’

Knowing that my parcel was only a few feet from her but she did nothing to help was very annoying indeed.

I decided ‘Marigolds’ was clinically unhinged so I left her to her dusting. On their second attempt, I asked the delivery people to try Apartment 8 instead.

Apartment 8 houses an inert tenant, who claims to be a solicitor but actually spends most of her days sitting on her balcony, chewing the fat. She seemed the perfect candidate for a daytime parcel delivery.

When I got back the following evening there was a message from the courier saying that Apartment 8 HAD taken collection of my parcel. Bingo!

I expected the woman at Apartment 8 to sign for the parcel and then leave it outside our front door. But there was no sign of it and she appeared to be out for the night.

When I got back the following evening, there was still no parcel. I found this weird.

‘Wouldn’t you sign for the parcel and then go and put it outside our flat?’ I said to the husband. ‘It’s odd that she just took it with no further communication.

‘In fact, how does SHE know that WE know that she’s even got it?

‘She’s effectively taken our parcel hostage!’

I went round and knocked on her door.

‘Do you have a parcel for me?’ I said.

She looked blankly for a moment, despite the fact my huge parcel was taking up most of her entrance hall.

‘Oh, that parcel,’ she said breezily. ‘Yes, it’s here.’

‘Thank you,’ I said.

The reason that I wanted the parcel fairly urgently is that it housed a new bathroom cabinet for my old rental flat down the road.

My latest tenant has moved out so I’ve been busy sorting the flat out. This loosely involves: the bi-annual chore of re-oiling my real wood worktops (note to anyone thinking about getting real wood worktops – DON’T DO IT), lovingly touching up my Farrow and Ball walls, ordering a new Brabantia bin (along with the aforementioned bathroom cabinet), and having all the carpets shampooed.

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I even went as far as buying a vase, a big bunch of flowers, and leaving a ‘welcome to your new home’ card for my new tenants.

They moved in last Saturday and I’ve heard nothing since.

‘Don’t you think it’s weird that they just moved in and never acknowledged the flowers and the card?’ I said to the husband.

‘Aren’t people strange?!’

A couple of days later, I drove round with the husband and sent him into the communal entrance to the flat to leave the bathroom cabinet outside the door (ready for the handyman to fix it to the wall at some point this week, the husband being unfortunately incapable of such high-level manual tasks).

While the husband was lugging the parcel up the stairs, I peered up at the window trying to work out whether my flowers were still in the cellophane in the vase, as I had left them – or not. I toyed with getting the binoculars out of the glove compartment – SuDick-style – but decided that might be a bit much.

The husband re-appeared and climbed in the passenger seat.

‘All done,’ he said.

‘Did you put your ear to the door to see if they’re actually in there?’ I said.

‘Why would I do that?’ said the husband. ‘That would be the behaviour of a mental person.’

‘To check that they’re in there!’ I said. ‘TO CHECK THEY GOT THE FLOWERS.’

Sardines On A Sunbed

‘I just want to walk into a hotel lobby and be anonymous,’ grumbled the husband.

We are on the penultimate day of our holiday in Sóller, Majorca. And the owner of the little boutique hotel where we are staying seems to be taking an overly-keen interest in our movements.

Everytime we walk past reception, he collars the husband to rhapsodize about the weather, England, the weather again, the restaurant we are planning on going to, even the clothes he is wearing.

The owner – Matthew – is actually a very nice man. But his very hands-on approach to hoteliering is making the husband on edge.

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Despite the beautiful room here, we have begun to long for the relative relaxation and anonymity of the finca in the hills, where we resided for the first part of our stay.

The owner Marc might have had a fixation with serving gallons of coffee at breakfast and an over-inflated sense of what his bottles of diminutive water were worth, but because he was slightly autistic he left us largely to our own devices.

Before we left the finca, we also developed a mild obsession with a gravelly-voiced waiter there, who we fondly named Barry White. Barry had a most intriguing, soothing croon, as he cleared the table and served our food. I tried to get a bit of video footage of his strange baritone rumble but I’m not sure it does him justice.

Back in Sóller, I have developed hives. My skin has a tendency to go berserk when faced with too much sun, stress, the wrong food, wrong washing powder – or over-earnest hoteliers. I spent three days itching myself to madness before seeking help.

Luckily, there is a little old lady up the road who may or may not be masquerading as a pharmacist. To attract her attention, you need to ring a bell and she appears from behind a grill to deal with one’s ailments.

We asked for some anti-histamines; she disappeared for a while and then a little hand shot out to hand over the medication and take our money. It was ace.

We became so taken with the little old lady that we have been trying to think up new illnesses – just so we can visit her again. Here I am next to her metal grill and buzzer. When passing tourists saw me having my picture taken, they started snapping away too, convinced the hidden pharmacy was some sort of historic attraction.

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Over in Puerto de Sóller, we attempted to dine at one of the restaurants my coffee shop friend Malcolm recommended. It was full.

I don’t have the heart to tell Malcolm we didn’t end up eating there so I have memorised the menu (‘the rabbit and onions was sublime!’) and snapped the husband posing outside, as photographic proof of our visit.

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The sunbed situation at the current hotel isn’t quite the all-out battle to bag the best bed of previous years. Instead, there’s more underground tactics at work.

Put simply, the pool area is quite small and only about four sunbeds get the sun past 4pm. This means that there’s a secret bed-hopping war at play, in an attempt to secure the best beds at different stages of the day. As a seasoned sunbed bagger, I’m on it.

But at 4pm, people all begin to drag their sunbeds towards the dying rays, creating a sardine-like squash in one corner of the pool (spot the lonesome husband!).

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Owner Matthew prides himself on setting out purple towels throughout the whole pool area (he told us this in great detail) so it’s difficult to ascertain which beds are in use or have been used, having to rely a rudimentary towel ‘crumple test’.

It did make me wonder how Matthew knew which towels to change at the end of the day.

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It was only on Day 2 of our stay here that I uncovered a startling revelation: Matthew DOESN’T change the towels!

Unbeknown to him, I was stealthily spying on Matthew from the behind my copy of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, as the last vestiges of the vermillion sun dipped behind the mountains. Rather than whipping the used towels off the loungers, he merely smoothed them out with a deft flick of the hand.

This means that right now, I am probably lying in the sweat of that meaty man from Room 3.

When we returned from lunch today, chomping on ice creams, jittery Matthew was grinning expectantly from behind his reception desk.

‘Ice-cream!’ he exclaimed, a little too enthusiastically. ‘May I ask where you pur-chase-d your gelato?’

‘I just want to eat my ice-cream in peace,’ muttered the husband, as we returned to our squashed and sweaty sunbeds.

‘Get me back to Barry White… Get me back to the finca!’

She’s Got A Ticket To Ride

I took a trip back home on Thursday to spend the day with my mum. I miss hanging out with her and enjoying her everyday idiosyncrasies. She’s a lot of fun.

Isn’t it funny how you still refer to the family homestead as ‘home’? Even though I haven’t lived at my parents’ home for 16 years and they’ve since moved house from our childhood domicile, I still have their number programmed in my phone as ‘Home’. I suppose it always will be home to me.

Pulling up on the driveway, I ventured round to the back garden to find 67-year-old mother slide-tackling her grandson in a competitive game of football. When I said I was spending the day with my mum, I actually meant my mother and her little partner in crime aka my four-year-old nephew Max. As my mum loves to say, there’s no show without Punch.

‘You’re back!’ cried my mother, clutching hold of the garden bench to regain her breath. ‘We’re just having a quick kick around.’

My mother is the most virile 67-year-old you’ll meet. Having never learnt to drive (despite a top qualification in backseat driving), she still cycles everywhere on her trusty bicycle; her day is just one long list of energetic escapades.

In fact, nephew Max complained to my sister that after a day with my mother, he is absolutely exhausted. His favourite phrase at bed time is, ‘I’m so tired. Nanny’s worn me out – again!’

Inside the house, my father’s original inflatable boat ‘Chrismick’ was laid on the floor of the kitchen, sad and deflated.

‘Your dad’s been trying to pump it up but it keeps going down,’ said my mother. (I hope she was referring to the boat!). The parents seem oblivious to the fact that they bought the dinghy in 1976 and it would struggle to stay afloat in a swimming pool, let alone the sea. Even Max looked sceptical.

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Despite replacing it with Chrismick II in the early 90s (more on that here), my father seems unable to discard his original Chrismick (pictured in its heyday below), preferring to carry on adding more and more puncture patches, in the hope it will once again make a glorious return to sail the River Fowey (and stalk Dawn French).

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Over lunch, I made enquiries as to the welfare of my mother’s best friend Val. Every other Friday, Val and my mother head out to the local bingo hall (they’ve been meeting on alternate Fridays for the last 40 years). Unbelievably, they manage to play two hours of bingo without spending a penny.

I’ve never really got to the bottom of how this is possible but I think it is something to do with bingo hall offering free games of bingo, thinking that they will make money on drinks at the bar.

However, they’ve clearly underestimated my frugal mother, who doesn’t drink and gets by on glasses of tap water. Sometimes, they actually win at bingo so end up coming back in profit. This is my mum and Val having a boogie at my wedding (Val on left; mother on right).

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The trips to bingo have been a little few and far between recently after a terrible incident befell Val on her annual holiday to Benidorm. On the second day of the holiday, her husband Laurence took a tumble and took all the skin off his shin. He had to have a skin graft and was admitted to hospital for week.

During Val’s visit, a patient in the bed next to Laurence asked if Val would be so kind as to lift his suitcase down from the cupboard above. Unfortunately for Val, this particular patient appeared to be harbouring several slabs of concrete in his case. As Val struggled under its immense weight, her kind deed ended up giving her a hernia!

Poor Val was instantly admitted to hospital herself and found herself laid up in the hospital bed next to her husband. She went from hospital visitor to fellow patient within an hour. It was the holiday from hell.

Val now does all the driving in the family, my mother went on. But for inexplicable reasons, she is only able to turn left in the vehicle, being too fearful of right turns. This means that every journey she takes has to be meticulously planned so that the car only travels in an anti-clockwise direction.

In other news, the days of riding the Blackpool tram using a pensioner’s bus pass have come to a sad end. My mother, father and Uncle Stephen (pictured) used to regularly ride along the promenade for free, using their bus pass.

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They weren’t the only ones; scores of grey-haired pensioners would clamber aboard and ride up and down all day at tax payer’s expense. At the end stop, they were forced to alight the tram for 10 minutes for the driver to take a toilet break, where they would stand grumbling and shivering until the tram re-opened in order for them to repeat the journey all over again.

Naturally, Uncle Stephen drove up to Blackpool the day before the new ‘no bus passes’ rule came into force, and went up and down a few times on his own: one final free hurrah.

After watching one episode too many of Homes Under The Hammer, my family have recently invested in a bungalow and is in the process of doing it up. My mother was keen to show me how it was coming along.

We pulled up outside and my mother and Max tiptoed out of the car in an exaggerated fashion, like two pantomime characters.

‘What are you doing?’ I hissed.

‘Trying not to alert the neighbour that we’re here,’ said my mother in hushed tones. ‘She’s a bit S.I.M.P.L.E.’

Max nodded sagely, in agreement.

As I’ve mentioned before, the number of simple people my mother encounters on a weekly basis is disproportionately high.

‘What do you mean?’ I whispered back.

‘She not quite all there,’ said my mother, reciting another of her favourite phrases. ‘She keep asking me if I’m a farmer!”

Driving home from the bungalow, we hit rush hour traffic and I suddenly realised I was going to be late to meet my friend at Starbucks.

My mother foraged feverishly in her pocket. ‘Don’t worry,’ she cried triumphantly. ‘I’ve got my bus pass!’

‘Just drop us off here and they you can get to Stardrops!’ she continued, leaping out of the car.

‘Stardrops is what you use to clean the carpet with!’ I called out of the window. ‘It’s STARBUCKS!’

But she didn’t hear me; she was already marching purposefully in the direction of the bus stop, Max trotting obediently at her side.

With a free bus pass in her hand and an open road ahead, it was anybody’s guess where she might end up.

In The Shade Of The Palms

I seem to have developed an obsession with palm trees. It kind of crept up on me. I’m not even sure I actually like palm trees. All I know about them is that they’re prickly, high maintenance and only thrive in warm climates. A bit like me really.

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My passion for palm trees developed purely because of my surname. When I was younger, I got called Palms or Palmtree. It kind of stuck.

At Sheffield University, I had a weekly horoscope column in the uni newspaper called ‘Mystic Palms’. It involved a really bad picture of me staring vacantly into a mock crystal ball. I had to come up with 12 different forecasts, as pithy and humorous as possible. Every single week. And I didn’t even get paid to do it.

In the university bar, fellow students would occasionally peer curiously at me and say, ‘Are you that weird Mystic Meg character from the uni paper?’ It didn’t do much for my street cred.

When I was 19 years old, I did some work experience at a media company in Manchester (this sounds a lot grander that it actually was; the reality being that I had to spend a whole week writing articles about gnarly feet for a podiatry website). At the end of the week, the man in charge actually wrote out a cheque for my expenses to ‘Katy Palmtree’, believing my email moniker to be my actual name. I thought this was very funny.

To my knowledge, no one has the surname Palmtree. But there are a few genuine people called Palms knocking around.

I was approached by one such person in Harrogate, resplendent in a cream suit and a man-from-Del-Monte hat – the kind of get-up you’d expect from someone who goes by the name of Mr Palms.

‘My name is Ted Palms,’ he said, shaking my hand. ‘And I wondered if you would be interested in selling me your number plate.’ (My number plate is P4LMS).

‘I’ve only just acquired it,’ I said.

But Ted Palms wouldn’t be palmed off that easily.

‘What’s your surname?’ he asked, suspiciously.

‘It’s Palm-er,’ I stuttered.

Our eyes locked in a competitive Palm-off. He was probably thinking, ‘I’m a bona fide Palms; I deserve this number plate more.’

‘But lots of my friends call me Palms,’ I hastily added.

Ted Palms shuffled off, not before pressing an embossed business card in my, er, palm – if I should ever change my mind.

And then there’s the clothes. Palm tree top? Tick. Palm tree skirt? Tick.

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Palm tree dress? Tick. Tick.

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Palm tree shoes? Not quite.

In the first throes of love, the husband was only too happy to embrace my love of palm trees, purchasing said number plate, and then – on the eve of our wedding – procuring a little palm tree pendant from Tiffany’s (cheese alert).

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These trendy palm tree slipper shoes, as endorsed by Alexa Chung no less, were on my Christmas wish list too.

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The husband, whose interest in all things palm-based has begun to wane, took one look at them and said, ‘Do you actually like these shoes, or is it simply the fact that they’ve got palm trees on them?’

‘It’s simply the fact they’ve got palm trees on,’ I said, in a small voice.

Santa never brought the shoes.

Things came to a head in Topshop Oxford Circus this Saturday, where I found myself wrestling with a two-piece palm tree suit. It looked ridiculous.

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That afternoon, I had two missed phone calls from Someone Important. Someone Important was terribly baffled because she was greeted by a recorded answerphone message of my 21-year-old self saying: ‘You’re through to Palmtree Productions. Please leave a message.’

She was convinced she’d mistakenly stumbled across some Miami-based TV studios. It took a lot of explaining.

I’m afraid there is no such thing as Palmtree Productions. I’ve had vague intentions of removing this silly message for the last 13 years – usually after a call from Someone Important – but then promptly forget.

‘You need to remove that answerphone message,’ said the husband. ‘It’s really, really embarrassing.’

I told my friend Anna about my intention to purchase the shoes with palm trees on.

‘Be careful,’ she said. ‘A woman I know once decided she liked hippos.

‘She’s now basically drowning in chintzy china hippos. Her house is cluttered with them. Soon, she might start looking like a hippo too.

‘If you’re not careful, people will start buying you ceramic palm tree ornaments,’ she went on. ‘You’ll end up being known as that weird woman with the peculiar obsession with palm trees.’

I’m not sure I want to end up as a mad old woman head-to-toe in palm leaves and surrounded by porcelain palm trees.

I think it’s time to say goodbye to Palms.

Shooting The Breeze With OAPS

I already have a very unhealthy relationship with Caffè Nero, spending around £1000 a year there purely to fund my coffee addiction.

But now I’ve managed to encourage a whole band of eccentrics who seem determined to befriend me, despite my generally aloof demeanour.

First, there’s the old man who sits in the corner all day eating porridge. He’s become a regular fixture in the last six months and now he’s there so often he’s practically part of the furniture.

When Caffè Nero opens at 7.30am, here’s already in position by the window, spoon in hand. Goldilock’s Three Bears have nothing on this old dude; he eats a least five pots of porridge a day, often staring forlornly out of the window.

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When I first set eyes on him, I thought he looked a bit lonely, so I threw him a beaming smile as I clattered out with my take-out coffee on my way to work.

And you know what he did… he scowled back at me cantankerously.

Undeterred, I continued to smile every morning, always receiving a frown back. This little game went on for about a month.

And then finally – a breakthrough! The scowl turned to a grimace… which finally became a smile. In recent weeks, I’ve even been getting a little wave from him. It feels good.

And then today, as I type away… the biggest breakthrough yet. Porridge-Loving Pensioner actually mouthed over to me, ‘Do you want a cup of tea?’, holding his teapot aloft.

‘I’m okay,’ I mouthed back. ‘I’ve got a coffee.’ I held up my cup to prove this, and hid back behind my laptop.

Porridge-Loving Pensioner appears to have turned from a miserly Victor Meldrew to a warm-hearted Werther’s Original grandad in a matter of months.

I even saw him offering a small child a sweet the other day.

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I was just getting back to work when there was a bang on the window – and a round, beaming face peered through the glass at me. Oh lordy… it was my portly friend The Italian Wanderer. I’ve known of The Italian Wanderer for a couple of years now but I’ve purposely been keeping a low profile for fear of encouraging him.

The Italian Wanderer is one of the stranger characters out of the motley bunch. He’s in Caffè Nero nearly every night with his Italian brother: a taller, goofier version of himself.

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I think they quite fancy themselves as a pair of extras in Goodfellas. But if I was to cast them in a movie, they’d play two hapless henchman, permanently scratching their heads and bumping into each other in a clownish fashion (if you think of those bungling burglars in Home Alone, you kind of get the picture).

I gave The Italian Wanderer his moniker due to his strange penchant for wandering the streets for hours on end. Come rain or shine, he walks up and down Harrogate Road all evening long (brother nowhere to be seen). This is no exaggeration. Sometimes he takes a break from the roam – and sits at the bus-stop watching the world go by.

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I’m mildly intrigued by his nomadic lifestyle but I haven’t dared to probe beyond a friendly wave for fear of Getting Too Involved.

Getting Too Involved is basically where you go beyond a simple smile and wave and descend into full-blown conversation. Don’t get me wrong, I like a smile and wave with an eccentric on the best of days, but I’m a solitary soul at heart – and the last thing I want to do is start sharing coffees and ruminating on life with these oddities.

Last week, The Italian Wanderer accosted me in Caffè Nero and starting firing a series of probing questions my way, ending with, ‘Is it okay if I say hello to you from now on?’

‘Of course!’ I said, smiling in what I hoped was a friendly but not-too-encouraging manner.

Talking of Getting Too Involved, one person I have Got Very Involved with is widower Peter (documented in My Coffee Shop Friend). He looks scarily like the bad guy ‘Mike’ from Breaking Bad.

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Well, it turns out Peter has a friend: Malcolm – another retiree at large, who keeps coming over to talk to me. I say ‘talk to me’ but he sort of wanders over and mumbles for a while, smiling in a vacant way before wandering off again – sometimes mid-sentence.

I usually hide behind my laptop under the guise of Being Terribly Busy but the other day, I was on the receiving end of a two-pronged attack from Peter and Malcolm, who came and sat with me for an hour regaling me with tales of Leeds’ glorious past. I secretly loved it.

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It transpires that they were both avid body builders back in the day, and trained with none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger, who joined them in Leeds for a year, living in a small flat in Crossgates (who knew?!), along with local legend Reg Park (former Mr Universe, no less).

Peter and Malcolm love to jest that they’ve managed to pick up a young girl (me!) and sometimes even comment on the length of my skirt!

‘It’s a nice outfit,’ says Peter. ‘Let’s just say, I’m not complaining.’

Malcolm nods along, approvingly.

When I go into Caffè Nero at the weekend with the husband, I’m now getting waves from all corners of the room – mainly from the over 60s.

The Husband is astonished.

‘Don’t you GET INVOLVED!’ he says.