I am spending a few days at the NCRI conference in Liverpool which is fascinating but also exhausting. So many new faces, new ideas, new inventions and new research to absorb. Charities I have never heard of, information sources I did not know existed. It’s all exciting stuff. We are situated in the BT Convention Centre near Albert Dock which is right next to the Liverpool big wheel and my hotel. The weather has been less than clement so the proximity of the venue to the hotel is particularly pleasing. It also allows nipping back for things forgotten and a little nap.

My nemesis from the un-nameable charity is here and I speak to a few people about the negative response I had when I offered my services. I ponder whether there was an evidence base in existence which said people should not be involved in cancer research less than 2 years from diagnosis. One person chokes on his drink and says “You can ask – I’m not going to” which implies he finds her fearsome and perhaps a tad unwelcoming, too. But the event is glorious in the amount of high-quality research being delivered and the stunning array of experts giving talks. There are posters to view and I spend some time talking with one of the authors of a poster about anticipatory medicine in end of life care. As this was certainly delivered when my mother died, I am interested in how the health professionals deal with this question and ask what kind of language they use, knowing very well the issue we are discussing. I am told there is not a single language and they all talk about things differently which leads to many opportunities for confusion and misunderstanding. At this stage of life, I would want the language to be clear and concise. The study has also looked at the feelings of the staff who are having to make these kinds of decisions and what worries them. Mostly, it is about getting it right.

People at the conference are varied, too. There is a definite group of younger people which is great. So many are, and I phrase this carefully, well past retirement age and enjoying the comforts of crimplene and stretch waistbands. I see a couple of Scouse brows between the hotel and the conference centre but on Monday night, there is a proliferation of them as Jessie J is playing in the other half of the conference centre. From about 5pm, a straggle of girls arrive and queue for entry. It rains and gets darker and they are joined by more girls, mostly early teens and some with parents, heads down, shuffling along with hands in pockets, unwilling to be plunged into an evening of teen adulation. Besides which, there is a double episode of Coronation Street on tv and possibly a new drama.

I find some time to meet 2 friends at the Tate Gallery on Tuesday afternoon. It is good to get out of the conference atmosphere for a while and really therapeutic to see them.

By Wednesday, I am truly exhausted. I go to a brilliant talk about depression and cancer, given by truly top international names in the field. One speaker is introduced as American and he quickly corrects this to Canadian. Ouch. Then I am out and back to the hotel to collect my bags. The young lad who is trying to find mind from the deluge of bags in his back office (his words, not mine) is a little spotty around the neck, looks slightly damp and has an amazingly creased suit jacket. But, after asking what they look like (one is black, one is red – does that help?), he eventually finds them and I am off to find my taxi has not arrived but in time to purloin one dropping someone off. At the station, waiting to be allowed onto the platform, I see Cherie Booth/Blair walking along, chatting to another woman. I think for a moment whether I should whip my camera out and take a snap but decide not to. She is wearing slingbacks and I see she does not have good ankles. Miaow.

On the train, a young lady gets on with the now obligatory Scouse brows and large plastic rollers in her hair. I wonder where she is going. I am now going to settle back and look out of the window, peering into people’s back gardens which, as we all know, is one of the bonuses of travelling by train.

You never know who is listening in

I do like this time of year. I like the cold, the days getting shorter, blustery winds and leaves falling. Oh yes, and the nights drawing in. One of the benefits of this is being able to look into other people’s houses as they are lit from within. I know, I am incurably nosy. Telling one of my friends about this little hobby (or perhaps hobby is too strong a word and makes me sound really weird), he asks what sort of things I see. It’s all very mundane, really. The interior, so I can see what sort of furniture and decor people have.  It’s just interesting to see people going about their daily lives. And before I sound like a serial killer in the making, I only indulge in this pastime as and when the opportunity presents itself – from a car, a bus or train.

Today is a good day for spying. I am off to Liverpool for a 3 day conference and people watching a-plenty. I travel First Class on the train because otherwise it means taking a bus service part way through my journey which sounds hellish. I am looking forward to breakfast on the train with plenty of piping hot coffee. Alas, not today. They can only manage a rather sulky young woman who hands out breakfast boxes which consist of a squashed and overly-sweet chelsea bun, a biscuit and a miniscule packet of dried fruit. Oh, and we get coffee in a paper cup. And no topping up of the said coffee. Given that the weather is cold, coffee or any other hot beverage of your choice, is essential. I am miffed and a bit grumpy by the time I arrive at Stockport. It is freezing and there is a 20 minute wait for the train to Liverpool. A young man sitting next to me is re-joined by his friend who is immediately asked if he has been to have a shit. In case you are on the edge of your seat wondering, no, he hasn’t. He has been doing something else I couldn’t catch.

I do love other people’s conversations, as well. One of my favourites was a man at an airport, talking to someone, presumably his wife/girlfriend/partner, on the phone. It may have been in Amsterdam, for those of you who like to hear every detail. He was having a full-on shouting match with someone and it didn’t just last a minute or two. No, he shouts obscenities into the phone for about 10 minutes and Mr Mason and I are so intrigued by his behaviour, we follow him, like the ninjas we are. Alas, our flight is called and he is not on it so we don’t get to properly make sense of his argument which we were hoping to do. I am always slightly intrigued by people who have loud conversations and/or full-on arguments with people on a mobile phone. I quite understand how valuable the mobile phone is and indeed, make use of one myself, but I cannot imagine Mr Mason would conduct himself in such a way that I think the only recourse is to yell at him whilst on my mobile in a public place. I am not short of incidents or people I find irritating but it’s the public display I am both interested in and repelled by.

I was once told by a friend that she was in a queue at a supermarket and the man behind her was holding a long and very loud conversation on his mobile. She turned round to ask him if he would speak more quietly to see he was, in fact, talking to a can of orange Fanta. She turned around again and let him get on with it.

My colleagues at the conference are plentiful and I am not hampered by knowing many so I will have sufficient time to scrutinise them and do a bit of eavesdropping. Do be careful if you are planning to have a major row on your mobile in the Liverpool area. You never know who may be listening.