Sunday, 10 December 2017

Brexit – the view from Hundon

In Hundon, Brexit just might not be happening. For us, travel to Europe is travel to foreign parts, whether or no we’re in the EU. France will remain across the channel; Germany the home of Steins and Frankfurters; Spain a land of package tours; and Italy will still be celebrated for creating pasta and pizza. For us, politicians are seen in the news, not in the village hall, and no debates were aired in our village. We see no immigrants, and export-import is a cover for James Bond. Prices go up or down on the whim of distant Sheiks, while cars are mostly what the local garage has available when the old one fails its test.

So what will happen after 2019? Passports will still be required to cross the English Sea; the queue at Schiphol will not shorten; the security checks not lessen; the wait for luggage as long as before. Perhaps the duty-free outlets will reopen at Callais and boats will sail full of day trippers flooding the on-board shop. All will be settled in the distant rules of London and Brussels. We shall have a new Prime Minister and cabinet, but in Hundon all will continue unchanged with the same dogs being walked and the same faces in the pub and the shop. The garden will need tending, the hedge cutting, the dustbins emptying and the cars cleaning, and in Hundon, Brexit will seem irrelevant.

Then why remain I so angry with the process? So wound up that I gnash my teeth at the childlike attempt at negotiation our government demonstrates? Perhaps because a better job could be done by any one of the Apprentice contestants, including those that leave in the first programmes. It is demeaning to see the total concession to every demand the EU makes. The rules should have been argued at the commencement: parallel talks, or no talks. Not all this rubbish about agreeing to everyone of their demands before they will move to Phase II. What negotiation is this? Ahhh – I feel my blood pressure rising again. I’d better sign off and sit down before I boil.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Men of the world, unite behind women!

From this time forward, nothing can be the same. The wind of sexual mores has veered sharply, and we mere men must turn to sail with it, or perish upon the rocks of inappropriate behaviour. With the pronouncement from a chief of police that “consent must be obtained before kissing beneath the mistletoe, or risk being charged with rape”, to the accusation against a minister of sexual harassment for touching a woman’s knee at a dinner party, we must henceforth change the framework of our relationships. It is time to start again.

The thrust of developing sexual relationships must be handed to women. They must set the tone and the pace, and we must follow. From now on, all flirtation must be left to women; they must lead by look, glance, gift or touch, and we must accept or reject as we choose. It is demeaning for men to ask women to sign statements of consent; it should be for women to issue legal permits, specifying exactly how far they wish the man to proceed, with clear stop signs agreed in advance.
We must walk with averted gaze and modest glance, least we be accused of a look too prolongued at cleavage. Knowing looks between men must be avoided, and vocal appreciation, as wows and whistles, are definitely taboo. In crowded places, we must bunch up tight to avoid unsolicited brushes. The wisest place for hands is in the air, above the head, where they may be seen at all times, for groping is the worst crime.

Admiration for a woman’s scent or dress must be silent, with the face impassive; for if one’s gaze is truly averted, we should not be tempted by such adornments, for compliments must not be given. Although we must admire women only for their abilities and achievements, praise must be sparing least it be misconstrued as patronising.

Women have been told they must be more like men to succeed: ambitious, thrusting, unafraid to voice loudly their views in meetings or to be heard above the crowd. No! I say, it is we who must be more like women; we men should refrain from loud interrupting talk; we must be modest in our views; we should defer demurely to women’s suggestions. The aim of board rooms for fifty percent of women is too modest; they should be promoted automatically, to every position of value. There should be glass ceilings no longer, but rather ceilings of steel that keep men down, to redress the balance of history.
The strengths of men should be used where they belong. Men should do the menial jobs, the hard cleaning, the brick-laying, the portering and fetching. Perhaps if sufficiently well-scrubbed, men may make the tea.

Therefore, men of the world, I call upon you all to unite behind our women. Give them the positions of power, and let us support them as they choose, from their own ranks, new women of strength and character to lead us to a new utopia of peace and harmony in the world.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Strip the boat

Ann and Edwin have gone to Glasgow for the w/e to meet Ann's newly discovered cousins. I should have gone, but was too slow deciding and missed the chance, so I went to see the new Spiderman instead with Matthew. They went to an underground vegan restaurant last night, recommended by Edwin's friend. I ate at the local steakhouse.

My run of ill luck continues with the turning of the year. I drove into the carpark at the Swan for an outdoors drink in the sun with Matthew and the dogs, so we could take them for a long walk round the hills behind Clare, but scraped the door on a metal girder at the narrow entrance! So typical of events at the moment.

Last w/e Matthew helped me move the boat from Ely to St Ives, for sale with Jones' Boatyard. It overheated on the journey, with the alarm screaming as I woke to race into the cockpit and stop the engine. There was much weed in the river after the heat of the week, but  filter wasn't blocked, which puzzled me. Fortunately we were on the slow moving, narrow Old West River, and could drift into some reeds. Matthew seized the chance to prepare lunch - a lovely dish of cheese on toast, while I lifted the flooring and worked over the engine. After lunch, she started again with a silent buzzer. The prop was wrapped in long weeds, and the boat would hardly move or turn with the engine straining, but a quick burst astern released them. I think the overheating too was due to a single lily pad leaf blocking the water intake.

Today we went back to remove the bits from the boat. The boatyard said it would need a power wash and stripping of everything on board. They had piled them up in a shed, and I couldn't believe the height of the stuff. The blankets made sense - everyone wants new bedding. But the cutlery and crockery? The kettle and pans? The vacuum cleaner? Even the  coiled flat water hose and the book of charts for the river systems? The new owners will have to buy everything! But I'm sure the chandlery will willingly supply it all.

We took a long walk across the meadows to the old 15th C. bridge at St Ives, with its remarkable chapel half way across that doubled as a customs house. St Ives was strong round-head territory, and Cromwell ordered the far spans to be pulled down and replaced by a drawbridge, to defend against the potential Royalist threat. They have been rebuilt now, but in a very different style from the pointed medieval arches. The Dolphin Hotel by the river had sullen unhelpful staff. They had a carvery on, but would not serve outside where we sat with the dogs. Across the ancient bridge, we found The White Hart. What a contrast - a friendly welcoming woman behind the bar, who directed us to a table in the window, and brought the dogs water. A brilliant menu too, with a huge beef roast for Matthew and a delicious mushroom stroganoff for me. I think this reflects the attitude of the management, and is a lesson for every business. It does not take much to make people happy at work: flexible hours, sensitivity to requirements for time off; an appreciative word, and one is willing to put in a little more effort; to support the business with innovative ideas; to work a little longer where needed; and to share a smile with the clients. Another place may not pay less, but will treat the staff less considerately. They resent the time there and work slower and inefficiently; the chef may care less about food preparation and hygiene; a scowl replaces friendliness, and custom falls away.

I tried to persuade Matthew to go to La Boheme with me tonight, but he declined, as opera is not his thing, so he stayed back to feed the dogs and watch them for an hour.

Today I felt a small but firm nodule in my neck. Even these slight things seem threatening now, whereas before I would have dismissed it as secondary to the inflamed wounds. A diagnosis of malignant melanoma leaves the future suspended; uncertain though fate is when young, it now is chaos personified. The random movement of a single cell may fix my end. At least La Boheme was good, but sad not to share it with Ann.

Removal of the stitches

Back to Addenbrooke's for dressings off and stitches out. Not pleasant, as hair had tangled with the blood, with dressings adherent. The ear is uncomfortable now. Still quite numb, but odd feelings returning with a dull ache like toothache, a strange pulling where the skin is stretched, and occasional sharp spikes like a wasp sting. It's still weeping, but at least I can have a shower now, and we have a brand new bathroom to enjoy it in. 

I will spare the feelings of any squeamish reader by not printing a photo of the ear. I am not too self conscious of it, except for its twinges, but I feel a deep loss even for this little bit, that makes me humble before the far greater loss for women who loose a breast. It is a little death, nothing in itself, but I get periods when I'm aware that my body now has an alien invader, that will seize the slightest chance to spread and grow. The threat of radio- or chemo-therapy hang upon my future like a black cobweb, waiting to snare me and drag me under. I can live but day by day, and make each remaining one precious.

Friday, 23 June 2017

The spot returns

The spot returns -
bigger than before.
A stressful day yesterday. I had to be on the ward at 7am, but they had given us an overnight room so it was just a brief walk. The waiting room was full and I was last there at 6.55, so was surprised by the nurse calling my name. "You're first on the list," she announced, and led me through to a single room. I just had time to text Ann before they took my phone as they stripped me off for their dowdy nightgown, and pulled tight elastic stockings over my feet. Then I was sat in a chair and wheeled away to theatre. Addenbrooke's  is huge, and I was taken to theatre 22; all the others looked busy already, full of bustling staff even then.

Old assumptions live on
They laid me on the table and passed the catheter into the vein, and I knew no more. There was no time for fear. They didn't even ask me to count to ten! I awoke in the recovery ward, dripped and groggy. They said I'd had a large haematoma which was drained well, and my oxygen was low, so a cylinder was pushed onto my legs with a nasal feed. Finally, taken back to the ward to be greeted by Ann and Edwin - a most welcome sight, but I couldn't sit up for them. I felt sick, dizzy and miserable, and could only manage sips of water. BP low, pulse slow, O2 down, but I knew I had to wee for them to let me go. Finally, I managed to stand and move to the toilet. After a long time, I squeezed a drop out, probably residual from the morning, but I could truthfully tell the nurses I had PU'd and they said I could go home, with a gash across my neck and minus half an ear.

I couldn't resist this picture of the nurse call. I think they must date back with the hospital to pre-equality days.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Watch this spot

My first visit to Addenbrooke's, for the pre-op assessment. BP, bloods and ECG, and groin swabs for MRSA. It used to be arm-pit swabs, but too many people now use deodorant which throws their cultures. A doctor marked the scar with a pen, then on to get a photo. The spot is back - but this time more like an indelible line.

A German boy, boarding in the UK, was in the clinic with a nurse trying to reassure him. "Lots of people lose their thumbs," she said. "At your age you soon won't even miss it. You'll stand out from the crowd and people will say, 'there's the boy with no thumb.'" He didn't look over-convinced and the bandaging looked serious.

Wives not allowed
Next day, Edwin left us at the hospital, to walk a long corridor for cream and a dressing to the ear to numb it, then an even longer corridor to the Department of Nuclear Medicine for my radio tracer injection. The technician was a burly man who seemed to take relish in giving me four separate injections into the tiny fleshy lobe. They contain Technetium-99m in a new colloidal suspension used in USA but new here. He said it would be too much for a single injection, but it stung like four wasp bites despite the cream. Then down to the radio-imaging department, and another long session waiting for the tracer to move to the nodes, with the rotating cameras brushing my nose to take 360 degree 3-D images of my ear and neck. The final images looked magnificent though, like an anatomy model of the lymphatics.
CT Scanner ready for the ear

Finally, back to the Plastic Surgery Unit, where an Irish trainee consultant moved a gamma-ray probe across my neck to map the hot spots. I asked about the drainage of the ear, and she went into a long spiel about the complex embryology of the pinna. I asked where she had trained. "Cork Hospital," she answered briefly. "Ah - I trained at St Thomas'," I rejoined, "but it's a long time since I learnt about brachial arch embyology." She looked sheepish then, and said, "I didn't realise you were a doctor. It should have been in the notes! I'm sorry I talked down to you." But she was much more sympathetic then, and didn't patronize me.
Now I've ended up with three more black spots for the surgeon to aim at tomorrow.

Monday, 19 June 2017

The Black Spot

This week is the saga of the ear, unless I am too ill to post a report. I am quite attached to this ear. I have had it for a long time, but now we must part company. Old pictures of me with the ear show the Black-Spot goes way back.
Black-Spot on the London Eye in 2003
The dermatologist discovered a melanoma on the lobe in January, and referred me to the plastic surgeons. I was seen by Mr Silitoe in February, and he operated on 10th March. He is a formidable man, solid in appearance, with one blind eye that I tried not to stare at, though I had read on line that he had been done for speeding in a Jag. He also had a huge swelling upon the wrist, covered with a little bandage, which hung before my gaze as he performed the op under local. My medical curiosity longs to know his history, but as a patient I must assume the role of silent acceptance. 

I could hear the knife slice through the cartilage, and the nylon stitches squeaked as they were drawn through to close the excision, but it was clean, quick and pain-free. He did a good job, that healed well with barely a scar, and little change in the profile.
Black-Spot exchanged for little scar
It had been a very small black spot on the lobe, that had been present for years, but had recently changed. It looked nothing at all, other than a cosmetic blemish, and at follow up OP clinic, I was certain he would tell me it had been excised, and other than routine check-ups, nothing more to worry about. But he didn't. "It's over 1.5 mm deep," he said, which is beyond the threshold for a Stage I. I was disappointed, and a little stunned by the unexpectedness of it. "I recommend having further wide excision, and sentinel node biopsy," he concluded, punching the words at me. I resisted the urge to ask him if he still had has Jag.

So now I am lined up for Addenbrooke's under the care of Mr Durrani, with the intention of losing more of the ear and a node biopsy. People ask, "how are you?", and "are you worried?" but the emotions are not of fear or distress (heavens, I removed enough small lumps myself as a medical student and surgical houseman in the old days). No, I think the over-riding emotion is anger. One sees the world going on as it always does (disturbing though it be in the UK this year), oblivious to one's own future or outcome. But the anger is not even against the indifference of the world - I think it is internal, to know for certain one's days are numbered. Even given another 10 years, it seems too little when still enjoying life and living, and wanting to do so much more. I am angry that the days close in, circumscribed by a wall we cannot climb. Angry at the time wasted and misused, even though probably I would have done nothing much or anything different. But in youth there is potential to do much. With age, even potential is stripped away by limiting time.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Moroccan Interlude

I feel such anger for the wholly unnecessary trauma May has put us through with a future as uncertain as I have ever known. Single handedly she has brought Labour back from the graveyard of history and emasculated the Tories as a voice of government. Her inept handling of the heart-retching Grenfell Tower terror compounds an inmate weakness within her soul and she will be despised by her party and the country for years to come. An away-weekend in Marrakesh. Morocco is an exciting country and so restful and seemingly peaceful after the many recent traumas of poor old Blighty. We stayed in Riad Ilayka, an authentic small Riad with traditional family values, a superb courtyard complete with banana tree, and a roof top terrace and mini tower overlooking the city. Some of the best food and service i have experienced. But never have I experienced such a warren of narrow covered alleyways nor so many tiny shops selling such a variety of usefulness and tac. The temperature rose to an unseasonable 42C, too hot to look in comfort and we could only move from drink to drink, stopping at a wonderful perfume museum en route for shade and yet another drink. Drinking in public is hard, knowing the people around cannot drink till the end of Ramadan at 7:45. I stopped at one café for a Fanta, and watched an old woman in the square stitching names into straw hats. One of the café men threw her a water bottle and I supposed she might be excused the fast on account of her age, but she merely poorer some water on her bare feet and down her neck, then splashed the rest around the cobbles to keep the dust down. She drank not a drop. Now at the airport, a tropical thunderstorm has broken with lashing rain and thunderclaps overhead. It is a most beautiful new building of contemporary design incorporating Islamic motifs, but still the roof has one or two leaks with puddles forming. Update: thunderstorms have now forced our plane to divert to Casablanca. Stocked up with goodies from shop and hankering down in lounge to await news. (Update2: plane finally arrived approx. 3 hrs late for most rapid turn-round, and finally we left for home. Charlie picked us up and arrived back approx. 4am. He and Ann chatted all the way – I don’t know how she stays awake for conversations, but it kept Charlie alert).

Friday, 7 April 2017

Charlatan's Petruska dances in Syria

"Donald Trump launches US air strikes against Assad regime in Syria with 59 Tomahawk missiles" reads the day's headline.
What madness, what folly, what insane and crazy dances we are seeing in this ancient land. Putin, the Machiavellian Puppet Master, seems to pull many strings. Would Trump by in power without the strange coincidence of timely email releases weakening Clinton? Would Assad drop chemical weapons without a nod from the Kremlin? And by doing so, the Puppet Master must have finely judged Trump’s response, after his rhetoric against Obama’s inaction. But to what hidden purpose does the Charlatan bring Petruska to the dance? We may only speculate: perhaps for the further destabilization of a desperate region, and the hardening of Middle-Eastern opinion against the USA.
There can by only one outcome from more bombing and external involvement. In such an unholy conflict, there should be but one rule to live by: in dubio abstine. But there is no great statesman to cut the strings of conflict, and the war wages on.