Monday, 22 October 2018

Ancient apples

The Nuttery

The Nuttery is a mysterious ancient woodland above Clare, beyond the Swan. It's a wonderful place to walk the dogs. Once, in days when rectors had vast houses, servants and land to support them, it was private ground providing walnuts and hazelnuts, and fish from its pond for the rectory. Now it is overgrown common woodland, part of the network of public walks here. For Edwin, it is a gentle stroll up through the fields, but for me a breathless climb and I am glad to pause in the silence. It is cold out of the sun, and glades with log seats beckon. Strange figures carved in dead tree trunks lurk in the undergrowth. 

A huge old apple tree, hidden from bygone days, hangs with glistening fruit beyond reach, but I pick a glowing red ember from among the recent windfalls, one fit to tempt Snow White. It is the sweetest, most succulent apple I ever tasted, veined with thin red streaks I’ve never seen before in any variety. It is cold from the overnight air, sweet and soft as candyfloss, quite unlike brands that boast "hard, crisp and crunchy". Even the skin was soft and could be eaten without wedging in the teeth. Perhaps it is one of those long-lost varieties that supermarkets reject. Back at the Swan, ripe walnuts have fallen on the car, remnants perhaps of that ancient wood.

Beneath the tranquility lie thoughts of what is to come. I have received a copy of the medical summary. There is little that was not discussed, but confirmation of a G3 pT2 TCC, i.e. an aggresive Grade 3 transitional cell carcinoma that has spread into the muscular wall of the bladder, grotesque and unnatural as terrible carvings in the deadwood. A large pelvic lymph node may indicate wider dissemination. Today is the Specialist Multi Disciplinary Team, or SMDT, meeting at Addenbrookes to determine management, and my fate. I await their call.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

What are the downsides of being a man?

Catlin Moran, a well-known feminist writer, has devoted her life to women's causes. In The Times Magazine today, she argues for equality in popular terms for yearning and sexuality, listing a whole thesaurus for men's arousal, and comparing it with the only word she could muster for women's desires: moist. She describes "moist" as the worst word in the lexicon, although I have always considered "damp" or "wet" to be worse words - I'd rather be moist than damp or wet. She concludes by calling for new terms for female arousal, to redress the balance in the name of equality.

Now she asks on her Twitter feed, "What are the downsides of being a man?" I feel compelled to answer, but can think of no great problems I suffered in youth from my gender, so perhaps the question was rhetorical, or ironic. If I suffered at all, the problems were from my class – an old-fashioned word, but one meaning a working class background with basic education, low in expectation or encouragement. Most in my school left at 16 to work in factories, with no thought of university or even career jobs. A good apprenticeship was an aspiration. The sixth form was a runt class, and the few of us who left for higher education knew that Oxbridge was closed to comprehensive school boys with Midlands accents. I was fortunate indeed to be selected into St Thomas' Hospital.

St Thomas' medical school was filled with the public-school sons of consultants (but was considered less exclusive than Barts, which was rumoured to only select the sons of Barts consultants). There was a quota of women, but only to fill the legal minimum, and they from Roedean, Cheltenham Ladies College, and their ilk. I was the first and only working class entrant, possibly selected to fill another political quota. The teaching was world class, but I felt an outcast.

That early prejudice is well past. Now I feel the prejudice of the young against the old. TV programmes show active, virile people, chasing adventure, or idly flirting. Even the adverts aimed at we oldies – for funeral plans, care homes, stair lifts, or equity release – have actors in their 50's who look a fit generation away from me. In shops, people are annoyed with geriatrics who fumble for their money or can't work the card readers, and assistants look at me pityingly, thinking I should be in a care home, and turn to talk past me to someone more interesting even as they scan my items.

Only now am I aware of even mild prejudice against males. I am still working, but only in a consultant role, and most of the people I work amongst are young women, and the bosses are all women, and there is no danger that they are ever going to proposition me. There is, though, a sense that the selection process is unconsciously biased, and women will be given preferential treatment – but that is more likely to be my own opinion than fact. Also, as a man, I am aware that I tend to push my opinions with a strident voice, so make myself hold back, a repressed role that is forced upon me. There is an awareness that to be a white male, and especially an oldie white male, is to be placed behind the line of women, minorities, the disadvantaged, the LGBT community and people of colour.

I hope I have these terms right - they seem to change every few years, and all the other downsides of being a man will be as empty air compared to the wrath of these groups if I mislabel them. For that is the greatest downside of all: the virulence of complaint if we men step beyond the narrow lines they prescribe for us.

Saturday, 20 October 2018

A lesson in cosmology

In cosmology, it is usual to talk of three types of universe. They are hard to envisage, because they are all three-dimensional and change with time, so it is is generally easier to hold a two-dimensional picture in one's mind, and leave the third and time dimensions to the mathematicians. The three are: ones that are flat, like a sheet of paper; ones with positive curvature, like a globe; and these with negative curvature, often likened to a saddle shape, curving in two opposite directions. Time is then "pictured" by thinking of the shapes as elastic, then being pulled equally in all directions so that if we draw little galaxies on them they will begin to move apart.

Visualizing the mysterious open Universe
What force pulls them apart? I said it was hard to imagine – indeed the force that started it all is itself described as "unimaginable" in all its attributes; vanishing smallness, infinite temperature, infinite density, and a time so small it is thought that no other time can ever be shorter. Cosmologists sum it up as the Big-Bang, though only the Universe itself could have heard it. Now imagine all that going on in three-dimensions, and the mind's eye fails. It really is easier to think of it as a great saucer carried by elephants. And how many people even handle saddles these days?

Not dead yet
We have walked the graveyard,
touched the tombstones
felt the putrid air of death
wept at the nameless wreath.
Today, we have rejoined life,
drank the sweet red wine,
eaten of the forbidden fruit
breathed the spring like autumn air,
it is our world
and we are still here.
by Annie Elliott

We may as well describe the open universe as the contrary curves of a woman's waist, usually hidden from view, everywhere quite mysterious, yet smooth and continuous. Ann is my Universe. Just don't describe the galaxies as wrinkles on the surface of time, moving apart as the curves expand, or you'll get into serious trouble!

Friday, 19 October 2018

The analysis of emotions

I am a scientist first, and a poor poet and writer second, though many reviewers rejecting my papers might say I'm a poor scientist first. Be that as it may, I do try to analyse my emotions.

The main one is rage. Rage at having life torn from me, and feeling weak and tired. Rage at thinking of the time I will loose from all the nasty treatments yet to come. I have always bottled up emotions, as trained to do. My background was the "stiff upper lip". Don't show your feelings. Put on a brave face. Face the world with head high, chin out, back straight, stomach in, chest out, shoulders back, look the person straight in the eye, give a firm handshake, and remember "you're British". Now I find myself swearing, raging against fate and the world, angry with my stupid body that's slowly falling apart. But thus far, it is bottled in, and I rage silently, in the darkness of my own mind.

A second one is resentment and envy. I see young people, and envy them their healthy skin, their strong limbs, their tireless energy. I yearn to be young again - and fully understand writers – such as Shaw with Back to Methusala – who imagine an elixir of eternal youth. I remember in youth I could run and climb, swim a mile, and had breath for two lengths underwater. Now I get tired walking the dog.

Pity or depression have not come, and Ann – bravely strong and wanting to keep busy to block her mind – only cried briefly on first hearing the news.  But today came a memory of the forlorn look and despair on my father's face when my mother died, and I was suddenly overwhelmed with a thought of Ann, and the grief and despair to come.  For the first time I wept today. I know her so well, I feel already her suffering and the pain she has yet to bear, and I wept for her future sorrow. But the tears were silent, and came when I was alone.

I do not write poetry now. Ann and Edwin's poetry far eclipses mine. Edwin's are introspective, exploring his own rages and frustrations. Ann's sum up the universal humanity we share in suffering or joy. She writes everyday. Here, a couple of new ones:
We are a couple,
two people sharing
a caring
simple life
which others join a while
then disappear from sight,
while we, the two who strive
to live and to survive
must face our world together
through the bleak and  cruel weather
side by precious side.

Tummy turning 
like a wheel 
hit by a whirlwind, 
rushing, screeching 
twisting over and over, 
just waiting, 
tick tick tock, 
then the clock 
is silent.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Post Graduation

Yesterday was Edwin's post-graduation ceremony. The omen's were strange. Walking past the Corn Exchange, we passed a foundation stone inscribed, "John Death laid this stone." In his gown and robes, we went with Edwin for a coffee before the ceremony. A woman on her own, but dressed in the blue and gold robes of Edwin's university, followed us into the arcade, then caught up with me. "Is this the way to the Corn Exchange?" she asked to my surprise, for she must have been studying in Cambridge for at least three years, and had walked past it to follow us.

Ann mentioned that her bag was very heavy, because she was carrying water and a folding walking stick in case I needed them. I commented that she'd have to fit a folding wheelchair in when the time came, but she wasn't amused.

At dinner in The Ivy afterwards, I kept looking at a strange optical illusion: a reflection of the back of a man with a black hat. He was like a ghost figure that people walked in front of, behind, and through. I got up to find the cause of the reflection; it was of a picture on the far wall. Then in an alcove I stared at a couple carrying gender equality to a new level. They were identically dressed in black suits, and homburgs that they didn't remove all evening, like a pair of Jehovah's witnesses matching a front view of the ghost image.
The ratio of women to men entering medicine is close to 60:40, and is probably similar veterinary medicine. The biochemistry ratio seems higher, and in the Arts, Law and Social Sciences Faculty it runs at up to 4:1 on some courses. It does begin to seem like the feminist battle has been won, and now they're just mopping up minor pockets of resistance. 

News item in The Times: Feminists object to the name "Gentleman's Relish".

Story in The Telegraph: After more than sixty years Kleenex is phasing out the Mansize tissues name, deciding instead to call the disposable handkerchiefs "Extra Large" tissues following complaints by active feminists.

Next to fall will be ladies fingers; we should just call it okra. At this rate, all differences will be eliminated, and we will wear identiclothes. There will be no more gentlemen's outfitters, or ladies fashions, just clothes shops; and women's magazines and those glossies promoting male bodybuilding must merge on the alter of true equality.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

On advertising

I am thrilled with my new Apple i-phone. I don't like to say it too loudly, because Edwin has been pushing me to get one for years and I don't want him to think he is right too soon. It is fast, clean, and I love the facial recognition feature to unlock it. True, its keyboard lacks the row of numbers above the alphabet, but this is a minor inconvenience. Interestingly, 67% of views for this blog are from Apple devices (with 52% the i-phone); 20% are Android; only 10% are viewed from Windows.
But the main virtue of the i-phone is it doesn't support intrusive advertising.

Google will not like this post, but - I hate advertising. I don't like it on TV, though it would be hypocritical to say I only watch BBC. I don't like it when I do searches, but accept it as the price of good content and for ease of searching. My favourite site is Wikipedia; I would gladly pay a yearly rental for that site, and I send them money each year when they put their appeal out. But where advertising really cheesed me off was on my Galaxy phone.

Even before it exploded in my pocket, I was fed up with it to the point where I wanted to throw it at the dealers who sold it me. It was not a free phone. I paid good money for it, through the rental contract with EE, and a large fee every month to rent their system for calls and data. I therefore expect a clean service; but instead, I kept getting adverts thrown in my face. Full page adverts! Covering the screen after I picked it up and started to text or dial! Adverts that insisted I wait a few seconds, with a countdown before I can clear them! Adverts about irrelevant rubbish that I can't even read because I am so mad with them!! I do not expect to pay for the privilege of getting adverts!!!

Ann says I should write about my "feelings", and not keep making jokes and pretending all is well. It is not easy. I have never delved far into the dark pit of emotions. She keeps feeling shudders of shock as the news hits her in waves; I seem to have put it from my mind, and don't like to dwell on it. I suppose if anything, my emotions are of anger and apprehension - I resent having a black curtain hung before me through which I must pass. I enjoy life, and had hoped for a few more good years - there are so many things I still wish to do.
The apprehension arises from the thought of the cystectomy. I spent 6 months as surgical houseman on a GU unit. As a houseman, we didn't do much important stuff - just assisting the surgeon by holding retractors while the nurses wiped his brow. But I did see the severity of the ops, and the attempts to fashion a piece of bowel into a false bladder draing to a bag on the abdominal wall. I witnessed the failures too, where the bowel became infected, or did not graft, and needed another urgent procedure. Also, the cases of the poor men (were they always men?) with aggresive cancers, too late to halt, racing through their bodies to claim the ultimate victory.

I don't suppose my feelings will help anyone else much, but the Macmillan cancer site offers brillient support, and is Ann's first port of call when she has questions. So if anyone reading this wants to bring me their feelings, at least I'll be happy to share them, and maybe they will resonate with my own feelings and help me better to express them.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Clearing up the mess

I am always surprised at how difficult women find it to load a dishwasher. Each time my wife tries to do it, I find myself having to reload the thing. The problem is, I believe they have no spatial awareness. Dishes are pressed against each other and come out half unwashed; cups are piled higgledy piggley, and won't fit together properly in neat rows; glasses are not proped up and topple over, so come out full of dirty water; forks are placed in tine downwards, so they stop the bottom rotator doing its job; and huge items are placed vertically to stop the top rotator from turning.
Worse still, they don't get the concept of initial rinsing to remove loose pieces, which end up coating the glasses so they have an unwanted coating of crud. I don't know what prevents them from learning, but Ann is sensible and says, "well you do it then!"   Ben says his partner is exactly the same; he has to do it every time, as she refuses to touch it anymore.

Today was crunch time with my urologist, Mr Sengupta. He is a good, serious, surgeon with a firm handshake, who speaks with clarity and looks me in the eye. The news was not good, but he had a box of tissues ready which he passed to Ann. It is stage 3, having passed through the bladder wall, with evidence of possible metastasis to a pelvic gland. I have had lighted candles, prayer meetings, and even a mass said for me! If this were a scientific experiment, I would have to say it has failed to reach statistical significance. However, it has demonstrated what a large group of  people care, and that surely gives strength and hope, even if no physical cure.

The Addenbrooke's team will meet on Monday to decide my fate: some combination of radical cystectomy, chemo and radio therapy, or possibly some experimental treatment, which they are always keen to try out at there. I will be happy to accept their advice to clear up this mess.

Ann is a rock. The last time she was passed tissues was 25 years ago, in the same hospital, when we were given news that the scan for her pregnancy showed an empty sac. But she rose above that to produce an Edwin, weighing in at 13 pounds, and with an Apgar of 10 even after the Caesarian Section. Mr Sengupta asked if she would like to take the box, but she was strong enough to control her distress.

Yesterday, Mike phoned. I have always been proud of a good head of hair. My children used to take it as a sign for a healthy genetic inheritance, but some of them are already getting a bit thin on top. When told I might need chemo, Mike said I'll end up looking like him. I had a haircut yesterday too; I could have saved the money.

Monday, 15 October 2018

I am now a BLFJ

One teacher at my medical school at St Thomas' Hospital taught that the only difference between a man and a woman was a -CH3 group and a double bond, but he was a biochemistry teacher. The physiology department was more finely nuanced and taught six distinguishing features for sex determination and sexual differentiation.

  1. Genetic sex. Usually a clear distinction with XX or XY. Rarely, specific mutations (XXY, XXX etc.), or hybrid and mosaic types are seen.
  2. Anatomical sex. Usually distinct, although hermaphroditism, hypo-genitalia, or developmental anomalies might confuse the external appearance.
  3. Hormonal sex. Do you have functional ova or testes? What is the balance between your circulating hormones at puberty: oestrogen or testosterone biased?
  4. Parental nurturing. A more fluid definition, based on parental choices, culture and expectation. What was your given name? Were you clothed in dress or trousers? Did your relatives colour preference include blue or pink? What selection of "suitable" toys did you get? Do friends see you and treat you as male or female? 
  5. Sexual orientation. Are you attracted to males or females? Here, gender fluidity begins to creep in, and bisexual or homosexual preferences may emerge. 
  6. Sexual self identification. The last of the list, yet psychologically the most important. Does the person think they are in the "wrong" body? Despite the strength and persistence of the first five types, do they desperately yearn to be the opposite of them all?
People answering yes to the last of these may be desperately unhappy in their lives, and wish above all else to assume their preferred identity. Changing clothes and name is the easy part; harder is to insist on hormonal and surgical treatments to bring (2) and (3) into alignment.

On this basis, the current trend to make self-identification a sufficient qualification is to trivialize a traumatic state of being. It will deny proper recognition and treatment for people trapped in the "wrong" body, and if allowed, will enable any peeping Tom to self-identify as female for the dubious and abusive desire to enter women's changing and shower areas with impunity. On the basis of self-identification, I can claim to identify as a black, lesbian, female jew, and claim the right of all BLFJ's to protection by anti-discrimination laws and proper recognition by society as a worthy minority.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

On entertaining

We went to a concert by Paulo Lopes and Peter Wild yesterday, with celloist Eugénie Dagan and Edwin as narrator, to a packed hall in Stoke by Clare. The first half was a selection from composers rarely heard today, including Cécile Chaminade who wrote over a thousand pieces, and was widely acclaimed in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. We hear so many complaints that women were pushed out of science and the arts by men; but even when there is a great composer like Chaminade, she seems to be pushed aside, and even today it takes a Paulo to make her known. The second half was Saint-Saëns. Both Peter and Paulo are incredible pianists, and the music of their thundering keys from the finale parade of the Carnaval des Animaux reverberated through my dreams all night. Paulo not only arranges the program and performs, he also cooks and serves the food for the interval (a choice of chili con carne or chili beans, rice and salad), and does all the organization. They're doing it again today with a young dancing troupe from Clare's school of dance.

By chance, we were seated next to the ex landlady of the hotel in Clare. She ran it for over two years, then left in the summer. She said it was growing too hard to make a living from it. With Brexit looming, prices of imported foods and foreign beers are already increasing. Also, with fewer Europeans coming over, it was getting harder to recruit staff, and wages were going up, and it was hard to pass these costs on to customers. The public were also much harder to please now, complained more often and refusing to pay for meals, and stealing more and more items. One of her off-duty staff was eating there and heard a large table next to him plotting how they would get their mains free, and only have to pay for the desserts. So she has now given up the hotel, and is unsure if she will go back into catering.

Friday, 12 October 2018

A child of my age

Ann says my blog is of my age, revealing me as a child of the 40's to anyone reading it. Well, yes - I was born in the blackouts and played as a child among the bombed ruins of Leicester and Coventry. I played in the street, walked alone across the fields to primary school from age 5, and my early memories are of austerity and rationing, but it all seemed normal then. We are each a child of our age, and must build on the past as best we may.

I have been reading Mary Renault The Praise Singer for the last two weeks. It is ideal escape literature, and easy reading, but I am a slow reader with many distractions. I loved her literature when I was young, and read her avidly in the 50's and 60's. The Praise Singer tells of an ancient Greek musician. It was published in 1978, soon before her death, and passed me by. She was all woman, and lesbian before it became a fashion. Now she is published by Virago Classics, but is an unlikely icon for feminism. She doesn't write of women's issues, or even of female heroes. Per contra, her women are slaves, ill-treated wives, or hetairas. And of men, she writes with understanding: "He was learning more about the management of his javelin than he'd ever known...." "Well it is all gone by. Aphrodite herself could not raise my old spear now." Simonides is definitely of my age.

Today came the summons to attend hospital again next week to meet the mighty Mr Sengupta, perhaps to reveal the cancer's stage and discuss best treatments. Now I must build what is left as best I may, and move into a new future.

Ann continues to write her incisive brutal poetry, like a window into a hidden mind. trouble reminds me how valuable MA has been - one phone call, and she is round to help, in anyway she can. So many good wishes from so many people, often even through their own sorrows. Of the others, "whom to curse, who is unnecessary, and who is worse" sums them up.

Learning who your friends are
is valuable,
but learning who is selfish, useless, of little point,
is an indispensable guide to how to conduct the future –
who to bless
and who to curse
who is unnecessary
and who is worse.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Cat is dead

Sunrise in Hundon
There is no early mist, but a clear blue-sky sunrise, perhaps the last before he continues his winter trek behind the far wood and neighbour's house. Horse is standing quiet in his field. I am back in the waiting room where first I waited with Eds to receive the bad news of carcinoma of bladder. I am first in the room, and the receptionist books me into the system.

A large, bald-headed, florid man enters, dwarfing his wife, and stands at the end of the aisle. "You have to register," his wife says.

"I can't go down there - the computer's blocking it." His wife sighs and goes to sit down, "whatever you say." He moves awkwardly round the aisle to lean over the desk corner, forcing the receptionist to move. He sits, looking self-important, then suddenly smacks his scalp hard and examines his hand. "There was a fly on my head," he explains.

The Cat is removed and its corpse thrown in the bag for the fire. The nurse is a gruff, tall man with a coarse sense of humour, who looms over me. "This is one time you're glad you've only got a small one!" he laughs, referring back to the huge three-cylinder flushing job I had before. I go to the cafeteria with Ann and we consume several drinks.

MA took her to the physio yesterday for excersises to her broken hand. Waiting there, Ann got a new pack of mints out and said, "would you like one?" MA said, "thanks, mum," opened the pack, popped one in her mouth, then dropped the pack into her bag, leaving Ann mint-less. In the shop, she buys two packs of mints.

We walk round the grounds in the warm air. It is surprising what people drop or leave. By a waste bin is a clean, new, pink phlebotomy cuff, dropped when someone cleared rubbish from their pocket. In the woods under a bench is a hard hat and hi vis jacket, left by a workman after his sandwiches. In the cafeteria, I find a bright red carrier bag with a boxed radio-controlled toy, perhaps a present for a child. I leave it with the staff, and hope the child will get the gift.

Two hours later, the nurse puts me through my test.  From over 300mL, my residual is now 16mL. He beams. "This gives a new meaning to 'Free Willy'," he explains, "you're free to go."

Later I walk the dogs - their first proper airing for a week. The air is still warm, the sky clear blue. They race like puppies. I smile, for it is a beautiful world again.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Getting rid of Cat

Cat has been annoying me all week. It leaks badly and smells, and claws me like hot needles whenever I move. I have to wear paper pants, and use a cushion to sit. I dare not walk too far or drive anywhere. I cannot wait to get rid of the beast. I shall tell them I no longer want it, when I go back tomorrow.

Ann has been telling me all week I must listen to them, and follow their advice if they suggest I need a new Cat, but today she changed, and said she would support me if I insisted. "It's only right," she said, "you shouldn't have control taken from you."

"No," I said, "you wouldn't listen when they said you might benefit from injections into your eye. It's the same for me. When I was eighteen, that was my eye. I saw the world through it; that's why so many men judge women by imagining them in a single way, and girls always say 'boys only want one thing'".

Ann said it was no wonder I could never get a girl friend, then suggested perhaps we could get a card celebrating 'Removal of Cat Day'. She looked on line, but kept getting pictures of other men's Cats, and nasty videos showing them being removed! MA suggested they ought to have banners and balloons, as it's clearly such a big deal. I thought that was going too far, but they did buy me a small anticipatory cake to celebrate.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Clare is a different place

Clare is a strange place. It eclipses Hundon like the sun outshines the pale moon, for it is a thriving tourist centre, with many pubs, shops and tea houses, and numerous ancient sites dating to the iron age. There was a Roman town there, and a Saxon. The heirs of the Conqueror built the castle, and it featured in Magna Carta with its baron Richard de Clare. The rites to a medieval market have been held for centuries.

Hundon was mentioned in the Doomsday book, and doesn't appear to have changed much since, in population or area, other than its housing now being mostly modern brick conformities peopled by commuters or home workers like me, rather than the tithed agricultural cottages of history.

There are no historical sites here, and I am unaware of any archaeological dig or find. Even its church, though old, burnt down in 1914. It wasn't the war! The fire started even before that monstrous event. Now, it is an empty shell of history, barely used but to keep it on the ecclesiastic rolls. Its graveyard contains no famous son. There are no tea rooms, and no tourists to demand them. Its only visitors are kind relatives or friends who call from pity for we inhabitants, to take us out to for shopping or tea. And they always have trouble finding Hundon on a first visit, even with a good sat nav. But we do have a village shop, manned by (womened by? peopled by? no - staffed by, perhaps) volunteers who keep it well stocked and well run, with a hive of knowledge for we peaceful village folk.
Great train robbery at Clare

But Clare is a town, and seems to attract petty arguments that would have no place in Hundon. Last week, a notice was posted throughout the town telling of "The Great Train Robbery". This referred to an old railway wagon that used to sit on its rails in the museum. Entry was from a mock platform, and the wagon itself contained many fine exhibits from past glory days when steam locomotives thundered through the town. The museum was a useful spot to take children or visitors, but has been closed for a while. Now someone has sold off the wagon and provoked an outrage.

The Facebook pages of Clare are filled with petty squabbles. Someone posted a picture of a cigarette stub on the pavement outside the Co-op that led to a litany of accusations.
Smile Stone at Clare
There are some pretty walks in Clare, and I once spotted a Smile Stone hidden by the river bank. Shortly after were reports that 'someone has been stealing our smile stones', with many complaints and snide suggestions (no - it wasn't me. I only took the photo). But the fiercest debates are always with people who suggest Clare is a village. These are usually tourists or visitors, but this only raises a knowing smile from the residents. Then some incomer added a comment to Facebook to the effect that "they loved to live in such a pretty village". This raised over 30 replies! Clare is not a village. It is a medieval town. It was given a town charter. It has a town fair and a town market, with a High Street and Market Street. The debate was brought to an end by one resident commenting, "The difference between a village and a town is that a village has its idiot, whereas a town has two. On that basis, Clare is a city."

Sunday, 7 October 2018

My Samsung Galaxy S6 explodes!

Following the call for an explosion yesterday, my Samsung Galaxy S6 responded by exploding before I did. It was Edwin who noticed it; he wanted to check something and said, "your phone's all bent," so took it out of the case. We thought it must have been from keeping it in my pocket, but then he noticed the back had been pushed off and was badly bowed; in fact, it had been blown off its glue by the phone's innards. Closer examination showed the battery had swollen like my overfilled Cat bag, and was bulging as though about to burst. Palpation revealed a tense fluid interior that looked potentially dangerous if it had it discharged in my pants.
My Samsung Galaxy S6 blows its back off !!

By chance, Edwin had just upgraded his phone, so he passed his old Apple on to me. Now we all have Apple phones and can talk together with Apple Talk. I just have the task of learning to use the thing. I have already learnt that Apple do not play any of my recorded music! It all has to be in Apple format, or downloaded from the Apple music store. Another example of greedy profiteers putting their shareholders before us, their users.

A short while after this, I followed the Galaxy. The levels of Dulcolax and syrup of figs entering the system may have been overdone a little.

Saturday, 6 October 2018


The downstairs toilet is patterned with book covers. There I see nothing but a row of old titles etched into my brain. One is Explosives by John Reid. The blue Pelican cover contains enticing blurb about its contents. "Tales of Explosives, their Magical Creation, their Fierce Energy, their Sudden Disruption...".  For four days I sit and stare at this, wondering when some decent explosion will happen for me to wonder at. I am taking prunes, syrup of figs, and repeated doses of Dulcolax, plus numerous cups of strong coffee on Ann's advice. But all remains silent. It is uncomfortable to be so distended, with colic and mild nausea making me reluctant to eat. But we must persevere.

The Great X offers to help

Ann has allowed me to take over her special room. This is her sanctuary, into which no-one is permitted without special and rare permission. It contains her private things, with their special meaning for place, time, or person, and is the place to which she retreats to be alone, or to recover her spirituality. Now she has put me in here to nurse. All week, she has worked tirelessly to support me, physically, mentally and medically.
The Moroccan Lamp in Ann's Room

She is having to do so many extra jobs now, for while still preparing meals, getting shopping in, cleaning, and making drinks, she has the additional burdon of jobs I used to help with: sorting the rubbish, washing up and emptying the dish washer, and cleaning the house of dog hairs and the garden of their mess. All the pain and swelling on her head where she fell and hit the pavement, with her yet broken and deformed hand still prevent driving, so she has to ask MA to take her to Clare for her hair, or to sort out ordering more catheter bags from the chemist.

This afternoon, we had a card from the Great X, covered in pink blossom and well wishes, with a message that, "she was so sorry she didn't live nearer, for she would love to help."

The Great X is a nurse who worked in a hospice, and is at her best with these cases of high dependency. She is brusk and efficient, and indifferent to medical mess. Ann said, "would you like her to come down?" Edwin offered to pick her up from the station, and MA said, "you'd love her to come. She'd be really good at looking after you."

I shuddered a little, and said I agreed that she would be very good, but I thought it might not be appropriate, and I didn't really want her fiddling with me down below.

Then the doorbell rang, and our young granddaughter, who'd been silently listening, said, "That's her; the Great X has arrived!"

Friday, 5 October 2018

I am adopted by Cat

I do not know which is more likely to become infected: residual urine, or a catheter. As a man, I know I would prefer the residual, which for a few hours gave me mobility and relative comfort. As a medic, I know catheters often leak, and are always uncomfortable and get infected. However, the surgical team decided that a pool of residual is not a good idea, so I am now confined with a catheter and leg bag for a week, which is both uncomfortable and has developed a slight leak already, so I have to have pads as well.

Patients with colostomy bags are encouraged to give them names, but this contraption is unworthy of being so distinguished. So, like Holly Golightly, I call it "Cat", for it pulls and claws my leg, requires constant attention, and I had not sought it but it adopted me. Cat feeds off me, is not house trained, and requires constant cleaning out and grooming.

Bloggers are encouraged to post photos to lighten the page, but Cat is unworthy of even a derisory photo, so shall remain incognito. I have never been attracted to cats, and this is the worst of them all. My only hope is that it will be removed from my care and put down next week; but they have already hinted that if the residual does not clear, they may foist another Cat on me, with the possibility of a prostatectomy dangled threateningly before me as well.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

A little light lie

On the day we are born, we are sentenced to death and fated to live our lives in a condemned cell. In youth, it is remote and unconsidered. With age, we learn for certainty that the sentence will not be remitted. The only unknown is the length of time in the cell. With age and cancer, the remaining time is shortened. Now I can only live each day as best I may, and enjoy those moments I am still free to explore a life yet to be lived, brief though it may be. For this is not a “clean” cancer, but a solid invasive tumour, requiring resection of the bladder wall, and eliminating the possibility of further treatment with purely intracystic local chemo.  This may require radio- and chemotherapy, or -potentially - cystectomy. 

The surgical, radiological and oncology teams will convene in two or three weeks to discuss future care. In the meantime, I continue with a bag and catheter, and such hope as I can muster. My fortune is to have such strong family support, though as yet I have not told them at work. I said, with some air of truth, that my wife would be in hospital this week, so I would have a few days off. I had not realised how racist is the phrase "a little white lie" until I started to write it; now it hits with great force, if one substitutes its opposite. I suppose this is not so little, though, as it is to protect me rather than the feelings of others. Perhaps that should be "a great red lie"; but the little ones, meant to protect rather than harm, could be called "little light lies". 

Going for TURBT

Tues 2/10/18
TURBT is "trans-urethral resection of bladder tumour". Edwin and Ann brought me to the ward in time for the 7am check in, Ann still being unable to drive. It was dark when we left, and Ann with her poor sight is unable to drive at night anyway. Eds dropped us at the door, and went back to see to the dogs.

So far so boring, then suddenly at 8am constant bustle and noise with the staff change over: cleaners with commercial floor polishers; trollies screaming like sirens as they carried patients out; an alarm from the adjacent bed going like a high pitched metronome beating out 2/4 time; and chattering nurses, auxiliaries, social workers, physios, students, the anaesthetic team, and occasional doctors. This is an acute surgical ward for all surgical specialities, so different surgical teams visit each patient. Mr Sangupta came to explain and sign the consent form: basically a legal agreement to let them do whatever they wish. It’s 11 weeks since the first sign of bleeding, and 4 weeks since seeing him and being placed on his urgent waiting list.

Ann helped me into the surgical stockings; they were tight and difficult for her broken hand. I said it was a pity Edwin hadn’t stayed, for his strength, but Ann said “he doesn’t do feet!” before she had to leave to wait in the restaurant. The op started at 10am, and was completed by 11am. Visiting wasn’t until 3pm, so Ann sent a text to MA asking her “to come straight to the hospital.” Unfortunately she sent it as a round robin, so up north Lucy panicked and started to make arrangements for the children to be collected from school before Ann could enlighten her before she set off. But MA and Edwin met in the lobby, and the three then spent the morning in town, lunching together.