Thursday, July 02, 2015

Schrödinger's Cough

Freddie and Stuart: ViciousThey say that absence makes the heart grow fonder so I have no doubt that over the last three months, although you have all been preoccupied with steering your loved ones away from the evils of extremism, trying to combat the attritional effects of ever-increasing austerity and washing your smalls with the cheapest but most eco-friendly washing powder to be found at Lidl you are now - upon discovering a new blog post from yours truly after a break of a quarter of a year - overcome with emotion so deep and so raw that you can barely read these words in front of you as the realization of how much you have missed me finally hits home.

Well, let it wash over you in great waves. Don't try and fight it. Let the deluge fill your teacup to the brim and then slowly but surely raise sea levels the world over.

For my part I am trying to think of a suitable celebrity couple with which to best represent my odd relationship with you all. Thelma & Louise? Not quite. Batman & Robin? Sorry, you don't have the legs for it. Closest I can find is Freddy and Stuart from Vicious. Of course I am Freddy, ever demanding and not really able to express the slight fondness I feel for you all though perfectly able to articulate my sneering contempt for any effort on your part to please me whilst you potter about the house (paid for by me) catering to my every whim and trying to kid yourself that you are utterly indispensable.

Yes. We are all entangled in a slightly clichéd gay relationship that exists only on the television.

But on the bright side, we can now get married.

"What have I been doing?" You clamour. "Where have I been?" Unlike the pussycat from childhood rhyme going to London and visiting the Queen has not featured on my itinerary at all.

Unfortunately, my father dying, trying to sort out stuff from Karen's mum's will, and trying to keep heart, body and soul together have featured large. And none of it has reached a stage that anybody could term "resolved".

As an aside - and thankfully it is only an aside - I had my own health scare last week when a persistent cough drove me to the doctors. Given my father's demise through lung cancer my doctor thought it best that I go for a chest X-ray immediately - to make sure there was "nothing nasty" causing me grief. Up until then I had gone for 8 weeks, coughing away without a second thought. As soon as the X-ray was booked in (and I realised my doctor was taking it all rather seriously) my mind kind of imploded with all of the unwelcome possibilities that exist in the world of disease and medicine. I had to wait a week for my results with my former casual cough now being the harbinger of chemotherapy at worst and the inaugurator of the iron lung at best.

It's appalling how one's mind can torment you and torture you. And it is totally self-defeating. Especially when you consider how some theorists posit the idea that thought and observation inform and create reality. As I waited for the 7 days to elapse before I could ring in for my results I found myself thinking of Schrödinger's cat quite often and realized that, in this uncertain interim, according to the laws of the Quantum universe, I both had and didn't have cancer at the same time. The answer lay in a closed box and would not settle into one of the two states until I opened it up and had a good look at it. Until then, to some degree, my behaviour in the universe would determine my fate.

Some believe that to get what we want from life we have to behave as if we already have it... and then the universe furnishes it to us accordingly. If we fill our hearts with yearning and desires that seem hopeless then the universe merely gifts us more of the same. The key is to live your life as if your desires are already met.

I have no idea whether that is true or not. I do not have empirical evidence that it works.

All I know is my results were clear and the doctor has put my cough down to either the onset of asthma or hay fever and since I have dispensed with subconscious fears about the Big C my cough seems to be getting better on its own.

And I am back. Back amongst you all.

So all is well that hasn't ended. See? Life can still be good.

Now put the kettle on and stop your embarrassingly high-pitched whimpering.

Monday, March 30, 2015


Internet trollsIt’s finally happened. The trolls have got my goat. Got my goat and burned down the bridge.

I’ve written about this subject before but over the past week there have been some explicit examples making the headlines. The trolls are everywhere like an epidemic and (unless something is done to neutralize them) as their contagion spreads we will all find ourselves under permanent curfew.

Everybody will be (over)familiar with the Jeremy Clarkson debacle. As I’ve said elsewhere it proves the old adage true: give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; give him a steak and you won’t get your nose punched and end up in A&E. Everyone has had an opinion on this. And everybody has voiced it. But, really, did any of us have a right? We weren’t there. We weren’t involved. For a long time nobody knew the facts and yet everybody was spouting forth about what they thought ought to happen, what punitive measures ought to be taken. 

But it had eff all to do with us. Why did it impinge on our lives so much?

But that’s a side issue. My main issue with it all is the amount of online abuse the hapless producer received since the incident became public “knowledge”. Not enough that he got whalloped by a workmate, no, now every Top Gear fan in the world is giving him excoriating grief for being so inconsiderate as to have been the victim of workplace violence in the first place. Even Jeremy Clarkson himself has had to explicitly ask people to lay off the poor producer as he has DONE NOTHING WRONG!

But it gets worse.

Now BBC bigwig, Tony Hall, who headed the enquiry that decided not to renew Jeremy Clarkson’s contract is under police protection because he has subsequently received death threats online.

Really? It’s a car show! Grow up, people!

I am becoming increasingly sickened with the amount of snide, cowardly trolling that exists and proliferates online. Give someone anonymity and they suddenly find endless seams of courage to proclaim the most bigoted, hate-filled, misinformed, kneejerk rubbish seen this side of Hitler’s private diary. Of course, ask them to put their name to it and it all goes quiet. They wouldn’t say boo to a goose. They want people to think they’re decent and reasonable, you see. They like to hide their hate under a bushel.

Not all, of course. There’s always identifiable trolls like Katie Hopkins who this weekend decided she had the perfect right to trash someone else’s happiness and spread yet more bile. Yesterday, Danny Dyer (I admit, I’m not a fan but fair-dos) announced to the world that he was getting engaged to be married. When Hopkins learned that it was Danny’s girlfriend who had done the proposing she spouted forth an unrelenting barrage of insults and innuendo, accusing him of being emasculated and not man enough to say no. Really? Really?

What possible right did this self-publicising monster think she had to offer any kind of opinion at all on Dyer’s announcement? Oh he announced it on Twitter so that makes it fair game? No. No, I don’t think it does. This is not open season, folks. Making an announcement online is no different than doing it in person down the pub, supermarket or bingo hall. As other commentators have remarked: if you wouldn’t say it in real life, don’t say it online. Don’t try and justify it by saying online announcements are public property.

At the end of the day we are each responsible for what comes out of our mouths and keyboards. If it is vile, bilious and vitriolic then the responsibility for that lies with us, not with the target. The fault lies within not without.

To cause grief seems to have become some kind of internet badge that people feel they have to earn. Seems to me you have to sell any kind of  basic human decency to achieve it. Those that applaud the trolls and are entertained by it are as bad as the trolls themselves.

What worries me is the effect all this will have on our freedoms. Freedom of speech, freedom of expression; the very free nature of the internet itself.

The thought police are already closing in. They’re already listening. The list of watchwords grows each week. The list of targets too. They’re tracing us, bugging us, like something out of The Matrix. And the worst thing is, although I want us all to retain our freedoms, I also want all these anonymous (and not so anonymous) trolls to have their refuges exposed. To have their shields ripped away so we can all see who and what they are – small, soft white maggots squirming in the harsh light of day. I want them to be made accountable for every word and utterance.

Because freedom of speech only works when we exercise freedom of thought and realize the right to say something does not always mean it should be said. If it causes harm for no good reason (and deflecting ennui is no good reason at all) then you really ought to keep silent. But it seems we cannot police ourselves. There are too many idiots letting their tongues and thoughts run amuck because stupidtroll@48 thinks they won’t ever be winkled out or because @KTHopkins knows she will be paid very well by advertisers and sponsors when her latest verbal vomit hits the tabloids.

The world is all wrong. It is starting to stink of a fast spreading rot. And this malaise will be fuel to those who want to place tighter controls on the internet, on what we say and what information we are able to access. It is a small step on the journey to somewhere very bad indeed. Very bad. And worst of all, this disease is all around us. We are all mired in it. Our society is built on it.

You have to understand, you see, it’s not bridges that trolls choose to live under; it’s stones.


Block The Trolls

So how do we remedy this situation without imposing on other people’s entitlement to free speech?

One idea I’ve had is to exercise the right not to listen. I’d like everyone to join me in blocking the trolls. It’s easy enough to block people on Twitter (using their Twitter tags) and Facebook so let’s be more proactive about doing so. I’d like to see a mass blocking of all anonymous trolls and self-aggrandising attention seekers like Katie Hopkins. Don’t listen to these people, don’t engage with them, don’t let yourself be polluted by entering into a discourse with them. Just block them and then pass the word. Pass onto others the IDs of trolls and encourage an act of global blocking. Obviously use your own powers of discernment – take a look at the profiles pages of people first before you block them; it will give you a clear idea of the type of things they post. Don’t block people blindly or the very act of blocking becomes another way to troll. On Twitter please use the hashtag #blockthetrolls. If we starve these people of media oxgyen maybe, just maybe, they’ll either grow up or go away…

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Don't Interrupt The Flow

The Musketeers A small gripe, this, and in the bigger scheme of things doesn't count for a great deal. But it does, to use the Aussie vernacular, get my goat.

I'm at that age / station in life / financial situation where going out regularly - pubs, meals, cinema, cultural venues, etc - is nigh on an impossibility. They are special treats that must be saved up for and savoured. I don't have a problem with this. This is how life is at the moment and others have it far worse.

But for me a perfect way of unwinding after a hard day at work is simply time curled up on the sofa with my good lady wife watching some choice telly. Staying in and watching telly is undervalued and mis-sold in the modern media representation of our dynamic, thrusting, young techno-adept society.

But I'll bet I'm not alone in holding various TV show up as the highpoint of my week and viewing them as some kind of personal reward for another day at work got through / another ordeal endured.

Be it Doctor Who, The Musketeers, Dragon's Den, the forthcoming re-adaption of Poldark - whatever your poison - these humble little treats afforded us by a wonderfully creative UK television and movie industry (that is largely unsupported by the UK government) are what keep most of us going during the mundane, day-to-day drag of our everyday existence.

So it pisses me off - admittedly disproportionately to the crime - when the programming schedulers suddenly interrupt a series run to put something else on instead. Sport usually or some yaw-yawing political debate.

The current run of The Musketeers has been, to my memory, interrupted no less than 3 times. Now I recognise, with consummate bad timing for this post, that the current hiatus is because of Comic Relief next week and that's fine. That's understandable, acceptable and palatable. But the first two occasions were because of sporting fixtures.

Now I will also admit that I am not a sport fan. I am in fact the diametric opposite. I loathe televised sport. Watching other people perform sport is like watching other people play computer games without participating yourself or watching joggers run round the park. What is the point?

But by the by.

If I were the writer / producer / actor in any of these shows whose transmission run is broken for the sake of a football match I would be spitting feathers. A good drama series has a flow to it. An over-arc in addition to the arc of each individual episode. That flow is part of the creative drive of the show. And though some might argue that with the advent of catch-up TV scheduling no longer matters, historically the general public has an expectation that if a TV drama series is broadcast at some pre-specified and henceforth established time on a week evening then that is the slot which it will hold for all perpetuity - or at least until the series terminates. England expects. And I'm sure Scotland, Wales and Ireland do too.

To have all that time and creative energy, that carefully crafted flow cast aside for a rugby match is infuriating and insulting. I'm not knocking sport, really I'm not. If that's your bag good for you. Be welcome to it. But given the sheer amount of TV channels these days - and many solely devoted to sport - why should a sporting fixture be allowed to shoehorn its way into another schedule to attract probably less viewers than have been driven away by the banishment of the original show? Shove it onto a sports channel where the jogger-watchers can drink their beer, eat their pies and vicariously enjoy the healthier lifestyle of other people without incurring the wrath of the more tasteful majority!

Like I said, it's a small gripe. And I will accept all accusations that I am a stick-in-the-mud, dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist but, Goddamnit, Friday night is "Musketeers night" and that's all there is to it!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Rat Fangs

Roland Rat in me kitchen Despite being an avid fan of the BBC's Springwatch it seems I still have not yet learned to tell the difference between a rat and a mouse (though I'm pretty sure I could tell the difference between sheep droppings and otter spraint). Our cats, Missy and Kia, managed to bring a rodent hostage into the house over the weekend. The thing went to ground beneath our oven and found further progress prevented by the constant supertrooper gaze of the cats who sat stolidly on patrol waiting for it to put a paw wrong.

In the end, armed with a torch and a stick, I set about trying to break the status quo by dislodging the creature - preferably into my custody - before the advent of Sunday lunch baked the little blighter into the lino. I was convinced it was a mouse. Small, cute, beady black eyes. I now suspect it was just an adolescent rat. Anyway, all I succeeded in doing was driving the thing from out beneath the oven and across the kitchen floor to the fluffy world that exists beneath the washing machine.

Our cats, prime mousers that they are, didn't move a muscle from the oven and indeed continued to sit on patrol for the rest of the night whilst Monty (as I shall christen him) gave them the finger from the other side of the kitchen.

I figured that sooner or later food would drive Monty out into the open and into some risky manoeuvre that would put him squarely into the hungry sights of our cats. I forgot about him. I let the cats wage their war of attrition and got on with my life.

Until I was awoken by terrified squeaking this morning and the sounds of a life and death game of hide & seek out in the hallway. I emerged to find the cats furiously pawing at the unloaded shoe rack and guessed that Monty had indeed made a bid for freedom and had got himself corralled by the cats into a hell of high heels and flip-flops.

If I'd been more awake I would have twigged that (a) a mouse would not have eluded 2 cats for this long, (b) doesn't make a huge deal of noise when panicked and (c) doesn't have a long, furless tail.

Trying to be a hero I thought I'd do the humane thing and rescue the little bugger. I am perversely proud to say that where the cats failed I succeeded and managed to capture Monty within my own paws after a mere 3 attempts.

At this point things went slightly awry when Monty sank his fangs into my finger and began to gnaw with the contempt only usually reserved for the UN by the Russians. I may have cried out at this point (in a manly way obviously) - especially as Monty was freely swinging from my finger like a weird piercing without any support from myself.  And I realise with the benefit of hindsight that Monty plainly felt himself caught between a rock and a hard place. He didn't want to be within my grasp so was biting me in self-defence but neither could he let go as gravity would drop him into the waiting jaws of Missy and Kia.

I did that stupid dance that one does in such situations - trying to decide whether it would be best to throw Monty out of the backdoor or the front-door before his gnawing pushed me to the conclusion that to part company in the quickest possible fashion would be best. I managed to get the front-door open with Monty still hooked into my finger and then, once outside, Monty was happy to let himself free-fall into the nearest bush. Missy followed him out and sat, slyly sentinel, for half an hour or so amongst the underbrush before returning empty jawed so I have no doubt that Monty escaped completely and utterly and is no doubt even now recounting to his family how he ran rings around 2 cats and a human and got a bit of a free feed out of it.

For me it has meant a trip to my GP and a week's course of antibiotics as according to my doc any kind of wild animal bite leads to infection in 9 out of 10 cases. Charming. I'm also to return immediately if I start to feel ill anytime over the next 2 weeks - rats can carry nasty diseases and while such infection is rare it can happen.

Next time I shall bugger humanity and batter the bugger's brains out with a pair of Doc Martens.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

To Wee Or Not To Wee

Weeing for joyThose of you who have foolishly connected to me via Facebook will already know of the great urinary cessation that I suffered yesterday on what has now become known as Bladderless Friday. But for those of you who have preferred to keep me at arms distance (i.e. occasional readers of this blog) let me fill you in.

I'm currently suffering a nasty bout of sciatica. I won't harp on about the pain (but if Job has sciatica then he'd really have something to moan about) but it was enough to drive me to the doc's on Tuesday and in some desperation demand some release.

I was furnished with a prescription for Zapain. A drug that sounds like it was lifted from the 1960's Batman TV series. I don't as a rule take pain killers (preferring instead to be vocally miserable) but this time it really was a case of needs must.

What I hadn't taken into account was my body's now apparent intolerance to Zapain. Initially it was fine. I could cope with the woolly-headedness and the light-headedness because I was at work and didn't care and, on the plus side, the incessant, crippling agony of screeching back and leg muscles finally began to dull down to an almost forgettable background hum.

What I failed to acknowledge to myself was that gradually my once strong and regular flow of urine (no, I am not talking about this blog but real urine) was beginning to dry up. To reduce to a tormentative trickle.

At first I thought it was my imagination. Thought it was psychosomatic. But as the days wore on it began to dawn on me that not all was well in the State of Denmark. Going for a pee was becoming harder and harder to accomplish. I was having to concentrate on relaxing and 'letting go' before anything would happen. I'd have to lean forwards over the toilet as if to relieve pressure elsewhere - tip the kettle over, so to speak - and let a desultory tickle dribble forth.

By Thursday night it was worse and I finally admitted to myself that I needed medical assistance. Going for a wee now required a gargantuan effort of will - all my focus drilled down onto the seemingly impossible task of relaxing my bladder. It gave me heart palpitations, it gave me the sweats, I thought I was going to pass out. And where once there had been a torrent there was now not enough to turn the smallest of Archimedes' Screws. Think of a hosepipe with the tap turned off. You know there is water in the pipe but as you lift up the hose only a sad, mean trickle plashes forth.

By Friday morning I was ashen and fearing the worst. The first thing a guy thinks of when he has trouble with his water-works is prostate. Or worse. In practical terms I was thinking catheters and the doctor's fingers shoved up my bum... neither of which were enticing me to the doctors but the thought of spending the day in bottled up agony didn't appeal to me either.

My good lady wife - as shaky as I - drove me to the doctors as soon as we got an emergency appointment. I was by this point fearing it would be a hospital job. Either that or death by drowning.

As it turned out nothing so drastic. My doctor (not the one who proscribed me the Zapain I might add) might have the bedside manner of a Findus frozen fish-finger but he knows his stuff. He quickly ascertained that Zapain was not doing me any good at all and had in fact set my bowels rock-solid. To the point where they were inhibiting my bladder from its usual functions. No more Zapain. Not now, not ever. Instead no more than 4 paracetamol a day, lily-livered, flower of ill health that I was. As for peeing... I needed to drink lots and lots of water and take some laxatives. He felt sure that as soon as the bowel was released the bladder would soon follow.

I must admit I was sceptical. The thought of chucking loads of water down my throat and becoming the physical embodiment of the Elan Valley Dam didn't seem to me to be the best course of action but I decided to trust my doc and I was heartily glad I did.

Literally within an hour of the softening effects of the laxative I'd managed to induce a small waterfall - with effort. A little while later the Dam Buster's Theme Tune could be heard blasting from my bum cheeks as several tonnes of blackened concrete dropped away revealing blue skies and clear air and an unfettered passage to the west.

Since that wonderful hour my bladder's pouring forth has become easier and easier - though I still feel tender and sore and rather battered. And of course the back pain has started again. Really, 4 paracetamol are just not going to cut it.

But I'd choose the rack over the plug any day of the week...