Monday, November 30, 2009

The Miser’s Touch

I’m at odds with the world today. I don’t know what it or I have done but we’re not on good terms. The atmosphere is decidedly chilled.

I’m not sure who started it and I’m not sure when it will end but we’re heading for certain bloodshed.

It seemed to start when I got up this morning. The world was deliberately obtuse and uncooperative. Things wouldn’t open properly. Things would fall out of my hands. Things would spill. Other things, evil cupboardy things, would mysteriously open at malicious angles and crack me passing blows on the head.

I cottoned on pretty quickly. Let’s face it when a campaign is being waged against you it doesn’t take long for the signs to become self-evident.

For my part I have responded with rapid fire door slamming, aerial bombardments of stomping and carpet bombing with high explosive expletives. I have an everlasting supply of the latter so if this is to be a war of attrition, world, you’d better be in for the long haul.

Please don’t worry about me, people, I can hold my own. But it is, I admit, a lonely stance. My biggest enemy is my own paranoia. I am eyeing old friends with suspicion. Have they been converted? Brainwashed? Programmed against me? Sleeper agents waiting for the trigger word...? My computer, my mobile phone, even my MP3 player – their shiny buttons look like teeth this morning. I’m not sure I can trust their electrical impulses to remain loyal. The world is urging them to foul up. To lose or corrupt data. To crash.

Even the toaster is looking at me belligerently.

What have I done? What have I done?

I’ve gone over it all in my head but I can’t think of a damned thing. Was I too rough with the oven? Has the world taken the size of my carbon footprint personally?

Why are you picking on me and not Jeremy Clarkson?

The world is so unfair!

Well, enough is enough!

If it’s a fight you want, world, you can have one! Put ‘em up or shut up!

Friday, November 27, 2009


My name is Stephen Blake and I am an addict.

I first became addicted when I was 6 or 7. It was my mother who got me onto the stuff. In her defence she probably didn’t realize the potency of the substance or my susceptibility to it. At the time “addiction” wasn’t a word that was particularly bandied around regularly at the nation’s breakfast tables so people thought little of my daily cravings.

Now though addiction is an all too common concept. In fact it is almost the norm. We are all addicted to something or so they say.

For me, ladies and gentleman, the vice of choice is chocolate.

Up until now I’ve always made light of it. It is even been a source of humour. When Karen and I go out for a meal (on the rare occasions that we have both the money and the energy) and order an after meal coffee it is always amusing to see the waiters mistakenly assuming that it is Karen who has ordered the hot chocolate and me the coffee. Why guys are deemed less likely to have a sweet-tooth is puzzling.

Anyway, I am sure I have mentioned in the past that I need to have “a chocolate bar every day”.

This is a lie. A falsehood that I have deliberately been bamboozling myself with.

If I was to assess the situation empirically I would have to admit that I must get through at least 4 chocolate bars a day. Sometimes even more.

Is this excessive?

I mean compared to say 25 or 50, 4 hardly seems like a health crisis. And yet a tiny sense of worry is beginning to flower on the herbaceous borders of my mind. Too much sugar. Too much sugar. Diabetes. Diabetes. It is like a mantra of impending doom.

Biologically the human body isn’t really engineered to process sugar. I know this. And yet my craving is such that I just don’t care.

My body shape also works against me. I am a “slim Jim”. Always have been. I can eat as much as I like and be as unhealthy as I like and I never put on any weight. I have the metabolism of an Olympic mouse. Hence there are no outward signs of the damage I might be doing to myself. My veins could be clogging themselves to death and I wouldn’t know a damned thing about it.

It’s a scary thought. But one that can easily be cancelled out by a Cadbury’s Boost or a Caramel Chunky Kit-Kat.

In my favour though, I went and had a blood test / weight ratio test thingie at my local doctors a few weeks ago. I was finally ready to bite the chocolate-free bullet if my health required it. But – gasp! – my blood pressure and weight relationship were on such good terms that the phrase “extended honeymoon” barely covered the depth of their mutual respect and contentment.

I am exceedingly fit. It seems I am not an obvious candidate for a heart attack.

Hence I rewarded myself with a Mars bar.

So where am I now on all of this? Well, my theory is that my natural paranoia and neuroses is counteracting any harmful effects that my chocolate excesses might be inflicting upon my body. My worry is eliminating the build up of sugar based toxins.

So provided I continue to feel guilty about it I can continue to munch my way through the sweet counter of my local newsagents on a daily basis.

Which changes the nature of my habit completely.

It is no longer an addiction. It is a form of Catholicism.

I am a holy man and my rod and my staff are Curly-Wurlys.

Please bring me some chocolate when you next come to confession.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Rattus Norvegicus

A couple of weeks ago evidence was found of a possible rodent infestation at work.

A couple of packets of cookies had been found ripped open and the contents nibbled. Personally I suspected a tea-leaf; a member of staff helping themself to a biscuit subsidy... it happens, let’s face it.

But droppings were found. Small, black, like tiny raisins. No human could have produced such evidence unless they had a sphincter tighter than a nun’s, er, habit.

So the pest control guys were called in. They lifted ceiling tiles and trap doors, They poked around shelves and cupboards. They drank loads of tea. And below the ground floor of the building, among the foundations they found hundreds of rat footprints. They fixed their jaws and pronounced their grim verdict. We were being overrun by a rat army. A veritable rodent blitzkrieg.

Now I suspected that, given nobody has really been down among the foundations for 10 years, it could just as easily be one lone rat chasing its own tail among the dust of centuries.

The pest control guys humoured my inexpert opinion with a small laugh and then threw 250 sticky traps down into the void beneath the floor. They were expecting a big haul, I could tell.

Now these sticky traps (or rat glue traps as they are professionally called) are just like blunder traps that can be bought for catching insects. They rely on your chosen prey wandering along, going innocently about their business, and suddenly finding themselves glued to the sticky surface of the trap. Rendered immobile and very cheesed off.

I must admit the thought of having to retrieve live rats, squealing and wriggling, glued to a bit of board didn’t particularly appetize me but the advantage, when explained to me, was obvious: putting down conventional poison leaves the rat free to go off and die somewhere where it’ll never be found. Once the body count reaches the hundreds the smell is going to be very bad indeed...

So the traps were laid and we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And each morning during the week’s treatment I came to work expecting to find a living carpet of rat fur spread around the foundations of the building and at its head, dressed in bright, gaudy clothes and a strange feathered cap, a strange thin man of German origin blowing very feebly into a wide-ended flute.

Instead, when bodies were eventually discovered, the rampaging rat hordes proved to be no more than 2 measly rats and 8 mice (wearing dark glasses).

I phoned the Whitehouse and told them to stand down the troops.

In a way I feel relieved (and vindicated). We are not and have never been overrun. Bubonic plague is not about to rear its ugly head in my McVitie’s Hobnobs.

But I could never be a rat catcher, for all they tried to sell it to me as the good life – go where you want, when you want, do as much as you want when you want, etc – it has a decidedly ugly side.

The live rodents have to be dispatched quickly and humanely by the pest control operatives themselves.

Thankfully this was done out of sight of me. But I did overhear one of them say to his mate: “yeah, I’ve squished this one good and proper...”


Another Hobnob anyone...?

Monday, November 23, 2009


Saturday saw my mother, me and my two sisters descend upon my grandfather’s bedside like priests come to hear the final confession. We had been summoned, all of us, by the ward sister the day before, whose urgings had persuaded my mother that her original planned visit on Monday was simply (and I quote) “too far away”. We had to come now. ASAP.

This coupled with the news that my grandfather had been prescribed morphine on Friday had us fearing the worst. I mean, what else are you to think? Morphine is a pretty hefty painkiller. They don’t administer it without good reason. Or rather, bad.

So we were all there. Awaiting the arrival of the nursing sister of the day to speak to us. Apparently (according to another communiqué from the hospital) she wanted to speak to my mother in person to explain the situation more fully.

My grandfather lay before us. White, thin, skeletal. His skin now so transparent as to be almost non-existent – it looked as if a mad calligrapher had drawn veins and arteries in bold ink on parchment. His outline was a folded clothes’ horse of stick bones and rounded corners under the bed sheets. Piteous really when I think of how he used to be: always slim and wiry but always, always so vital.

The nursing sister eventually graced us with her presence, mystified by our request to see her. It seems she had no further information to give us. My grandfather was certainly very poorly but he was comfortable and stable. No real change from how he’d been over the last 2 weeks. It seems our urgent attendance was not really required. The priest need not be called away from his lunch. The morphine too was something of a red herring. Yes, he’s been prescribed it but he has not so far been given it – because he is in no pain whatsoever and does not need it. It is there merely “in case”.

Cue wry looks from us all. It is of course nice to know that although my grandfather is still at death’s door he is not yet, as we feared, ringing the doorbell. But it is irritating in the extreme to have lived with such a black picture of his condition for the last few days when the paint, barely dry, was only as grey as it has always been.

What havoc a little misinformation can cause! If the hospital can’t get their story straight between themselves my family and I stand little chance of ever staying well informed.

The only information that we received that could be deemed in any way useful was the sister’s expert opinion that it is highly unlikely that my grandfather will ever return home again. He needs 24 hour care. If he leaves the hospital it’ll be to go to a nursing home. The thing he most wanted not to happen. Alas, he is now so far gone that I doubt he’ll even notice let alone care where he is.

So, for the first time in my life, the house of my grandparents – the home of so many happy memories for me – will be completely empty and lifeless.

This seems another small death in a long line of small deaths that are inevitably leading to a bigger.

The dominoes are toppling but at least the game is not yet over.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The D Word

Nurses, doctors, medical staff. They do a tough, backbreaking, heartbreaking job. I couldn’t do it. Not at all. And I want to make that clear because there is a part of me that is just instinctively opposed to slating anyone in the medical profession.

But I can’t deny I am becoming more and more frustrated, disappointed and just let-down with the service my family is getting from the local hospital.

My grandfather is still in hospital. All week we’ve been getting reports from the staff on his ward that he is fine, that he is stable, that he is doing well. Yesterday morning we even got a fantastic report that he was doing very well indeed and was up and chirpy.

Then yesterday afternoon, out of the blue, a consultant advised us that actually he is doing very badly and is very poorly indeed. So much so my mother is rushing down from Sheffield tomorrow to see him. Things don’t look good.

I realize people can go downhill fast – especially when they’re old – but this really sounds like there has been a case of crosswires and misinformation. I sometimes wonder if the hospital staff are even talking about the right patient when they give us information about my grandfather.

There is also a massive and often very worrying omission of facts.

My grandfather has developed Clostridium difficile (C. diff) – not for the first time I hasten to add. It seems to be as a direct result of being admitted to hospital and pumped with antibiotics. He is very poorly with it and given his frailty the hospital has few options of how to treat it. Higher dose antibiotics could have an adverse effect and surgery to fix the resultant lump in his stomach / abdomen is off the cards because it is doubtful he’d survive an operation.

As C diff is very contagious it makes visiting him difficult – I have two young children and my parents both work with food and children; we need to be careful about not carrying any infection away from the hospital. Luckily my mother had tipped me off about his C diff diagnosis before my last visit and a good job too. The staff nurse, when told who I had come to see, merely waved me to his room and didn’t check to see if I knew of his condition or make any attempt to ensure that I took adequate precautions to prevent the spread of the disease. For all she knew I was just someone off the street who had no prior knowledge of his condition whatsoever.

This lackadaisical approach appals me. Again it comes down to poor communication and a reluctance to pass on necessary information. Surely this should all be part and parcel of the care package – keeping the next of kin fully and accurately informed?

Or, with the supremacy of the internet, should I be doing my own online Google research and Wikipedia-based prognoses? Or maybe checking the hospital’s Twitter account for updates on the state of my grandfather’s health?

My grandfather is dying. I shouldn’t have to bang my head against a brick wall to maintain a link that is already fading fast of its own accord.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Yes And No

Tom has finally mastered these.

It’s taken him a while. Up until a week or so ago, when asked a question, Tom would answer no when he meant yes, and no when he meant no.

This obviously led to a little confusion. Occasionally it was quite easy to determine which of the two answers he meant. Would you like some chocolate? No. This obviously and irrefutably meant yes. Would you please lie still while I apply some barrier cream to your tender-most areas? No. This generally meant no.

I must admit I was a little concerned as to why Tom had decided that no was the stock answer to every single question directed at him. It wasn’t as if we were denying him his every wish and desire. However, a little observation led to the answer. When you have a young toddler marauding around the house, attempting to operate sundry mechanical objects such as washing machines, ovens, DVD players and other delicate electrical devices of extortionate cost you tend to find yourself calling “no” out loud rather a lot.

Small wonder then that Tom saw no as a standard form of expression.

But somehow over the last 10 days or so he’s had a semantic break-through. His grasp of language has leapt. His vocabulary has increased exponentially. He’s discovered the glorious positivity of the word yes.

Would you like some chocolate? Yes.

Would you like a cheese sandwich (a great favourite)? Yes.

Would you please lie still while I apply some barrier cream to your tender-most areas? No.

The yes and no parts of his brain are now functioning normally. He can express his burgeoning opinions (and he has many) correctly and effectively. It’s marvellous. I’m very proud of him.

But it has made me wonder – this very significant developmental stage – how often we, as adults, unlearn this most important of lessons. How many times do we say no when we mean yes – denying ourselves some pleasurable item because we feel guilty or not worthy? Or, worse still, how many times do we say yes when we really, truly mean no – allowing ourselves to be put upon unfairly, or finding ourselves completing some onerous task that only serves to make us feel miserable and victimized?

Now that Tom has grasped the difference between yes and no I’m going to do all in my power to ensure that his understanding of them remains pure and unalloyed for the rest of his life.

But that barrier cream is still going to get applied. Sorry, Tom.

Monday, November 16, 2009


“The 13th has never been unlucky for me. Never. I’ve never had a bad experience with the number 13. Not once. Not ever. I’m immune to it.”

Even as I typed those words last Friday I was reminded of a poem by Roger McGough (can’t remember which one, sorry) where he talks about being afraid to tempt fate in case fate, tempted, one day weakens... but I shrugged it off anyway with a cavalier laugh and got on with cocking my snook at the universe. You can’t touch me, I thought to myself. I’m immune. Y’hear me? Immune! You can’t touch me with your so-called Friday 13th bad vibe!

Somewhere in the very centre of the universe an omniscient mind heard me and had an inclination...

And by the end of the day Friday 13th was going all out to prove just how unlucky it could be.

All was fine until it came time to head home. Of course this is the moment where you desperately want things to run smoothly. You can practically smell your evening meal being cooked. You can almost feel the warm cosy embrace of your sofa wrapping itself around you and calling you to submit to end-of-week TV-soothed slumber.

You just want to get out of the office and escape while the going is good.

Last Friday, the 13th, the going was decidedly not good. As I was literally on my way to the exit doors I was called to the men’s public toilets. A cubicle was occupied and the patron was refusing to respond to all calls to vacate the premises. I had no choice but to force the door. Inside I found a young male slumped over, completely unconscious, his trousers around his ankles and his head face down on his knobbly knees. He absolutely could not be roused by anything we did. It didn’t look good. One of my colleagues recommended we try smelling salts until I pointed out that, given the ever present stench of the urinals, if he wasn’t compos mentis now with the ambient bio-fall-out irradiating his nasal hairs a tiny little smell in a bottle was hardly going to kick-start his cerebral cortex.

So we called an ambulance. And therein the farce truly began. The operator took all the details and then asked some bizarre questions along the line of did the injured party have a history of heart trouble, etc. Now bearing in mind I had already explained that the injured party was an unknown member of the public I found this question rather ridiculous. I think the operator picked this up from the mocking pause that I dropped into our conversation. “I still have to ask, sir” he told me smartly.

Did he? Did he really still have to ask when he already knew I had never met the person in the toilets before in my entire life? I realize that most telephone operators work from a script these days but surely there is room for commonsense? Room for people to think independently and realize that sometimes portions of the script can just be dispensed with?

Plainly not.

Anyway. Despite all this guff the ambulance was apparently on its way.

Great, I thought. Blue and twos flashing it’ll be here in 5 minutes and I can get away home.

Not so. 20 minutes later me and my loyal colleagues were still waiting. 25 minutes later we saw a paramedic’s car parked on the other side of the road. Just sitting there. Waiting. What the hell was he doing? Mr Knobbly Knees in the toilet could be choking on his own sputum by now! Why wasn’t he attending to the 999 call I had made? We approached and asked, amazingly politely, if he had indeed come to answer our summons for help. Yes he had, he said, but he couldn’t do anything until his “back-up” had arrived.

Oh. Back-up. A SWAT team was on its way then. Or possibly armed specialist forces. Great.

We had no choice but to back to the building and continue our wait growing more and more sour with each passing minute. We appreciated, loudly, that in today’s world dealing with possible drunks or drug users can be extremely hazardous and a bit of support is probably a necessity but even so... this poor guy could be voiding his entire colon down the bog for all anyone was doing to help him.

And so the wait went on. And on. Made worse by a drunken gang of teens who suddenly appeared and decided to hang around outside the front of the building and empty their bladders over our railings. Charming. The evening was getting better and better.

Finally, 50 minutes after my initial 999 call an ambulance at last sirened into view. Hoo-bloody-ray. At last. Now with two green jacketed body guards flanking him the paramedic boldly stepped into the breach. As I opened the door to let them in one of the teens mumbled something along the lines of: “oh, hey mate, we think one of our friends might be in your toilets...” Cue Beavis and Butthead laughter.

Oh how typical. I managed to marshal my sarcasm (i.e. utilize it) and told him that yes, that was why we had called an ambulance as his so called mate was out stone cold.

“Oh,” said the dazed teen, “is it OK if I come in and watch?”

Come in and watch. Not, how is he? Not, is he OK? Just: can I come in and watch.

I shut the door on him and locked him outside.

15 minutes later the paramedics had got Mr Knobbly Knees up and mobile. He looked as dazed as his erstwhile mates outside. Confused and a little embarrassed too. But I daresay by Saturday he was rather proud of his exploits and was boasting of his advanced state of inebriation to all those of his friends who were not too inebriated themselves to tell him to shut up and go and flush his stupid head down the toilet.

Their job done the ambulance crew melted away into the night, reholstering their standard SWAT team issue revolvers. Don’t thank us; it’s just what we do. Yippee-ki-yay.

Whatever. My colleagues and I headed outside too and wiped the dust from our shoes and headed our separate ways.

I finally arrived home over an hour late, tired, soaked with rain and in a foul mood.

Friday 13th? I shall never mock you again. And that’s a bona fide promise. I have seen the power of the Universe and it scares me.

Postscript: Somewhere at the centre of the universe an omniscient mind wonders perhaps if it has gone too far and decides to offer a little consolation... a small token of recompense.

On my way out to get some milk on Sunday morning I noticed that among the assorted chip wrapping and drinks cartons that the wind constantly deposits on our front lawn a slightly damp but otherwise perfectly intact £5 note.

For moi?

Why, thank you Universe. Apology gratefully accepted.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Unlucky For Some

It’s the 21st Century. We throw ourselves around the world in great iron birds. We can communicate with someone on the other side of the globe in an instant by bouncing our voices off the myriad satellites that orbit our planet. We’re beginning to unravel the secrets of DNA. Our understanding of the quantum world is beginning to hasten in a new era of human enlightenment.

And yet we’re totally unable to rid ourselves of the most stupid of suspicions.

All week I have watched people grimace and convulse with the kind of facial tics that, a century ago, would have seen them thrown into a Victorian freak show at the merest mention of Friday 13th.

What? You are going to the dentist on Friday 13th? Are you mad? You’ll end up with a root canal and your tongue harpooned on the dentist drill? Or, worse still, stunned with Novocain while Dr Drillgood manhandles your boobs / moobs and etches his name across your pantie-line in teeth whitener!

You’re never flying on the 13th? Internal flight, be damned! You’ll be blown out of the sky by a shoe bomb or worse still find yourself bumped onto a Ryan Air flight with only Gary Glitter for company!

Are you crazy? You’re planning to tightrope walk across the top of the Clifton Suspension Bridge on Friday 13th wearing nothing but a pink peephole bra and bright red galoshes... etc, etc.

You get the picture.

What’s the big deal? It’s just another Goddamned day and just another Goddamned number. It doesn’t mean a damned thing. Why do people get so knicker-twisted over it? It’s like people enjoy the prospect of disaster or bad luck. Behind all the grimacing and gurning that Friday 13th provokes is a definite sunburst of joy that somebody just might fall off a ladder in front of you and spectacularly impale their gonads on a rollerdex... anything to break the tedium of another boring week at the office.

And I suspect that’s what’s behind it. A little something to break the monotony. The possibility that the bone grinding tedium of life might be temporarily broken up by the pig’s bladder of misadventure. As long as it happens to somebody else of course. Audience participation on the 13th is not to be welcomed.

But the 13th has never been unlucky for me. Never. I’ve never had a bad experience with the number 13. Not once. Not ever. I’m immune to it. Totally. And I put this immunity down to the fact that I was actually born on the 13th (of August).

I mean, how can the 13th ever be unlucky for me if it saw my pewling but beautiful form finally arrive in the world, glistening and wriggling and full of all this splendid potential?

Unlucky for the rest of you maybe...


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Great Work Is Finished

2 years, eight months.

303 pages.

231,558 words (though this is apt to change).

My novel is finally finished.

I typed the last words last night and then let my fingers hover over the keyboard for a few moments, savouring the slightly shocking sound of silence.

I can’t quite believe it. I’ve lived with this story and the characters for such a long time it now feels weird to be without them. But there is nowhere left for them to go. Nothing more for them to say. Their day is done.

And it feels good. This is the biggest writing project I’ve ever undertaken. I started a novel once before in my twenties but it petered out half way through and that failure was always a source of chagrin. It’s nice to have exorcized that particular ghost and proved to myself that I can see a narrative through to the very end.

But of course this isn’t the end. This is merely the beginning of the end. I now have to contend with the rewrites, the read throughs, the asking other people to read it and eventually the submission process. Writing the first draft was the easy part.

And so this is a heads-up to all my dear blog readers. Sometime over the next few months, I’m not sure quite when, I shall be asking for volunteers to read the damned thing. I’m not expecting reams of technical feedback or in-depth analysis, just a simple “yes I liked it” or a “no, it was crap” will do (though any technical stuff would be appreciated).

I’m not going to post it on-line for download but anyone who is foolhardy interested can email me and I will gladly email them a copy. I’m not expecting to be inundated with requests but I figure that at the very least a couple of you might be bored enough to want to read it. Go on, I’m letting you in on the ground floor of the next big thing here...

As a thank you I will ensure that you get a glittering mention on the acknowledgments page... (there, I’m sure that’s clinched it for you).

In the meantime, big spender that I am, I’m going to treat myself to a chocolate bar. A Boost Duo. I think I’ve earnt it.

Monday, November 09, 2009

I’m A Tramp

Yes it’s true.

See these fingerless gloves hovering in front of you? Well, could spare some change for a cup ‘o tea, please? I promise not to spend it all on meth. Honest, guv. Cough cough.

Well OK. So I’m not quite begging on the street just yet, nor selling my body for the price of a burger but I do have a confession to make that may see me part of the way there in the eyes of some of you.

Ahem. I’ve been wearing the same trousers to work for the last... ooh, 4 weeks at least.

I’m sure people must have noticed. I mean, they have a white paint mark on the thigh that is pretty hard to miss and is quite distinctive.

I’d like to point out at this point that they have been and do get washed regularly (but the paint mark on them is permanent).

How has this come to pass? I mean, having one pair of shoes is understandable in a man but only one pair of trousers?

It wasn’t always like this. My wife, God bless her, regularly restocks my wardrobe (er... for “wardrobe” read “drawer”) at Christmas and my birthday with fashionable items that, to be honest, I’d never think about buying for myself because I just don’t think about that sort of thing. Usually these items of apparel last me a good 18 months or so and I have never, until now, found myself short of trouserage.

But somehow, this year, I’ve gone through more trousers than Paris Hilton.

It’s the keys that do it, you see. The keys of responsibility. I have to carry more keys around with me at work than a screw at Strangeways. A great fob of metal that, if ever used in combat, would be as lethally effective as a spike encrusted mace. Open a door or open a hoody’s skull... it’s all the same to me.

But the average pocket of the average pair of trousers just cannot take the sheer volume of iron that is hammocked within them. I’ve tried to alleviate the tonnage by suspending my fob from a leather lanyard that I bought in Wales. But it’s no good. The keys chafe. The keys wear and tear the delicate fabric of my inner lining. They eat it away completely within a matter of mere months until the trousers themselves are beyond repair.

I’ve got through 2 pairs already this year. And now I’m down to my last.

Unfortunately a poor church mouse such as myself cannot just go out willy-nilly and buy a pair of trousers off the shelf without there being a big household budgetary knock-on effect. Trousers or food? Trousers or food? Which would you choose?

Which is why I must thank a fellow blogger for coming to my aid.

The Dotterel over at Bringing Up Charlie recently ran a prize draw. And yours truly was fortunate enough to be one of the winners. I received a £25 voucher for Marks & Spencer as my bounty. It was timely indeed.

Dotterel, thank you. I am going to M&S later today to get myself covered up appropriately.

The trousers, when I get them, will be completely on you.

Er... well, not quite, but you know what I mean...

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Hokey Cokey

After spending much of the summer in hospital my grandfather was sent back home again about three weeks ago with a “home care package” put into place to look after him. Two healthcare visitors four times a day to get him up, clean him, feed him, put him back to bed, etc. Not ideal but as he has adamantly refused all suggestions of going into a nursing home (which I don’t blame him for) this was the only option.

The family had reservations over the proven effectiveness of this package but had to roll with it.

Some of you will be aware of the logistical nightmare that ensued just getting a hospital approved bed and a key safe installed into his home to make this package viable.

Over the last few weeks the carers and the hospital – for all they have my admiration for their hard work and dedication – have slowly driven me up the wall with their continually mounting requests for my grandfather.

I’ve had phone calls and found notes requesting a microwave, a washing machine, a new razor, new trousers and shirts, new underwear, drinks beakers with lids, plug extension cables, etc, etc...

I don’t begrudge any of these items. Plainly they are necessary to make looking after my grandfather easier and therefore to make his life more comfortable. What I do begrudge is the assumption that I can just drop everything instantly to get it all sorted out. But I shall let that go. In the bigger scheme of things it is not important.

On Wednesday I visited my grandfather at lunchtime as usual. He wasn’t right. I’ve noticed him slipping away mentally for a few months now but Wednesday was the worst I’d seen him. He was very confused and wasn’t even sure who I was when I first arrived. He also kept talking about a parade that we’d watched that very morning on a bench over the road. Well, I needn’t tell you that there is no bench over the road, there was no parade, I’d been at work all morning and my grandfather is 80% blind.

I felt a huge sadness settle over me.

Even without having worked in a nursing home for 10 years in my twenties I know this is the beginning of the end. My gran got this way just before she died 5 years ago... spending most of the time asleep the mind drifts in and out of memories and dreams and everything blurs into one long stream of semi-consciousness.

He is loosening his grip on the world one finger, one thought at a time.

I dropped off the purchases I’d made on his behalf, made a note of the new requests, made sure he was comfortable and, at the end of my lunchbreak, headed back to work. I left a note for the carers who were due to visit in a couple of hour’s time detailing my concerns at how confused he appeared to be.

At 5.45 that evening I had a call from one of the carers to say that they’d found him sprawled on the floor. In his confused state he’d tried to get up out of his chair – possibly forgetting that he can no longer walk very well – and had fallen onto the wooden surround of the fireplace and hit his head. He was now back in hospital once more. Thankfully not too badly injured – the cut to his head was very superficial. He’d been very lucky.

A flurry of contradictory phone calls then followed from the hospital and various family members. The hospital seems to be big on spreading misinformation. He was coming home. He has a urinary tract infection. He has a chest infection. He has a chest infection but the doctor isn’t aware of it. They were keeping him in. They were releasing him. They were keeping him in for observation due to irregularities in his heart scan. On and on. And around it all the hospital’s bizarre reluctance to go into too much detail or to give out too much specific information over the telephone.

What? In case Al-Qaeda are listening in and might be tempted to recruit my grandfather as a suicide bomber? He wouldn’t have the strength or the mental wherewithal to press the detonator let alone have the physical strength to walk anywhere with half a tonne of explosives weighing him down.

By Thursday morning, once the dust had settled, they were all finally singing from the same hymn sheet. They’d admitted him to a ward and are going to keep him in for “a few days”. They’re giving him antibiotics to combat his various infections (their records of which seems to be alarmingly ephemeral) and are doing their best to correct his very low potassium levels.

So he’s “safe” for a few days at least.

But to be honest I’m wondering if he’ll ever come home again. Even if his physical health ever allows it, mentally he is already in the next room.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

A Comb! A Comb! My Kingdom For A Comb!

It isn’t often I go shopping for basic functional man items but whenever I do I’m always amazed at how difficult they are to find.

Take yesterday for example.

Over the weekend my eyes and intellect finally registered the fact that the comb with which I daily impose order upon my glossy barnet (admirably fulsome given my age) had seen better days. The teeth barely had 2 millimetres clearance from the years of grey scum, scurf, and abandoned follicles that had built up around the base. I swear to God there was a whole eco-system occurring in there. I think the reason I’m never plagued overmuch with nits is that they can get all the sustenance they require from my comb.

Anyway, despite using this comb quite blindly for years it finally dawned on me that maybe dragging a mouldy nit farm across my scalp every day was not doing my image as an International Man Of Mystery much good at all.

It was time to purchase a new one.

Yesterday was elected as the day to perform this task.

Now, you’d think it would be a nice, quick, easy job just buying a cheap plastic comb, wouldn’t you?

But do you think I could find one?

Plainly my consumerist instincts are not wired up correctly for menial shopping items. Computers, CDs, books, assorted gadgetry, dodgy DVDs... I can name and recommend dozens of shops for these. But where does one buy a comb?

I figured Tesco would be a good bet. I mean they sell everything else.

After 15 minutes of trudging up and down the aisles empty-handed I came to the conclusion that actually Tesco sell hundreds of items that you might need but don’t actually stock the items that you do. They’re the retail equivalent of cable TV – thousands of channels but nothing you actually want to watch.

I then tried Boots. Surely Boots would sell combs. They’re big on hair care and cosmetics after all. But no. Hair brushes. Hair nets. Hair bands and an amazing array of lip gloss. But I couldn’t see a damned man-comb anywhere.

I then got desperate. I tried all the cheap shops. I tried the hardware stores. I was even tempted to nip into Accessorize but the be-booted mini-skirted young things flitting about inside terrified me. Curse them and their freshly powdered décolletages!

Where are all the old flea markets when you need them, eh? They always sold combs. You just headed for the cheap wallet and purse store and there they’d be. All lined up and shiny. The Brylcreem freshly washed off them.

Oh yes. The markets have all been priced out of the consumer world by the likes of Tesco et al.

Well, I defy anyone to buy a nice cheap wallet at Tesco.

Anyway. Eventually I headed into Superdrug and they saved the day. Amongst the curling tongs and bobble-ended hair brushes they had a cheap unisex comb for 58 pence.

So the purchase was made and my hair, as a consequence, is extremely fly-away and glossy today.

My old comb, quite logically, is in the bin.

Along with my Tesco clubcard.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Seventh Heaven

The end of last week saw me both ill and gadgetted up with a brand new PC. Unfortunately the former delayed my getting to grips with the latter by a day or two.

‘Cos, let’s face it, you have to be completely healthy when faced with a brand spanking new PC complete with brand spanking new operating system – the much vaunted Windows 7. New PC’s are stress-fests of the highest order. Will it like your peripherals? Will it run your software? Or will it spit the dummy at the first whiff of your modem, tantrum at the mere proximity of your scanner? Will you have to claw your way through dozens of installation discs that have littered your shelves like strange voodoo objects that you’re too scared to throw away but have no idea what at all it is they were created to do?

The man in the computer shop assured me that the above scenarios would just not take place. Windows 7 is – despite a ubiquitous mistrust of all things Microsoft – a break-through. An operating system that for once delivers; it does exactly what it says on the box.

Just plug everything in, the man advised me, it’ll all work instantly...

Yeah right.

I’ve run PC’s for 10 years, mate. Plug ‘n’ play in a fallacy. It rarely happens. Instead it takes hours of head-bashing to work everything out or to download the necessary patches and updates and tweaks.

Like I said. I needed to be fully fit and healthy before attempting a job of this magnitude.

But blow me if the man wasn’t right.

The installation discs for my various bits of antiquated hardware were unnecessary. The dust on them has not been disturbed.

I plugged everything in and everything worked with barely a pause. I was online, emailed up and fully connected with the WWW in under 10 minutes. An absolute record.

No glitches. No freezes. No compatibility issues. All my hardware A-OK. All my software A-OK.

Microsoft has at last come up with a shiny new operating system that I have fallen completely in love with. It’s smooth. It’s (so far) stable. It’s visual and intuitive. It’s easily customizable. It’s fast (though this might have more to do with my quad core processor and fully stocked memory than the OS).

It’s, in short, beautiful.

I like it. I’m impressed.

Suddenly I’ve fallen in love with my computer again. I’m experiencing a new honeymoon period. I hate being away from it. For anyone or anything.

All other life is a distraction.

Me and my new motherboard, we’re like bonded, OK?

So, that’s it, folks. Me and Windows 7 have got things to do, things to discuss. We gotta shoot the breeze. And we might be some time.