Thursday, 25 August 2016

lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo...

Rather than go on at great length about our recent trip to Switzerland, Germany and Austria, I'm just going to leave you with some photos.

OK, and maybe a bit of aimless waffle too.  My gaff, my rules.


Here's the view from the mountain hut in the middle of the Swiss mountains where we spent the night celebrating the wedding of our friends Sina and Patryk. We slept in bunk beds and swam in a mountain lake fed by snowmelt from the snow-capped peaks.  Yes... it was bloody cold. The night sky (including the Perseids - at least the one that I saw) was absolutely stunning.  Switzerland is a beautiful country... absurdly expensive, but beautiful.  I also bought this t-shirt.  Look at that pipe!


My wife with a Maß of beer in Munich.  My beer (she likes the froth), but I love this photo. I also love the fact that they only serve beer in portions this size after 5pm.  Nevermind the Picassos, Durers, Gaugins, Monets, Rembrants, Rafaels and Leonardos we saw at the Pinakothek galleries in the 24 hours we were there... THAT'S culture!



We saw these in the 7th District of Vienna.  They also have one's with boy/boy and boy/girl.  Apparently they were very controversial when they were first put up, but I think it speaks volumes for how far a Catholic country like Austria has come in recent times.  It's such a simple gesture of inclusion, isn't it?  We travelled between Munich and Vienna on the train. Over the course of the 4 hour journey, we chatted with the nice German ladies heading to Vienna for a long weekend. They were asking what we would recommend they visit, and my wife turned and asked what I thought.  I was genuinely stumped.  I've been many times over the last 15 years - we got married there, for goodness sake - but, although I've been to many of the galleries and palaces and museums, a trip to Vienna will always be about seeing our friends and enjoying spending time with them.  This time was no different.  I do need to go back to the Kunsthistorisches museum, but given a choice between that and a trip in the Punto to the Wachau to drink apricot juice and wander up to the castle where Richard Lionheart was kept prisoner... then I'll take the Wachau everytime.

It was a lovely break.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

(wasn't me)

I was doing a lunchtime pavilion event thing at work today. It’s one of those things where you offer a few free chocolates, pens and post-it notes and hope to entice unwary people in the office on their way to their lunch to stop and talk to you about the latest - invariably tedious - thing you’re working on. They make me do them from time-to-time, and unless you are a visting supplier with a celebrity handing out goodie bags (we had Jimmy Anderson in last week, I'm told), then you are mostly just ignored. Usually I like to just stand in as out-of-the-way a position as I can find, but since I became the boss, that’s been somewhat harder a trick to pull off.

Anyway.

As I was standing there sheepishly in my branded t-shirt and trying to direct people to enter the much more interesting quiz that could give you a chance to win a bottle of own-brand supermarket Prosecco, someone approached me and insisted on engaging me in conversation:

“Ah, so this is what you do. I’ve seen you around and often thought that you must have the best job in the world”
“What makes you say that?”
“Well, because I always see you either in the changing rooms or in the gym. It was you I spoke to in the changing rooms the other day, wasn't it?”
“Well, maybe.   I cycle to work every day, so I’m often in the changing rooms at 0745 and 1800, so you might have seen me, but I’m not a member of the gym here, so you haven't seen me there.”
“Yeah, mornings and evenings and lunchtimes as well. Working out in the gym. I wondered how you find the time to work.”
“But I’ve never been in the gym here and I don't go into the changing room at lunchtime...”
"I wondered what kind of job you had!"

At this point, someone else comes over. I’d hoped that this might be a chance to change the topic of conversation, but apparently no.
“....this guy here has the best job in the world. He’s always either in the gym or in the changing rooms….”

WILL YOU PLEASE STOP SAYING THAT? WHY ARE YOU TELLING HIM THAT? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU? I’M IN THE CHANGING ROOM FOR ABOUT TEN MINUTES IN TOTAL EVERY DAY AND I’M NOT A MEMBER OF THE BLOODY GYM AND HAVE NEVER SO MUCH AS SET FOOT THROUGH THE DOOR. WHY ARE YOU SAYING THESE THINGS? WHY ARE YOU SHARING THESE HALLUCINATIONS WITH OTHER PEOPLE?

“[chuckles] ….Yeah, he's always in the gym”

“…..”

I was so angry, I nearly directed him towards the Rum-Kokos that our lovely friends in Vienna insist on giving me every time we visit… but even I’m not that evil.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

scratch...

There are so many things on your mind when you make the life-changing decision to start injecting a disease modifying drug: how will I manage to inject myself every week? have you seen the size of that bloody needle? what will the side-effects be like? will this even work? Something like this affects your life in so many obvious ways that it can be easy to overlook some of the other ways that it will affect you.

Airports, for starters.

You can’t just put your syringes into your bag and check them because the liquid may freeze during the flight. This means that you have to take them through airport security as part of your hand luggage. When I first started injecting, I was told by my MS Nurses that I would need to make sure I had a doctor’s letter explaining the medical necessity and that I would need to ring each airline ahead of time to let them know I would be carrying needles on the flight. The letter was easy enough, but airlines always seemed to be a little confused when I rang and didn’t really know how to respond to my enquiry. Once, at Johannesburg airport, I was met at the gate by a wheelchair that was there to transfer me to my connecting flight to London. Somewhere along the line, South African Airlines had made the assumption that the fact I would be carrying medication for MS would mean that I would need help getting across the airport. They were actually a bit put out when I told them that I was perfectly capable of walking, thanks very much. I quickly learned too that airport security were basically completely unconcerned by the 2 inch long needles that I was carrying in my hand baggage. The only place in the world where I had to deploy the doctor’s letter was in Hong Kong, where the Chinese customs officers pretended they could understand what it said and let me though anyway. It quickly got to the point where I stopped bothering ringing airlines and sometimes didn’t even bother with the doctor’s letter.

Then my drug changed. For six years, I used non-bioset Avonex: this comes in powder form that you rehydrate in the syringe, and I chose it because it doesn’t need to be kept in the fridge. Sadly, this was discontinued earlier this year, and I was forced to start using pre-filled syringes that needed to be kept cold. When we travelled to Switzerland a couple of weeks ago, I had to dig out the specially designed coolbag I was given 7 years ago so that I could pack the dose I needed for the fortnight we were away with some ice packs until I could get to a fridge. What I didn’t think about was the fact that these ice packs contained fluid, and that these would be flagged up as I went through security at London City Airport. Luckily for me, as an afterthought, I had taken along one of my doctor’s letters, and was able to show this to a very relieved young security official who was thinking he might otherwise be forced to confiscate my medication.

The next problem I had was that, because we were moving from hotel to hotel almost every day, I needed to charge up those ice-packs each night in order to keep my medicine cold during the day… and that not every hotel room had a fridge, never mind also having access to a freezer to recharge the ice-packs. I’d asked my MS Nurse about this when I originally switched medication, and she told me that the drug could be out of the fridge for up to 7 hours. This was a bit of a problem, although to be honest, I reasoned that the worst thing that could happen was that the dose would become inert, and because they’re thinking of taking me off it anyway…. what’s the big deal.

As it happens, I looked on the back of the little packet containing the dose one evening, and it says on there that the medicine can be kept out of the fridge for a period of up to seven days….. at which point I stopped worrying.

You spend so much time worrying about the bigger, more obvious impacts that something like MS can have on your life, but sometimes it’s the little things that cause you the most bother.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

And we just keep on keeping on...

Given my MS and how much I run, I've been astonishingly lucky with injuries.  I had a run of problems with my ITB, hip and plantar fascia on my weaker left side a few years back, but since then I've basically had a mostly trouble-free run.  When I entered the London Marathon in 2015, I was a little worried about how my body would hold up to the strain of the training, but actually we managed okay.... better than okay.  Well enough that I ran the damn thing again - 40 minutes faster - in 2016.  I definitely crossed the finish line this year with a very clear understanding of how physically hard a marathon is... but that's famously true for pretty much everyone, isn't it?

After running 45km at Thunder Run a couple of weeks ago, I developed a problem in my left calf (it's no coincidence that the problems I have tend to manifest themselves on my weaker side).  I was fine over the weekend itself, but work commitments meant I wasn't able to run again until the Wednesday, and as I was doing some intervals in a warm-up to a mile time trial, my calf got stiffer and stiffer until it reached the point where I thought it might actually go pop, so I stopped.  Much to my annoyance, it didn't seem to ease up much with rest, and when I tried to run again on Saturday, it lasted about a mile before the same thing happened again.

As you've probably worked out, runners aren't very good at not running.

I went to the physio.  Doctors are all well and good, but when it comes to a hands-on understanding of the mechanics of the human body, you really need to see a physiotherapist.  After a careful assessment of the way my body moved and an assessment of the muscles on both sides of my body, the physio quickly worked out that I hadn't torn or pulled anything (which was good news), but that my calf was simply extremely tight. At a second session, a week later, she did some further investigation and worked out that the tightness in my calf was just the end of the line of a series of apparently very tender muscles further up the chain on my left side.  To cut a long story short, my body has been working like mad to compensate for the weakness on that side, and my muscles were simply pushed so far that they began complaining louder than usual.  It also doesn't help that, for some reason, my calf muscles are heavily bulked on the inside of my leg (rather than the more usual outside), and that this muscle bulk is pushing the fascia in that leg up against the tibia.

As physios do, she gave me a lot of exercises to do that I need to try and remember to keep doing when my leg stops hurting.  They're mostly all about balance, because that seems to be the root of all my problems (I'm a lot less stable on my weaker side).

The good news is that my leg is feeling a lot better and I've started to run again with little pain.  The bad news is that these cumulative problems are only likely to get worse over time and that running as I do is going to expose these problems.

Well.  Here's the thing.  I'm not going to stop running.  Running makes me feel good about myself and, as long as I can run, I feel as though my MS isn't dictating how I live my life (in fact, I've run more since my diagnosis than I ever ran before).  I may have to slow down and adjust my targets, but I'm damned if I'm going to give up.

Ten days not running has reminded me how much I love to run.  It's good to be back on the road again now, but it's good to remember that every moment running is a moment to be cherished.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

travelling, I only stop at exits...

I was at the neurologist on Friday for my annual check-up. We’re blessed that Nottingham is a real centre of expertise for MS, but for me, these sessions are usually fairly short. Why wouldn’t they be? In a waiting room filled with people in wheelchairs and walking with sticks, why would someone who can run a marathon and run 45km in a 24 hour relay race need much attention? I do have MS-related problems, but comparatively speaking, they’re small beer. That doesn’t mean that the doctor’s don’t care about my problems, because they clearly do, it’s just that I’m doing really, really well.

In fact, it turns out that I’m doing much better than anyone might reasonably expect. My disease modifying drug (DMD) of choice is Avonex, and I’ve been injecting now since 2009. Avonex isn’t a cure for MS, but it is thought to slow down the progress of the disease, increasing the gap between relapses. In seven years, I’ve not had a single definable relapse. This is obviously excellent news, but it’s apparently also suspicious: without Avonex, it is reasonable to assume that I will have reported seven distinct relapses, with the associated increase in disability. With Avonex, my consultant informed me, I would still be reasonably expected to have two or three relapses. In fact, I’ve not had a single one. I can’t actually even recall the first relapse that brought about all my symptoms in 2005, and although my symptoms tend to ebb and flow, worse on some days than on others, but basically working around a consistent theme. I have numbness and pins & needles; I experience fatigue and weakness across my shoulders; I have cramping and twitching muscles; I have a loss of muscle strength and flexibility in my left side… but I haven’t really had anything completely new in 11 years (although it was a little alarming when the consultant asked me to follow a light with my eyes and then said, “a bit of double-vision?”….um no. Is there something you want to tell me?).

Apparently this is interesting: I must now have a full set of MRI scans to determine what’s going on inside my central nervous system, and if it all looks good, then I will probably stop injecting Avonex because it isn’t necessary. I haven’t actually been scanned at all since my head and neck were done in 2005 and identified the lesion that apparently caused all my symptoms. Funnily enough, my MS Nurse was telling me off about this only a few months ago: just because I was doing well didn’t mean that they shouldn’t look to see what’s going on inside my head and that I should insist on some new scans. She should be happy with this new development, anyway.

I don’t really know how I feel about this: I’m cautiously optimistic and will be delighted not to have to do this every week….but on the other hand, I haven’t relapsed since I’ve been injecting, and there isn’t really a way of knowing if this is down to the Avonex or not. Perhaps it is? One of my reasons for deciding to inject a DMD in the first place was that the only sure thing was that doing nothing would definitely do nothing and that doing something might help. Is doing nothing now the better option? Or maybe I actually have a slow-moving form of progressive MS, in which case disease modifying therapies wouldn’t be any use anyway. Who knows?

It’s certainly a ride. Although I generally seem to tolerate the side-effects of injecting Avonex pretty well, it seems I haven’t escaped entirely, and from that point of view alone, I will be glad to stop. Who knows what the future holds? No one.

Not even Gandalf…..for even the very wise cannot see all ends.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

save it for the break of day...


I spent much of last weekend at the Thunder Run, a 24 hour running event in Catton Park in Derbyshire. It’s fairly simple in format: there’s an undulating, off-road 10km course that runs through woodland and some beautiful countryside; the race starts at 12 noon on Saturday and runs until 12 noon on Sunday. The idea is to run as many laps as you can in that time, whether you are running solo, or as part of a team of up to 8 people. I’ve never done anything like this before, so I nervously packed up my tent and head-torch and set off after work on Friday to meet up with my team of 7.

For some people, this event is all about the times you run, but for lots of the thousands of people taking part, it’s more about the times you have. There’s a bar in a red double-decker bus by the finish, for goodness sake! My team was quite mixed in ability, and although we had a loose target of getting 24 laps completed, it really didn’t matter and the most important thing was that we enjoyed ourselves as much as possible. I was mentally prepared beforehand to run 3 or 4 laps on little sleep, but I wasn’t really prepared for how much I enjoyed the whole weekend. Although my team was relatively small, there were about 80 of us from my wider running community in total, and Friday night was very much about having a few drinks and enjoying spending a bit of time with old friends and making some new ones. Many people had brought both kids and dogs, so there was a great atmosphere around the campsite. Of course, with the prospect of all that running looming over us, it wasn’t a particularly late night….


Saturday started with a parkrun. I know that sounds mad when you’re about to start a 24 hour race, but parkrun is very firmly established part of my life now, and popping a couple of miles up the road to Rosliston seemed like the perfect way to get things started. Besides, a winding course through a beautiful forest with over 400 other mentalists (we doubled Rosliston’s previous attendance record and broke all their course records! See if you can spot me in the sea of apricot) was just lovely.

Then the race.


I did four laps: around 2pm when it was sappingly hot; between 2030 and 2130, starting in the light and finishing in the dark as the sun went down; between 4am and 5am, starting in the dark and running into the dawn; and finally our last lap of the event, starting at around 11:15. I managed a bit of sleep between laps (and even a shower), but I experienced things that will stay with me forever.

Here are a few of them:

- Encouraging other runners on the trail as I passed them, and being encouraged by quicker runners who passed me (pretty much everyone made a real fuss of the solo runners, who were easy to spot. The solo runner from my running club, five foot nothing of pure Irish determination managed 9 laps in all, and I passed her three times when I was out running. When I passed her on my fourth lap, she was just past the 5km mark of what would be both our last laps, and she was shuffling along painfully, powered mostly by an iron will not to stop… I had to stop and give her a big hug because she is such an amazing, inspirational person)

- Turning off the flat first km of the course and beginning to climb up a really steep hill through a dark, deciduous wood

- Passing the 5km marker after running up a gentle but apparently unending hill, and knowing that the second half of the course was a little easier

- Telling the Rosliston parkrun volunteers marshalling at the 8km mark how beautiful their parkrun was, every single time I passed them

- Running the last km of my first lap through the campsite and being ambushed by the rest of my team and their kids with water pistols. Bliss

- Dodging the tree roots and stumps in the woods as I ran in the dark by the light of my head-torch

- Returning back to camp after 9pm to find that our camp cook (one of the team’s wives) had saved me some burgers and also made me some fresh campsite crepes. Delicious

- Listening to an owl screeching in those same woods in the pre-dawn light at around 0415

- Cresting a hill out of another dark wood and finding myself bursting out into the open just as the dawn was breaking all around me. Magical. That run will stay with me forever

- Mustering a sprint finish for the last half km, leaving the rest of my team, who had kindly joined me for the end of our last lap and the end of the race, trailing in my wake. Maybe a little rude, but I didn’t want to leave anything in the tank…

I loved it. Including the parkrun, I ran 45km over the weekend (a marathon is 42.195km), but this felt different to running a marathon all in one go. I found it physically much harder to run a marathon in one go, with deeper muscle and joint pain… but running in 10km instalments like this with little sleep is differently challenging and requires a similar kind of mental strength. I think running on tired legs, starting your third lap when you know you still have another to go before you are done, takes a special kind of determination and I really kind of enjoyed that. I think they key is to remember to look outside yourself and to think about something other than how much your legs hurt and how tired you are. I tried to remember that it was truly a privilege to run such a beautiful course at such beautiful times of the day.


Given that running is usually such an individual sport, I also loved the teamwork; working out when you needed to be in the transition area to do the handover and to take your stint; I loved the camaraderie around the course and within the campsite. Over the years, I’ve learned that runners are generally pretty nice people, and whereas at a normal event, you run and then you go home, this time around we were all in it together. The fastest teams were running more than three laps for every two that my team did, but there is no way of knowing out on the course who has done what and everyone was very much equal. We managed 23 laps in total – we slowed down during the night – and the winning teams in our category (mixed teams of 6-8) were completing 36 laps. The winning solo runner managed 19 laps! Nineteen laps! He ran for 24 hours, averaging just over an hour a lap, without stopping. That’s incredible.

I can’t wait for next year and I hope I’m lucky enough to be invited to join a team again (I like to think I'm a pretty reliable team member).

I’m at the neurologist on Friday for my annual check-up on the progress of my MS. I will enter a waiting room filled with people in wheelchairs and using various mobility aids. I’ve had my issues this year, but I look around that room and I know that I’ve been fit and well enough to run the London Marathon in April and to run 45km over a weekend as part of a 24 hour relay race…. I’m not doing so bad, really.


I’m one of the lucky ones. I really believe that.

In your face, MS.

Friday, 22 July 2016

thunderstruck...

I’m feeling tired at the moment. Lots of people with MS find that heat triggers their symptoms, with some so badly affected that they have to wear cooling vests to try and keep their core body temperature down. Funnily enough, it’s never really bothered me. I’m sometimes troubled by a loss in sensation in my arms below the shoulders when it’s cold, but heat seems to be fine. In fact, I’m one of those masochistic runners who secretly really enjoy going out when it’s really hot and slogging my way through a really sweaty run. In my office, people were already complaining about the heat on Monday morning, but I’ve spent the last six weeks of the English summer cycling to work through monsoon rains, so I’m not going to start complaining now that the sun has finally started shining.

I am, however, feeling a bit tired. Fatigued, even. Lots of people feel lethargic when it gets hot, but MS fatigue is different. It’s hard to explain, but MS-related fatigue feels quite different to the kind of tiredness you get when you’ve not been sleeping enough or when you’ve been out running or something – that’s what I’d call a good, honest kind of tiredness and MS fatigue is an altogether different, much sneakier animal. It’s not the sleepiness you get when you haven’t slept well, but it’s fatigue that you experience physically that takes a hold of your body and makes it feel like you’re wading through treacle. Lots of people use Christine Miserandino’s spoon theory to describe how it feels

That’s great, but it seems to imply that there’s some kind of logic in the toll that different activities take on your body and on your energy levels. For me, this just isn’t true. How can it be true when I can run a marathon and feel fine, but other times, my fatigue can be triggered by a walk to the shops? I wish it was predictable and therefore manageable, but it just isn’t.

When this fatigue begins, I start to feel it in a tightness across my shoulders, followed closely by a sense of weakness in my arms and maybe some generalised numbness; I can feel my body start to almost tremble as I fight against the growing tiredness. Often, before I really know what’s happening, it’s like a switch has been flicked and all my power is draining away and all I can really do is get myself to bed and write the day off. I was in bed at 21:30 the other night, and on some days, more than eight hours sleep just doesn’t seem to be enough. Today, I found myself starting to struggle at my desk after about 3pm.

Naturally, because I refuse to let my MS rule my life, on Friday evening I’ll be heading over to Catton Park to join my team of 7 taking part in the Thunder Run… a 24 hour relay where I can expect to run at least three 10km laps between noon on Saturday and noon on Sunday, including at least one lap after dark. I probably won’t get much sleep and will likely run the best part of a marathon, but I’m really looking forward to it. I might even do a parkrun before we get started.

Fuck you MS.

Monday, 18 July 2016

took a sip from my devil's cup...


ReSoNaTe @ The Angel Micro Brewery, 14th July 2016

[review to appear on the Leftlion website at some point....]

The Old Angel in the Lace Market was always a reassuringly grungy presence amongst all the trendy bars of Hockley; a real pub and an excellent live music venue. When it closed earlier this year, with news that it was to re-open as a micro-brewery, it felt a bit like another landmark venue in Nottingham’s cultural life was disappearing forever and that the hipsters were taking over the world. Tonight’s gig is the first to be held in the venue since the renovation and provided a good opportunity to have a look around to see what they’ve done with the place. First impressions are good: the place looks broadly the same, only with really good beer (I recommend the Snake Eyes). A few things have even changed for the better: the toilets are equipped with Original Source coconut and shea butter soap. Imagine!

Tonight’s gig is promoted by Full Focus Events – a relatively new operation, set up at the start of this year and master-minded by Brad and Jack. They’ve been running regular events around Nottingham, and ReSoNaTe represents the cream of the crop from those nights. This is the second such showcase, shifted at short-notice to the Angel due to the closure of The Loom. The upstairs room here isn’t quite ready yet, so we’re forced to improvise downstairs with one speaker and more limited space. It doesn’t matter: the atmosphere is good and the sound is fine. This being the future, we even have a live stream provided by the Colour Hits Channel.


There’s a good varied bill on tonight too: opening the bill is Paul Walker, a veteran singer-songwriter with a gravel throated delivery and a nice line in bluesy slide guitar. The set consists a few original songs mixed in with the odd well-chosen cover, like a very Tom Waits-y version of “After Midnight”. It’s a good start. Next up are some South American vibes from Hugo Ivo, by the sound of it supported by a good slice of Nottingham’s Brazilian community. He looks a initially a touch shy behind his keyboard, but he’s got a sweet voice and mixes his own songs with covers of “Ain’t No Sunshine”, Vance Joy’s “Riptide” (on the guitar) and Keane’s “Everybody’s Changing”. He’s got a sweet voice and is clearly a real talent. He’s apparently off back to Brazil next month, but if you get the chance to see him, then I would heartily recommend you make the effort. Next up is Holly Taylor Gamble (pictured above) -. She looks small and fragile behind her enormous guitar, but looks can be deceiving and, after a bit of fussing over her tuning, she proceeds to rock our socks off with a kicking cover of Britney’s “Toxic” and a handful of her own songs. She reminds me very much of “Rid of Me” era PJ Harvey and is clearly something of a force of nature and an artist very much to be reckoned with. Well worth checking out. Last up tonight is Daniel Ison. Daniel is a veteran of the Nottingham scene and wryly tells us that he started out gigging on the same bill as a young singer-songwriter called Jake Bugg. Whatever happened to him? I’ve seen Jake Bugg perform, and I think it’s fair to say that he has nowhere near the onstage charisma of this guy. He even pulls off that old trick where he pulls a pretty girl out of the audience and asks her to hold his harmonica for him as he plays…shameless (and he asks a couple of lads to help him later on too). He plays a good set of his own songs (“psychosluts” is a particular highlight) and some fun covers like X-Press 2 and David Byrne’s “Lazy”, “The Clapping Song” and a slightly unlikely fusion of the theme tune to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air and “I Wanna Be Like You” from the Jungle Book. It’s a great way to end the night.

ReSoNaTe Is going to be a monthly fixture at the Angel, with the next one scheduled to take place on 18th August. Do yourself a favour: get down there and check them out.

--

[full disclosure: Jack and Brad work in my office...I needed a favour from Brad last week and when he agreed, I felt it was only fair to offer him something in return.  A review on the Leftlion website seems a relatively small thing to do.  And Jack bought me a pint.  It was a good night though and I'll be back!)

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

golden, fallen heart

...and so it seems that I'm not bald enough already.



Some days, I wonder if it might not be kinder just to shoot me.

I was so pleased when that barber in Whangarei gave me a NZ $2 "half head discount" in 2010.  I should go back: I reckon I might qualify for a few more dollars off by now.

I used to wet my hair when I was at school to dampen it down.  I was told at the time that this would lead to baldness in later life, and I laughed in their faces because this was clearly nonsense.  Well, I'm not laughing now.  Just think, that might have been caused by a stray raindrop.

Learn from me and make sure you always -- ALWAYS -- wear a shower cap (or a hat, if you're outdoors and feel a bit self-conscious in a shower cap outside your home).  I'm not 100% sure it will protect you from blemishes that lead to bald spots (or, as I like to call it, my mange spot)... but you can't be too careful.

Monday, 11 July 2016

you watched yourself gavotte...


I don’t like Cristiano Ronaldo.

Whilst he’s clearly a talented footballer, there’s something about his oleaginous smile and the way he preens and poses on the pitch that really gets my goat. He might be the best player on the pitch, but surely even the very greatest player understands that football is a team game, and he needs his teammates to succeed in order to succeed himself. It’s often said that the difference between Ronaldo and Lionel Messi is that Messi would give up all his individual awards for team success, and that Ronaldo would do the opposite. There’s something delightful about the fact that Ronaldo is statistically one of the greatest players to grace the game, but that he isn’t even the greatest player in the Spanish league. Does Ronaldo think that this theatrics on the pitch, where he berates his team mates when they don’t pass the ball to HIM, help or hinder? Nani has over 100 caps for Portugal, but he always seems to look terrified of what Ronaldo will think if he decides to take a shot himself.

I sat down to watch yesterday’s final, eager to see the French wipe the smile off his smug face. Portugal barely deserved to be there anyway, and wouldn’t it be a great story if the French could win their own tournament (not to mention the fact that I have a French wife who was wearing her French t-shirt and bellowing out the French national anthem).

And you know what? Over the course of the game, Ronaldo changed my mind.

It was the injury that started it: I might have been happy to see Ronaldo beaten, but I wasn’t ready to see him crying real tears as he was forced to leave the pitch on a stretcher early in the game because of injury. He’d tried to carry on, but it was quickly clear that he couldn’t stay on the pitch. He tried to cover his face, but his absolute desolation was laid bare. I looked at him and, rather than a self-regarding idiot, I saw a man who had worked unbelievably hard to get to this point and had his dreams and hopes dashed. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t have a hard enough heart to feel anything other than sympathy for him at that moment.

In truth, my opinion on Cristiano Ronaldo began to shift earlier in the tournament. In many sports, the players often line up in the tunnel waiting to be brought out onto the pitch. They often have small children with them, mascots who are lucky enough to hold hands with the players and to walk out onto the pitch with them. I like to watch how the players respond to this: many are totally focused on the game ahead of them and are almost in another place as they visualise the game. These people barely notice the mascots at all, and it’s hard to blame them. Some players – and Chris Robshaw in the England rugby team is one of these – are able to step outside themselves and make an effort to ensure that these kids are okay and that they are having an amazing time. Robshaw will often crouch down with his escort and do his best to put them at ease. It’s lovely to watch. Whatever your preconceptions of the kind of person Ronaldo might be, he’s also in the Chris Robshaw camp with the player escorts, and will spend a couple of minutes chatting with them instead of staring, glassy-eyed down the tunnel waiting to be called out onto the pitch.

At some point during the game yesterday, Ronaldo came back pitch-side with his leg heavily strapped up, and he gave me more reasons to reconsider my view of him. As a player on the pitch, it always seems to be about CR7. The champions league final this season was a case in point: Ronaldo was barely fit and was a peripheral figure for the whole game, carried by his team mates to the penalty shoot-out. When Ronaldo scored the decisive penalty, he talked expansively about how he had a “vision” that he would score the winning goal… ignoring the fact that a penalty isn’t a winning goal, and that his team-mates had carried him for 120 minutes to put him into that position. On the sidelines of the game last night, Ronaldo could not influence the game on the pitch with his own skill, and so instead he threw himself wholeheartedly into supporting his teammates, willing them to success. When they won, he was crying tears of joy as the supposed one-man-team won the game without him. Yes he changed back into his playing kit, complete with captain’s armband, to pick up the trophy, but it was too late now… my view on him had shifted and I could no longer feel anything but pleased for him.

Sometimes we’re too quick to judge. Even if, for all this change of heart, I probably still won’t be rushing out any time soon to buy myself some CR7 underpants…


...tempting though it is.

But for last night at least, where before I had only seen an arrogant, entitled man-child, I was able to see the dreaming fan and the vulnerable human being in Cristiano Ronaldo.  It was a bit of a surprise to me to be honest, but there you go.  I must be gaining some empathy in my old age.

*opinion subject to sudden change when I next watch him preening around on a football pitch next season...