Tuesday, 13 March 2018

that joke isn't funny any more...

My team at work have developed a real liking for rubbish jokes.

I think it all started when my wife started bringing home packets of Carambar every time she returned from work. As well as being slightly old-fashioned caramel flavoured sweets that seem designed to pull out your fillings, each wrapper also has a set of jokes (in French) on the back.  These jokes are so famously bad that "blague Carambar" has entered the French lexicon as a phrase that means "cringeworthy joke".

I think part of the appeal for my team is my translations: they hand over the wrapper and I do the best I can to make sense of the joke for them.  The challenge is that many of these jokes rely on a play on words that is quite difficult to translate when you only have a somewhat functional grasp of French. 

This one had everyone in stitches:

"What's a dentist's dream?"
"To live in a really big house".

I think something must have been lost in translation there.

I find myself sometimes texting some of the more baffling ones to C. for a proper explanation.  Almost invariably they just aren't funny, but it's good to know that for definite.  At least my comic mistranslations seem to be amusing.

Here's my current favourite.  It's not a Carambar joke, mind.... but it did make me laugh.


Jokes about white sugar are rare.  Jokes about brown sugar? Demerara.*

Go on, it's okay to admit to me that you laughed before you groaned. Everyone does.

I have a friend who is particularly sensitive about cultural appropriation: she's a white westerner but has the most highly attuned filter to other people's possible offence that I have ever come across.  I can't help but wonder if she might pull me up on that gag because it seems to encourage the teller to adopt a particular accent in the pronunciation of that last word. 

Maybe I'll tell it to her and find out.

I'll perhaps leave the props in the dressing-up box.  Some gags are good enough to stand on their own two feet.


* I may not be blogging much at the moment, but you're glad you stopped by just for this, aren't you?

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

can't trace time....

When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2009, I very quickly had to make two very important decisions: did I want to start taking a disease modifying drug (DMD)? If so, which one did I want to take?

Neither of these decisions is particularly easy. You’d imagine that everyone would want to be on a drug as soon as possible, but actually, NOT taking a drug is also a perfectly valid choice. MS is (currently) incurable and none of the drugs on offer can make any claim beyond *maybe* slowing down disease progression, although there will be no way of knowing if it’s doing you any good because everybody’s disease presents differently and advances at different rates. And, of course, they all have side-effects… which range from something as benign as getting a bit of a headache all the way through to developing a brain tumour. Nobody wants a brain tumour, do they? Lots of people actually find that the side-effects they do get are so awful that they would rather roll the dice and take nothing at all than face up to that.

For me, the decision was relatively simple: I would rather take something that might be doing nothing, than to take nothing…which is definitely doing nothing to help. The drug I chose was Avonex, and the reason I chose it was because it was a once-weekly injection into the muscle of my thigh that (at the time) I wouldn’t need to keep in a fridge. Yes, it involved a big needle, but I’m not squeamish and it meant a much lower level of general disruption to my life than some of the other drugs that needed injecting several times a week.

As it turned out, I seemed to tolerate the injections fairly well: a couple of paracetamol and 400mg if Ibuprofen before injecting at bedtime, and I seemed to be able to ride out the worst of any side-effects. Occasionally I’d wake up the morning after feeling completely drained, but I certainly never got any of the flu-like symptoms that many other users reported. I tolerated it well, my blood tests seemed relatively normal (on these sorts of meds, you need your blood monitoring to make sure they’re not doing you any form of mischief elsewhere) and, most importantly of all, my MS didn’t seem to be progressing. Never mind that newer therapies – many of which didn’t involve injections at all – were coming onto the market; why change?

For the last three or four winters, I seem to have become susceptible to chest infections that linger for several months. As a runner, this has been annoying, but it was only when my GP mentioned to me this year that this was something that was likely to happen to me every year now, that I even really began to think that it might be down to something other than bad luck. The drugs used to manage MS essentially work by damping down your immune system in an attempt to stop it going rogue and attacking my own nervous system. Is it really such a leap to imagine that suppressing my immune system might lead to other infections? Well, perhaps that was still a trade-off worth making… but then I started to get swelling and white mottling on my tongue and on the back of my throat. I didn’t have any signs of a bacterial infection and came back negative for fungal infection… was I starting to get an allergic reaction to my medication? One week, my throat swelled up within minutes of my injection, and my MS Nurses just told me to stop [I wrote about that the other week]

Did I mention that the MS Nurses are great? They've offered me front line support since the day I was diagnosed and one of the reasons that we support the MS Trust is because they provide the funding and training that helps the MS Nurses carry out their vital work.  We're running a marathon in April to raise money to support that work, and you can sponsor us here..... the MS Nurses all remember me when I ring because I'm the runner.  This money is needed precisely because it's so unusual to run a marathon with MS.  Most cannot.

Heck, on Saturday I ran 18 miles before breakfast! I was out of the house at 05:45 wearing a head torch!  I know!  And a 5.2 mile club cross-country race through knee-deep muddy water on Sunday!


A month later, my throat is clearing up… but what next? Obviously, it’s not much good taking nothing at all. I’m feeling better, but presumably the same decision I made in 2009 still applies: I’d rather be doing something than doing nothing. But what am I going to take? Well, I spoke to Kate the MS Nurse again today: apparently, although Avonex is one of the older treatments, it is also one that suppresses your immune system the least; all of the others hit you harder. But does that mean that taking them would make me even more prone to infection? Was the infection down to the Avonex suppressing my immune system, or was it something else? I’m told that it’s unlikely that my neurologist would want me to continue with it (only now do I learn that 9 years is a long time to be on Avonex), but it’s not clear where I go from here.

Meanwhile, I wait… and hope that I don’t have a relapse in the meantime.  It's something like this that helps me to remember how lucky I've been in the 9 years since I was diagnosed. I really haven't had any great dramas from my MS and - relatively speaking - I still don't really have a great deal to complain about.

At least I’m not very likely to catch a cold.

Swings and roundabouts.

* UPDATE -- the neurologist wants to see me. My next appointment is in November, so they're seeing if they can get me in over the next couple of weeks. His preference is to keep me on the Avonex as I've responded so well to it over the years, but.... who knows?

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

tell me pretty lies...

I was away for a couple of days last week on a team building thing.

TEAM BUILDING.  Now, there are two words to strike fear into the heart of any office worker. Luckily, we don't do this sort of thing very often and it really wasn't as bad as I feared.

Amongst all the usual fun (treasure hunts! presentations! a quiz!), we had one session on the first morning where we were split into teams and asked to spend some time thinking about our "values". To help us, we were given a sheet of paper containing a hundred words to help inspire us: joy, integrity, curiosity, intelligence, perseverance.... things like that (although I do wonder if anyone ever actually picks words like holiness or serenity from that list...).

I was slightly surprised when most people in my team started drawing out different lists for values for home and for work.  I really don't make that distinction: my values are just my values.  Then again, that might just be me.  After all, I could never understand it back in the day when people said they hated the idea of a casual dress-code in the office (Ah, how The Gap loved those times). These people liked to make a clear distinction between their time at work and their time at home, and apparently this becomes a lot more difficult if you don't change clothes between the two.  Um.  If you say so.  Although, is that really a good enough reason to wear a tie?

I digress.

After some discussion, the teams came back together to discuss the values we'd chosen and to see if we had (m)any in common.

"Honesty...." began the spokesperson for one team

I jumped in.  "...is such a lonely word?"

Everyone turned to look at me blankly and a confused hush fell across the room.

Well, here's what I learned at my team building event: if the people you work with aren't Billy Joel fans, then you're probably working with the wrong people.

Monday, 29 January 2018

a time to every purpose...

I've been thinking a bit about getting older. 

One of the things they never tell you about growing up is that at no point in your life do you actually feel as though you've grown up.  I wouldn't go back to being seventeen again for any money in the world, but at the same time, I still find it a little difficult to believe that I'm apparently now a forty-three year old man. When did that happen?

I'm not really sure what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I suppose I still don't really know. At one point, as a very young child, I remember being dead-set on becoming a motorcycle policeman (which would have had to be over my father's dead body: as a doctor who attended more than his share of road traffic accidents, he naturally wasn't that keen to have any of his children on a motorbike.  A few years later, I completed one of those career advisory questionnaire things and it suggested that I should give serious consideration to a career as a zoo keeper. 

Frankly, I was as surprised and disappointed as anyone that I ended up in a career in IT.

Still, it does look like I've always quite liked hats and animals.

I think I'm really styling out that cowboy hat, to be honest.  I'd totally wear that outfit again.

And yes, that guitar is upside-down and no, I wasn't some kind of lost, teenage troubadour.  Yes, that comic is upside-down too.  It must just be how I roll.

On the train on the way home from London last night, we were joined in our carriage at Leicester by a teenager,  He took the opportunity of a sparsely populated train to park himself in first class to plug in his phone and make use of the free WiFi.  Rather than be amazed at the fact that he was able to charge his phone and connect to the internet on a train at all, he was more concerned and irritated by the fact that the connection wasn't quite reliable enough for him to have a Facetime chat with his friends.  Isn't it amazing how quickly things change and just as amazing how quickly they're taken for granted? The same youth also didn't seem to be able to afford a belt for his trousers.  I appreciate that it's the entire purpose of fashion to confuse and anger the older generation.... but really?

*looks again at the pictures above*

Yeah.  He's fine.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

caught in a vicious circle....

Hey!  Good news!  I think I've worked out where my never-ending infection is coming from.

Quick recap: over the last few winters, a cold has turned into a lingering chest infection that seems to take months to shake off.  This year was initially no different, and my GP was good enough to pretty much put me straight onto to antibiotics in an attempt to shorten the whole process.  This was, she told me, likely to be my fate every winter as long as I was on immune-supressing drugs. Great.

That's the thing about the disease modifying drugs used to treat MS: they try to slow down the progression of the disease by weakening the ability of my immune system to attack my central nervous system.  It seems to work, but a weakened immune system obviously leaves the door open to any and every passing infection.  What a choice.

This year, the chest infection seemed to develop into something else, a swelling of the throat and tongue with little white nodules.  I was treated for a fungal infection (three times), but it didn't seem to make any difference.  I've been working pretty long hours for the last few months, so perhaps I'm just run down. A couple of weeks off with an 8 day break in the Maldives can't hurt.

It was a lovely break, but it didn't shake off my throat problem.  I thought it had gone, but after my weekly injection, it came back before I even had a chance to think about the 30 degree drop in temperature waiting for me when I returned to the UK. 

By this point, my GP is baffled.  I am fit and healthy with a strong pulse and no obvious signs of infection. My throat and tongue were swabbed for a fungal infection and came back completely normal... and yet, here we are.  This damn thing has been hanging around for months.  It's affecting my voice, so I've had to stop going to choir. It's not especially debilitating and it's no longer in my lungs, but it is certainly BLOODY ANNOYING.  Could it perhaps be something to do with the Avonex I've been injecting every week for the last 8 years?


Now that I thought about it, this confirmed a pattern for me: mouth and throat start to feel like they're getting better, then I inject and it comes back, getting better over the course of the week until I inject again and then the cycle repeats.  I spoke to my MS Nurses - my gateway to the neurology team at the hospital - and they brushed me off, telling me to book a blood test and to wait and see (as if waiting and seeing since September wasn't quite enough waiting and seeing...)

I injected again on Monday night, and literally within an hour, my throat swelled and the white nodules were back all across the back of my mouth.  This is surely not a coincidence. I spoke to the nurses again the next morning.  It appears that 8 years is a long time to be injecting Avonex and my body might be developing some sort of a reaction to it.  The told me to stop injecting immediately and we'll see where we are in a month and if things clear up.

I suppose this is progress.  It's possible that my MS might strike in the period when I'm not covered.... but if it gives my body a chance to finally shake off this bloody infection or reaction or whatever it is, then that's got to be a risk worth taking, hasn't it?

This coming week will be the first time in eight years that I haven't injected myself. I've injected in a camper van in Australia and New Zealand, in a tent in Africa, in Cambodia, in Vietnam, in Canada... all over the world in all sorts of places.  But next week, it stops.

What a palaver.

Meanwhile, as long as this has stayed out of my lungs.... marathon training has continued as normal.  Because, you know...

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

let's hope the next beats the last...

2018 is a marathon year, with the London Marathon already looming large in the diary.... less than 110 days to go already....so apparently we’re now the kind of people who prioritise a good night’s sleep and a double parkrun in the morning over celebrating the arrival of the New Year.... which is exactly what we did on New Year's Eve, shooing our dinner guests out of the door before 11pm and making sure that I was all tucked up underneath my duvet less than fifteen minutes later.

A lot of people in my office are mystified as to why anyone would want to be up early doors to run one parkrun at 9am on New Year's Day, never mind two... but genuinely it was an enormous amount of fun with lots of our friends and a lovely, fun run atmosphere.  It's probably not for everyone, but apparently it is for us. I loved it.  My younger self is horrified that I prioritised my running over my drinking, but that's his problem.


Here are 9 pictures of things that made me happy in 2017.  Thanks for being a part of it.  Running features quite heavily, just as I imagine it will in 2018, with lots of races already booked and the marathon programme underway.  My legs have been getting stiffer just recently, and I've just been prescribed a muscle relaxant to try to ease them off as I sleep. Rather than encouraging me to think about stopping running, actually this encourages me to keep going.  I might not be as fast as I would like, but I rather think that it might be very difficult to start going again if ever do stop.... it might come to that, but we're not there yet and there's a few more miles left in me yet.

Thanks for all your love and support this year.  2017 was a pretty rubbish year, all things considered and I'm not sure that any of this would be possible without the support of our friends... whether they be near or far, online or in person.

May each day of 2018 be better than the last for you and for yours.

Let's try to keep on keepin’ on for another twelve months, eh?  Why not?

Happy New Year.

Friday, 22 December 2017

now years have gone by and we’re all so much older...

You might remember that I'm a big fan of Christmas music, but not a big fan of the same old songs we hear every single year. With that in mind, here's my seasonal playlist for you to enjoy. I've shared it before, but it changes a bit year to year, depending on what I discover, old or new.

There was a real run of great albums around 2011/12 with "This is Christmas" by Emmy the Great and Tim Wheeler, "Funny Looking Angels" by Smith and Burrows and the gorgeous "Tinsel and Lights" by Tracey Thorn, but it feels like I haven't had anything really good since.

This certainly isn't a comprehensive list, so if you've got any suggestions to add to the playlist..... fire away. Try and avoid the obvious ones if you can!

It's hard to choose a favourite. Predictably, I like the sad ones: River by Joni Mitchell, Joy by Tracey Thorn or This Ain't New Jersey by Smith and Burrows.

What's yours?


Amazon Music

Compliments of the season to you and to yours.  See you on the other side.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

the beauty in the spark...

It was the last day of Hanukkah yesterday, and I listened to a man on the radio his morning (he was a writer from the Jewish Chronicle) discussing how his family didn't celebrate Christmas at all because it's not a Jewish festival.  Apparently, there's some concern that the Jewish festival of lights - which generally takes place around November/December time - is in real danger of being swallowed up entirely by Christmas, with Jewish children and parents under pressure to take part in the all-consuming traditions of  the Christian holiday at the expense of their own customs and exchanging presents and so on.  This chap was saying that he enjoys carols and the lights and things, but he's Jewish, so tries not to get too caught up in Christmas.

It got me thinking: I'm atheist, although brought up in the Christian tradition.  I don't believe in God and have no desire to worship anything or anyone, but I very much enjoy this time of year.  Late December is a time when people seem to be generally just a bit softer around the edges than they are the rest of the year. Perhaps it's just that most people have been out on the sauce, but I prefer to think that it's a time of year that has people thinking about their friends and family and other people who are near and dear to them, and this smooths off a lot of our prickles and edges as we huddle together in the depths of winter. I like the lights (be they for Hannukah, Diwali, Christmas or whatever) and I like the songs (well, some of them) and I like much of the rest of it too.

As Tracey Thorn sings in "Joy"

"It's because of the dark
We see the beauty in the spark"

It's no coincidence that pagans celebrated at this time of year too. (Yes, OBVIOUSLY Jesus was actually born on 25 December and it JUST HAPPENED to be an existing festival).  People like a party in the depths of Sister Winter.  Can you blame them?

I don't believe in God, but I do exchange presents and I do wear a Christmas jumper and I do eat mince pies and have that extra glass of booze.  The fact that this all happens around a Christian festival is neither here nor there to me... although I suppose that's an easy thing for an atheist to say. Is it much harder for someone brought up in the Jewish faith to hand presents over when it's part and parcel of a different tradition?  I think back to when I used to help primary school children with their reading on a Wednesday morning.  At this time of year, most of the pupils I would be reading with were the children of Jehovah's Witnesses from the Kingdom Hall over the road.  Why was I reading with them? Because assembly would now mostly consist of singing carols in the run-up to Christmas, and their particular brand of religion wouldn't allow them to take part in that. I always thought that was a really hard sell to a small child, and I imagine that many Jewish children also find it difficult that they don't get Christmas presents.

Carols are overtly religious, I suppose - even if the Holly and the Ivy demonstrates just how much the Christian religion adapted pagan rituals... the rising of the sun and the running of the deer? Where's that in the Bible? - but presents?  Does the ritual of exchanging gifts at Christmas really have anything to do with the Three Wise Men?  And Santa?  Where does Jesus stand on Father Christmas? It's a constant source of irritation to me that otherwise sane people seem to get genuinely excited at the first time they see the Coca-Cola "holidays are coming" advert on the television each year, and that traffic grinds to a halt when the truck visits our town. They really do seem to think that Father Christmas as we currently imagine him was an invention of a corporation rather than a reflection of the red and white bishop's robes worn by Saint Nicholas in the Fourth Century.  You can buy Coca-Cola Christmas jumpers, of course.

So Christians didn't invent the party at this time of year, but frankly, what does Christmas really have to do with their tradition any more anyway?  Remember that Donald Trump made a huge song and dance in his campaign about how his administration wasn't going to be messing around with any of that "Happy Holidays" inclusive nonsense.  Oh no!  Christmas was coming back in a big way and political correctness could go hang.

Well, guess who made a point of saying "Happy Hannukah to our Jewish brothers and sisters" the other day? (read the full statement here: you won't be surprised to learn that it's entirely crass and tactless).

I suppose that I can understand why some people feel that their own traditions are under threat, and why that Jewish chap on the radio was worried about the erosion of Hannukah traditions.... as John Lennon once sang:

"Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace..."

And, lest we start thinking about what can be so wrong about children dreaming about receiving presents at this time of year, remember what Lennon went on to say:

"Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people"

Lennon was a damn fool idealist, of course.  Ha!  World Peace?  What are you jabbering about, man?  Still, how about we just try and live our lives for the next week or so by the prime directive: don't be a dick.  That's basically what all religions boil down to, isn't it?

We can at least try that, can't we? Even if it's just for the next few days until the turning of the year.  Who knows?  Perhaps 2018 will be the year we finally make it stick past the end of December.

Monday, 18 December 2017


As it was a little bit warmer this morning, I wrapped myself up in a few less layers for my bike ride to work.  Although I'm generally a bit nesh and feel the cold, I've actually not been too bad this year... I've been mostly running in shorts and have only worn leggings for my bike ride over the last week when it turned really cold. Maybe I've lost more sensation than I thought.

Still, today felt a bit warmer, so I left a couple of layers at home and set off at about 06:45 as usual.  It's been absolutely gorgeous at this time of the morning recently, and today was no exception: crystal clear skies with a sliver of moon and all the stars on display, with dawn just barely brightening the furthest edges of the eastern horizon.

It might have been a little less cold, but there was also still clearly a pretty hard frost on the ground.  You're pretty vulnerable on a bike at the best of times, but ice is a particular menace: once your wheels start to slide, you're on the ground before you've had a chance to react.  I'm never a particular speedy cyclist, and it sometimes feels like I'm being overtaken by old ladies with baskets on the front of their bicycles.... but on days like this, I cycle even more slowly than usual.

My commute is a little under 4 miles, and it's mostly along cycle paths and away from traffic.  Usually, that's a good thing.  Today? Well, on icy mornings, there's a lot to be said for a gritted road.  Less than a mile into my ride, I cross the river Trent on a pedestrian suspension bridge at the Embankment.  It's has ridged wooden slats on the main span that always seem to catch the frost.  I'm always super careful along here, today that meant riding along at about 1mph.  I still overtook a lady doing about 0.5mph, but both of us were being very cautious in the pre-dawn light.  As I eased down the ramp on the other side, I contemplated my turn left onto the road.  I always take this slowly anyway, because I'm afraid of coming off and shooting out into traffic.  There was no traffic at this time of the day, but I applied my brakes and slowed down even more.  I made it around the corner, but as soon as I applied power to my pedals, my wheels slipped out from under me and I was down.

Apparently, no matter how careful I thought I was being, I clearly wasn't being careful enough.

As I lay on the side of the road deciding how I felt about this with my wheel spinning comically in the air on my bike beside me, my mental inventory of my limbs was interrupted by the lady I'd overtaken asking me if I was okay.  Um, yes.   I think so.  I'd hate to have been travelling any faster, but I seemed to be bruised and grazed, but otherwise alright.  I thanked her again when I cycled past her a couple of minutes later.  Apparently, the council put a man on that slope later on in the morning to warn people about the black ice down there because lots of people had been coming off their bikes (well, they could also try gritting it....that would be cheaper than manning it for a couple of hours, wouldn't it?).  All things considered, I guess I was lucky to escape with a slow-motion tumble and a couple of grazes.

As this happens at least once a year, I keep a roll of plaster in my desk drawer at work for exactly this reason (and it never fails to amaze me that I can have big grazes on my knees and elbows even though the layers on top don't seem damaged at all.  Friction burns, I guess.

Still, given that I've cycled over 1,000 miles to and from work this year, and I think this is my first fall...maybe this was coming.  Some people look out of the window at a frost and decide to get the bus to work.  I do not (because I'm stubborn and stupid, as we all know).  Well, it's a few more interesting scars to add to the pile, if nothing else.

I might walk the bike down that slope tomorrow though, eh?

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

new car, caviar, four star daydream...

Arnold Schwarzengger’s disembodied head has just made me £615.

Although aware of PPI, it never really occurred to me that I might have a claim until I watched an advert featuring the aforementioned head on tank tracks, urging people to put in their claims as the window closes next year and the banks will be off the hook.  Apparently, the Financial Conduct Authority have seen millions of people flooding to their website and making claims since their £42m advertising campaign started.... although you might argue that £42m makes it a very expensive stable door, and that an Authority like that might be better served by actually regulating the banks effectively in the first place.  But anyway....

When I first took out a credit card, back in 1997, it came with a card payment protection insurance policy. It was annoying because I never asked for it, but it was only a couple of quid a month, and as it was my first credit card, I wasn’t really sure if it was something that I needed or not. So I left it. It seemed to be a fairly amorphous kind of insurance. Ostensibly, it was to help me out in the event that I couldn’t pay my bill, but it also seemed to offer lots of other services too. At one point, they sent me a key ring and some stickers to put on stuff, so that if they ever got lost, then they would find their way back to me. It annoyed me, but not enough to actually get around to cancelling it (which, every time I looked into it, seemed harder than it ought to have been). Apparently, it ultimately took me until 2005 to cancel the damn policy, which I think is when I binned the credit card.

I'd long since assumed that this was my own inertia that caused this and that there was no one to blame but myself, but then I saw that advert caught a couple of months ago and it was Arnold Schawarzenegger’s disembodied head shouting at me that finally got me off my (metaphorical - I remained seated throughout) arse and looking at the website of the financial ombudsman to see if I maybe had a claim.

One 16 (sixteen!) page form and a long conversation with a claims assessor from HSBC later, and the result is an offer of settlement of a little more than £615. The statement that came along with the offer showed that I had paid a total of £218.58 in premiums over the time that I had the policy (that's approximately £2.30 a month!), with the rest made up of lost interest and things like that. Given that I wasn’t 100% convinced that this was PPI in the first place or that it was significant enough, this is all something of a bonus.

I wouldn't normally be shouting "where there's a blame, there's a claim" from the rooftops... but this is the banks we're talking about, and who really feels sorry for them? That couple of quid a month really niggled me for EIGHT YEARS.  Not enough to actually do anything, but.... you know.

This definitely counts as sticking it to THE MAN, right? In the most middle-class way possible, but still sticking it to him, one PPI claim at a time....