"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite".
He choose reconciliation and not retribution, and he was an inspiration for us all.
...and, y'know, a life-sized statue made out of Lego: does it get much better than that?
The author is a medical student with MS and she hits the nail right on the head here and I'm going to quote large bits of the post at you here, and I make no apology for that because it is spot on (although, please do go and read the whole thing....)
Apart from type 1 diabetes and SLE the medical school curriculum seems unduly focussed on teaching about MS. Whilst I suppose that makes sense because it is relatively common, they don’t seem to have decided to teach us that it’s a condition (like the others mentioned) which exists on a spectrum of outcomes. Just as they imply that all people with diabetes will eventually go blind and have their feet amputated, all of “those” with MS will be in a wheelchair. Just after my diagnosis I met a local consultant, diagnosed with MS in later life, who told me that for years before diagnosis he had been delivering a lecture entitled “the worst five conditions to get.” Top of his list was MS! Full of hope I asked him whether he had changed his mind but he dashed the hopes by saying “no, it’s bloody terrible.”
In my experience, it remains overwhelmingly true that people who hear I have MS almost always assume that my outcome is dire and that I am certain to die young and in a wheelchair. Maybe I will, but I don't know that any more than you do. It's slightly depressing to hear that this seems to be a view taught at medical schools though.
With the exception of paediatrics, I have had teaching about MS in every speciality we have covered. In my fourth year exams there were questions about MS on three of the four exams. In addition to neurology lectures I have heard about it in lectures about eyes, pregnancy, bladder and bowel, end of life care, lungs, vertigo etc etc. The “finest” example was when someone giving an obstetrics lecture referred to MS as “that horrendous neurological disease.” The upside of this is that it can generally be given as the answer to any question along the lines of “which diseases cause…?”; the downside is that it is a regular reminder of what MIGHT be to come.
Beautiful, huh? Imagine being an MS-sufferer and sitting in a lecture hall to hear your condition described by the professor as 'that horrendous neurological disease". Lovely.
All of this may be irritating to people who are much poorlier than me. Justifiably they can mutter “well what does she know, she hasn’t suffered too badly yet.” And if you read the forums and facebook pages it is obvious that there are people who are unable to stay upbeat, positive and hopeful. I empathise with the vast majority of these but have had to stop reading them due to my rising irritation with those (a minority) who seem to have taken their diagnosis as a reason to take to their beds and give up on life
I'm acutely conscious when I write about my MS that I may come across as excessively stoical. I have some problems, but I also know that, relatively speaking, I'm doing pretty well and I don't like to grumble. In addition, I absolutely hate the idea of letting this condition get the better of me and become an excuse for not doing things. There are lots of MS bloggers who write about nothing but their MS. I know that what someone writes in their blog is not necessarily everything that's going on in your life, but it's tempting to think that there are some people who are defining their lives by their condition. Fuck that.
But how positive can you really be? Then again, if you take that view, how positive can anyone be? Who knows what's coming next? That's true for everyone else in the world too, regardless of whether or not they suffer from a currently incurable neurological condition.... but at the same time, y'know... I sit in the waiting room at the neurologist every year, and I see the people waiting with me.
So I want to shout “look at me, it isn’t necessarily completely shit” but I don’t because, of course, it is still early days and there are significant challenges to overcome....
I know what she mean, but for myself, I'm inclined to be a little more positive. Live in the now, for goodness sake. Tomorrow we die. Today we live.
The guys in my team at work are so young - mostly in their early 20s - that they simply do not have the same frame of reference as me and frequently look at me as though I have beamed down from another planet or - more likely - have somehow been transported into their lives from the distant past.
I'll give you an example: I mentioned in passing the other day that we used to get ice on the inside of windows when I was a kid. I thought it was an innocent enough remark, but I looked up to find everyone gawking at me with open astonishment. They just could not believe that such a thing could ever be possible. Of course, they all grew up in a world where everyone has double-glazing. Why should they imagine anything different? I wonder if they even know how to open a sash window? Until I was about 7, I didn't have a duvet either! Imagine that! These kids haven't generally experienced much of foreign cultures either, choosing instead to holiday in sheltered resorts on all-inclusive deals. Another colleague told me the other day that she felt she had "done" Egypt now. She's been to Red Sea resorts twice and has never seen the Pyramids or Cairo or anything like that. Well, once you've sunbathed at the hotel pool and gone quad biking in the desert, what else can Egypt offer you? Best head to Greece to not visit the Parthenon, eh? I remember another colleague telling me about how she went on an "off-resort" trip on an all-inclusive holiday to Caribbean. They visited some locals and she just could not get over the fact that the hut they visited didn't even have a carpet. Wide-eyed she looked at me and asked me to imagine being so poor that I couldn't even afford a carpet!
I decided to play around with them a bit.
"But, you know, we didn't have electricity when I was at school either"
They believed that too. Without even a single bloody question.
"Well", said Chloe (23) when I said electricity was becoming common in the late nineteenth century, "I just assumed you went to a very rural primary school".
A scene from my childhood.
I swear these incurious bloody children think I come from Dickensian London or something.
Sometimes it's the little things that stick with you. I was reading an interview in the Guardian today with England's fullback, Mike Brown. He's a player who's never really been my cup of tea. I'm a Northampton man and my loyalties in the position are with Ben Foden. Even so, his performances in the games against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand last month really stood out, and it's hard to argue with his inclusion in the side. Anyway, there's a big interview with him and, because it's taken him a long time to break into the side, he has an interesting story to tell. In the middle of that story, this paragraph jumped out at me:
"My dad has mild MS [multiple sclerosis] and so he struggles to get around. He can't walk much on long days – he has to be pushed around in a wheelchair. Gradually it gets worse but he's not got a severe kind of MS. It's still bad enough and it affects the way he moves around. It's not great to see. He doesn't come to games much any more – especially when they're on TV. If he comes to a match someone has to push him around. That's usually my step-mum and it's hard for her pushing a bloke round all day. So he feels more comfortable and less of a burden at home. But he was lucky enough to get to the New Zealand game and the sponsors sorted him out for Argentina – so he had a bit of corporate stuff and nice disabled seats as well. That was great."
It's not just the fact that his dad has MS that caught my attention, it's the fact that Mike Brown is clearly acquainted enough with the condition to understand that, although his dad is in a wheelchair some of the time and struggles to get around, he has a mild form of the condition. I don't think you would say that unless you had seen what the disease was really capable of. I've been in those waiting rooms too.
It's all relative in this game.
For some reason, that's stayed with me all day. Look, I know that I've been so lucky - lucky!! - with how lightly I have been affected by MS. I have my problems, sure.... but they don't really amount to a whole hill of beans and I don't like to dwell on them. This may be as bad as it gets for me, but I'm not an idiot and there is of course a possibility that this is just a stop along the way. Well, there's nothing much that can be done about that and it's a waste of time speculating or worrying about something that I can't control at all.
That said, it's sobering to read about someone with "mild" MS who stays at home in his wheelchair rather than watch his son play rugby for England because he doesn't want to be a burden on anyone. That's shitty.
OK. I'm finished feeling sorry for myself now. More or less.
You might remember that, last year, I took part in a thing called "Collect a Star". This is where you spend £10 buying a gift for someone who might not otherwise have much to open at Christmas. Last year, my star was 6 year old Lilly. Because I got so much enjoyment from reading when I was that age, I bought her a book. There's no way of knowing how good a reader your star is, so I chose a Dr Seuss compendium, my thinking being that it's simple and has lots of pictures, but that it is bursting with playful and imaginative use of words.... something that is very dear to my heart indeed. I hope she liked it.
This year, my "star" is a 10 year old called Samantha. Again, I wanted to buy a book if I could, but wasn't quite sure what to aim for. I ummed and ahhed around Waterstones for a bit, and found myself at the Tintin section. I thought that Asterix and Tintin books were brilliant when I was about ten, but for a girl? That's outside of my field of experience. Luckily, my wife was with me, and she told me that she too loved the Tintin books when she was growing up. Excellent, well that was easy. "The Secret of the Unicorn" and "Red Rackham's Treasure" seemed like a natural place for anyone to start, and I just hope that Samantha enjoys them half as much as apparently we both did.
Growing up in France, of course, my wife read these books in the original French, and we got to talking about how the names are different. Tintin is Tintin, of course, but Snowy is "Milou" in the French, Thompson and Thomson are "Dupont et Dupond", Professor Calculus is "Professeur Tournesol", and so on.
The best character of course, in any language, is "Capitaine Haddock". As a lover of language, how could you not love the man's wonderfully imaginative swearing?
I was delighted to learn that the Captain's trademark "Billions of blue blistering barnacles" also sounds brilliant in French: "Mille millions de mille milliards de mille sabords!". "Ten thousand thundering typhoons" doesn't sound too bad either: "Tonnerre de Brest!" Somebody has done some wonderfully sympathetic translation work here. Hats off then to Michael Turner and Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper ("...Turner particularly excelled at anglicising Haddock's colourful but never rude repertoire of insults and curses" No kidding!).
Words can be such a joy.
If Dr Seuss was a genius in his playful use of language, then Captain Haddock is unparalleled in his ability to creatively swear-without-actually-using-any-rude-words. In fact, he may be one of the greatest creations in *any* form of literature. He's brilliant.
A colleague of mine, a consultant originally from Romania was telling me today how delighted she was when someone used the word "sheepish" in conversation with her. She thought that was delightful and was telling me how much she loved English for all its idiosyncrasies and quirky turns of phrase like that.
Of course, given a lead up like that, I was delighted to introduce her to the world of collective nouns for animals.... a parliament of owls, a murder of crows, an embarrassment of pandas, an ostentation of peacocks, a murmaration of starlings, an implausibility of gnus, an unkindness of ravens, a tiding of magpies, a down of rabbits, a comfort of cats..... the list goes on (and can be found, beautifully illustrated by woop studios here). Since I discovered it, I honestly don't think I have a friend or acquaintance with a small child who I haven't given a copy of A Zeal of Zebras to.... it's a beautiful book and I hope it sparks the same interest in words in someone else that somebody sparked in me.
Happy Christmas, Samantha. I hope you enjoy the Tintin books.....
Apologies if this is inconvenient to anyone, but I've just changed the way I allow comments on this site. Usually, I allow anyone - including anonymous users - to add comments. I moderate comments on posts older than ten days, but other than that, anything goes.
Recently, I've been absolutely deluged with brainless spam comments on ancient posts... they automatically get filtered out and never actually appear on the site, but they still trigger an email and it's getting really boring. The spam comments are always anonymous, so I've now blocked anonymous comment.
Please keep adding your thoughts.... but now you'll have to use a google ID or an OpenID or something like that.
Sorry to be a pain, but hopefully that will discourage some of these spammers.
Once a month, we have a virtual exercise club at Uborka: we compare notes on how we're all doing and how we've been getting on with our training over the last few weeks. Some of the participants are just getting into running, and are following training programmes like Cto5k (couch to 5km), others are much more experienced runners. The idea is to encourage each other and to share progress and frustrations and so on. It's nice. Running is a great leveller: no matter how good you are and no matter how much you seem to be faster than everyone around you, you can always push yourself to improve and there's always another level. People just getting into running often seem to think that other runners will laugh at them as they take their first steps.... not at all. Us runners know just how hard it is to get out of the door in the first place. We're not laughing at anyone who's getting out there.
That said, runner's solidarity out on the street isn't what it used to be (whatever happened to people saying hello to a fellow runner? Running club is great, but when did common courtesy disappear? Did I miss the memo?), so it's nice just to chew the cud in a friendly place about something we all have in common.
I worry that they all hate me.
This month, a lot of the talk was about how hard people have been finding it to get out and train. Everyone is busy and winter is drawing in, making the mornings and evenings dark and cold. I sympathise.... but then put up my own update: this month I have broken my own record for exercise "activites". I've beaten last month's 64 activities into a cocked hat with an incredible 70 so far this month, with at least one more to come before the month is out. Yeah, alright, some of those activities are a lot longer than others, and cycling to and from work has obviously made an enormous difference to my exercise count, but in the last 30 days I have:
-> cycled 174 miles (that's 11,000 calories worth)
-> run 52 miles (7,600 calories)
-> swum 6 miles (around 2,500 calories)
...as well as the occasional walk thrown in for good measure.
That's quite a lot, right? It doesn't feel too bad doing it all, but it stacks up. Take Thursday, for instance. I cycled the 4 miles to work. Later, I cycled the 4 miles along the canal to the gym and then did a 5.2 mile run with running club. Then I cycled the 2 miles home. One day, four activities. Boom.
I reported this on uborka, and instantly felt a bit of a twat. Am I just showing off? There are plenty of people who run further and faster than me each month and lots more people who do an awful lot more cycling than I do. Even my commute isn't really that far. It adds up, for sure, but it's really not all that impressive.
To be honest, if anything, the overwhelming feeling when I look at the cold, hard stats is that I'm in the grips of some sort of compulsion. I'm not sure I'm trying to prove anything to anyone except myself, and I'm not even really consciously trying to do that. I just hate doing nothing; it makes me feel lazy and fat (in fact, I'm pretty skinny already and getting thinner). Whenever I feel the tell-tale fatigue in my shoulders, the pins and needles in my hands or the weird heaviness in the big muscles of my legs that make me walk a bit funny; whenever I start to scuff my left foot or drag my left leg; whenever I simply feel like I can't be bothered and that the weather is a bit meh.... I imagine how awful I'll feel when if the day ever comes when I can't do anything.... and I drag my sorry arse out to get it done.
I look at my activity count this last thirty days and I feel a tiny sense of pride that another month has ticked by without my MS negatively impacting my life. It's a tiny 'fuck you', to be sure... but that doesn't diminish the pleasure I get in delivering it.
I know it's not even December yet, but despite my best intentions, the Christmas songs have started to play inside my head. Luckily for me, although I'm a huge fan of seasonal music, I spend as little time as I can listening to the fifteen or twenty songs that we hear all the bloody time from the end of September onwards. I don't mind most of the songs, it's just that they've been played to death and I'm simply bored of them. Yes, even the Pogues. What was once the 'alternative' choice as best Christmas song is now so thoroughly mainstream that it's about as alternative as Michael Buble.
Yes, it can certainly be hard to avoid Slade, Wizzard, the Pogues and the rest of them when they are playing on a loop in every shop you go into, and I'm certainly not immune... but, if you try hard enough, you can work to tune them out. Just think of the saxophone solo on "Careless Whisper", for example, and you should be fine....
There have been some brilliant seasonal albums released in the last few years. My favourite from last year was "Tinsel and Lights" by Everything But the Girl's Tracey Thorn. There's something about her beautiful, downbeat voice that really appeals to me. Her cover of Dolly Parton's "Hard Candy Christmas" is a thing of beauty. The song that gets me every time though is "Joy".
Ah! Beautiful. It might still be November, but I think I could listen to this song at pretty much any time of the year. AND I'M NOT SORRY ABOUT IT!
My favourite seasonal song is from the distinctly unlikely album "Funny Looking Angels" by the drummer from Razorlight and the singer from Editors, Smith & Burrows. It's a brilliant album, and again, much of this is good enough to stand up at any time of the year. "This Ain't New Jersey" is just a masterpiece.
Hmm. Another downbeat song. I'm rather afraid that might say something about me as everyone else is listening to mostly absurdly upbeat records.
Still, this is a bit more uptempo, and frankly, what's not to like about a Christmas Song about zombies?
Well I don't want to have my last Noel, We'd better kick those zombies back to Hell If we want to live to tell the Zombie Christmas!
But, you know. There's one seasonal song that stands head and shoulders above the rest. When one of my colleagues asked me what my favourite Christmas record was, this was my only possible answer.
My colleague just shrugged, said she'd never heard of it and started talking about Wham. Mind you, this is the same person who declared that it wasn't Christmas until she'd seen the Coca-Cola advert. The worst part was that everyone else agreed with her. WTF?
Anyway. It's not even bloody December and I'm talking about Christmas music. Well, at least it's good music, eh? (even if it might be a little mournful...)
Happy Thanksgiving, y'all! (Is it okay to watch "Elf" yet?)
(btw, anyone got any good tips for Xmas albums this year?? I'm all ears....)
What is it that they say? That you're never more six feet away from a rat? If that's the case, how come you don't see them more often? A couple of years ago, the cat went through a phase of staring obsessively down a drain cover outside our house, and the only conclusion we could draw was that she might have caught a brief glimpse of a rat down there and was hanging around in case it ever came back. Other than that, and it hardly counts, I can't remember seeing one at all. I've caught glimpses of them in London, around the underground and occasionally in the street, but around here.... nothing. But every six feet? If that's true, then where on earth are they all hiding?
Apparently the statistic is more like a rat every 164 feet, but that doesn't have quite the same ring to it, does it?
Actually, since I started cycling to work, I have seen a lot more rats. Most of my cycling takes place on cycle paths alongside the river Trent, and if I cycle to the gym, then my route takes me straight down the canal towpath. Since the evening's have got darker, there's at least one place on my route where I'm starting to see rats quite often: down towards the lock where the canal meets the river Trent, there's a bit underneath a bridge where, as often as not, I see a few rats. They're usually pretty surprised to see me and they either weave between my wheels and back to the safety of their hiding place underneath the bridge somewhere, or they just jump headlong into the canal.
The thing is, they're actually pretty cute.
I know we're supposed to have a conditioned response to the presence of rats, and I didn't think I was any different to anyone else in this regard.... it's just that they're brown rats, pretty clean from a life spent in the water, and they have these pretty white bellies. I like animals, and I get a real sense of wellbeing from observing animals of all kinds in the wild. I've enjoyed our trips to Africa and places like that enormously to get the chance to observe leopards, elephants and the like... but truth be told, it doesn't have to be an exotic location. I also get a thrill watching a fox playing in our street from behind our bedroom curtain in the small hours of the morning; from hearing a family of magpies laughing at my cat from as they perch on our roof; from seeing a squirrel bouncing across the path and scampering up a tree.... When I see things like that, just for a moment, and in the middle of my busy urban life, I feel a little more in-tune with the rhythms of the natural world. It gives me an enormous sense of wellbeing...
Rats? Well, I don't want them in my house especially (although, to be fair, neither do I want foxes, magpies of squirrels in my house... never mind leopards or elephants).... but, you know what? seeing rats scampering around on a canal towpath is okay with me.
Mind you, I don't live on the narrowboat that's moored down there....
We've had a long, late Autumn this year... but the cold weather seems finally to be closing in with a vengeance and the last of the golden leaves are falling from the trees to form a frosty layer on the side of the road.
That can only mean one thing!
Yes: time to start making casseroles and chillies and other soothing, luscious, slow-cooked meals. It seems I'm not the only person to be thinking this, and over at Uborka they've been hosting CassFest all week, where various contributors are sharing their recipes for homely, slow-cooked goodness.
Yeah. I'm branching out into recipes. I'M COMING FOR YOU, OLIVER!
Farmer's market shin beef, delicious root veggies, red wine and...er... a tin of anchovies. Trust me, it's an umami thing. Delicious. Also, because this recipe was written by me, there's a pointless, rambling anecdote on why making cocktails is a science but cooking is an art.
You can read it all HERE. It's bad form to just republish, innit.
Comfort food FTW because [adopts ridiculous Yorkshire accent and stares mysteriously into the far distance]