Tuesday, 31 October 2017


Sod Halloween, it's exactly 500 years to the day since Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg church and thus started the Reformation.  It might seem hard to believe now quite how earth-shattering an event this was in the European history, but consider this: we're less than a week away from Bonfire Night, when we celebrate the hanging, drawing and quartering of a Catholic whose effigy we still burn more than 400 years after his death. A Catholic plot to kill a Protestant king simply would not have happened without the events that Martin Luther kicked off 500 years ago today.  Literally hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps millions, have died as as a result of this moment in history. All because of Martin Luther's stubborn, academic determination to prove a point and his refusal to back down in the face of what must have seemed like overwhelming pressure from pretty much everyone else in Christendom.

I studied this period of history, and I've always found it fascinating.  I can distinctly remember a particularly purple passage that my friend Mark, a fellow student on my undergraduate history course, included on an essay on the reformation: "An especially virulent strain of protestantism was now coursing through the spiritual veins of Europe".  Even before then, as a particularly pompous teenager, I can remember grandly announcing to some baffled and uncaring kids at school that I would not back down over something that seemed terribly important at the time because, "here I stand, I can do no other".

One of my first arguments with my now-wife involved whether or not Martin Luther grew a beard when he was in hiding as Junker Jorg at the Wartburg.  He did.  I was right.  Yeah.... we've always had that kind of relationship.

Martin Luther. With a beard. Just sayin'.

I might be an atheist, but I'm also a historian and it's impossible to avoid the historical significance of this particular moment in time and its reverberations down through history.

Not this Luther.

So, whilst huddling in my house with the lights off and the curtains shut in the hopes of avoiding any trick or treaters, I've spent a little time today thinking about that momentous moment of history that has played a small but important part in my own life.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

shake it off....

One of the drawbacks of injecting immune-suppressors every week is that they suppress your immune system. I never used to get colds at all, but since I began injecting these disease modifying drugs (designed to slow down the progression of my multiple sclerosis) they seem to hit me harder every year.

The sniffles I can manage, but I now seem to usually get a secondary infection in my lungs that lasts for ages as my body lacks the tools to fight it off - it took months to finally shake it off last year. The current infection is about 3-4 weeks in and has completely stopped me running (well, apart from two predictably difficult half marathons and a couple of parkruns that I stubbornly insisted on running).

I've had one course of antibiotics already and just started the next one; I'm using a brown inhaler twice a day and I'm supposed to be using a blue one 4 times a day; I'm also now having a chest x-ray. Good times. The doctor today saw me chafing at the bit to get out running (I've got two half marathons, two 20 mile races and a marathon in the diary to train for, you know!) and warned me to be nice to myself.


That's the hard part.

They say you should never run if a cold descends into your chest, but I'd be interested to hear the views of the people who say this on running when you can't feel your feet and have widespread numbness throughout the muscles of your thighs; or when you've lost 15% of the muscle mass on your left side and a good deal of the flexibility in one ankle.

Let's be honest: if I listened to my body, I'd probably never run at all.

Not that I'm planning on going out for a run.

Before Saturday, anyway.

*** I feel I should say that this post isn't supposed to be a pity party. I sometimes get accused of being overly rosy about MS and presenting a view that applies to very few people. I can, after all, run a marathon. I suppose this means I feel a bit of responsibility to show the other side too. MS can be an invisible condition, and for every time I'm shown as #inspiration, smiling as I finish a marathon or something, I feel I need to be honest about the rest of it too. I know that I'm still relatively very lucky with my MS. I'm not really looking for sympathy because the only thing this infection is stopping me doing is running, and I'm still doing a bit of that. It's frustrating, especially after my 4 week layoff in September, but it's hardly the end of the world.

Incidentally, I also know that my loss of sensation and muscle are nothing at all like running with a chest infection.  I'm just blowing off steam.  Probably best to ignore me, really.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

draw the line...

A Facebook friend of mine posted this on their wall the other day.

She's a perfectly decent, reasonable person.  No, actually.... that's not fair because she's much more than that: she's one of the most community and family-minded people that I know who is constantly putting herself out for other people.  She'd probably be the first person to tell you that she's not a particularly deep thinker, but she's always seemed open-minded and prepared to listen to other people's points of view in case she might learn something.  She's a nice person; one of life's good eggs.

And she posts this.

This is nasty, pernicious and ignorant rubbish. It's clearly offensive - and not just in its use of exclamation marks.  I don't know if she has any relatives or friends who served in the armed forces, but this friend often posts up things about war heroes and military stuff on her Facebook wall. Just today, she posted something from the local paper about a veteran of WWII stepping back into a Lancaster bomber for the first time in 60 years. She clearly cares about these issues, but is also clearly part of a generation that seems to take it entirely for granted that France and Germany aren't constantly at each other's throats and that wars like these are passing out of living memory.

I imagine she'll proudly be wearing a poppy over the next few weeks and will see no dissonance in that show of respect with the contempt shown by the makers of this picture towards the sacrifices of those soldiers who gave their lives fighting for freedom in Europe.


I suppose I should no longer be shocked to see this sort of stuff.  It's been more than a year since the referendum, and our national political debate has been bumping around at about this sort of level since before the 2015 general election.  You want to know where the line is? Look behind you - we crossed it some time ago.

I think what shocks me the most is the good-hearted people - like my friend - who are taken in by this sort of garbage.  Referendums, eh?

Clearly, I'm naive, but surely some things should be way beyond the scoring of cheap, reductive political points, shouldn't they? Speaking of which, it's nearly time for my annual rant about the poppy....

Thursday, 19 October 2017

just a girl...

Like many people, I've been genuinely shocked by the number of female friends in my Facebook timeline using the #MeToo hashtag to show that they have been the victims of some form of sexual assault or abuse.

In spite of my best attempts to check my privilege in at the door, I've still been somewhat shocked too by some of the articles and commentary that have followed in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal that kicked all of this off in the first place.  I just struggle with some of the generalisation: I'm a man, so perhaps it's inherently harder for me to understand, but it's difficult not to feel at least a little bit got-at when it seems like my whole gender is under suspicion.

Look at this article: Want to Treat Women Better? Here's a List to Start With.

There's a lot of common sense here (although, maybe a big part of the problem is that these things aren't commonly understood).  I realise that it's my privilege talking, but it feels as though a lot of the stuff here isn't only about gender, but is really about basic human decency:

 - Don't talk over people
 - Don't get defensive when you get called out
 - Don't make assumptions about someone's intelligence based on the way they dress
 - Be aware of your inherent power in any given situation
 - Don't send unsolicited dick pics


These are basic principles for not being an arsehole, right? (I nearly said dickhead, but the words you choose are important and it's easy to avoid the gender-specific insult and just go for a body part that we all possess instead).

Also, the last point in that list..."Don’t read a list like this and think that most of these don’t apply to you".... doesn't that read to you as just a little self-satisfied; as though the person writing this has just dropped the mic, fixed you with a glare and folded their arms?

Look.  I get it.  I really do.  I try hard not to be part of the problem.  I'm a big guy, and although you and I know that I'd get blown over in a stiff-breeze and wouldn't say boo to a goose, I noticed very early on that my physical presence sometimes intimidated.  If I was walking behind a woman at night, I quickly learned that they sometimes felt uneasy and threatened by my presence.  I knew that I had no ill-intent, but I also realised that they had no way of knowing that and the simple act of crossing the road helped to signal that I wasn't a threat.  It's only a small thing to do and I was happy to do it.  Frankly, not sending unsolicited dick pics is even easier.

I don't pretend to be a feminist, but I'm certainly not one of those guys who gets inarticulately and irrationally angry at ridiculous things like the all-girl Ghostbusters or the new prominence of female roles in the Star Wars films (the First Order is a much more equal opportunities employer than the Empire used to be, so they're not all bad).  Although I grew up without strong female influences on my life - mostly single sex schooling and no sisters - I've spent much of my adult life surrounded by the most amazing, intelligent, high-achieving women.  The idea that women are in any way inferior is just laughable.  My wife will doubtless tell you that I fall too easily into traditional gender roles at home and don't pull my weight enough with domestic chores, and she's probably right (although, I think that's essentially down to me having much lower standards than it is assuming that they're primarily a woman's jobs... but I could definitely do more).

It's just not helpful to label large, diverse groups of people with one big stereotype, is it?

That doesn't mean we don't have a problem, mind.  My Facebook friends have shown me that clearly enough over the course of this week.

Monday, 16 October 2017


On the way to work this morning, I was listening to 6Music and they played the lead single off Morrissey’s new album, “Spent the Day in Bed”. I saw him performing it a couple of weeks ago on Later…. (watch that here) and wasn’t terribly impressed. It sounded better second time around, I think at least partly because the very sight of Morrissey now annoys me and I was able to just listen to the song without any other distraction.

There was a time in my life when I absolutely adored Morrissey. I discovered The Smiths relatively late, in my first year at University, but I fell hard. My gateway song was “Half a Person”, heard on a friend’s cassette copy of the compilation album, “The Complete Picture”… but the timing must have been just right for where I was in my life at that time, and I was in love. I even spent a fair bit of time, way back in the early days of the world wide web mucking about getting into arguments on alt.music.smiths and alt.music.morrissey. I wonder what happened to thrill/Jill. She was easy to bait but remains the most passionate Morrissey fan I ever came across, and that is really saying something. He certainly seems to attract them, doesn’t he?

It sounds ridiculous now, but at the time, their entire back catalogue was deleted and you could only buy the albums on import. I remember being delighted to find a French import copy of “Hatful of Hollow” on CD at a record fair at the Birmingham NEC. It was quite an event when Warner Brothers re-released the back catalogue (which managed to upset Rough Trade indie purists, of course… extra track and a tacky badge and all that). In 1993, my three housemates and I agreed that we would each draw another housemate out of the hat and buy that person a Christmas present instead of everyone having to buy something for everyone else. I was given a limited edition 10 inch vinyl copy of “Hatful of Hollow”, still my favourite of their albums and something that I had framed and still has pride of place in my man cave to this day. I didn’t even own a record player until 2015.

Eventually, I started to realise that Morrissey was a bit of a prat. Not only that, but the quality of his output seemed to drop off a cliff and he seemed to disappear entirely for a few years towards the end of the 1990s. Maladjusted was pretty bad, I know… well, have you ever met a keener window cleaner? I still loved a lot of the music ("Bona Drag" is brilliant, “Vauxhall and I” is a classic and there’s lots to like on “You Are the Quarry” too, even if it’s been very patchy since), but something had changed. Maybe Morrissey had always been like this and I’d just got a girlfriend and moved on with my life… but he’s obviously pretty awful now, isn’t he? Do you think he ever looks at the seemingly endless cycle of feuds with his record companies or the press or high court judges and former band mates and ever wonders if perhaps it might be him? Maybe, just maybe we were prepared to overlook “Asian Rut”, “Bengali in Platforms” and “National Front Disco”, but when he’s trumpeting on about Nigel Farage, Brexit and his noxious views on the Chinese? Hmmm. Was he always like this and the fans were just too blind to see it?

As the late Sean Hughes once remarked, “Everyone grows out of their Morrissey phase. Except Morrissey.”

Well, whatever… Let's just say that, as the years, have gone by I’ve come to realise to a much larger extent quite what a pivotal role Johnny Marr played in the Smiths.

The thing is, it’s started to become difficult to separate the man from his music. “Spent the Day in Bed” might have grown on me, but there isn’t a cat in hell's chance that I’m going to buy the album. It might be catchy, but I can’t hear this lyric:
Stop watching the news!
Because the news contrives to frighten you
To make you feel small and alone
To make you feel that your mind isn't your own
without immediately thinking that, rather than perhaps talking about the inherent subjectivity of the news that is editorialised and presented to us for uncritical consumption, the reactionary berk is instead brainlessly barking “FAKE NEWS”... uncomfortably like that other kindred spirit in the US with an overly-elaborate stack of hair.

I've never really been one of those fans who hang around on True to You and think it's clever to pepper every sentence with old Morrissey lyrics... even at my most lovelorn, I think I've had far too firm a grasp on my critical faculties for that.  Even so, given that it seems to make me angry to even look at the man now and I find his studied archness irritating even before I've considered the nonsense he's actually speaking... I suppose you can say I'm probably over Morrissey now.

Damn, but the Smiths were a good band.

Please never re-form.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

don't stop moving...

There was a time when thought I was essentially immune to the common cold.  Well, perhaps not exactly immune, but I just never seemed to catch the infections that clobbered everybody else around me.  I might wake up one morning with a slightly scratchy throat, but it never seemed to develop into anything more substantial.

Rather smugly, I always put this down to the fact that I was reasonably fit and healthy and ate quite a lot more fruit and vegetables than average. Then I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and began to inject myself regularly with a drug designed to suppress my immune system.  The colds quickly followed.

It turns out that I wasn't immune to the common cold after all and that, actually, I was just being protected by a hyperactive immune system that was spoiling for a fight with almost anything.  The immune-suppressants soon put paid to that.


Worse still, when I go down with a cold now, I seem to find it almost impossible to shake.  Where most people are more or less back to normal after a week or so, I find that the symptoms drag out for months longer than that. For each of the last few years, I've had that a cold develops into something else in my lungs and, although it doubtless started out as a viral infection, I've ultimately needed an inhaler and some antibiotics to finally shake it off.

As a runner, of course, this is doubly frustrating as anything in your lungs makes running a very dubious prospect indeed. I lost six weeks of running at the back end of last year with a particularly persistent cough and every single day not running really eats away at my own personal sense of wellbeing.  I had to watch the Turkey Trot half marathon instead of running it. Imagine!

This year's cold, I'm told, is a particularly nasty strain.  Naturally, I caught it almost immediately.

Because I'm stupid and I'm stubborn, although my cold really developed over the course of the last week, I still dragged myself out on Sunday to run around the Royal Parks Half Marathon with my wife.  It was a lovely, sunny autumn morning and the course takes you through Hyde Park, St James Park, around Horse Guards and past the Palace.  It's well-supported and quite delightful.... but I predictably found it more of a struggle than either of my full marathons.  For (almost: mile 15-16 in our first marathon) the first time time running together, C found herself gently trying to pace me around the course. Not in the least bit surprising, right?

I look a bit like death in that second photo, eh?  Nice medal though.

I hate colds.  For someone with an incurable chronic illness, I have a surprisingly low tolerance for being ill.  Well, I've still got a couple of days before my next half marathon on Sunday, so.....