Wednesday, 12 February 2020

you are the unforecasted storm...

As an addendum to the post below, I received a letter the other day from the neurologist. Apparently, my November 2019 MRI scan shows no evidence of new disease activity.

This is clearly excellent news.

From the very beginning, my MS hasn't seemed to follow the usual patterns. Although I have technically been diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, where patterns of disease activity are followed by periods of remission and partial recovery, my MS has always behaved a bit differently. Most of my initial symptoms can be traced to a single lesion in my cervical spinal cord, but I haven't had a clear relapse since that first one and I don't seem to have developed any new lesions (the scarring on the brain or spinal cord left by the inflammation). That said, although I haven't developed any radically new symptoms, I have seen a general (albeit fluctuating) worsening of the ones that I do have. Relatively speaking, compared to others, I'm doing great... but the disease has changed my life. As well as the muscular symptoms of weakness, numbness and pins & needles, I also now take a pill to manage bladder urge and self-cathertise every night to ensure that my bladder is completely empty before I go to bed (I'm also careful of the volume of what I drink after about 20:30 at night. No more last orders at the bar for me). These things are different from what they were when I first developed symptoms in 2005. I may not have visible signs of disease activity in my MRI scan, but you can now see them in the way that I walk.

I think what this shows us is how complex a condition multiple sclerosis is; how it's an umbrella term for a massively varying set of symptoms and presentations. It's a handy label to put on people, but every single person seems to experience the disease differently. It's amazing how much the doctors and specialists do know, but equally very clear how much they don't know too.

I'm doing well. There's no sign of new disease activity in spite of the fact that I've now been off all medications relating to my MS for a couple of years now. It was a risk to stop injecting the drug that may (or may not) have been slowing my disease progression, but for the time being, it seems to be a risk that has paid off.

Long may it continue.

In the 43 days of 2020 so far, I've run 155 miles. I don't have much to complain about.

Monday, 10 February 2020

we are standing on the edge...

Sometimes I wonder how much I let MS define my life. I see memes on various Facebook MS groups that talk of no one understanding their world of invisible pain, and I just don't relate to them at all. I appreciate that different people process things in different ways, but I've always thought that I'm exactly the kind of person who doesn't wallow in the fact that I have multiple sclerosis.

But is that true? Can it be true?

Taking only this morning, I've worried about whether or not I'm finding it harder to sleep at the moment, I've thought about my bladder and bowel function, I've wondered if my bad back is being caused by any of the pills I take, I've staggered around on stiff, cramping legs and dragged a stiff ankle up and down the stairs a couple of times, I'm typing right now with numb hands. Is it really true to say that I'm not letting my MS define me? Just because I'm not posting memes about it?

Probably, some of these things will have nothing to do with my MS. A few definitely are, but I have to remind myself again that I'm actually extremely fortunate with my MS: my symptoms are reasonably stable and all of the above has to be taken in the context of the fact that I'm planning to go out for a 5 mile run this evening and that I've run 145 miles so far this year. Alright, so I'm finding running a bit harder at the moment, but it's not as though I'm doing much less of it.

I try not to put every little thing I feel down to my MS, but it is inevitably a filter through which I view the world.

Maybe that's the most insidious symptom of them all.

Friday, 7 February 2020

His looks don't bother him, now in the least...

Look, I appreciate there are lots of things about this blog that have been neglected recently. It's been a bit of a journey from blogging 4 or 5 days a week, through not blogging at all, to coming back out the other side with a bit of occasional blogging. What can I tell you?  Life happened.

I miss the good old days when we all used to actively participate and comment on each others blogs, but I guess we should all just look back fondly on the time we had some analysis done on handwritten song lyrics (quiz - results), or tried to guess which bookcase and which fridge belonged to which blogger, or when we posted mix tape CDs to each other. (2006 2007 2008) [some of those links to the old blog are really slow, and where I've used a link to the archived content on the new URL, the comments won't be there, which is a shame... but you get the general idea]

One feature that has been here since the very beginning -- way back in 2004! - is Earworms. I don't know if I'm more prone to them than other people, but the idea of a song popping up randomly in your head and then playing on repeat has always struck a chime with me. Cataloguing them and then listing them every week as a blogpost has been oddly therapeutic. Looking back the other day, I was tickled to see an appearance by "Chim-Chimney", together with an explanation of how you can recreate the sound of the song using only your finger on a piece of paper.

Anyway. I digress.

The point is that I'm going to try and be a bit more disciplined about cataloguing my earworms and putting them up here. You may not be entirely thrilled to hear that news, but I've never really written anything on here for an audience... so....  tough.

I'm also delighted to say that I've managed to get another Guest Editor to share the contents of their head. Long time readers may remember that I used to try and get someone else to do this on a fairly regular basis. We slowed down a bit by the end, but there's still an archive of over 100 different guest slots, Apart from anything else, having a cut and paste made for an easy post for me on a Friday anyway.

Steve and I go back a fair way now. As he mentions below, our paths actually crossed long before they actually crossed. These days, we're fairly regular correspondents, still comment on each other's blogs and have even made the effort to overcome the massive distance between us (i.e. the length of Brian Clough Way) to meet up in real life. Steve is a veritable musical guru; he's one of those guys who has actually listened to all those bands that lots of people pretend to like because they're cool and obscure and difficult to like when you actually put their records on. As someone who enjoys music in a far lazier way than that, I love to listen to him talking on this subject and on his own career as a musician/songwriter. Who doesn't love listening to someone talking with passion on a subject they love?  He's also taken a really rigorous approach to the challenge of earworms by forensically cataloguing what's gone through his head on a day-by-day basis over the course of the week. Now that's commitment.

So, without further ado, I'm delighted to present for your listening pleasure.....

Earworms of the week - guest editor #102 - Steve from It's a Shit Business


D'Angelo - "Devil's Pie"
I listened to the album this is from - Voodoo - for the first time in a while last weekend, prompted by the fact that apparently it’s 20 years old. Which is mental because it was only recorded next week.
Anyway, it's still a cracking psychedelic soul album. Some of the tracks feature drums which are simultaneously playing before and after the beat.
Having said that, this song was always one of the ones which sounded pretty normal to me and I'd never have this pegged as one of my favourites. But it sounded great. And the following day I realised that I was walking around singing "Fuck the slice, we want the pie" all day (whenever my daughter wasn't around anyway).

Harry Nilsson - “Gotta Get Up
A bit of a literal earworm this one, being prompted on Monday morning when we were trying to get our daughter to school on time.
I love Harry Nilsson. Some people unfairly tag him as a professional hanger-on. He was along for the ride for John Lennon's infamous "lost weekend", which was also when Harry introduced Lennon to the Brandy Alexander cocktail - cognac, crème de cacao and cream. Ouch.
Famously self-destructive to a fault, Harry drank so much that by the end of his life he’d completely f**ked his voice. On this track - and also on his brilliant album of Randy Newman songs - it's a pure and nimble thing of creamy beauty.
Very much like a Brandy Alexander, which apparently taste like milkshake.

Super Furry Animals - "Demons"
Stereolab - "We're Not Adult Orientated"
SFA are one of those bands who I seem to have a lot of albums by, even though I've never really loved them. There is no reason at all why this song popped into my head on Tuesday morning.
Stereolab are similar in that I have a lot of their albums. The only difference is as the years go by, I seem to love them even more. One of my old bands supported them in London in the early 90s. We did not go down well.
This song takes the end section of the Velvet Underground's "What Goes On" and runs with it for a good six minutes. Totally relentless. Great drumming, rattling guitar, overdriven organ.
According to “the Googs”, the lyrics translate to:
I do not
I do not write
No I don't write
To waste my time
We don't write
I'm wasting time
"Ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum", indeed.

Bonny Light Horseman - “Bonny Light Horseman
We've all been there. Your boyfriend / lover / husband has gone off to fight in the Napoleonic Wars and you don't know if he'll come back alive. So you end up writing a song about your hatred of Bonaparte.
Apparently Bonny Light Horseman (the band) is a US folk supergroup, formed with the encouragement of Bon Iver / Justin Vernon. And Bonny Light Horseman (the song) is "...a lament of English origin from the Napoleonic Wars. Though written in England, it became popular in Ireland as a broadsheet ballad."
Fair enough.
Despite the fact that folk music remains one of the few musical genres which I can't seem to get completely behind, this recording (from their 2020 album and the last one I bought) seems to make whatever room I'm in at the time incredibly dusty, every time every time I play it.
My wife's take on it? "It's a 'no' from me...", the moment the vocals started.

The Pointer Sisters - “I’m So Excited
Yes this is a stone-cold 80s banger. But there is no earthly reason why this was in my head on Thursday morning. The mind is a mysterious and terrifying thing.
But a good pop song is still a good pop song. Recently our daughter has discovered the NOW That's What I Call Music albums. And it has been good to know that there are still some really great pop songs being written - Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, Lizzo, even (gasps) The 1975. It's just the fact they're just not as all-pervasive as they were in my day.
BRING BACK TOP OF THE POPS!

Killdozer - “Ballad Of My Old Man
No word of a lie, when I woke up this morning the song was playing in my head.
I bloody love Killdozer. Turgid (in a good way) grinding riffs and weird / funny lyrics. Along with Butthole Surfers, they provide the soundtrack whenever I need to put together flat-pack furniture. This song tells the story of the narrator's father who worked in a grain elevator. After it blew up, he was the only survivor but was "left with a face that looked like chewed bubble gum". Nice.

FUN FACT: Butch Vig's production work on Killdozer's albums was one of the main reasons why Nirvana used him to record Nevermind.

In 2012 I responded to a tweet from the blog Sweeping The Nation, looking for classic TV music performances which weren't often seen. I mentioned Killdozer's performance of "American Pie" on Channel 4's Club X (a late night music and art show which predated The Word - I think it only lasted one series).
Seven years later I received the following tweet:



I love the internet.

Case in point: years ago, me and Swisslet were contributors to The Art of Noise blog's "A-Z Of Music" series - start here, obviously.
Following that we were united by our similarly wonky immune systems.
Now we've even met IRL on a loosely semi-annual basis. Crazy times!

--

Nice one, Steve! Thanks for that, and you have a platform here to talk about music any time you like. That's an earworm post two weeks running! Nothing inbetween, for sure... but it's a start. Have a good weekend, y'all.

[Previous Guest Editors: Flash, The Urban Fox, Lord Bargain, Retro-Boy, Statue John, Ben, OLS, Ka, Jenni, Aravis, Yoko, Bee, Charlie, Tom, Di, Spin, The Ultimate Olympian, Damo, Mike, RedOne, The NumNum, Leah, Le Moine Perdu, clm, Michael, Hyde, Adem, Alecya, bytheseashore, adamant, Earworms of the Year 2005, Delrico Bandito, Graham, Lithaborn, Phil, Mark II, Stef, Kaptain Kobold, bedshaped, I have ordinary addictions, TheCatGirlSpeaks, Lord B rides again, Tina, Charlie II, Cody Bones, Poll Star, Jenni II, Martin, Del II, The Eye in the Sky, RussL, Lizzy's Hoax, Ben II, Earworms of the Year 2006, Sarah, Flash II, Erika, Hen, Pynchon, Troubled Diva, Graham II, Cat II, Statue John II, Sweeping the Nation, Aravis II, Olympian II, C, Planet-Me, Mike, Michael II, Eye in the Sky II, Charlie III, The Great Grape Ape, asta, Ben III, Earworms of the Year 2007, Cat III, JamieS & Wombat, Pynchon II, Briskate, Craig Cliff, Fiery Little Sod, Cody II, J, Yoko II, Rol, Lisa, Pollstar II, Joe the Troll, Eye in the Sky III, Jerry Cornelius, Stevious, Luke, FLS II, Earworms of the Year 2008, FLS III, Mik, Mark Again, Ben IV, Lisa, FLS V, FLS VI, FLS VII]

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

like a tear runs across a frozen cheek...

Better late than never, here's the 2019 Christmas edition of

EARWORMS OF THE WEEK

You might remember, somewhere in the mists of time, I used to do an earworm column every Friday. Sometimes we had guest editors sharing the contents of their internal jukeboxes. You might also remember that I'm a fan of good, seasonal music. I've got nothing especially against the likes of Slade and Wizzard, it's just that I became incredibly bored of hearing the same 10 songs over and over again every Christmas. There's loads of really good music produced about Christmas, and it's been something of a personal mission to find as much of it as I can and to bolster my Christmas playlist.

I realise it's completely the wrong time of the year, but that playlist can be accessed:
On Spotify
On Amazon Music

(yeah, I know it's not the same on both platforms. Sue me).

I thought it might be fun (for me) to do a little retrospective on the songs that I was listening to throughout December in 2019.  Maybe bookmark this post and come back to it towards the end of November?

"December Song (I dreamed of Christmas)" - George Michael

This is, of course, rendered slightly poignant by George Michael's death on Christmas Day in 2016. We also tend to associate George with the inescapable (and still very good and actually-very-sad) "Last Christmas". As with much of his latter-day solo work, this is lovely and downbeat, and I particularly enjoy that he wants nothing more at Christmas than peace on Earth and a day spent watching tv. "Snow would fall upon my bed like sugar from Jesus" though, George? really?

"Ring Out, Solstice Bells" - Jethro Tull
"I Believe in Father Christmas" - Greg Lake

OK, I realise that both of these are, to a greater or lesser extent, featured on those Christmas compilations, but I hadn't really heard either of them for a long time and they're both good songs. I like the pagan allusions of the Jethro Tull song, a feature of all of the best carols that hark to the solstice rather than particularly to the birth of Christ. I also very much enjoy how downbeat Greg Lake's song is. The Christmas we get we deserve, indeed.

"Nothing But a Child" / "Christmas in Washington" - Steve Earle
"Christmas in Prison" - John Prine

American country-tinged music is one of those genres that is a huge blindspot in my musical knowledge. I've got a few bits and bobs, but I'm otherwise mostly blissfully unaware. I actually know "Christmas in Prison" from a lovely cover that Emmy the Great did with Lightspeed Champion on one of those indie Christmas compilations. It's such a beautiful song that, when I discovered that it was a cover (I think it was mentioned in the comments of an article the Guardian did on the 50 Greatest Christmas songs, which I trawled looking for tips), I immediately went looking for it. The two Steve Earle songs were also the result of a tip-off in the comments to that article, which is well worth a look if you're interested in this sort of thing -- the comments much more than the Guardian's countdown itself. I like that both these songs are a little rougher and more grimy, and generally about a million miles from the slickly produced stuff we usually hear. I discovered Tom Waits' "Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis" a couple of years ago, and it's very much from the same kind of school of thought.

"White Christmas" - Otis Redding

When Otis sings this, he really, really means it. Trust me, no one is dreaming of a white christmas quite as hard as Otis Redding is here.

"December Will Be Magic Again" - Kate Bush

Just lovely. I've actually also got an instrumental version of this by someone on what sounds like a clarinet, and that's beautiful too, There's something about the ethereal nature of Kate Bush's voice that really suits the season, don't you think?

"Father Christmas" - The Kinks

A song about someone dressed as Father Christmas being mugged by some kids. They got banned from performing this on Top of the Pops, you know

"Sock it to me Santa" - Bob Seger

You know what pop? 
What's that son?
Christmas just isn't gonna be the same this year
Why is that?
'Cause Santa's got a brand new bag!

Because it's silly and because it rocks.

"Purple Snowflakes" - Marvin Gaye

The best thing about this song is the way that Marvin turns the full power of his love onto some lucky girl (chesnuts roasting), but makes absolutely no bones about the fact that this isn't going to be a long term affair (tootsies toasting)... although, to be fair, he does say he will always remember this night (purple snowflakes).

"Heart on Snow" - Marc Almond

Not exactly festive, but I this is suitably dramatic and wintery and Russian and suits Marc Almond down to the ground.

I'm sure you know these and many more, so don't be shy to let me know your favourites.

Right, well I've got that off my chest anyway.  As you were.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

your boy all glowed up...

As I received another job rejection without interview, it's just dawned on me that my CV seems to mean that I get rejected out of hand for more junior, lower paying jobs and seems to receive more consideration for better paid, more senior jobs.  It's true that my experience is probably better suited to those kinds of roles, but I rather naively assumed that somebody might be glad of the chance of getting the benefit of that experience on the cheap.

Here's the thing:

I don't really want (or need) a more senior, better paid job.

This is leading me to reconsider my career path. I'm starting to think that I really might be better served doing more volunteering and seeing where that leads me. I know how the recruitment process works. Hell, I've been a recruiter myself and have no doubt rejected plenty of people who could have done an excellent job. It's an imperfect process and you'd be a fool to take it personally.

All the same, it's been lovely working with people who really appreciate what I have to offer rather than just binning me off via email on the basis of my CV. (Or, more typically, not bothering to reply at all).

Volunteering only doesn't pay well in monetary terms. In every other way, it's much more rewarding.


Thursday, 9 January 2020

time is on your side...

It's now been 7 months since I stopped working. Technically, as they paid my notice, I suppose I've only actually been out of work for 4 months... but it all amounts to the same really.

As I've mentioned before, I decided about three months ago that I was actually going to look for a paying job. This wasn't always a given, and it took a bit of time away from the long hours of my last job to start to be able to see things more clearly.

Looking for work is a vaguely depressing activity: you need to give it the attention it deserves if you're really serious about it, but at the same time it all seems frustratingly arbitrary. It's a buyer's market, and although job sites and electronically stored CVs means that it's probably never been easier to apply for a job, lots of these places don't even bother to acknowledge your application, never mind telling you that you've been passed over.

As anyone who has been in this position before will know, you just can't take these thing personally. At the same time, sometimes the process is so arbitrary that you just want to scream. There's never going to be a really fair way of recruiting people, but there are certainly plenty of unfair ways. David Brent famously said that you can avoid employing unlucky people by throwing half of the CVs you receive straight into the bin. I sometimes wonder if that's a fairer process than some of the ones I've recently had the misfortune of being exposed to.  The University of Nottingham was already in my bad books for rejecting me for a job on the basis of a competency based interview they tried to carry out over the phone in 15 minutes with a two person panel on a dodgy line. They went even further down in my estimation when they gave me 8 days notice of an interview with a presentation (which itself was on a subject which had nothing to do with the job, but that's another story). The problem wasn't the relatively short notice, it was that I wasn't available on the day of the interview. As is always the way now, the invitation to interview suggested I contact them if I needed any accommodation. Well, presumably you can shift the date of the interview to a date I can attend? No, came the answer, we can't. Thanks for your interest. What?

Anyway. The search continues. In the meantime, I'm carrying on with voluntary work. I've been acting as a sighted guide for the Guide Dogs MyGuide service, and this has seen me acquire a chap I take out running once a week, and another who I take out for a walk every other week. As well as this, I've been doing my usual volunteering for parkrun and, as of this month, I'm now officially a trustee of a Nottingham-based domestic abuse charity. All together, this little lot takes up around 3 days of my week, more or less. To be honest, I'm not sure how I managed to find the time for a full time job. As I said to the chair of the trustees when he asked me how I would find the time to keep up this level of volunteering when I do manage to find another paying job, you don't have to work 60 hours a week, do you? Towards the end in my last job, 50-60 hour weeks were fairly common. No one was making me do them, but I did them all the same. When I get back into work, I'm going to free up all that extra time by trying to just stick to my contracted hours.

Let's see how that plan stands up to the first contact with the enemy, eh?

I'm also thinking of starting to volunteer at the local Oxfam store. It's not out of the question that I might try to find a part time job that brings in a bit of spending money but leaves me with the freedom to spend my time doing the things that I really find fulfilling.

It's nice to have the flexibility in my life. I don't need to find a paying job at the moment, I'm just choosing to look for one.

Anyway. Happy new year.

2020 already looks like it's going to be a difficult one for the world, but as long as we each try to do our bit, then we have something positive to hang onto, eh?

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

the toll of the bell...


My friend Richard died last week.
He was 51 years old.

It's all come as a bit of a surprise. I had a good long chat with him on the phone on the morning after the election, and I was chatting with him via Messenger right up until last Thursday. He apparently died on Friday, although I don't know any of the details.

A couple of weeks ago, at the 22nd edition of the annual Christmas party I have with some other friends, I was only laughing with someone that it won't be too much longer before we're meeting up at funerals. I wasn't imagining that this would be happening quite so soon.

I met Richard around 5 years ago when he was a contractor working on the same project as me. We worked pretty closely for a few years, but we had many things in common, similar backgrounds and a shared love of history, cricket, music and beer. When his contract was up, we stayed in touch. Facebook makes this sort of thing very easy, so even though he was mostly in Southwold and I was in Nottingham, we exchanged messages most days.

Richard was a fiercely intelligent man. He was utterly wasted in IT because he had one of those keen, questing intellects that roams far and wide, devours books and unexpectedly brings into the conversation analogies from the British colonial past and even further afield. I think he was, at heart, a conservative with a small 'c', but he was especially engaged and agitated by the political shit-storm around Brexit. He was fervently in favour of remaining in Europe, aghast at the stupidity of the Leave campaign but also profoundly optimistic that the catastrophe would never happen. We had many, many long conversations on the subject, and I almost never failed to feel out of my depth as Richard brought to bear a rich depth of knowledge of Britain's history in the European project. He was certainly no fans of the lesser talents who filled the modern Conservative Party, that's for damn sure.

Our last telephone conversation was around 8am on the morning after the election, as the dust was beginning to settle on Boris Johnson's landslide majority. Richard sounded tired after a long night watching the results, and he expressed a firm desire to move to New Zealand to escape this tired old country.  Of course, he won't see the consequences of that election result, and I will do my best to keep some of his optimism alive, whatever happens.

I was fortunate to spend more time than usual with Richard this year. As well as our annual get together for drinks with old colleagues, we spent a lovely day together at Edgbaston for the first day of the Ashes series and another couple of days watching his beloved Warwickshire demolish Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge in the county championship. I think it is Richard's love of cricket that will stay with me. I have many memories of meeting up with him at the hatch to the Larwood & Voce pub inside Trent Bridge at various intervals during the Test Match over the years. Several of my cricket-loving Nottingham friends will remember Richard as the guy who was always in the squash club bar because he didn't like sitting in the sun and they have a big television screen and a decent bar.

He was a drinker and a smoker, for sure... but what kind of an age is 51? I've known people who have died before, of course, but this one has left me with a genuine sense of loss.  Richard was a kind man and a good friend with a pin-sharp mind that he could never entirely turn off, no matter how drunk he was.

I will remember him fondly and will raise a toast of an excellent Belgian Christmas beer to his memory and will toast his memory at the cricket from now onwards.

R.I.P. Richard. You are missed.

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

gifts on the tree...

I've just spent a lovely weekend in the Peak District celebrating a friend's 50th birthday. As part of the festivities, some of us headed over to Chatsworth House to attend the Christmas market and to see the house all dressed up for the festive period.

I was dimly aware that this was 'a thing'. I think it occasionally gets covered on local news when they first get the decorations up each year and I happened to see it once. I would probably have never gone under my own steam, but as part of the birthday weekend and with some friends, it seemed like an agreeable way to spend a few hours before we started drinking again.

I like Christmas, after all.



Well, the first thing to say about this is that it is certainly a fascinating spectacle. Chatsworth House and its grounds are absolutely splendid, of course. The house is beautiful and contains art dating back 4000 years (you have to admire how resolutely the British have pillaged the world over the years, don't you?) and the grounds themselves were designed and landscaped by Capability Brown. It's something well worth visiting in its own right. If it was up to me, I'm not sure that I would necessarily think that picking a theme of "Christmas Around the World" and then dressing each of the rooms accordingly with Christmas trees and the like would really enhance the appeal of the place. Then again, I voted to remain in the European Union, so what do I know?

It's certainly hard to argue that this doesn't appeal to people: there were cars lined up all the way into the grounds, and a shuttle bus taking people in who hadn't thought to pre-book their parking. As we queued up for our 11:30 slot inside the house, the board outside told us that every single 15 minute slot to enter the house was booked up for the whole day. The Christmas market was absolutely booming too, with people queuing up to get some viking drinking horns and scented vegan candles.


I enjoyed my afternoon very much. The tour of the house was fascinating on several levels: it's always a pleasure to look at ancient sculptures and other artwork of varying quality (I have a soft spot for any painting that includes lions, where it's immediately clear that the artist has only got a very passing idea of what a lion actually looks like. There's one ceiling painting here where the artist seems to think that lions have human faces), and some of the wood panelled rooms are absolutely beautiful. However, it has to be said that it was also fascinating watching people in Christmas jumpers ignoring all of this so that they could take pictures of themselves in front of plastic Christmas trees in a room dressed to represent China. There was even a chap dressed in a top hat wandering around and making irritatingly loud conversation with visitors in an alarming mockney accent as though he was one of the servants. Lovely.

Still, each to their own and it certainly made for a very interesting walk around.


I left my traditional Christmas wish on the tree too. 
And we bought some biltong.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

I know what's coming, I'm not working...

I find myself caught in a strange kind of halfway house.

I've been productively spending my time volunteering... it keeps me busy and makes me feel like I'm doing something useful for the world after many years of working for a fairly soulless corporation.

As well as the MyGuide stuff that I've been doing for Guide Dogs, I'm also about to be appointed as a trustee for a Nottingham domestic abuse charity and I'm excited to get started with that and to learn the ropes. As I currently have the time, I have the opportunity to go and watch them working at first hand as well as learning what it means to be a trustee.

When I met the other trustees, one of the questions that they asked me was how, if I was looking to get back into paid employment, was I going to find the time to do all the volunteering I do.

It's a good question.

My answer was simply that, if I do go back into full time employment, nobody is making me work 60 hour weeks and I should therefore have plenty of time for my volunteering if I stick to a standard 37.5 hours.  They seemed happy with this and it's 100% true that no one was making me do the hours I ended up working in my last job. That was entirely down to me and a misplaced sense of responsibility.

If I've learned anything over the last few months, it's that I get far more satisfaction and fulfilment from the stuff that I do for nothing than I ever did for any job that paid.

But here then is the dilemma: why am I looking for a paid job back in the kind of thing that I used to do? I'm distinctly ambivalent about going back to work in a corporate environment and I don't really need the money.... so why am I not looking to do more volunteering or, at the very least, look for a job somewhere that won't pay so well but will be doing an awful lot more good for the world and for my soul?

This morning I spent some time looking at maybe volunteering at a food bank. It obviously wouldn't pay, but it would undoubtedly be a good way to use my time.  I then spent the next couple of hours looking at business analysis jobs that I could do but really don't want to. I might apply for one.

This shouldn't be this hard.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

I'll be needing stitches...

I had a busy day last Wednesday. I think it's fair to say that, since redundancy, my days haven't seemed quite as busy as when I was working 11 or 12 hour days every day.... but last Wednesday was definitely a busier day than average: a hospital appointment first thing, an appointment to take one of my MyGuide clients out for a walk at lunchtime, an interview with the charity that are looking to appoint me as a trustee and then the second week of the short course on creative writing that I'm taking at Nottingham Trent University.  By the time I got home at around 9pm, I was very much looking forward to sitting down with my tea and watching a bit of disposable telly.

At about half ten, I popped upstairs during an advert break (we were watching Elementary on Sky+. so we could have just skipped forward, but I needed to grab something from the bedside table). As I rounded the top end of the bed, I was unscrewing the lid on my drinks bottle when I was suddenly falling. I think my legs gave way, but as my hands were busy, I didn't have any time to react to this before my knees hit the ground and my chin hit the bedside table.

There was a short pause as I gathered myself and did a quick mental inventory: what just happened? have I really hurt myself? I was naturally a bit dazed, and my immediate reaction was to feel my teeth to see if I'd knocked any of them out in the fall. They seemed okay, but my ears were really hurting for some reason. At this point, I realised there was blood coming from somewhere, so I headed to the bathroom mirror to assess the damage. Through the beard on my chin, I could see a gaping cut. It wasn't more than an inch or so across, and it wasn't pumping blood, but it looked pretty deep.

Balls.

By now, my wife had rushed up the stairs to see what all the noise was about, and together we applied pressure to the cut and tried to work out what we needed to do next. It was tempting to do nothing and to just try and cover up the cut and go to bed, but I'd had a pretty nasty bang and the cut looked pretty deep, so we settled on calling 111, the NHS urgent care hotline. The operator on the other end of the line methodically ran me through the concussion protocols and then tried to assess the cut. I was coherent and seemed to be okay, but we agreed that the cut likely needed stitches and I probably needed to an x-ray. They passed my case on to the A&E department at QMC and told us to get there within the next hour.  It was a pretty efficient process and this call effectively acted as the triage for the hospital, and once we got there, all we had to do was to wait our turn. But there's the rub: we got there at about 23:30, and the screens were showing an 8.5 hour wait.

So we waited.

On my way back from my class, I'd wandered through town at about 20:30 and marvelled at the packs of students in fancy dress marauding through the city on their way down to Ocean. They were quite the spectacle, many wearing nothing more than a pair of speedos, and most of them being extraordinarily drunk for such a relatively early hour. As things worked out, I now saw several of the same people at the other end of the day, arriving at A&E covered in blood. Not a great way to end the evening, but most of them seemed in good spirits. Literally, I guess.

The staff were brilliant.There just weren't enough of them. One doctor and maybe three nurses for the whole department (there was another doctor, but he was called away). What made things worse was that several of the people waiting were clearly suffering from various mental health issues and were there because they simply didn't have anywhere else to go. It's heartbreaking to watch people sitting there with problems that an accident and emergency ward is never going to be able to fix. The staff are amazing, but they can't work miracles and they've been handicapped by a decade of austerity.

By the time we got actually seen by the doctor at about 6am, I was staggered by how cheerful he was, and how, even 11 hours into his shift, he was still looking for blankets to give to some of the shivering students. I was examined, X-rayed and stitched up. The A&E doctor thought he saw a fracture, so I was referred up to the Head and Neck ward, which was just opening up for further consultation. The consultant there explained to me that he was fairly sure that I didn't have a fracture, but because the A&E doctor had documented one, they needed to be super careful to rule it out. Did I mind waiting for a CT scan? Ah, what the hell. What's another couple of hours when you've already been there for ten?

So we waited. We had enough time to get a coffee and something to eat, but then it was the scan and a final consultation to hear the news that I almost definitely didn't have a fracture. They were worried about what's called a "Guard fracture", apparently: named after what happens when a sentry faints at his post and lands directly on his chin, causing fractures on the point of the chin and on the hinge of the mandible on either side (which is why the ears hurt).  I left the hospital with a sore jaw and a couple of stitches, but the feeling that I'd been really very lucky indeed not to have anything worse. A fracture might easily have involved extensive surgery and pinning.

It was a very, very long day.

The thing that I really don't want to think about is *why* my legs gave way. I think we probably know why, don't we? I've an underlying weakness in my legs, especially my left leg, that has been getting worse and worse recently. I've been moaning for a few months now how much harder running seems at the moment. I guess this is another thing that can happen. 

Understandably, I don't really want to dwell on this. I appreciate that something like this can cause as many mental problems as physical, but I really don't want to live my life like that. Maybe it's excessively stoical of me, but who wants to live their life like that?

Mad props to my wife for helping to pick me up and then spending a long, uncomfortable night at the hospital before heading off to work once we got home. I just went to bed, but she's hardcore.