52% intelligent. 9% modest. More monkey than bear.

Thursday, July 31, 2008


I thought it was going so well. I'd got past the worry about the level of correction in my left eye and was slowly getting my head around the idea that my brain will learn to deal with the ghosting in my right eye in low light conditions, apparently to the extent that I won't even notice it.... Everything was going tickety-boo and I was starting to relax into getting used to my new eyes.

...and then yesterday lunchtime I noticed what felt like a bit of grit in my right eye.

Now, obviously I don't really want to be rubbing my eyes, so I blinked a few times and, when that didn't work, tried to flush out whatever it was with some eyedrops. No effect. After a while, I found myself struggling to concentrate on the meeting I was in as I was busy trying to stave off the rising fears about my eye. I suddenly felt really vulnerable. It had only been 8 days since my eye had been cut open and a lens inserted behind the cornea, the stitches were still in place and the wound was far from healed. Was this the start of an infection? Was something coming loose? In spite of the fact that I had seen one of the world's leading experts in this area, when it came down to it, I didn't even have a phone number to contact him on. All of my dealing with him has been done via his private secretary, who - bless her - is a stranger to efficiency. Her professional email address is an 'amusing' hotmail address, for heaven's sake. The pain was far from being unbearable, but I was worried about what it might signify, and at the very least wanted a bit of reassurance. I did all that I could do, and dropped her an email.

Several hours later, presumably once she had got back in from whatever she does as a day job, I got a response. I had definitely done the right thing and she would raise it to the Professor as a matter of urgency.

Good. I popped some ibuprofen and tried to forget about it. Easier said than done when it hurt every single time I blinked....

Now, I have a pretty good idea what the problem is here. The professor told me when I saw him on Monday that the stitches that were in my eye were not going to be taken out unless they began to cause me problems. They could occasionally work themselves loose, but we'd deal with that as and when it happened. When I thought about the pain and irritation I was feeling in my right eye, I noticed that it actually seemed to be a problem with my eyelid rather than with my eye itself. What I was feeling was probably the result of one of the nylon stitches just above my iris lifting up just enough to catch my eyelid every time I blinked. Not catastrophic, and not worth bothering A&E with.... but annoying, painful and irritating nonetheless. I wanted to know what was wrong and I wanted it to be sorted out.

Thirty hours after that initial email dialogue with the secretary, and I have still heard nothing. I have received a note on a completely different matter (yes, it will be okay for me to use the new steroid drops I picked up on Monday in my right eye as well as in my left, even though they're in the same tube)....but the matter that had been flagged for his urgent attention? Not a sausage. What exactly does urgent mean to these people? Is he dictating me a letter?

Is it too much to expect that I might have at least received some reassuring noises? Any kind of response at all might have been nice. I've had this done privately, for heaven's sake. My medical insurance is paying several thousand pounds for this. Have they heard of customer service?

My dad was telling me a story at the weekend of how he had two procedures done under general anesthetic last year. The first was done privately, and he noticed that when the general was applied, it really hurt. The second procedure was done by the NHS, and he felt no pain at all. Both procedures were supervised by the same anesthetist. a friend of his, and so after the second procedure, he asked him what was going on. Apparently, all procedures done by the NHS use the finest drugs that they can lay their hands on: the taxpayer is paying. When it comes to private procedures, the consultant is paying for their own drugs and so they have an eye on their profit margins and buy something cheaper. Doesn't that anecdote tell you everything you need to know about both the private sector and the NHS?

The professor's clinic on Monday night was chaos. It was all very calm and genteel, but it was clear that the professor and his three secretaries (one private, one NHS and one university secretary) couldn't organise a piss up in a brewery. He had too many patients, was not keeping to time and kept adding patients to the bottom of the list. It meant that we all had to wait and it meant that he had a really long day (that starts at about 07:30 that morning when he starts prepping for his surgeries). That's pretty much what you might expect from the NHS, but when you're paying, I think you have the right to expect something better. You're paying to get better treatment than you might get on the NHS, but the reality is that you are getting people who, talented though they are, are essentially moonlighting from their jobs in the NHS. I don't think that some of them see the difference. The professor attempts to squeeze all his fee paying, private patients into one day of his working week and spends the rest of his week teaching and working for the NHS. This is a nice little earner on the side, and I think the patients basically get treated the same (which, to be fair, for his patients on the NHS is brilliant news). When the professor finally saw me and shrugged an apology for being an hour late, he seemed to be completely resigned to this as a state of affairs. He seemed to have no idea that there was a direct link between the chaos in his clinic and the system he operates that has three separate diaries and three secretaries who don't talk to each other. When I looked at the email that his private secretary sent on answering my query about the new eyedrops, as I always do, I looked down at the history attached underneath. Contained in the secretary's note to the professor that she'd added to my email was the following:

"Also, had yet another disgruntled patient on the phone [name removed], originally saw you in July 07 querying laser treatment, not suitable so TORIC PHAKIC lens suggested. You asked him to come for Pentacam tests later on but since then he has heard nothing. I can't tell him anything as I am not sure what the plan was or is. I will add him to the list for discussion at our meeting."

Now, ignore how unprofessional it is that this got sent to me, and focus on the fact that there's 'another' disgruntled patient who has apparently simply been forgotten about and who needs to be discussed. Oh dear. I get the impression there may be many more. This has been a long road for me. I first saw the professor nearly 2 years ago, and even after I finally made up my mind to go ahead in October 2007, in spite of a quoted lead-time of "4-6 weeks" for the lenses, it wasn't until June 2008 that they turned up. Between October and June I had not one single piece of information volunteered to me by the professor or his secretary. I did all the chasing, and on more than one occasion, the secretary was a touch snippy with me as a result. Excuse me for breathing.

The professor does the hardest and most important part of his job.... the surgery ... brilliantly. That's why I sought him out in the first place and let him monkey around with my eyes. He's also a lovely man with a very calm, friendly and professional demeanor. It's just a shame that the easier parts of his job are done so badly.

Ah. I'm just being crabby because my eye hurts.

Look! I can see! I can see!



No sooner had I published this than I got an email from the Professor saying that he thought that it was probably the tracking stitch working loose and he would be happy to see me at his clinic tomorrow morning.

I feel a bit bad now. All the above is true, but I'm still pathetically grateful that he can see me so soon and hopefully make it stop hurting.... I don't mean to be rude to anyone, I was just frustrated.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

heal the world....

If IQ is an attempt to produce a standardised measure of intelligence, and EQ is an attempt to produce a standard measure of emotional intelligence, then I would like to introduce to the world the concept of WQ - an attempt to produce a standardised measure of your worthiness.

We live in a post-"Inconvenient Truth" world now, my friends, where even a simple visit to the humblest of tradesmen will test the limits of your worthiness as the shop-keeper accusingly asks you if you will need a bag with that. As you shake your head in shame and guiltily stow your purchase away in a small plastic bag, you will feel the eyes of the world holding you and your immortal soul personally accountable for the death of a small, but no doubt incredibly beautiful and precious, part of the world's delicately balanced eco-system. And all because you failed to produce an organic cotton bag from your jacket pocket.

Your worthiness has been compromised, but fear not! the game isn't over yet, and if you are able to walk out of the shop and hop onto your bicycle for the journey home when the other worthys with their linen bags get into their cars, then your eco-karma has been partially restored and you can go about the rest of your day with renewed vigour and optimism.

Every day of your life is a battleground of good and evil, between light and dark and between locally sourced, hand reared organic produce and Tescos pork pies. Every choice you make has consequences... not least on your ability to walk around metaphorically wearing a white robe and sandals, bathed in a halo of purest light. Saving the world is merely a by-product to that wonderful feeling of superiority over the seething masses of humanity engendered by your selfless worthiness. That delicious, local organic cheese from the posh deli down the road? You ate that to save the world. YOU ARE BRILLIANT. AL GORE AND DAVID ATTENBOROUGH SHOULD THANK YOU PERSONALLY.

But how can we know where we stand in this struggle unless we have some way of keeping score? How can we know how heavily we are imprinting our footprint onto the planet unless we find a way of keeping count. What good is being good without a league table?

Ladies and gentlemen. I give you the Worthiness Quotient (WQ).

It's very much at a conceptual stage at the moment, and I'm going to need some help formulating the points system, but the idea is that we will soon be able to issue a handy, wallet-sized guide to every decision you make so that you can keep a running tally of how you are affecting the future of the world on a day-by-day basis. A bit like counting points for weightwatchers, I suppose, although unlikely to have the same effect on your waistline.

Here's how it works: every time you make a decision, you will be awarded points. If your decision is likely to have a positive impact upon the environment, then that score will be positive. On the flip side, if that your choice is likely to have a detrimental effect, then you get minus points. It's as simple as that.

Every plastic bag you take in a shop: -1 point
Every bag you reuse: +1 point

If you can produce an organic linen bag with a flourish and pointedly use it in front of all the other customers in the shop: +1 bonus worthy point.

Supermarket? -1 point
Farmer's market? +1 point

Drive to work? -2 points each day (depending on the car. If you drive a 4x4, then I reckon you're screwed)

Walk/Cycle/use public transport? +2 points every day

Short haul flight? -50 points
long haul flight? -100 points

If you carbon neutralise some of your airmiles, then I reckon you can claw some points back... but not all of them. Not unless you've been to see the trees you've paid to plant, anyway. With that in mind, you might want to give some thought about the forest you choose. It's a lot easier to cycle to Sherwood Forest to have a look than it is to get to that remote peninsular in Norway....

You get the general idea.

Then perhaps we can all be like latter day Bridget Joneses, totting up our WQ rating for the day:

"Tuesday: +3 points. vg. Drove back from London, but offset that by cycling to the farm shop and buiyng an organic beef steak taken from a cow called Nigel. Served with filtered (not bottled) water. Pissed and alone on a school night, but it was organic wine from Stoke, so that's okay....If only I could find some free range fags"

We should all be aiming for a positive score every single day, and the bigger the score the more you can polish your halo.... but like an alcoholic climbing back onto the wagon, perhaps we should be realistic enough to accept that we're never going to stop taking those cheap flights for that essential city break in Paris, and should simply use the guide as a way of helping us to break even.

Clearly, it's not in the least bit scientific, and to be honest, saving the planet may even be a secondary concern to the whole system. Personally, I plan on using my WQ as a way of ensuring that my worthiness levels are sufficiently high to swan around polishing my metaphorical halo and casting pitying glances at the lesser mortals I encounter along the way.

It's my dream - and perhaps it's a foolish dream - that we might all turn our energies towards out-worthying each other. It's the game of keeping-up-with-the-neighbours that will help save the polar bears!


The scoring system needs some work though.... so let's be hearing your suggestions. How worthy is it to be picking dog shit in a little bag? Probably more if it's not even your dog, I should think. Should we worry that the bags are always made of plastic? Is paper too unreliable? Or is it extra points for trying, especially in the rain?

How worthy is having your own water butt? Or a brick in your toilet cistern? or does that depend on how many flushes it takes to clear and the type of toilet paper you use?

Blimey. With this many permutations, the wallet sized card is already looking a touch ambitious.

Come on then. How worthy are you?

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

so many people....

There was a story in the newspapers last week reporting that there was an editorial in the British Medical Journal suggesting that that GPs should encourage the view that larger families were unenvironmentally friendly.

In the editorial, John Guillebaud, professor of family planning at University College, London and Pip Hayes, a GP based in Exeter write:

"Should we now explain to UK couples who plan a family that stopping at two children, or at least having one less than first intended, is the simplest and biggest contribution anyone can make to leaving a habitable planet for our grandchildren? We must not put pressure on people, but by providing information on the population and the environment, and appropriate contraception for everyone ... doctors should help to bring family size into the arena of environmental ethics, analogous to avoiding patio heaters and high-carbon cars."

They go on to claim that every new birth in the UK produces 160 times more greenhouse gas emissions than one in Ethiopia. Government figures for 2007 show that average fertility rates in England and Wales were 1.91 (i.e. 191 children born for every 100 women). The authors argue that bringing the fertility rate down to 1.7 would lead to a halving of the population within six generations.

So, in other words, producing more than two children leads to a net increase in the population and that increase is having a disastrous impact upon the environment. The authors of the article are very careful to stress that they are in no way advocating a legal restriction to the number of children that people can have, but when you think of the gas-guzzling 4x4s that all yummy mummies seem to use to ferry their ecological catastrophes to and from the nursery, perhaps they should be. Drive past any school or creche first thing in the morning, and it's clear that we're surely only moments away from meltdown.

That article was brought to mind when I was sitting on a bench in the town centre the other day, watching the world go by from behind my sunglasses. My attention was initially drawn to a man standing on the corner because of the colourful England one day cricket shirt that he was wearing. As I looked at him, I couldn't help but notice that he was covered in tattoos and was surrounded by a gaggle of people. A closer look as he started to move off, and I realised that the gaggle around him was in fact his wife and his seven children, ranging from a toddler in a pushchair through to a gawky, skinny teenage girl. I looked around again, and noticed I had been joined on my bench by two young girls with prams, the canopies of which were supporting the Happy Meals that they were busy feeding to their children.

How to put this?

I don't know if C. and I will ever have kids, but I do know that if we do, we are highly unlikely to have more than one or two. We will certainly not be having anything approaching seven. People like us don't tend to. If there's a massive increase in the population going on, it's not coming from us.... it's coming from the kind of pale, pasty, heavily tattooed chavs that are currently strutting around our towns with their shirts tucked into their 3/4 length polyester trousers and with their pasty, wiry bodies on display.

There are some easy gags to be made in this horrible generalisation, most around the fact that the good, honest, decent people that remain in this country are slowly but surely being bred out of the gene pool. The future of this country, like it or not, lies with the offspring of this underclass, who are careful to spread their genetic stock across multiple mothers for maximum evolutionary impact.....

Loathsome generalisations, of course. The kids born of these parents may well end up as the scientists, doctors, lawyers, novelists, artists and philosophers of the future. Just as easily, children from apparently "better" homes and backgrounds can come off the rails and become the drug dealers, criminals, fraudsters and *shudders* politicians of the future. Your future isn't fully written when you are born, and is not necessarily determined by where you come from or who your parent are, whatever people might have you believe.

....but, for all that I believe that a child from this background can achieve every bit as much as a child from a "better" home, it's got to be harder, hasn't it? The odds are surely just that little bit more stacked against them.

The population is getting bigger and our future is apparently getting bleaker with every child born. Obviously I will carry on recycling my bottles, refusing plastic bags in shops and basking in my own worthiness, even more so if I don't end up having any kids of my own.... perhaps even more so. After all, I'll be doing it not for me, but for your children and for the children of those waxy skinned members of the Lumpenproletariat. That's just how selfless I am.

What a world we're leaving our children. What a lot of children we're leaving our world.

Tomorrow: the Worthiness Quotient. How does your WQ stack up?


Monday, July 28, 2008

worry wort....

I had a return visit to the professor this evening. It's now one week since I had surgery on my right eye and two weeks since I had surgery on my left. It was time to pop back to make sure that everything was still all as it should be.

Today was my first day back at work since either operation. For much of the last two weeks, I have been spending my time getting used to my revised visual circumstances in the comfortable environment of my own home. My vision has essentially been okay: my eyes get tired fairly easily and I've been getting a lot of early nights, but fundamentally I've not really had any problems. Being back in the office was a wholly different experience, however, and although I could still basically see everything ok, it was still definitely a bit weird to be looking at the huge pile of unread emails in my inbox. I was using my eyes in a very different way. It's hard to explain, but although I could read everything alright, I was seeing things in a different way to the way I have seen them before, and it's going to take a bit of getting used to.

The professor has proved not to be the most forthcoming of men. He's one of the foremost experts in his field anywhere in the world, but his communication skills leave a fair bit to be desired. He doesn't exactly volunteer information, and I've learned that if I want to know something, I have to ask him directly. He's an extremely skilled surgeon, no doubt, but I still wish that he had provided me with something as simple as a single-sided fact sheet to help me understand what to expect before, during and after the surgery. As it is, I have largely been left to my own devices, and with my overactive imagination, that's a pretty terrible state of affairs. Over the last two weeks, as you might have expected, I have found a few things to keep my brain occupied. Initially, my fretting focused upon the quality of the vision in my left eye. It was pretty good - good enough to drive after the first week, apparently - but it seemed a bit blurry to me, and I took to wandering around, alternately closing my left eye and then my right eye to try and assess exactly how bad my left eye was compared to my right. The two eyes together were fine, but like the itch you can't help but scratch, I was determined to focus on the perceived shortfall in the vision in my left eye. That was all to be expected, I suppose, but then on Saturday evening, I found something else to worry about. We went to the cinema to watch "The Dark Knight" (superb - a dark, character driven blockbuster to treasure. Frank Miller would approve, and Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker is perhaps the single most frightening I have ever seen on film....better than Hopkins' Lecter, for starters. Yes, that good.) It was great, but it's a very dark film and mostly filmed at night, and I began to notice that in the very darkest scenes, I was starting to see the image ghosting and breaking up in my right eye. It took me a while to realise what it was, but then it dawned on me that what I was seeing was the pupil in my right eye dilating past the edge of the implanted lens. It wasn't so bad, but it did make me worry about what this would mean in the longer term for my ability to do things like drive at night. How was I going to be able to manage oncoming headlights if I was going to be seeing multiple images and fractured light beams? Once I had noticed it happening in the cinema, I began to notice it happening in other places too when the light was dim and my pupil dilated. I soon forgot about any perceived blurring in my left eye and began to fret about that instead.....

I was determined to get some answers from the professor this evening: could I expect the vision in my left eye to improve? was the lens in my right eye too small and was my pupil going to dilate past it every time it got dark? And most importantly, when could I start running again?

As is apparently normal for a man with three useless secretaries and a background in the NHS, we were kept waiting for about an hour as his clinic ran over (The lighting in the waiting room was causing ghosted images through my right eye, but to be honest, I felt more sorry for the poor guy who had obviously just had surgery on one eye and couldn't see out of the other one... he was really struggling). The waiting time gave me plenty of time to worry and to formulate exactly how I was going to get the professor to actually answer some of my questions. As it turned out, it was relatively easy and I just had to ask and keep asking until I got some kind of an answer. The vision in my two eyes is excellent and the sight in my left eye is comfortably good enough to drive and may get better as it settles. The fracturing of light and the ghosted images in my right eye are apparently completely normal and will disappear over time as my eye and my brain get used to them (it's apparently something to do with the images landing on parts of my retina that I've never used before). In fact, I think my fretting about the quality of the vision in my left eye somewhat upset the professor's professional pride.... he thinks I've got an excellent result and that the quality of my vision will only improve from here, and here I was worrying about some perceived blurriness and wondering about residual astigmatism that he assumed I wouldn't even notice. He fished out some lenses and had a quick look at how far "off" my left eye was. Um. Not much. He used a couple of lenses to sharpen the image I could see, but significantly it didn't improve how many lines on the chart I could see, only sharpening a line I could already read. I'm going back in three weeks and by then my eyes should have settled. We'll have another look then and decide what we should do about any remaining problems. I may need the lens adjusting. I could perhaps have laser surgery on top of the implant. I could even get a pair of glasses to help me when my eyes get tired (which - let's face it - would hardly be the end of the world. My world has already changed amazingly for the better). What seems most likely to happen though is that my eyes will settle and I will manage just fine with my eyes the way they are. The vision between my two eyes is already good and is likely to get better as they settle down.

Apparently, and this will be news to nobody, I worry too much. A better idea of what to expect would from the surgery would have been nice, for sure but I still need to relax and stop worrying.


In summary: everything's fine.

It's only been a couple of weeks.... give it time.

... and breath.

No strenuous exercise for another 3 weeks though. Now that'll be really hard.


Friday, July 25, 2008

well, who gives a damn about the profits of Tesco....?

Earworms of the Week

Quite a lot of dreary indie this week, I'm afraid..... so very much service as per usual around here then.

> "Rattlesnakes" - Tori Amos

C. finally got around to spending part of an iTunes gift voucher that she was given nearly two years ago. One of her first purchases was a sudoku application for her iPhone, but then she actually went ahead and bought the Lloyd Cole album she always said she was going to get. Naturally, this now sits on my iPod, but I haven't listened to it yet. Instead, the very mention of Lloyd Cole triggered first an earworm of his version on this song, and from there onto the Tori Amos cover version of it. Actually, I prefer the cover: where Lloyd Cole seems to rush his way through it a bit, Tori Amos really takes her time, and the result is much more thoughtful and contemplative sounding. Good song.

> "Wordless Chorus" - My Morning Jacket

I've read a lot about these guys recently (they are reportedly one of the best live acts around), and so I decided to dip my toe into their back catalogue. I had very little idea where to start, but using Amazon reviews as a rough rule of thumb, I opted for "Z". For some reason, I was expecting them to sound a lot more alt.country than this. I have so far only listened to the whole album once all the way though, when I was walking back from town the other day, but it sounded promising. One to devote more time to, I think.

> "White Winter Hymnal" - Fleet Foxes

I've just spotted that the Fleet Foxes are playing Nottingham Trent University in November and I really need to snap up some tickets whilst they're still available. They were in my head last week, and they're still very much there now... not least because I keep hearing them on the radio that the guys doing the garden have on all day. This song is my favourite by miles at the moment though.... the way it circles on itself and repeats a fairly simple (but haunting) lyric reminds me of a medieval madrigal and it's still nagging away inside my head. Good song by an interesting band.

> "Stuck Between Stations" - The Hold Steady

When I first listened to this band last year, I wasn't terribly impressed as they really did sound like a very accomplished bar band, as everyone says, but I didn't think that was a terribly good thing. Coming back to them now though, I find that I actually really enjoy the way that the singer, Craig Finn, weaves stories into his lyrics. I'm not sure I'll be dashing out to buy the new album, but I definitely am going to let "Boys and Girls in America" sink into my system for a while longer yet.

> "The Warning" - Hot Chip

Chosen because of possibly the weediest threat ever put onto record:

"Hot Chip will break your legs
Snap off your head
Hot Chip will put you down
Under the ground"

I defy anyone who has seen what Hot Chip look like to be in the least bit scared by that. The very definition of an empty threat. Bless them.

> "Pioneer to the Falls" - Interpol

I don't know what's got into me this week really, listening to Elbow, The National and Interpol. Great bands all, but all undeniably downbeat. Maybe the one lead to another, and I should be grateful that I've managed to stay away from Morrissey..... although the week isn't over yet. I'm not feeling depressed or anything, but there's something about those voices that has chimed this week. Interpol are, of course, the band that sound like they are fronted by an undertaker reading from a legal textbook. I love them. I realised as I was out walking that I hadn't listened to their last album anywhere near as much as I ought to have done and, as I was carrying my iPod, immediately set about remedying that. This song makes me think about the Neil Gaiman book, "American Gods", for some reason. It makes me think of Shadow.

> "Fake Empire" - The National

A logical step on from Interpol, really, at least from the point of view of the vocal range of the singers. "Boxer" was my favourite album from last year, and in spite of missing them at Glastonbury this year, they are pretty near to the top of bands that I want to see performing live (what can I say? Billy Bragg took precedence....). It's a beautiful, melancholy, thoughful album and it soundtracked a walk alongside the river Trent. I'm not able to go running for another couple of weeks, apparently, so I've been doing a whole lot of walking to keep myself moving without putting any undue pressure on my eyes. Hmm. I've just noticed that there's quite a lot of track ones on the list this week. Hey ho. There's a lovely piano refrain on this song.

> "Newborn" - Elbow

Guy Garvey doesn't quite have the same kind of voice as Paul Banks from Interpol or Matt Berninger from The National, but he does have a lovely, care-worn, lived-in voice and he sings some beautiful songs. "The Seldom Seen Kid" was deservedly nominated for the Mercury Music Prize this week, but with half an eye on the gig I'm going to in September, I decided to dog a little further back in their back catalogue and unearthed their debut album, "Asleep in the Back", which was also nominated for the same prize back in 2001. I discovered them through a stream to "Red" on the internet back in the day and bought the album straight off the back of that. It's taken them a while to work their way fully into my affections, but they're now rapidly becoming one of my very favourite bands. Real slow burners. Great opening line on this song too: "I'll be the corpse in your bathtub". Nice image, Guy.

> "Big Yellow Taxi" - Joni Mitchell

Triggered by my innocent use of the phrase "you don't know what you've got till it's gone" over coffee this afternoon. No sooner were the words out of my mouth than the earworm started playing in my head. Too late then though, wasn't it? Once it was out, there was no putting it back in the bottle. I tend to find Joni a touch insipid, I have to say.

> "The Fallen" - Franz Ferdinand

Amidst all the gloomy indie in my head this week, something sparked me to put "You Could Have It So Much Better" onto my iPod as I walked home from town this afternoon. It's another track one for the list, but this song is as joyous a slice of pop as you might wish to here, and I practically bounced my way back from town. Brilliant band, and I'm very much looking forward to the release of their new stuff.

Now on that cheerful note, I'm going to start reading "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy.... if that doesn't drive me back into the doomy loving arms of Interpol, I don't know what will.

Have a good weekend y'all.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

lazing on a sunny afternoon....

I've got a few pictures for you today.

Following on from yesterday's visit to Lincoln Cathedral, this is the view we got from a balcony fairly high up on the west end, just next to the big stained glass window there. From this vantage point you can see all the way down the nave, over the choir screen and down to the east end extension. As you can see, we were really lucky to visit on a day when all of the chairs and pews that usually clutter up the nave of a big church like this had been taken out for some reason. This is how it would have looked in the middle ages, when your average, common-or-garden peasant would have had to stand in the nave looking up at the choir screen towards the altar. There are always three steps up from the nave past the choir screen, and this was supposed to symbolise that the clergy literally existed on a higher plane than their flock. If you look closely at the vaulting on the roof, you might notice that it doesn't quite line up. Our tour guide was convinced that this must have been done deliberately, but I think she's somewhat overestimating the prowess of the builders from about 1000 years ago. York Minster is built on a slight wonk too, and nothing wrong with that. From here, we went up another few flights of narrow stone steps and entered the roof space above the nave itself.

Enough monumental architecture already.

Today I have mostly been watching Nottinghamshire playing Yorkshire in the county championship at Trent Bridge. This competition is pretty poorly attended at the best of times, and a big Test ground like the Bridge is always going to look mostly empty on a day like today, but there were a few hundred people there enjoying the sunshine and watching Notts turn the screw on the Tykes.

...including me.

Let me tell you that three pints, a copy of today's Guardian and a beautiful warm day is a great way to spend a Thursday afternoon. I'm not in the least bit looking forward to going back to work on Monday, I know that much....

Now, look away if you're a bit squeemish, but here's the latest on my eye:

It looks a bit gross at the moment, I know (and if you look really closely, you'll see that the pupil in my right eye is actually a bit oval shaped at the moment). It's not as bad as it looks, I promise you. When I came out of surgery on Monday, the eye was really bloodshot just above the line of my eyelid, where I assume they must have made the incision. Over the last couple of days, this blood has sort of rolled down around my eye to the point where I'm now a little self-conscious when out and about in the street and I'm more than happy to wear a pair of sunglasses. It doesn't hurt or anything, and it should fade over the next couple of days.... but nice, isn't it?

Anyway. C's away tonight with work, so I'm going to put my feet up and catch up on a bit of telly, I think.

"A Mighty Wind" perhaps....?

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

and a cleaner in the distance finds a cobweb on a face....

Calke Abbey - the ornamental gardens are some way off to the left

As my eyesight has been okay, because I have the time off and because the weather has been nice, C. and I have taken the opportunity over the last couple of days to get out and about. On Tuesday we went to Calke Abbey. Calke Abbey is owned by the National Trust and is a Baroque Manor House set in a beautiful country park that the trust have elected to preserve in the state they found it in rather than attempt to restore it. We didn’t have time to wander around the house, but we did spend a couple of hours in the beautiful walled gardens, looking at the sweet peas, vegetables and the interesting selection of outbuildings with underfloor heating (an orangery, a mushroom house, an ice house… that kind of thing). To be honest, the other thing that kept me interested whilst we were there were the other people who were there. People watching is always fun, but there’s something special about the kind of person who goes to visit a National Trust garden: they all seem so worthy somehow, from the lady of a certain age who was overly excited about entering the kitchen garden, through to the middle-aged guys pretending they knew what every plant they walked past was, when the labels on the plants proved them wrong every single time. There’s also something almost unbearably insufferable about the staff too. They’re probably all volunteers and lovely people, but they seem to wield that extra worthiness as a weapon on everyone who comes across their path. We arrived at about 16:15, and the lady who sold us our ticket made a special point of looking at us mildly disapprovingly and saying:

“You are going directly to the gardens, aren’t you? Last entrance is at 16:30”
Er. Thanks, but what else did you think we were going to do? How long did you think it was going to take us to walk through that door and into the gardens? Gah.

Lincoln Cathedral

Today we made the trip up to Lincoln to have a wander around the beautiful old town and to spend some quality time amongst some monumental architecture. Nottingham has many virtues, but it has an almost complete lack of any buildings more than a couple of hundred years old. I like monumental architecture, and although I’m not in the least bit religious, I find it incredibly soothing to spend time wandering around cathedrals. I have no interest in their God, but I do love to think about the devotion that led to the construction of these buildings, and I love to examine the art and the architecture they contain. Today we went on a tour of the roof of Lincoln Cathedral. This involved a 90 minute trip up the old Norman towers and into the roof space above the nave. It might not sound like much, but it was genuinely thrilling to be standing on dusty, 1000 year old oak timbers and looking at the humps made of mortar that form the inside of the vaulting on the roof of the nave. Those vaults were originally created some 900-odd years ago by packing bricks against a wooden frame and packing the frame and the bricks with a mortar that takes some 6-8 months to dry. Once it was dry, the frame is moved and the vault is supported purely by the mortar and the weight of the bricks. Not much has changed in the last 900 years, except that the weight of the roof and the vaults slowly but surely pushes the whole building off to one side, and to counteract this, the cathedral architects have, over the centuries, added more and more timber support to bolster the whole building. Like I say, fascinating. Well, once a medieval historian, always a historian….

The vaulting in the nave - we were standing just above here

Again, almost as fascinating as the cathedral itself were the people it contained. There were the worthier-than-thou people staffing the entry desk where you were forced to pay £4 for entry. Now, I know that these buildings are not cheap to maintain, but surely their whole purpose is for worship. Is it right and proper that the church, one of the richest institutions in the whole country, should charge people to enter this place of worship? Or are they saying that we are visiting this as a secular building? If we’re entering it as a secular building, then why is the only guidebook that we’re given on entry full of prayers we might like to say and the “pilgrim path” that we might choose to follow to help with our worship and to give thanks for our lives. Rubbish. I’d quite like the people taking my money to wipe their holy smiles off their faces, thanks very much. I also had to stifle a smile when I walked past one of the tour guides in the cathedral telling her rapt audience as they stood around the tomb of Katherine Swynford that John of Gaunt, "wasn't the king of England, but he was a very important man". Well, that's one way of describing a member of the house of Plantagenet, the first Duke of Lancaster and an enormous influence on English history, not least as the de-facto regent for Richard II... but why worry about the details? Maybe "very important man" is all you really need to know from your expert tour guide. Anyway. Our guide for the roof tour, Pru, seemed nice enough, but she was a bell-ringer in the cathedral, and she could barely keep her zeal for that under wraps, and kept trying to tell us all about the size of the bells and how complex it was to ring them in the right way. Perhaps I shouldn’t even get started on the other 11 people on the tour… suffice it to say that they were very much cut from the same cloth as those in your average National Trust garden, with their lovely sandals and socks and pointless questions.

And yes, I am fully aware of the irony in me clambering on my high horse to mock the kind of person who visits National Trust gardens and Cathedrals when I have just visited both on successive days. I’m apparently that kind of person, but not that kind of person, if you follow me…..

Right, glad that’s cleared up.

The garden's coming along nicely too. More tea, vicar?


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

my light shines on....

Yesterday I went back into hospital first thing to have a phakic intraocular lens (IOL) implanted into my right eye. The implant into my left eye had now been in place for almost exactly a week, and would now apparently have settled down enough for the second procedure to take place. Well, that's as may be, but as I sat and fretted on Sunday evening in front of the TV, opening and shutting each eye in turn and trying to assess the quality of the vision, it seemed to me that my left eye still had some way to go, and I was a little nervous about risking the overall quality of my vision by having the other eye done too. The eye was no longer really bloodshot, and I would say that the overall quality of vision was pretty good, but it still seemed to be a fraction blurred to me. I hoped that this was because of the sutures pulling on my cornea inducing a (temporary) astigmatism, but was anxious that if the other eye was done too soon, then my overall vision would be poor for however long it took my eyes to settle. On the other hand though, neither was I terribly keen to have the surgery postponed as I'd already got the time off and didn't really want to have to wait and reschedule. Plus I was just plain nervous about the procedure. I was looking forward to dumping my contact lenses for good (my glasses got dumped last week as I couldn't wear them with one corrected eye), but for all that the procedure is reversible, this felt like the point of no return as I was going to have to function with two eyes that would need time to heal.

My right eye is somewhat worse than my left eye. One of the reasons for the left eye to be done first was that the implant I required was simpler and could be inserted rolled up through a small incision in my cornea. I have a large astigmatism in my right eye, and in order to properly correct this, the implanted lens was going to have to be rigid and the alignment of the lens in my eye was going to be much more important. As a result, the lens could not be rolled up and the incision needed to place it underneath my cornea was going to need to be bigger. It's a more tricky procedure, apparently, and where local anesthetic was okay last week, this time the professor was keen that I should be put under general as it was more fiddly, would take longer and he didn't want me wriggling around on the operating table. Fine by me, and I took extra care not to have any breakfast on Monday morning.

Just the same as last week, I had my blood pressure and other vital signs checked in my room before being wheeled down to the operating theatre (I had a heart-rate of 46 bpm... not bad before eye surgery, eh?). After that though, things were quite different: I was given oxygen through a mask, I was dosed with first some local anesthetic and then a huge needle was inserted into a vein on the top of my right hand and then the general itself was injected. Weirdly, I could feel the anesthetic as it went into my body, as it was really cold and I could feel it travelling up my arm....but then my head began to swim (the anesthetist told me to imagine it was like my first gin and tonic of the day). Then I was gone. About two hours later, I woke up and the deed was done. I had a big patch over my right eye, and was wheeled back up to my room to wait for my checkup with the consultant that evening.

Last week, I killed the seven or so hours before the follow up by watching the cricket and reading magazines and things. This time around, although the cricket was on the telly again, the anesthetic seemed to knock my body for six, and all I could do was lie on the bed sleeping fitfully and generally feeling groggy. It was a bit weird last week when the local meant I was fully awake when the first eye was done, but at least I was up and running pretty quickly afterwards. The general anesthetic seemed to poison my system for ages afterwards, and I'm not sure that, if given the choice, I wouldn't have preferred local again. Well, maybe not. Anyway, I was still feeling pretty off when I went down to see the professor at about six that evening, some nine hours after the general had been applied. The procedure had gone fine and the professor seemed content with the way that the lens had been attached to my iris and with the immediate quality of vision. He patched the right eye back up and turned his attention to the left. I told him how I was still finding things a bit blurry, and although he didn't really give away much in terms of whether I should expect this to improve or if this was likely to be as good as it gets, he did get me to read out some letters off the chart and told me that the quality of vision in that eye was already good enough to meet the legal minimum for driving. That's good, I suppose, but it did make me feel rather nervous about other people on the roads if that's as good as they need to see. He also did a quick 'pinhole occlusion' test, where he covered my left eye with a patch with a number of small holes punched into it. Immediately, my vision cleared and I was able to read the letters all the way down to the last line. Apparently this shows my best corrected vision potential..... that's not to say that I won't need further correction on the eye, but it does indicate that whatever issue I have with my vision can at least be corrected to a far greater extent than it could before the operation. This is good. Ideally I won't need glasses or contact lenses at all, but if I do, at least my vision should be better than it's ever been before. C. also told me that the professor gave her a thumbs up sign when I wasn't looking, so I'm hopeful that everything is going to be okay. It won't be the end of the world if I need to wear specs or something for close reading, driving or watching the telly. A touch disappointing perhaps, but the vision I already have from both eyes is already more than good enough to do most things, which is all I ever really wanted or needed.

I uncovered my right eye this morning, and although it's pretty bloodshot from the surgery, the vision is pretty good and fingers crossed will only improve over the next few weeks. For now, I just apply the drops (a steroid to reduce inflammation and to help get rid of the blood and an antibiotic to help stave off infection) four times a day, cover my right eye up with an attractive plastic shield to protect it when I sleep for another few days, and then I'll go back for another checkup next Monday to see how it's all coming along. The stitches won't come out for another three months, and it's possible that I won't know how well my eyes have healed and how good my vision is going to be until then.

Still, I'm pottering about at the moment without any difficulty with anything much except small-ish writing when viewed from a distance (the kind that I would probably have been able to read ok with my glasses on, and now have to squint at a bit).

I'm cautiously optimistic, if a bit fretful... but it's early days yet.

What a palaver, eh?


Friday, July 18, 2008

And, Michael, you would fall and turn the white snow red as strawberries in the summertime....

More things to do to fill your time whilst you're kicking around at home: buy an Apple Time Capsule, attach it to your wireless network and work out how to shift your iTunes library so that you can still access it online but somewhere with a bit more headroom than a creaking laptop hard-drive.

That's sucked up most of the afternoon so far, and I haven't even started a back up using Time Machine yet....

Eye news: prickly, dry and sore today. I'm trying very hard not to worry too much about the fact that it's still a touch blurry at the moment. My rational brain is telling me that it's barely 5 days since the surgery and, apart from anything else, the sutures will be pulling on my cornea and inducing a partial -- but temporary -- astigmatism.... I know I need to be patient, but it's difficult not to worry about these things. I'll ask the professor on Monday when I go back in for my check up and, if all is well, the operation on the second eye. I'll also have to ask him if it's normal for my pupil to now be slightly smaller in low light conditions than the one in my right eye. This doesn't especially bother me, and it may well be related to the steroids I'm putting into my eye at the moment, but it's probably best to ask, eh?

I also had confirmation today that my medical insurance will also be covering the second procedure in full. This is a bonus. I was fully expecting to pay for both of these operations myself - to the tune of several thousand pounds. In fact, I didn't even think of checking. I've seen my neurologist at the hospital where I'm having the operations done, and those consultations definitely were covered by my insurance. Apparently the hospital didn't want to wait to see if I was good for the cash, they already had my insurer's details and just went ahead and checked for themselves. The first thing I heard about this was the confirmation that I was covered in full. The money was never the most important consideration in all of this, but not having to pay for it at all is a definite result..... the bastards are ripping me off to the tune of £90 a month to cover the WT's as it is, so it's good to get something back out of them.

Now, before I go and tackle my backup strategy....

Earworms of the Week

> Nine in the Afternoon - Panic At The Disco

Not as good, in my opinion, as "I Write Sins Not Tragedies", but not many songs are. They've dropped the exclamation mark and appear to be trying to distance themselves from the emo scence... but this is still a naggingly effective pop song.

> Everybody's Changing - Keane

LB's most recent post has not only got me thinking about an artist's right to the interpretation of their work, it's also managed to plant this song into my head. They're certainly not cool, and it's very easy to mock them, but this is a great song. For the record, I think that the right of interpretation belongs to the individual experiencing it. The artist can tell you what it means to them, but they can't tell you what it means to you. Read LB's post (and the comments) for more details. Good record though.

> Keep Me In Mind Sweetheart - Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan

The odd couple. Beauty and the Beast. Weird and weirder. Whatever you want to call them, there's something very appealing about the combination of Isobel Campbell's ethereal, floating voice and Mark Lanegan's whisky soaked croak.

> IEIEI - White Denim

Simple rock song by my favourite band of the moment. What's not to like about that chorus?

> Thunder Road - Bruce Springsteen

This song simply could not have been done by anyone but the Boss, either from a lyrical point of view or in the way that the song builds pace and drama to a climactic mix of sax, piano and guitar. Plus "You ain't a beauty, but hey, you're alright" is a real doozy of a line.

An absolute classic.

> And I Was a Boy From School - Hot Chip

I've finally got around to buying some of their stuff, and perhaps it's not the obvious choice from their back catalogue ("Over and Over" anyone?) but this is the song that won't leave me alone. I love their air of melancholy.

> Violin Concerto - Brahms

Johnny Greenwood got a lot of plaudits for his soundtrack to "There Will Be Blood", but it's the use (twice) of the final part of Brahms' Violin Concerto that is the most striking in the film. I'm no fan of classical music. In fact, I'd go as far to say that I am startlingly ignorant of it. Even I cannot fail to be moved by this wonderful piece of music though. Shame the film didn't really match up to it. I'm not much of a Day-Lewis fan to begin with, but I thought the whole thing was fairly over-wrought and fell apart into nonsense in the last twenty minutes. But what do I know?

> Viva La Vida - Coldplay

I won't go on about this, but I love this song. Every time I hear it on the radio, I stop what I'm doing, turn up the volume and have a good listen. Fantasic lyrics coupled with a lovely uplifting coda.

> Pork & Beans - Weezer

A classic slice of geek rock from Weezer, coupled with a killer homage to YouTube in the video. Superb band.

> White Winter Hymnal - Fleet Foxes [link to video updated - thanks to anon]

I'm not sure how I would describe the sound of this band. Hmm. Here goes: imagine the harmonies of Crosby, Stills and Nash, together with snippets of Simon and Garfunkel, coupled with a baroque chamber choir. Got it? Well that's what I think Fleet Foxes sound like. I love it. Even the title of this song makes me think of the Middle Ages, never mind the fact that the artwork on their album is the magnificent painting "The Blue Cloak" by Pieter Bruegel the elder.

It's one of those pictures that rewards a really close look (like most of Bruegel's work). Every time I look at it, I find something new. Kind of like "Where's Wally" painted by one of the European Old Masters. The music oddball, or at the very least offbeat....but all the better for that.

Right. Have a good weekend y'all.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

one lump or two?

Thunder / Whitesnake / Def Leppard @ Nottingham Trent FM Arena, 17th July 2008

Three ridiculous bands that have all played some part in my musical development on the same bill? I haven't listened to any of them properly in at least 15 years, but nevermind that, how could I possibly say no to a lineup like that? Of the three bands, it's actually "very special guests" Thunder that are probably the least ridiculous and the one that I've seen the most times: only once headlining in their own right (at the Aston Villa Leisure Centre supported by the Electric Boys), but many, many times on the the bill supporting bands like Iron Maiden, ZZ Top, Metallica and the like. Def Leppard I saw once, in the round no less, at Earls Court on the "Adrenalize" tour when I was already on the point of getting over them and remember the interminable walk back to South Kensington more than I remember the actual gig itself. Whitesnake I've never seen at all, but then again they have always been the most ridiculous band of them all, haven't they? David Coverdale was old back in 1987, never mind some twenty years later. Besides, how much air time can you possibly give someone who named his band after the name he gave his penis? Giving your penis a name in the first place is probably something of a danger sign.

Still, here we are, some years after any of these bands were at their commercial peaks, and against the odds two of them are trying to promote new material. On the face of it, it doesn't sound like it has the makings of being a great night, but all three of these bands have somehow written songs that have stood the test of time.

In order to accommodate the egos of the bands above them, Thunder appear on stage at the ridiculously early time of 18:45. Luckily for them, this is one of those gigs where the people who don't go to gigs have turned up in force and in plenty of time for the doors to open. As a result, by the time we arrive, the band are already onstage and the arena is pretty full. The hair may be shorter now, and in the case of singer Danny Bowes, an awful lot greyer, but the ingredients that made them such a decent live band back in the day are still well in place: they have good, melodic songs played in a blues-rock style, and in Bowes they have a singer with both the voice and the personality to get an arena crowd going early doors. Songs like "Love Walked In" and "Low Life in High Places" and "Gimme Some Lovin'" really get the crowd moving and nicely warmed up for the bigger bands to come.

Ah, Whitesnake. In 1973, a bespectacled shop worker from Yorkshire called David Coverdale found himself as a member of Deep Purple. He formed his own band, imaginatively naming it after his own penis, releasing albums named with childlike innuendos like "Slide it In", "Lovehunter", "Come an' Get It", and "Slip of the Tongue". They only really found massive success with 1987s...er.... "1987" that featured the monster hit "Here I Go Again" and several videos starring the porn star, Tawney Kitaen, who somewhat inevitably married the blond lovegod himself. Twenty-One years down the track, that marriage has incredibly not lasted the course, but Whitesnake are somehow still with us and now celebrating their 30th anniversary. Well, I say "they're" celebrating their anniversary, but basically Whitesnake is, and always has been, Coverdale and some other blokes (at one point including Def Leppard's Vivian Campbell). He's now 56 years old, and now cuts something of a bizarre figure with that blonde mop still in place, but now framing a face that looks rather alarmingly like that of Joan Rivers. He takes to the stage in a whirl of pelvic thrusts against his microphone stand and we're off.

Whitesnake are appalling. It's not just the relentless innuendo and sexual boasting (after all, William Shakespeare himself wasn't above that, in sonnet 154 talking about quenching "love's hot desire" in a "cool well". If it's good enough for Billy Shakespeare, why not David Coverdale?), it's the fact that this awful, turgid rock music with added widdly 80s poodle-rock guitar bits is just plain boring. Compared to Thunder, the sound is muddy too, and Coverdale seems to be well down the mix, with the backing vocals well up in the foreground. Some choruses Coverdale doesn't bother to sing at all, and he often resorts to a horrible rock screech instead of the deep noted timbre he was once noted for. Pretending to fellate the microphone stand and getting oddly close to your two guitarists is no substitute for decent songs being performed by a competent band. Whitesnake have apparently insisted on joint-billing with Def Leppard on this tour, and they are onstage for 90 minutes in all, at least as long as the proper headliners. They're a new album to promote, God help us, and they're determined to foist their leaden, dated rubbish onto us whether we like it or not. We even get an extended guitar duel as Coverdale wanders off the stage to change his shirt and to take off his shoes.

"Here I Go Again" wakes up the crowd and reminds us that the band did manage to fluke at least one song that appears to have stood the test of time, but I've long since lost the will to live by this point.

Awful. Utter rubbish.

Def Leppard are actually celebrating their 31st anniversary, and although they're promoting a new album, "Songs from the Sparkle Lounge", in large part they're very much frozen in time around-about 1987. That's the year they released "Hysteria" of course, which sold 18m copies and all this time later, the bedrock of the set is still made up of songs like "Rocket", "Animal", "Armageddon It", "Hysteria" and the sublime "Pour Some Sugar on Me". Joe Elliot is perhaps a bit thicker around the edges than of old, but otherwise the band are remarkably well preserved, with Vivian Campbell and Phil Collen still in good enough shape, at 45 and 50 respectively, to play most of the set without their shirts on with no disgrace at all.

It's the last night of the band's European tour, and like the old pro that he is, Joe Elliot simply will not let the crowd forget it. He is desperate, it seems, for this crowd to be louder than the ones they performed to in London, Belfast, Sheffield, etc. etc. It's perhaps the oldest gambit in the book, but the crowd lap it up and roar their approval. The Leppard's particular brand of heavily layered, heavily produced, user-friendly rock music has held up pretty well, and crucially, they were never really a band that asked to be taken all that seriously anyway. Just as well really, as it would be hard to enjoy a song like "Let's Get Rocked" if you thought the band were playing it in as po-faced a way as someone like David Coverdale might. As it is, Elliot's shout of "Let's get the rock out of here!" is positively joyous.

They're a very silly band, certainly, but they're a whole lot of fun and I'm sure they'll be back for more.

Verdict: 6.5 / 10

(Thunder - 7 / 10, Whitesnake - 2 / 10, Def Leppard 7.5 / 10).


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

you fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way....

Three days after the operation on my left eye, and things are coming along nicely. The eye itself is still pretty bloodshot and a little bit prickly and sore, but not too bad really considering the trauma of the procedure itself. Vision is not too bad: it's a bit blurry still, but apparently this is absolutely normal and my eyesight is basically fine when the left eye is used in conjunction with the other eye. Crucially, it also seems to be improving little by little every day. I think this might be the first time in my life that I haven't so much as touched a pair of glasses in more than 48 hours, and it's really quite liberating.

I'm still quite glad I've taken the time completely off work though. Not only do I not particularly want to spend all day in front of a computer screen (certainly not in the office), but it's also given me the time to do some other things: the garden's being done (not by me, I should hasten to add...by professionals); I've sorted out my iPhone; I've finally picked up some parcels from the Royal Mail and arranged for the delivery of some tickets (bloody couriers); I've been able to rip a load of CDs that have been kicking around for a while onto iTunes (Fleet Foxes, Hot Chip, Weezer, Neil Diamond, Paul Heaton, Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan, Black Kids, Panic at the Disco, Lloyd Cole, some Springsteen....). Who knows, I may even have some time to give them all a proper listen before they disappear into the bowels of my iPod forever.... The Open Golf starts tomorrow and the 2nd Test against the South Africans begins on Friday, but I'm also hoping to squeeze in a few DVDs around all that sport....

We went out to the cinema on Sunday evening, actually, in an attempt to take my mind off the following day's operation. Did it work? Well, yes it did, actually. I don't reckon that the plot of Hancock stands up to much scrutiny, but that's hardly unique in a blockbuster. More seriously, I think the movie suffers from not knowing what kind of a film it wants to be (superhero film? comedy? tragedy? drama?), but I thought that, all in all, it was all perfectly diverting stuff. Will Smith is usually fairly watchable, as is Charlize Theron....

Last night though, I popped over to Blockbuster and picked up a couple of more "worthy" films that I missed:

First up was the Joel and Ethan Coen's "No Country For Old Men". Now. I won't go into any plot details, but I really enjoyed this up until about the last 20 minutes. The atmosphere before that point had been built up superbly, and Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones and especially Javier Bardem put in magnificent performances. For me though, they shot their bolt and blew the ending, which I felt was abrupt and anti-climactic. Perhaps that's Cormac McCarthy's fault in the original novel (and I've never been able to get into any of his books), but I did feel a bit let down really. Shame, as it's otherwise an excellent film. You certainly wouldn't want to bump into a character like Anton Chiguhr anytime soon - that scene in the gas station was absolutely chilling, even when he didn't kill anyone. What a character. One of the best screen villains I've seen in a long time.

Up tonight: There Will Be Blood. I'm not a massive Day-Lewis fan, but he at least wears a hat for most of the film, so if I ever get round to writing up a sketchy and incomplete review of that any time soon, at least I get to bore you all with that.

Probably Juno after that, but I also want to catch up on my Wire boxsets.

Kicking around at home is actually pretty relaxing. I should do this more often.


Thanks very much for all your good wishes and happy thoughts over the last few days. Much appreciated, as was LB and Hen supplementing theirs by popping round with a big box of cookies and a hand-painted card. Blog Street is all very well, but sometimes it's no substitute for having actual, honest-to-goodness real life neighbours who care. With a little understanding, etc....

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

what are your overheads?

The most uncomfortable bed in the world

The weekend started pretty well when I got home from work on Friday to find a letter from my medical insurers (who charge me vast amounts of money to cover the WTs) telling me that the expensive procedure on my eyes that I was expecting to pay for and in fact hadn't even told them about was fully covered as the hospital had written to them about it for some reason. Bonus. Things got better still when I went out for a lovely meal, a glass or two of wine and a little dance with some friends on Saturday night, and it happily turns out that a nagging background hangover is actually a really good distractionary tactic from worrying about someone cutting open your eye the following day. It wasn't a killer, but I was so concerned with simply getting myself back on an even keel, that it wasn't really until dinner time that it actually dawned on me that a lot of what I was feeling was probably nerves about the forthcoming operation. Not surprisingly, I only slept fitfully and was up and having the specified light meal before heading into the hospital for admission at 7am. That light meal - a cold sausage and an innocent smoothie that were both kicking around in the fridge - turned out to be crucial to the rest of my day.

I was supposed to be "nil by mouth", you see, and they'd sent me the wrong letter. I couldn't possibly have a general anaesthetic with food in my stomach, so they were unfortunately going to have to do the procedure under local. I tried not to dwell either on the fact that this meant I was going to be fully conscious whilst they monkeyed about with my eye or that they clearly would have preferred me to be knocked out whilst they did so. It wasn't a complicated procedure, apparently, and I was reassured that it shouldn't be any problem at all under local. Could I please get changed into my gown as they wanted to take me down soon.

Now I was really nervous.

Some eye drops were put into my left eye, and I was asked to climb into a wheelchair (hospital policy apparently) and be wheeled down to the operating theatre. The surgeon, the anaesthetist (husband and wife, as it happens) and the rest of the theatre team were friendly, chatty and relaxed, but although I was happy of the chance to engage in a bit of small talk, at the end of the day I was very apprehensive about the procedure, and could think of little else. My pulse was taken, and the lovely anaesthetist talked me through step by step as she applied the local. This was actually the most uncomfortable part of the whole procedure, and involved my eye being clamped open as something that stung was inserted over about a thirty second period. Pretty soon after that, I lost the sight in my left eye, and was for some reason surprised to learn that this was because my eyelid had drooped down under the local, and not because of the local itself. My bed was wheeled into the theatre proper and I was transferred onto the slab. The professor gave me a warm hello and then proceeded to cover me up entirely. I had a bar placed just above my chin, I was given a little pipe thing that was apparently going to pump air in and then a green veil was drawn over my whole head, leaving only my left eye exposed, although with the eyelid drooped, I could see nothing anyway. Someone held my hand, popped a pillow under my uncontrollably trembling knees, and we were off.

The whole procedure took about an hour, and it was actually quite soothing to hear how calm and measured the professor and his surgical team were about the whole procedure. I could actually see little more than shapes and was only vaguely aware of drops being regularly applied to my clamped eye and could see vague shadows and outlines of whatever instruments he was using to open up my cornea and to insert and attach the lens. In fact, throughout the whole procedure, I was incongruously earworming the Flight of the Conchords song, "Think About It":

"There's people on the street getting diseases from monkeys
Yeah that's what I said, they are getting diseases from monkeys
Why's this happening, please, who's been touching these monkeys?
Leave these poor sick monkeys alone
They're sick, they've got problems enough as it is"

A good look, no?

After a bit, we were pretty much done. I felt the stitches going in to close up the cornea, and I certainly felt the injection that went in after that, but then my eye was patched with a sterile dressing and a plastic shield put over the top and that was it. I'm not sure I would exactly say that having the procedure done under local was a breeze, but it was certainly a lot less hardcore than I imagine it sounds. It was really okay. Maybe not something I'd want to have done every day, but really not that bad. I was transferred back onto the gurney and wheeled back out into the anteroom and then back up to my room, with my glasses balanced on my nose in front of the plastic shield.

The next seven hours essentially consisted of C and I sitting up in the room waiting for a follow-up session with the surgeon. I killed the time by trying to watch the cricket on the telly and by reading newspapers and magazines, trying to ignore the spiky feelings in my eye as the local began to wear off, and trying not to wonder too much about what quality of vision I could expect when the dressing was removed. We were finally called down at about 5pm, and as the professor removed the patch, I got my first glimpse at what had happened. My vision was a bit blurry, but essentially it was fine. The professor carried out a few checks and seemed content with the mooring of the lens in my eye and with the pressure in there, and after handing me a bag of eye drops and things, packed me off home with the advice that I should not eat before I came in next Monday, as the next lens is a bit harder to do and he would really prefer to do it under general. I had no complaints about that....

it turns out that the operation had, in fact, enlarged my nose...

And that's it really. The dressing was removed, but I had to keep the plastic shield over my eye for the rest of the day (and will have to wear it for the next three nights to protect my eye), but apart from the warping of the shield, I could see. It stung a little, I guess, but it was easily manageable. When I woke up this morning, I took the shield off and was able to have a good look at my eye for the first time. It's a bit bloodshot, but I can't even see the lens in my eye.

So far so good.

Next eye on Monday.


Friday, July 11, 2008

we need some help from you now....

Earworms of the Week

Evening. It's the start of a two week break from work for me, and although it's pouring with rain here and I'm a touch distracted and apprehensive about things to come, England are doing well in the cricket and, well, I won't be at work, will I?

Let's see what's been going on in my head, eh?

> "The One and Only" - Chesney Hawkes

Nope. No idea. What a tune though, eh? eh? eh?


> "Hallowed Be Thy Name" - Iron Maiden

It's a fan favourite, but it's not my favourite Iron Maiden song by a long chalk, and it's the song that was actually my cue to head out of Twickenham to catch the bus back to Richmond last weekend. Perhaps it's simply "last song syndrome" that means that, of all of the stuff they played, this is the one that has lurked for the longest time in my head. Could be worse, I suppose. Say, for example......

> "Inside" - Stiltskin

Absolutely terrible song built on the back of that epic riff used in a levis advert. Those ugly roadies who performed this always looked to me like they couldn't quite believe how lucky they'd got. Amazingly, and pointlessly, they're apparently still performing today. I've heard of flogging a dead horse, but....

"Swing low in dark glass hour
you turn to cower
see it turn to dust

move on a stone dark night
we take to flight
snowfall turns to rust

seam in a fusing mine
like a nursing rhyme
fat man starts to fall

year in a hostile place
I hear your face
start to call"



> "Rocket" - Def Leppard

Dumb, brainless rock genius. I'm seeing them live next week actually. And Whitesnake. And Thunder. Next week's 'worms will no doubt be brilliant. Altogether now:

"Rocket yeah satellite of love
Rocket yeah satellite of love
Rocket yeah satellite of love
Rocket baby! C'mon, I'll be your satellite of love

Ooh ooh
Ah ah
Ooh ooh
Ah ah "

... or as I've always heard and sung along:

"Rocket wooooah yeeeeeeahhh sayalallallalaldiddila."

I prefer the latter, frankly.

> "Left Behind" - CSS

Probably as famous for lead singer Lovefoxx's rainbow coloured body stockings and her engagement to a bloke out of the Klaxons as they are for much of their music. "Let's Make Love and Listen to Death From Above" is still comfortably their most famous song, and I wasn't all that impressed when I saw them at Glastonbury in 2007. Still, it did cross my mind to pop up and see them on the Park stage this year, and I can't seem to shift this song from my head at the moment. It's catchy, but it is a step towards the mainstream for them. I imagine the people who love them will be accusing them of selling out soon. You've got to love the fact that they guy in the band has got an absolutely massive moustache though. They get extra points for that, no question.

I like this one.

> "Meat is Murder" - The Smiths

I like eating meat. I like the way it tastes, and I'm not planning on giving up eating it any time soon. Moz may have converted thousands of people to vegetarianism with this song, but I'm not going to be one of them . Of course, as a card-holding, badge-wearing wishy-washy bleeding heart liberal, I do prefer my meat to come from ethical, ideally organic, sources and be humanely slaughtered. Apparently the other three members of the Smiths became vegetarians whilst they were in the band too... at least in front of Morrissey.... Apparently they used to sneak off behind his back and gorge on burgers though, so I think it's fair to say that their hearts weren't really in it.

As Mitch Benn says, if meat is murder, is quorn wasting police time? (parody here)

> "I Can See Clearly Now" - Jimmy Cliff / "I Can See for Miles" - The Who

Given the situation with my eyes, the presence of these two songs always had an air of inevitablity about it. Let's hope that, come a week monday, both are true.

> "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked" - Ida Maria

I know this was in my list from the other week, and it's not my favourite of her songs by a long chalk, but...but... it's absurdly catchy and they've started playing it on the radio now. I don't listen to the radio all that much, but every time I do, they seem to be playing this. What chance do I have? I see she's playing the rescue rooms in November too. I may have to submit and buy some tickets. She was pretty entertaining at Glastonbury, anyway. Resistance appears to be futile.

> Theme tune to Scooby Doo

I've not watched this in years, although I think someone mentioned to me the other day that their infant son absolutely adored it. And why not? As long as Scrappy Doo isn't involved anyway, it's pure genius, no?

"You know we got a mystery to solve and Scooby Doo,
be ready for your act
Don't hold back!
And Scooby Doo if you come through you're gonna have
yourself a Scooby Snack!"

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to make myself an absolutely enormous sandwich with at least 16 slices of bread and then I'm going to escape from a ghost with my useless best friend by pretending that we're barbers or something....


See you on the other side.



Thursday, July 10, 2008

miles and miles and miles....

At some point on Monday morning, someone is going to slice open the cornea on one of my eyes and then clamp a piece of plastic onto the front of my iris using tiny little claws. Strangely enough, I'm quite excited about this.... rather than being some form of Clockwork Orange-esque torture scene, over the next couple of weeks I will be undergoing corrective surgery on my eyes. Thanks to some fairly incompetent administrative support, I'm actually a little in the dark about the specifics of what is going to happen, but what I do know is that this procedure is going to be carried out by one of the world's leading specialists in this area, and that once the operation is complete, I should be able to see better out of that eye than I have ever done before in my life, with or without glasses or contact lenses. Who wouldn't be excited by that?

There are risks. Of course there are risks. Please don't think that I haven't thought about the risks and that I'm doing this blindly (pun intended) on some kind of a whim. I started wondering about having something done to my eyes several years ago, when my increasing frustration and anxiety over my inability to feel comfortable with my glasses really began to get me down. It was at that low point that I began the process of investigation and consultation that has led me to where I am now. It was only fourteen months ago that I was told by this eminent professor of opthalmology what he would recommend for my eyes. I thought that once I knew what was possible, it would be a simple decision, but in fact it took me about four months from there to actually cross the Rubicon and to commit myself to actually going ahead and getting this done.

I've done an awful lot of thinking about this and I have certainly not made the decision to go ahead lightly. It's ultimately a leap of faith, for sure, but I think I've done everything that I can to make as considered a decision as possible and to maximise my chances of success. I could lose an eye and it's possible that I might damage my eyesight permanently as a result of going through with this, but I think it is far, far more likely that I will improve my best corrected vision substantially and will finally be free of glasses and contact lenses. Perhaps I will need to wear glasses for reading or for detail work one day, or perhaps even immediately, but I think I can live with that.

I am going to have eye number one operated on in a couple of days time, and all being well, eye number two will follow a week on from that. I'm mildly apprehensive about the procedure itself, largely because of what I don't know about what will happen on the day or how I will feel immediately afterwards.... but basically I'm really excited at the thought that this could change my life.

I'm looking forward to the simple joy of being able to wake up and to be able to see without needing to fumble around for my glasses.

That's a pretty exciting thought.


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

somebody put me together....

Meanwhile, in general falling apart news.... following on from my broken finger, broken toe, the torn ligaments in my ankle, the cracked rib, the slowly-but-noticeably stiffening knee joints, the spasming muscles in my back and the general, all pervasive feeling of weariness, it appears that I might have fractured my elbow.

The little whack I gave it seemed so innocuous at the time, but three weeks later and the doctor tells me that I need to go and get an x-ray. Not that there's anything they can do if it is fractured, you understand, but at least we'll know one way or the other, eh? What next for the miracle of modern medical science?

I'm starting to think that I've reached the age where my body is trying to tell me something.

I'm ignoring it.

I'm sure that ageing is nothing that plenty of drugs and a decent plastic surgeon can't fix.


Monday, July 07, 2008

let's react to it....

White Denim @ The Bodega Social, 7th July 2008

The first time I came across this band was at the Glastonbury festival when I opted to go and see the 83 year old Tony Benn speaking in the Leftfield in preference to seeing White Denim play on the Park stage. Benn was as inspirational as he always is, so even the reports that I had missed something special, including probably the best drummer at the festival, didn't make me feel terribly much regret about my decision. I did, however, make a mental note to check out the band at the first possible opportunity. That opportunity came somewhat earlier than I had been expecting when I saw that the band were playing one of the smallest of Nottingham's main venues exactly a week after I returned from Glastonbury. Luckily they had tickets left, but even more luckily, Mike was on review duties for the Evening Post and he was kind enough to offer me the opportunity to be his "plus one" for the evening. I was familiar with the singles "Let's Talk About It" and "All You Really Have to Do" from airplay on Zane Lowe's show on Radio 1, but in preparation for the gig, I made sure that I downloaded the album before I left Nottingham for London and Saturday's Iron Maiden gig.

I liked it. As I listened to it on the tube on the way back from Twickenham on Saturday night, I was able to pick out influences from the Small Faces and White Album, "Why Don't We Do It In The Road" era Paul McCartney through to the Velvet Underground. It was good, honest rock... but thirteen tracks, even on a relatively short album, seemed to be enough. Even so, I was still looking forward to the gig. Apparently the band were the talk of the SXSW festival and it seemed like a great opportunity to see a band on the cusp of a major breakthrough in a relatively tiny venue. I had a nice dinner with Sarah and Hen and then headed over to meet up with Mike at the Social for a drink before heading upstairs for the band. They weren't due on until 22:15, so we settled in for a good chat. After a little while, (and ahead of schedule) we were drawn upstairs by the sound of thunder from the stage, and arrived just in time to see the band ripping their way through their most famous song, "All You Really Have to Do".

One thing was immediately obvious: good though the record is, White Denim from Austin, Texas are a band that were made to be seen performing live. Not to put too fine a point on it, they rock. They're only a three-piece, but they make a tremendous amount of noise. Centre stage was dominated by a modest drumkit, about 10% the size of the one I had seen Nico McBrain using for Iron Maiden at Twickenham on Saturday night, but played with ferocity and with real brio, it made at least as much noise and was a much more integral part of the sound of the band. The other two members of the trio huddled around the kit and took their cue from their sensational drummer. The two-hundred or so people in the room just hung on for dear life.

They were ace.

They band were onstage for just about 45 minutes, and presumably they played their way through the album, although it was a bit hard to tell as much of it was unrecognisable from the recorded versions. In a good way. Not for this band a carbon copy recital of their recordings. Oh no. Keeping close eye-contact with each other, the band used the songs as jumping off points for rocking improvisations around the songs. I could still hear a touch of the rockier McCartney in there, but the obvious comparison is with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. When they record their next album, this band really have got to find themselves a producer who can bottle the thunder of their live show and put it onto the record - something their last producer has definitely failed to achieve. This show was an absolute riot, with the band clearly having at least as much fun simply hanging out together and playing their music as those of us in the crowd were to be hearing them play. I can't think of the last time that I went to a gig that was this vibrant.... the simple, transcendent power of rock music lifted me up and made me grin like a lunatic. Having passed up the cornucopia on offer at Twickenham on Saturday, I even surprised myself tonight and bought a t-shirt. They really were that good.

They're a good band but a sensational live act. Catch them if you can - they deserve to be massive.

Verdict: 9 / 10.

[Mike's review of this gig is now up here]