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

Friday, July 31, 2009

....... my ever worried mind

Hello. The sun is shining, I'm on holiday (albeit at home) and the weekend is stretching out before me. Does it get any better than this? Well, as it happens, it does: one of my best friends has spontaneously volunteered to share his earworms with us. Excellent.

Well, let's get straight into it then. Without futher ado, it is my great pleasure to present for your earworming pleasure....

Earworms of the week - guest editor #99 - Fiery Little Sod.

G'day blog readers both casual and hardcore - having tapped up Senor Toni for another crack at this I have been indulged with an opportunity when my heart is light and the sun is shining, therefore I make no apologies for the slightly mainstream selection that may follow - I hope it makes you lot smile as much as I did...

> Rhianna - Umbrella

Sorry folks, squirmed under the radar courtesy of rubbish TV music channels and having somehow managed to avoid it for two years has now biologically infested my hearing [ella, ella, oh, oh] - oh for s**t's sake - I don't even like this RnB tut!! having said that if it has sneaked in to my head the tune must have a redeeming feature even if I have no idea what it's about...

No sooner had my learned friend postulated that 'Take on Me' was the only visible sign on TV of these chaps existing when they show up on the Jonathan Ross show and belt out another of their 80s classics. Kind of want to ignore the lyrics as they are remarkably downbeat for a catchy tune and focus on smoothly melded guitar/synth work with a fairly stretching vocal range too. So... what are the chances of a Norwegian hat-trick next week then ?

> The Beatles - Eleanor Rigby

- I take you from the ridiculous to the sublime and the most intense collection of fine lyrics ever assembled: "... wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave...." - get that in a song for the modern age - go on, I dare ya. Yes it is one of their finest and therefore I feel fortunate to have it in my head, but that does not detract from the fact that I still hear it anew every time it shuffles past.

> The Proclaimers - 500 Miles

I went to a piss-up in a brewery (honestly) and they had a live band. Various covers of indie bands and tunes had slipped past when the (Scottish) lead singer stood up and said "Now I know I have the accent for this but it doesn't mean I like it.... Who knows 500 f***in' Miles then?". Anyway general raucousness and dodgy singing ensued of which I took a full part - and damn it was a lot of fun! No havering - this is get off your bum music at its finest. As proved when it showed up on a mix by the mighty Statue John on a CD I played in my car whilst trolling through the countryside (yep, one of them disc thingys, I know, shoot me now)

> Kings of Leon - The Bucket

forever informed by various friends that this has been their finest hour I finally managed to sit and listen to it this week. Indescribably excellent. If you happen not to know it, please get to.

Yes, I know it's not hers, but I saw her perform it live some years ago and no matter who wrote it or sang it before this is the version I know. She paces it well,uses her vocal talents well (if you like that kind of thing - which I tend to) and I just have to remind myself that there is some other, sunnier side to the music to which I listen and and this stuff slides in only once in a while.

> The Beatles -Yellow Submarine

Two in a week!! (guilty as charged, Revolver came up on the playlist). But in the case for the defence I would wish to point out I have recently acquired a car of a similar hue to the eponymous submersible and if one required sunnier music then this provides it in spades. In addition, I realised some time ago (maybe 15 years) that if there was an unshiftable tune in one's head then Yellow Submarine, always memorable, easy to recall and frankly could be a lot worse would pretty much fix anything. So you end up with this instead.... so what's to complain about? I commend it to you as the anti-earworm earworm.

> Michael Jackson - Thriller

sorry for predicability, but missed all the hullabaloo as was at Glasto with the blogmeister for the crucial weekend and came back to relative calmness. This invaded my head whilst strolling through St. James' Park in London as it was being played by a band of the Guards complete with loads of brass and dramatic pauses. I nearly bent double laughing and sure I looked odd to the tourists hurrying to Buck House for the changing of the guard.. anyway.... Jacko.. what about it? I say remember this kinda stuff and balls to all the post '90 freakery (the tune by the way is a corker, teasing verses, easy chorus, generally top)

> Chuck Berry - Johnny B. Goode

Seeking an uplifting tune my internal jukebox settled on this with loads of potential air guitar based hopping about and was reminded I saw a live concert of his on some digital channel a while back and he teased the audience with two or three chords of this tune before riffing off into something else--did it at least twice before he really played it but I still think this was what they came to hear. And why wouldn't you? this contains most of the essence of early rock'n'roll that led to kids in the US picking up guitars and playing the s**t out of them. Yeah, it's off the blues and maybe there were others but this was c.1958 and it cannot have had no effect .

> The Silhouettes - Get a Job

touch of self-indulgence as I have spent the last 3 months sans employment until this week, therefore I can hum this happily rather than in desperation. I am sure it provided inspiration and was suffused with potential on release but will, for me (and many others) forever be associated with the closing titles of Trading Places and an uplifting feeling of having got one over on the merchant bankers of this crummy world.. join in now --sha na na na sha na na na na


so there it goes, another window on to the world of this mildly musically challenged but nonetheless enthusiastic supporter of this fine enterprise, many thanks to Swiss and sure normal service will be resumed shortly....


Thanks mate. Always a pleasure to have you round these parts, you know that. Congratulations on the job too. Excellent news. "Get a Job". Now that's some earworm to leave us with......

Incidentally, Guest Editors are always welcome around here. You only have to ask.

Right. That's your lot for the week. I've got a house full of Austrians and I'm off to Birmingham to watch the rain falling throughout Saturday and Sunday (where the Australians appear to have a wicketkeeper that shares a name with my cat, at least the way they pronounce it...). Have a good weekend, y'all and STAY CLASSY. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm trying to explain cricket to a 10 year old boy from Vienna..... 2 wickets in the first 2 balls and he thinks it's the easiest game in the world.

[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]

Labels: ,

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I could stay lost in this moment forever.....

Overcome by the inexplicable inertia that only strikes on a Friday night when you know you really should be going to bed, I found myself sat in front of the TV last week. This has happened to me before: in the days before I kicked the habit, I used to find myself watching the live infra-red camera feed of people sleeping in the Big Brother House; I've also found myself watching such unlikely films as "The Ron De Flores Story" (the story of an ex-con who finds unlikely fame in the major leagues), "Cursed" (where Christina Ricci and that bloke from Dawson's Creek turn out to be werewolves), "Shark Swarm" (where some sharks...er... swarm). Last Friday, I was thwarted in my attempts to watch "Vampyr", a 1930s horror film, on Sky Arts 3 because I didn't subscribe to the channel, so I found myself browsing the netherworld of the music channels.

I ended up on "Magic". No, I'd never heard of it either. Given that they were playing Shania Twain, I'm not quite sure why I stopped either. The fact that they then rolled straight into Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warne should also have given me pause for thought, but I was mesmerised now. It was, I quickly gathered, a countdown of the nation's most popular wedding first dance songs. I tuned in at number 9 and, apart from the odd flick over to Q tv, where they were counting down the top 100 Biggest Artists of All Time and lurching incontinently from the Spice Girls to Depeche Mode to Eurythmics to Pet Shop Boys to Bon Jovi to Dire Straits.... I was inexplicably hooked.

Now, I don't know about you, but why does the song you choose for the first dance at your wedding have to be a pile of irredeemably appalling shite? Yes, I appreciate that this is the happiest day of your life, and so on, and that you may want to have everything about your day, including your choice of song, as sugar-coated as your tiered wedding cake... but how does that justify Leann Rimes? or R Kelly? or Whitney Houston? or - spare me - another bloody Shania Twain song? Van Morrison is theoretically an improvement, but not when the song is "Have I Told You Lately". The Commodores can just about get away with "Three Times a Lady", but only because of their haircut, outfits and the fact that Lionel Richie is a bona-fide genius. The number one was Aerosmith's "I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing" from that not-very-good Asteroid film starring Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, and - rather disturbingly from a video point of view as her father gurned his way through the song - Liv Tyler. Now, Aerosmith have had a long and varied career, and have produced such classics as "Walk This Way", "Mama Kin", Sweet Emotion", "Dude (Looks Like A Lady)" and "Love in an Elevator". They've had their ups and they've had their downs, but I think it's fair to say that this record, this tossed off soundtrack, is not amongst their finest moments. And yet, apparently, this is the song that people choose to have their first dance with their new spouse, in front of their families, at their weddings.

Apart from anything else, how do you dance to it? Is there any option but the close smooch, where you cling together and awkwardly shuffle your feet around on the dancefloor for the agonisingly long four minutes and fifty four seconds of the song? That must feel like HOURS, and you just know that nobody is going to put you out of your misery by joining you on the dancefloor either, no matter what they agreed at the bar.....

So why do it? Why show such devastating lack of imagination in your choice of song? Why not pick a song that actually does mean something to you, and isn't just the common denominator slow dance song that you picked from the shortlist the wedding DJ gave you? It's surely an opportunity to show a bit of personality as you officially launch your partnership, isn't it? No?

After a short discussion, we opted for "Fell In Love With A Girl" by the White Stripes. Partly this was because it was sharp, upbeat and resolutely non-smoochy, but it was also because it is a mere one minute and fifty-three seconds long. It still felt like hours, but at least it's a record that we both love and that we were happy to throw ourselves around like idiots to in front of our friends. Other people avoid cliche too: my brother-in-law and his wife danced to "Let's Spend the Night Together" by the Rolling Stones, and Sarah was telling me the other day that some friends of hers kicked the dancing off at their wedding with a spot of Muse. I was desperately hoping it would be something bonkers like "Knights of Cydonia", but apparently it was "Starlight", which I suppose makes a bit more sense. It can be done.

Of course, what I'd really like to see would be the couple brave enough to go with something like "Too Drunk To Fuck" by the Dead Kennedies.....

So come on..... I reckon you've got more imagination than the herd, and I reckon the survey is hokum. So to prove it, in a completely unscientific survey, here's a couple of questions for you (thanks to LazyGal for the suggestion):

-> What did you choose for your first dance? (or, if you're not married, what would you choose?)

-> What would be the most ridiculously inappropriate song that you could think of? (I'm thinking that R Kelly can't be far off this one....I mean, seriously?)

Apologies in advance, of course, if you opted for Leann Rimes or Shania Twain or Aersosmith because you really like them and because their beautiful songs speak to your entwined souls. It's a free country and it takes all sorts, innit.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

dress me, I'm your mannequin....

Sad news: my much loved Kukuxumusu Barcelona t-shirt has finally bitten the dust. I bought it in September 2001, a day or two after we'd sat in a bar in Madrid next to the Bernabeu and watched with horror the collapse of the World Trade Centre buildings.

It came from a little shop we found on the backstreets of Barcelona somewhere behind Las Ramblas. All of the t-shirts that they stocked featured distinctive cartoons, but I was particularly taken by one that mimicked the famous statue of Christopher Columbus that stands atop a column in the port, replacing him with a money and his telescope with a banana. I especially liked the fact - and I only noticed this later - that the monkey's cojones are on full display.

Eight years is a pretty respectable age for a t-shirt to perish, and truth be told it was probably on its last legs anyway, but the end finally came courtesy of my cat. We had a mouse, you see. It was sitting, bold as brass, on the back doormat. At this point, the cat was busy eating kibbles at her bowl, and by the time she had wandered over to see what all the fuss was about, the mouse had disappeared behind the kitchen units. The cat now had the scent, but surely no mouse would be stupid enough to make a return appearance.... ah.... there it is again. The cat pounced, and as cats do, she proceeded to bat the poor little rodent around. Claws in, naturally. After all, you wouldn't want to actually hurt it, would you? Not right away, anyway.

Nature might be raw in tooth and claw, but the cat usually catches leaves, scotch eggs and moths, and I wasn't entirely convinced that she knew what to do with a real, live mouse. I couldn't watch this, and decided to intervene. As C. tried to catch the mouse to take it outside, I held onto the cat. Well, I tried to hold onto the cat, but she was high as a kite on her instincts and was really quite keen to get back to her mouse. By the time we'd got the mouse outside and I was able to put the cat down, she'd managed to make quite a mess of my t-shirt. My much-loved, difficult, if not impossible, to replace t-shirt.


But, ah.... we live in the age of the Internet. I don't need to go back to Spain to buy another Kukuxumusu t-shirt, I just need to go to their website. I'd have liked a direct replacement if I could find one, but - no surprise - they don't make it any more. Still, there's plenty of other choice.

Too much choice, as it turns out.

I bought two.

A cardinal as a slavering wolf and his flock as unthinking sheep? Ah yes.

...and because I'll miss the colour and the monkey of my old-t-shirt, I bought this one too. Instead of swinging cojones, we get monkey's shagging. Classy, no?

I'm not sure I can quite bring myself to throw out the ruined old one either.

My name is ST and I'm hopelessly addicted to t-shirts.

Oh well, t-shirt maketh man, right?


Monday, July 27, 2009

more salt and pepper in my hair....

After an enforced lay-off from all exercise that stretched out in the end to 13 days, I was naturally very keen to get my trainers back on and to resume my training for September's half marathon. It was extremely frustrating to be flat out on my back for two weekends when I should by rights have been out hill interval training and taking my longest run up to 75 minutes. Even when it was pouring with rain and C came home from her long run looking like a drowned rat, I was still seethingly envious.

As soon as the consultant gave me the go-ahead then, I was out for a run.... I was strictly limited to a half mile at first, but that first few minutes back on the road and it felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders and that I was finally back. Needless to say, the next day's mile became two, and the mile-and-a-half the following day became three, but I wasn't feeling any ill-effects from the exertion, and was simply glorying in being back on my feet (even though I seem to have lost something like 6kg in the week or so I was off my feet. I was still eating as normal, so I don't know how that happened. Perhaps I could sell it as a diet plan?) This Saturday, I felt sufficiently well to resume my interval training: twenty minutes on a fairly steep hill near here. One minute up the hill and then another minute down the hill. Repeat ten times. It's a lot harder than it sounds, and apparently it's good at building up your speed.

The next day, I felt strong enough to really stretch my legs out and to go for a longer run.

5.38 miles in a little over 55 minutes is not quite the 8 or 9 miles I should be doing by now, but it felt like enough to me.... I wouldn't want to overdo it now, would I? I was quite pleased with myself, and besides, my body was telling me that it wasn't quite ready to do much further. I spent much of the rest of the day staggering around on nicely stiffened legs, but with that warm glow of self-satisfaction that almost makes all that pain worthwhile. Almost.

So, clearly the obvious thing to do on the very next day would be to go running again.

I'd got home from my half day at work (which finished at about 14:30, but you get the general idea), finished off "Goldfinger" and then promptly fallen asleep. By the time I woke up, the late evening sunshine was out and I was determined to wake myself up and to make the most of the rest of the glorious day by dragging myself around a "short" run of 4.02 miles.

This one hurt (although I see I apparently ran faster than on Sunday's run, it certainly didn't feel like it). I could feel the numbness in the soles of my feet and in the muscles of my legs with each stride, and the stiffness from the weekend's running meant that I felt as though I was fighting against my body every step of the way. As I was suffering through my entirely self-inflicted misery, the presence of time's winged chariot was made even more abundantly clear to me when, at two separate points on my route, I ran past two young runners going in the opposite direction. The first one could not have been much older than twenty, and he loped past me at something like twice my pace without a bead of sweat on his brow and looking as though he hadn't got a care in the world. I generally run in sunglasses - at least partly to hide the pain in my eyes from passers-by.... A couple of miles further on, I ran past another kid, this one no more than eighteen. This one was even worse: not only was he even younger than the first one, but he was running so quickly and so easily that it didn't look as though his feet were actually touching the ground as he moved. I was having one of those difficult runs, when everything feels harder, but somehow watching these kids run effortlessly past me made my legs feel even heavier and made me feel as old as the hills.


The half marathon is in just under 7 week's time. Plenty of time, yet.... but I need to remember the old adage that the rest is as important as the training if I'm not going to kill myself before I get to the starting line - never mind the finish.

I'll have a day off tomorrow, I think.

Labels: ,

Friday, July 24, 2009

the dirty little herbert....

Earworms of the Week

...and so another slightly weird week comes to an end. On the one hand, I'm absolutely delighted to be back on my feet and to take my first tentative steps back into running and so on; on the other hand, it's still distinctly weird only working half days and doing shortened runs. Still, I'm heading back to normality - a little slower than I'd like, but at least I'm moving in the right direction. Anyway, my internal jukebox has been as busy as ever....

> "Lapdance" - N.E.R.D.
> "Time to Pretend" - MGMT

Like lots of people, when I'm at a loose end of an evening, I sometimes have the telly on with "Dave" on in the background, idly watching their endless repeats of Top Gear, Mock the Week, QI and Nevermind the Buzzcocks. If you're at all prone to earworms, then this last one in particular is an obvious minefield. In one episode alone, in the space of about 2 minutes, I had these two records planted firmly into my head.... not the standard versions, particularly, but the "Intro Round" versions of the songs as performed by Adele and Mark Ronson on one side, and by Phill Jupitus and the bloke from the Klaxons on the other side. Neither versions were especially good, it has to be said, and I think Ralph Little and Tim Minchin struggled with the guessing, but none of that's important. The damage was done and they've been whirring around my head ever since. N.E.R.D. were shockingly arrogant as Glastonbury and totally missed the point and their best part of their time slot, so we were denied the pleasure of being able to see them perform either of the songs that I actually know. Still, they do have an efficient way with a pumping tune. MGMT I'm not sure about all round, but this song's proved quite a stayer, and it didn't take all that much for the telly to bring it bubbling back up through my sub-conscious. Could be worse, I suppose. At least it's not Anita bloody Dobson this week, anyway.

> "Womanizer" - Britney Spears / Lily Allen

One of those horrible and overly staged looking flashmob T-Mobile adverts currently features a crowd singing along to "Hit Me Baby One More Time". Good song. In fact, you could probably put together a fairly convincing argument that Britney's not done anything anywhere near as good since. Well, this song is quite a good counter-argument (good video too, keeping up a long tradition of memorable promos). Britney came back from being mental (and, to be honest, she could well still be mental now, and was probably at least slightly mental before....) with this song. It's brilliant. According to wikipedia, it "is a moderate electropop song composed in the key of C# minor with 139 beats per minute. The chord progression in this song is C#m-F#m-E-Eb-D. Spears' vocal range spans over two octaves - from C#3 to C#5"

And who am I to argue with that?

Lily Allen performed a cover of this at Glastonbury, and I'm fairly sure I've heard Franz Ferdinand doing a version too. Lily's sounded really, really good. Then again, I was quite pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed her whole set too, so....

> "Willow's Song" - Rachel Varney

You may not be familiar with this song, but I bet you're familiar with the scene from the film it features in..... it's the scene from the Wickerman where a young Britt Ekland is dancing in the room next door to Edward Woodward's policeman, slapping on the walls and generally encouraging him to come and pay her a visit. Memorable enough already, you'd think, but of course she's doing all this entirely in the nude. Apparently she had a stunt double for all the - ahem - rear shots, but the rest is all her. Remarkable. Check it out (censored, sadly). Quite an alarming film too, especially when you stumble across it late at night when you're on your own. Apparently Doves have covered this, which I find slightly hard to believe, to be honest. Jimi Godwin / Britt Ekland. Hmmm.

> "Wow" - Kylie

Not her finest hour, for sure (which was surely either these hotpants, this amazing piece of sticky tape or this timeless, timeless duet). Stupidly catchy all the same though, eh? Is she trying to look like Lady Gaga in that video, or is it the other way around?

> "Goldfinger" - Shirley Bassey

I defy anyone to read the Ian Fleming novel without this popping into their head, trumpets and all, at every turn of every page. The book is lot of people's choice as the best of the Bond novels, but for my money it's not up there with either "Moonraker" or "Casino Royale". Still, it's a great read, and is packed with Fleming's usual, of-its-era, casual racism, sexism and homophobia. Marvellous.

> "Don't it Make you Feel Good" - Stefan Dennis
> "Never Ending Story" - Limahl

Well, there's only one possible explanation for this, isn't there? I'm pointing the finger here at a certain DJ on Progress FM who hosted a very entertaining 80s special on Thursday evening, and played both of these records, amongst many many other classics (Nick Berry? For real?). To be fair, I actually quite like both of these records. Well, I say like.... I have very fond memories of that Limahl record, and found it quite moving as a child, and listening to it now still reminds me powerfully of that feeling. Watching the video actually gave me a lump in my throat, great soft sod that I am. The Stefan Dennis record I find more amusing than anything else. It's not as bad as people remember, I don't think, but it does have a splendid video. In a parallel universe, could he have been the one who became a global star and Charlene who was forced to return to Ramsey Street with her tail between her legs? No, probably not, to be honest. Back to Lassiters, eh Paul Robinson? He was no Owen Paul, anyway....

> "Don't Stop Me Now" - Queen

Weapons grade earworm. I don't really like Queen in general, and this song in particular has been horribly overused in corporate motivational videos and the like.... but it is mighty powerful.

> "Had Enough" - The Enemy

I tend to listen to Radio One in fairly small doses - mainly because every other record is insufferable shite and many of the DJs talk far too much (I'm looking at you Moyles....). Once in a while though, you tune in and you hear a good record that you haven't heard in a while. The Enemy are not especially original, but I think that they do what they do pretty well and with admirable conviction. I like their first album a lot, but there are one or two songs that tend to stick in my head: "Aggro", "Away From Here", "You're Not Alone", "We'll Live And Die in These Towns". This song isn't really one of them. In fact, when it first came onto the radio, I couldn't immediately place it nor, once I'd recognised it as The Enemy and turned it up, could I name the song. It's a good'un though. Good band. I really should look up their second record at some point. Is it any good?

> "D is for Dangerous" / "This House is a Circus" - Arctic Monkeys

Ludicrously talented, obviously. I was listening to "Fluorescent Adolescent" the other day, and marvelling at Alex Turner's lyricism:
"Was it a Mecca Dobber or a betting pencil?"
Who else writes lyrics as evocative as that?
He's 23 years old, the bastard.
Actually, as I continued on through "Favourite Worst Nightmare", it was some of their less heralded songs that really stuck in my head. The songs roll nicely and are surprisingly heavy (if you've ever seen them perform, then you'll know that they are really fast and furious live). I'm not entirely sold on the new single yet, but they've set the benchmark ridiculously high so far, and I'm sure they'll be okay (and they manage to squeeze in a lyrical theme about pick n'mix sweets, which is good, right?)


And that's it. We've some friends visiting from Austria for a week at the back end of next week, so we're off down to my parents tomorrow to borrow my dad's car. After a childhood spend squeezed into the back of cars like a Fiat Strada, shoulder to shoulder with my two brothers as we were driven down to Devon to visit my grandparents, my dad has now bought a people carrier. Quite why, I don't know, but it does mean we'll be able to ferry our friends around the English countryside in just the one car, which will be nice. The last time I was in a car with them, they all sang along lustily to "Africa" by Toto when it popped up on the radio.... including the 12 year old. What's not to like about that?

Have a good weekend, y'all and stay classy.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

womanizer, womanizer....

In something of a reversal of the plot of "Mike Bassett: England Manager", where the manager of a lower league club is made the manager of the national team, Sven Goran Eriksson, the former manager of the English national team, has just taken up the reigns at Notts County, a team in the fourth tier of English football.

You couldn't make it up. Truth really is sometimes even stranger than fiction.

Sven is apparently keen to move up to the Nottingham area, and just in case people aren't familiar with Nottingham, the Sun was quickly on hand with the key information:

"SVEN will find it hard NOT to score in Nottingham - rated by a dating website as one of Britain's best places to find eligible totty. But he faces tough competition as its reputation has also turned it into the country's top destination for stag parties. If he's on form, Sven could maybe bag a beauty like actress Samantha Morton, who hails from the city.

Nottingham girls are famously pretty - with many descended from those drawn from far and wide to work in its historic lace industry. For post-match fun, Sven will find the nightclubs very raunchy but a far cry from many of London's celeb-infested haunts. A good place to start is the city centre venue Rock City, which has two-for-one drinks every Thursday. Then there's Tantra, which supplies romantic revellers with vast beds to lounge on. Back of the net! For an added bonus, Nottingham is groaning under the weight of student totty - mainly because its universities offer some of the country's best nursing courses. As for the boozers, the nearest to Notts County's 20,000-capacity Meadow Lane is The Globe. It serves a cracking pie and pint, but isn't famed for its lady folk. Not to worry, Sven. A ten-minute walk from the ground takes you to Hooters, a bar and grill staffed by scantily-clad girls. Sven, who's partial to a cocktail and sushi, is more likely to be offered a pint of Rock Bitter or Rock Mild made at the famous Nottingham Brewery.

Locals often down it with a large bread roll called a cob.

The ever-sartorial Swede will be pleased to know top designer Paul Smith is from Nottingham, and has his flagship store there."

Pretty girls, Hooters, Paul Smith and cobs. It's all you really need to know, isn't it?

Sheesh. "....a large bread roll called a cob"??? Where exactly do they think Nottingham is? Abroad?

The Mirror, meanwhile, focuses the full forensic power of their expert analysis on telling their readers "Why Sven Goran Erikkson would be awful at Championship Manager and why Notts Country are doomed". Apparently Ferguson, Wenger, Pulis and Hughes would be pretty good, Redknapp and Allardyce would be brilliant but they have their doubts about the likes of Ancelotti and Benitez. Sven, they reckon, would stink at the game. Quite what that has to do with anything remains unclear. Perhaps he's really good at Sonic the Hedgehog? That's probably got just as much in common with actually running a real life football club as Championship Manager.....

As you might expect, the Guardian manages to assume a vastly more sophisticated tone in their coverage, and inform and entertain their readers with a list of all the things Sven needs to know about his new club. A list that includes such vital information as this:

"The definitive supporters' song is called I Had a Wheelbarrow. It goes: "I had a wheelbarrow, the wheel fell off/I had a wheelbarrow, the wheel fell off", to the tune of On Top of Old Smokey. Nobody really knows why."

Perhaps they reckon that a more educated, liberal, middle-class readership will already be well aware of what a cob is?

Oh, and Hooters is not a ten minute walk away from the ground. It's much nearer than that. And all you can eat chicken wings is only £6.99 per person all day on a Monday, so it's great value. Half price ribs on a Wednesday too, and kids eat free on a Sunday....


Wednesday, July 22, 2009


I spent half an hour this afternoon watching Alberto Contador and the Astana team take what looks like a comprehensive grip on this year's Tour de France. It was especially interesting to watch Lance Armstrong, a 7 time winner of this race, performing his duties as a domestique to Contador and selflessly doing everything he can to ensure the Spaniard holds onto the yellow jersey into Paris - it's a role that not many people thought a man like Armstrong would be willing to perform for any other rider, even though he repeatedly told everyone that the motivation for his comeback to cycling was to raise money and awareness for his Foundation and the fight against cancer.

Not for the first time in his life, he's proving everyone wrong.

As always, watching the race made me take a moment to remember my friend Tracy. Tracy was a huge cycling fan, and we first really became friends when we used to sneak off from a residential course to watch Marco Pantani winning the 1998 race. Tracy died of cancer on 4th November 1999, the same year that Lance Armstong first won the Tour de France.

In the summer of 1999, and whilst she was undergoing chemotherapy and back living with her parents, Tracy put on her best wig and her bravest face, and she threw a birthday party for all her friends. The sun shone and we had jelly, angel cakes and a bouncy castle. The birthday girl herself was all smiles all afternoon, and it was a lovely day. Barely three months later, she was dead.

Tracy would have been 41 years old this summer. She was first diagnosed with cancer in March of that year, and her decline was as shocking as it was sudden: one day she was cheerfully telling me over lunch at work how she was losing a bit of weight and had been made slimmer of the week by her WeightWatchers club, and literally the next day she was on a drip in hospital and being told she had a stomach cancer that had bloomed into her intestines.

People are quick to point the finger of suspicion at Lance Armstong and to wonder aloud whether he can have achieved all those amazing victories on the bike without cheating. People also say that he's not a very nice human being. You know what? With the amount of money he continues to raise in the fight against cancer, I really don't care. He can't do anything to help Tracy now, but he might just be helping people like her.

Tracy was a lovely, active, bubbly girl and she was cut down in her prime. I haven't forgotten her.

I won't forget her.



Far be it from me to impugn mobility scooters and mobility scooter users...after all, the first one was built in 1968 by a man, Allan R. Thieme, who was inspired to create the product when a member of his family was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis....

But are they really supposed to be driven at 15mph down the middle of a main road?

I was a pedestrian at the time, so I suppose I should probably be grateful that the elderly man behind the controls had chosen to scorch down the middle of the road rather than the middle of the busy lunchtime pavement I was using. Judging from their faces, I'm pretty sure that the increasingly impatient drivers in the long queue of traffic trailing in his wake were not exactly wishing the old boy long life and happiness.

I turned to watch him go past, half-expecting him to stop at the Conservative Club some 200m down the road. He did not stop. Far from it. In fact, much to my amusement, he showed absolutely no sign of stopping and, as far as I know, he's still going, with an ever growing line of irate motorists trailing in his wake.

So, if you found yourself stuck in a queue of unexpectedly heavy traffic today, you never know, perhaps he was at the front......

Labels: ,

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

take your protein pills and put your helmet on...

On July 20th 1969, a man set foot on the moon for the very first time and promptly fluffed his lines ("....goddammit Neil, it's 'a man' for chrissakes. How many times have we practiced this?"). Forty years later, in the midst of the celebrations to commemorate the Apollo 11 anniversary, the film "Moon" is released around the world.

The film is directed by Duncan Jones (the artist formerly known as Zowie Bowie...) and stars Sam Rockwell. It tells the story of a lone lighthouse-keeper like man who is the caretaker of a mining facility on the moon and who, after three years with only a faintly sinister robot for company, is clearly going a touch loopy. Or is he?

It's not the most original film in the world, for sure, but Jones himself remarks in a comment on the IMDB page for the film that the echoes of other films were intended as homage rather than as plagiarism:

"I wrote the story for Moon after having met with Sam Rockwell, an actor I admire immensely. We had met in NY to talk about another feature, one I hope to do next, but that was probably too ambitious to do as a first feature film. We got talking about our favorite films, and in particular a period of sci-fi from the late 70s and early 80s when character driven stories seemed to be pre-eminent. We were both fans of those films where blue collar workers tried to maintain there humanity in dehumanizing, off-Earth environments. Films like Outland, Silent Running, and the 1'st half, (pre-horror half) of Alien.

Without getting too spoilerish, there were quite a few personal things I wanted to put into this film. My feelings about how people change over time, questions that I felt we all have about our sense of worth, feelings that you go through during long distance relationships. Personal and human things. Things that, like the Moon itself, we could all relate to."

For what it's worth, I thought that the film was both absorbing and actually quite moving. I'm not sure that it ever quite escapes its influences, but I'm also not sure that it matters all that much. At a time when cinemas sometimes seemed to be filled with Michael Bay type blockbusters with ever louder explosions and more and more ambitious CGI set-pieces, it's wonderful to be able to sit quietly in the cinema and watch a film that unfolds quietly and that relies upon characterisation and performance rather than special effects. Indeed, the special effects the film does have are rather more reminiscent of something out of Gerry Anderson's Space 1999 than they are of something out of Transformers, and presumably cost a whole lot less too.

It's a really interesting, thoughtful film and well worth seeing.

....so it seems all the more of a shame then that, all the way through the film, I couldn't quite manage to shift a picture of this alabaster retard from my mind....

"Neil Armstrong walking on my face.
Buzz Aldrin, walking on my face.
Then the third one..
a spaceman…
walking on my face....."

I'm itching to say more about the film, but to do so would inevitably tip the hand of the major plot devices in the film, and there will be no spoilers here today. Suffice it to say that I thought that it was a pretty decent film. Now go and watch it so that we can talk about it.....


Monday, July 20, 2009

I found out....

Four years in the "limboland" of no firm clinical diagnosis finally ended today in the expected anticlimax. Entirely appropriately, the news was tossed out as an afterthought and with absolutely no fanfare in the decidedly unglamorous setting of a hospital ward for outpatients, in the open seating area and in full view - and earshot - of all the other people attending the clinic.

I was actually attending today's clinic as a follow-up to the lumbar puncture I had some ten days ago, to try to understand why my head still hurt. I had no expectation that I was going to get any results: after more than a week of being unable to stand up without being completely incapacitated by a pounding headache, all I really wanted was to get my life back to normal as quickly as possible; to do all those things you usually take for granted - to run, to swim....hell, even going to work would be an improvement on lying on the bed unable to get up.

I actually started feeling better at some point on Friday evening, and this slow improvement continued over the rest of the weekend, so I was optimistic that the consultant at the clinic was going to give me the all-clear. My symptoms were caused by a lowering of the pressure in my cerebrospinal fluid as a direct result of the lumbar puncture. Apparently, it's not all that uncommon for these symptoms to last for up to two weeks after the procedure. Now they tell me. As the consultant acknowledged today, perhaps they shouldn't really downplay the impact of a lumbar puncture to their patients before they carry out the procedure. Hmmm, perhaps not. Perhaps if I'd known the possible impact it could have on me, then I wouldn't have gone on that trip down to Milton Keynes the day after the procedure, and maybe I could have spared myself that trip to A&E.... still, it's done now, and apparently it affects different people in different ways.

In some ways, my visit to the clinic today was a waste of time: we arrived on time and then waited nearly an hour before the consultant turned up*, saw I was sitting upright and not lying flat out, and then sent me home after a short chat and without bothering to examine me. What did I do for a living? Hmm. Would work allow me to perhaps work the rest of the week as half days? I was a runner? Hmm. I could start running half a mile at a time, building up over time and making absolutely sure that it didn't have a negative impact on me. Oh, and the results of your lumbar puncture, by the way, are entirely consistent with what we would expect from multiple sclerosis. Look after yourself. Goodbye.

You have to laugh really. Maybe I should be annoyed at the way the news was delivered in such an offhand manner after so many years of uncertainty. Shouldn't it be a bigger deal than that? When you're told once and for all that you are definitely suffering from an incurable and degenerative neurological condition, shouldn't they sit you down in a private room and at least offer you a cup of tea or something? A biscuit, perhaps, or would that be pushing it too far? Surely to goodness it's not something you should tell anyone offhand, when they're surrounded by strangers in an outpatients' waiting room? I could be annoyed by that, I suppose, but what would be the point? It's hardly new news, is it? I was de facto diagnosed in March this year, and in the eyes of the NHS and for the purposes of receiving treatment, I have officially been suffering from MS since then. Why the hell should I care how and where I get told that now?

If I wanted to be annoyed about something, I suppose I could choose be irritated that I have been through a painful diagnostic procedure, one that has literally knocked me off my feet for more than a week, only to be told something that I already knew..... but actually I didn't really know. Not for sure, anyway. A 'de facto' diagnosis is not necessarily the same thing as an actual diagnosis, is it? It's a moot point, I suppose, but I wanted to get as much clarity as I could get about what I was or was not suffering from.

....and now I have it.

So I have spent my afternoon doing practical things like declaring my condition to the DVLA and submitting a critical illness insurance claim. Tomorrow, I will inject myself in the thigh with a dose of Avonex in an attempt to arrest the progression of my condition. I've been doing this every week for the last two months or so, of course, but now I will do it knowing that I am not 'de facto' suffering from anything. I have MS and it's time to move on with the rest of my life.... starting, tomorrow, with work (well, I've already done the half mile run, but you were expecting me to do that first, right?)


* The consultant, incidentally, was astonishingly young looking. Perhaps, as with dentists and policemen, you know you're getting old when even your senior neurological consultant in the hospital is probably younger than you.....


Friday, July 17, 2009

eyeliner and cigarettes....

Earworms of the Week

After a couple of weeks absence, earworms are returning with a vengeance. In spite of being flat on my back and with nothing much else to do, I haven't actually listened to all that much music. Instead, I've read my book, listened to the radio and watched a bit of sport on the telly. In spite of all that, I just can't seem to stop songs from floating across my head. Perhaps it's the lack of anything much else to think about. A real mixed batch, too, as you'll see......

> "Tears of a Clown" - Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

A classic, of course, but it's very specifically the first few seconds of the song before Smokey starts to sing that is lodged in my head. The lyrics of the song always make me smile too. You might look like you're having fun, but you're a crying on the inside kinda guy, right Smokey? Whatevs.

> "Always There" - Marti Webb
> "Anyone Can Fall in Love" - Anita Dobson

"Inspired", if that's the right word to use in conjunction with either of these songs, by LB's post over on Postculturist about the lost songs of the 1980s. They're both the song versions of some very well known theme tunes, of course: Marti Webb is caterwauling along to the Howard's Way theme, and Anita Dobson is screaching along to the Eastenders theme. Both are, to be fair, enduring earworms, having lasted some twenty-odd years on my internal jukebox.... but of the two, and given that everyone in the UK is probably unavoidably exposed to the Eastenders theme every so often, whether they like it or not, I really have to tip my hat to that Marti Webb song. I can't even remember the last time I saw this programme on the telly, nevermind heard this song, but somehow it's still inside my head. I have very clear memories of sitting in front of my Dad's midi system on a Sunday evening taping the charts. I wouldn't say that this was something that I did every week, but I certainly went through a phase of trying to catch as many songs as I could without catching any of Bruno Brookes' irritating banter. For some reason, I remember catching two songs in particular in this way: this one, and "Star Trekking". Hmmm. Perhaps I should be grateful that I'm earworming one and not the other, eh?

> "The Blood That Moves The Body" - A-Ha

Also inspired by that post on Postculturist, this time by a comment from Queenie that, believe it or not, A-Ha actually recorded songs other than "Take On Me" -- not that you'd know it from what you hear on the radio. Queenie picked out this one as being especially good, and you won't hear any disagreement from me.

> "When You Were Young" - The Killers

A good song, for sure, but sadly it's in my head because it's being used in a bastardised instrumental version as the bedding track for Sky's coverage of the Ashes cricket. The BBC also appear to be using a similarly bastardised version of a Strokes song on their coverage of the Open golf... although it took me a few minutes to place it. What's that all about? Is it because of the whole golf / Strokes pun? I hope not. Good songs, both... but not really improved in the musack versions, to be honest.

> "Street Fighting Man" - The Rolling Stones

I can only think that this came from one of two places: it was either because the Rolling Stones are something of a constant background presence in the Ian Rankin Rebus novels that I have been eagerly ploughing my way through, or because the cameras at the Lords test keep showing Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts in their box watching the game. Perhaps it's a combination of the two. Good song. I have a slightly strange relationship with the Rolling Stones: I sort of instintively feel a sense of mild distaste when I think of them, and yet whenever I actually sit down to listen to them - their golden period stuff, anyway - I realise how good a band they were. I just can't shift the image of that leathery old, big-lipped, lascivious goat from my mind, or a picture of Keef going through the motions every night, including a mouthed "I love this job" at the camera as he plays "Jumping Jack Flash" for the ten millionth time to a crowd who've paid far too much to see a band that used to be brilliant but are now just a creaking tribute band who insist on playing newer material. Maybe I'd have liked them more if they'd packed it in in the 1970s? Who wouldn't?

> "F.E.A.R." - Ian Brown

He can't carry a tune in a bucket, of course, and you certainly should never voluntarily pay to go and see him perform live.... but King Monkey does occasionally remind the world that he's still got it. This is one of his finest moments. I have a confession too: I actually liked this as a song quite a long time before I realised what he was doing with the lyrics. Fantastic expectations, amazing revelations..... etc.

> "America" - Simon & Garfunkel

Possibly inspired by the episode in the new series of Flight of the Conchords where Bret and Jermaine are booked to appear as a (splendidly bad) S&G tribute act and where Jermaine meets a girl who will only make out with him if he remains in costume.... In fact, now I think of it, that's definitely where it comes from. The episode guest stars Art Garfunkel, but for me the real star is the Prime Minister of New Zealand.

> "Tracy Jacks" - Blur

Brilliant at Glastonbury last month, but I do wish they hadn't released their back catalogue to advertisers: you can't move at the moment for adverts featuring "The Universal" or "Song 2". How often does an association with an advert for such well known songs really enhance our enjoyment of them? Still, this was one of the standouts played live; made all the more enjoyable by the fact that it's an album track and I had to think for a moment or two before I could place it. Great song. All the better for not being used to advertise insurance.

> "Rhymenocerous vs Hiphopopotamus" - Flight of the Conchords

Yes, the Conchords again. This one because it still makes me laugh.

My rhymes are so potent that in this small segment
I made all of the ladies in the area pregnant
Yes, sometimes my lyrics are sexist
But you lovely bitches and hoes should know I’m trying to correct this

The songs in the new series probably don't stand up so well out of the context of the programme, but they seem more collaborative and are often performed by the whole ensemble and not just by Bret and Jermaine. Who doesn't enjoy seeing Murray and Mel get songs?

> "Believe" - Cher

Where the hell did this come from? No idea, I think it's because I heard a tune on the radio that had absolutely nothing to distinguish it apart from the fact that someone thought that it would sound better with the vocals shoved through a vocoder. Needless to say, it didn't work. Well, lightning was hardly going to strike twice, was it?

> "Paparazzi" - Lady Gaga

I like Gaga. There, I've said it. Maybe it's pop, pure and simple, but I like the little touches of art school that she seems to bring to it, with the costumes, the back projections and all that kind of stuff. I really should have made the effort to go and see her at Glastonbury, and not just because she got her foufou out for the crowd, either.....

Hopefully normal service will be resumed around here next week. I've an appointment at the hospital on Monday morning, and hopefully I'll be able to get on with my life shortly after that. Work might be bobbins, but I've just discovered that not going to work can be pretty rubbish too........

Have a good weekend y'all, and stay classy.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

second sight....

I've just realised that I spent some of this week last year flat on my back too: it's a year since my first eye operation*

I'm supposed to be lying pretty still now, but I've certainly never had a greater incentive not to move than I did on that day, when when I had a surgeon telling me to hold still as he punctured my eyeball with a needle..... The local anesthetic meant that I didn't feel any pain, but I could certainly feel the pressure as he pushed. I've still got a needle hole visible in the iris of each of my eyes today, actually. It wasn't as bad as it sounds, and there was actually something deeply reassuring about the quiet assurance of the surgical team as they pushed and pulled and cut at my eyeball as I watched. The second eye was done under a general anesthetic, but I found that a lot more difficult to recover from, and I almost reckon it would have been better to be conscious throughout the whole procedure again. Almost.

It is one year today since I last wore glasses.

Let me say that again: after 30 years of more-or-less uninterrupted glasses wearing, I have just gone 365 consecutive days without wearing them once. I've barely even touched them.

Oh sure, I had to wear a contact lens in the uncorrected eye for the week between operations, and I've had some ups and downs since then, but isn't that an amazing thing? It's not all been plain sailing: I get some ghosting in low light conditions when my pupil goes past the edge of the (smaller) lens that is correcting the big astigmatism in my right eye; I had some early trouble with - imagined - fogging of the vision in my left eye as my brain adjusted to my new vision; a stitch popped out and caused me some bother for a couple of weeks; I occasionally find that my right eye takes a moment or two to focus properly.... but my quality of life has fundamentally changed in a relatively small but still significant way. I can see. My eyesight was poor enough that I always felt that I needed to consider a worst case scenario. What if my glasses broke? What if my contact lenses fell out? Without correction, I was pretty significantly handicapped - something that was brought home to me one day when I broke the lenses of my glasses when staying at C's flat one night, and then needed to be physically guided the 500m or so home to find my spare pair. Whenever I travelled anywhere, I always had to bear this in mind and plan accordingly by taking a spare pair of glasses or a pair of contact lenses with me at all times. Although I mainly wore contact lenses when at Glastonbury or when skiing, I always had a plan B, and I always carried around a contact lens case, some solution, some water-free soap and a pair of glasses, just in case. And a good cleaning cloth. I never went anywhere without a good cleaning cloth in my pocket.

Not any more.

It doesn't sound like much, but for the last twelve months, and as a result of those two operations, my life has changed for the better in countless tiny ways: I have been able to read the time on my watch on the bedside table without needing to pick it up; I can go out in the rain and into a hot, steamy room without then needing to grope for a cleaning cloth; I am free from those debilitating obsessions over imaginary scratches and invisible marks on my nose; I can share those spontaneous, intimate moments of everyday life with my wife without needing to squint through the blur.....

I had perfectly functional vision with glasses, of course, and all of those things are hardly insurmountable, but I rolled the dice and I've been very, very happy with the results. Sometimes it's easy to lose sight of the bigger picture amongst the smaller dissatisfactions of everyday life, and it's not all been good news for me in the last twelve months, but that operation of a year ago has genuinely changed my life for the better.



* The whole story of me and my eyes can be found here, but in a nutshell, instead of having laser surgery, I decided to have phakic intraocular lenses surgically inserted into my eyes to correct my myopia.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009


I've snoozed.
I've read my book.
I've caught up with the Sunday paper.
I've spoken to the doctor in the hospital and my MS Nurse.
I set up my 'Out of Office' assistant on my laptop.
I've watched those episodes of Empire of Cricket I had hanging around on Sky+
I've sat through the property porn trilogy grand slam:
-> Relocation, Relocation
-> Grand Designs
-> Property Snakes & Ladders
I've had a long chat with my brother on the phone.
I've persuaded my father not to come up and babysit me when C. is away.
I've injected myself (left leg).

Now I'm just bored.

I feel essentially fine unless I try to stand up for any period of time. I had to pop to the doctor for a blood test this morning, and although I was barely out of the house for half an hour, it was long enough for my head to start pounding, to start sweating, for my eyes to become sensitive to light.... the works. As soon as I got home, I went straight back to bed. The trouble is that it turns out there are only so many things you can do when you have to lie flat on your back.....and the latest medical thinking is that I'm going to have to try to keep myself busy like this until Friday, at which point I'll either be feeling better or I'll need to have the hole in my spinal cord patched (oh, and it's only now that the doctors tell me that using analgesic is possibly counter-productive to the healing process... although actually I've already stopped taking any as it doesn't seem to work on this headache anyway)

Still, the second Test against Australia and the Open Golf both start on Thursday morning, so that's something.

And I managed to turn the TV off before Big Brother started.

I'm not that bored.

Not yet, anyway.



Monday, July 13, 2009

touch too much....

Having a needle inserted into your spinal cord and some cerebo-spinal fluid drained is never going to be an entirely trivial procedure, but rightly or wrongly, the doctor who successfully carried out my lumbar puncture on Thursday morning cheerfully set my expectation that I should be up and running - literally - by Friday. Less than an hour after that big needle had been removed from my spine, I was allowed to leave the hospital. As the local anesthetic wore off, I felt understandably sore around the small of my back, but I felt otherwise surprisingly good. I spent the rest of Thursday lying in bed as a precaution, but had no reason to think that I wasn't through the worst of it and that life might continue as normal from Friday onwards.

Yet here I am, four days later, still flat on my back in bed and facing up to the possibility that I may need to go back into hospital, be hooked up onto a drip and have the hole in my back surgically plugged up.

What happened?

I got up on Friday morning, picked up a couple of colleagues and drove down to Milton Keynes for a meeting. As I drove, my head started to ache a little, but I wasn't too worried. Then I started to sweat. Hmmm. By the time we arrived and were having a coffee before our meeting, I was starting to think that I might be in trouble: my eyes were becoming sensitive to the light; I was shivering; I was sweating; my ears were blocking up; I felt nauseous and my head was pounding. As the meeting kicked off, I was soon unable to concentrate on anything and was realising the extent of my folly to venture this far from home so soon after the procedure. I felt very, very vulnerable. In the end, I had to excuse myself from the meeting and, after a quick telephone conversation with my father, left my car keys with my colleagues and got a taxi to the Accident & Emergency department of the local hospital. One of the risks of a lumbar puncture is the chance that you will introduce infection directly into your spinal cord. Any problems, you are advised, and you need to seek medical attention as soon as you can.

Luckily for me, my parents only live a few miles away from Milton Keynes, and soon they joined me in A&E as I waited to see a doctor. As I sat still with my head between my knees, I began to feel better, but even so, I've rarely been so pleased to see them. As I was registered by the hospital, the nurse carrying out the initial checks marvelled at how low my pulse was -- 45 bpm. Was this normal? Was I on betablockers? No, that's my usual heartrate, and yes, I always look this pale.... As we spoke, an earwig scuttled across the floor between my feet. A&E was as chaotic as always, and I was forced to wait something like two hours before I was seen by a doctor, watching the ants scurrying around my feet. About par for the course, I thought. I felt pretty lousy, but I'm always aware that, in this situation, there are usually people arriving in ambulances whose need for a doctor is greater than mine. Perhaps that's what having a doctor for a father does for you. Not everyone was quite so understanding though, and the waiting room seemed to be filled with various sprained ankles and coughs that might have been better served seeing their own doctors, but who seemed to have an expectation that they would be seen as quickly as possible, even as people were being wheeled past them on stretchers. Several stomped off in a rage when they weren't seen as quickly as they felt they deserved. If you can stomp off in a huff, then you can probably afford to wait, right?

The doctor who did eventually see me was brilliant. He checked my blood pressure, temperature and pulse again (yes, it is always that low....) and carried out various other checks. He didn't think I had an infection, but asked why I'd needed the lumbar puncture in the first place. It turns out that a lumbar puncture can sometimes exacerbate an underlying condition and that I would be best to do absolutely nothing for the next couple of days and to keep a sharp eye on my temperature. Any sign of a fever and I should seek medical attention immediately. I did wonder why the first doctor hadn't mentioned any of this, but I was still much relieved and I spent the rest of the afternoon at my parent's house, listening to the cricket and dozing on the sofa. My colleagues had long since taken my car back up to Nottingham, so the new plan was that C. would catch a train to Milton Keynes from London and then my dad would give us both a lift home. With hindsight, I may have been foolish to go to that meeting in the first place, but I was at least fortunate that it was so close to my parents. Anywhere else, and I would have been really stranded.

The rest of the weekend was spent largely in bed. I had originally been planning to exercise as normal: hill intervals on Saturday and a 75 minute run on Sunday, but it quickly became clear that this was out of the question. Every time I tried to get up to do something (whether it was a trip to the farmer's market, to pick up the car or to attempt to rescue a mouse from the cat), my head started to pound, I would start to tremble and would break out into a sweat... each time forcing me to lie down until the pounding subsided. Exercise, it was obvious, was completely off the agenda. I felt fine this morning too, and was fully planning to go to work, but by the time I was halfway to the office in the car, I was forced to turn around by a thumping head and the growing nausea.

By now I was a little more concerned and I rang the hospital to find out what I should do: a doctor there told me that it sounded like I was suffering from low pressure in my spinal cord - not surprising given all the fluid that was drained on Thursday, but a little worrying that it was still troubling me four days later. The advice he gave me was, frustratingly, more bedrest, with the caution that if I didn't feel a sharp improvement soon, then I was going to need to come back into the hospital to be put onto a drip and to possibly have the hole in my back surgically filled. He didn't think I should go to work at all this week. Doctor one thought 24 hours. Doctor two thought a couple of days. Doctor three thinks a week. I'm not keen on asking Doctor four what he thinks.....

So here I am, sat in bed with a sore back and a bit of a headache, knowing that if I get up and try to do anything, I will rapidly feel much worse, but not knowing if I'm going to need to go back to hospital in the next couple of days or not. Bed rest? How am I supposed to cope with that? There isn't even another Test Match on until Thursday, and I'm already chafing about the lack of exercise. I'd even rather be at work than this. It's all rather frustrating..... a frustration made all the worse by the knowledge that the results of this test are not going to change anything much at all.



Friday, July 10, 2009


I've had something of a strange day today, featuring as it did an abortive meeting, an unscheduled trip to the Accident & Emergency Department of Milton Keynes Hospital and a return to Nottingham without the car I drove down in*. Perhaps I shouldn't have been all that surprised then, that shortly after I did get home, I found myself sharing a sofa in an Indian takeaway with a certain South African fast bowler who currently sits at number 18 on the list of all time Test match wicket takers with the small matter of 330 wickets to his name.

It's been a while since we had any Allan Donald news around here, so it was good to catch up with the old boy, especially as his spell against Michael Atherton at Trent Bridge in 1998 is still the most impressive piece of cricket I have ever witnessed and forms the core of my argument against Twenty20 cricket.....

Well, I say catch up... what I really mean is that I stared at him surreptitiously over the top of a copy of Nuts as I waited for my curry. Nearly the same thing though, eh?

He was reading FHM, occasionally glancing up at Celebrity Masterchef on the telly, and had a couple of bags filled with bottles of wine from Oddbins at his feet. I don't know what he ordered, but I had a chicken tikka jalfrezi.

It was pretty nice thanks.

Oh, and C. thought Jayne Middlemas deserved her win, even if she much preferred the look of Iwan Thomas' Eton Mess to Jayne's Lavender Pannacotta. I simply learned the 10 reasons why Nuts thinks Jordan is fanciable again.**

*More on this anon.

** Would it give you a sense of the other 8 reasons if I was to tell you that reason 9 was her right breast and reason 10 her left breast? I thought as much.....***

*** I disagree with them, incidentally. I've never seen the appeal, to be honest. You could wear the woman as a hat, for heaven's sake.


Thursday, July 09, 2009

high voltage...

The Patient Investigation Unit at QMC is located in ward D8 on the fourth floor of the west block. To be honest, it's amazing that anyone finds it at all, not just because the hospital is such an enormous rabbit warren of a building, but also because - if their track record with me is anything to go by - they don't take very much trouble to inform anyone that they actually have an appointment. I received notice of my first appointment with the PIU via a phonecall from one of the nurses telling me that it was, in fact, the day before. Did I not receive the letter? Er...no. I checked the address they had for me. It was fine. OK. They then tried to set up another appointment, but I was at Glastonbury. By now they had me down as a non-attender (I'm not sure they believed me when I told them that I hadn't received the appointment in the post), so they rang me to inform me of the dates. Just as well, really, as I didn't get that appointment either. I checked the address again, but it still seemed to be correct. Third time lucky, and in spite of another missing letter, a phone call ensured that this time I was actually going to turn up.

I was scheduled to have an Evoked Potentials test and a Lumbar Puncture. The EP would take about two hours, apparently, and the LP about 20 minutes, although I would then be obliged to lie flat for at least an hour afterwards. OK, let's just get this over with, shall we?

The Evoked Potentials test was something of a mystery to me. I knew it was something to do with using electrical signals to try to measure the damage to my nervous system, but I had no idea how it actually worked. Essentially, they measure your head (mine's massive, apparently), scrub some conducting gel onto some carefully marked spots on your skull and attach some electrodes. They then do the same with the back of each knee. You are attached to some sort of monitoring device, and then a nurse holds another electrode to a spot just below the ankle bone and they switch on the power. Electrical pulses are then thumped through your body, hard enough to make your big toe twitch rhythmically and to make you feel pretty uncomfortable. The aim of the exercise, apparently, is to measure the speed of the transmission of each pulse to my knee and then onwards to the brain. They then repeat the whole exercise for the other leg. The measurements recorded on the machine will now be compared with the average for someone of my height, and they will try to determine how much damage has been done to my nervous system. It didn't hurt, exactly, but it was a very strange sensation indeed; just about on the edge of bearable. Still, it didn't last too long and was all over in less than an hour, producing some interesting looking graphs that mean absolutely nothing to me. I'm sure someone will know what they mean....

Where the EP was a bit of an unknown quantity, I had a pretty fair idea of what a Lumbar Puncture was: they take a whacking great big needle, shove it between the vertebrae of your lumbar spine and drain some cerebrospinal fluid for analysis. I'm not squeamish about these things, but I do know that there can occasionally be serious complications arising from a lumbar puncture, and the leaflet they gave me before we started gave me a momentary pause for thought: the needle can damage nerves, causing shooting pains; it can hit a blood vessel, causing bleeding leading to brainstem compression and perhaps death; there is a risk of infection and meningitis..... hmmm. Luckily, I had my back to the doctor as she inserted the apparently huge needle into my spine and so I didn't see anything. Thanks to local anesthetic, I didn't really feel anything either, apart from a bit of pushing. C. tells me that the giant needle they used actually had a tap attached to it, the sort you see on a beer barrel, and once it was firmly lodged into my spinal column, it was used to fill several bottles with my spinal fluid for analysis.

It's a reasonably routine procedure, so they tell me, something that is carried out many times a day in this unit, but that doesn't make it straightforward. According to C, my doctor's face was a picture of focus and concentration as she worked on me. Good - when we're talking about a big needle being put into my spinal cord, frankly I'm to hear it! I can't say that the whole procedure was exactly comfortable, but neither was it especially uncomfortable, and the worst thing about it was the thought of that needle shoved into my back. Apparently, so the doctor told me, I was one of the least complicated LP's she'd done. Least complicated: an interesting turn of phrase, I thought. Apparently it's good that I am slim and have a flexible spine, as this makes it much easier to find the right spot and to slide the needle between vertebrae without too much trouble. Hooray for me - if you have to have a lumbar puncture, it's probably as well to be at the simpler end of the scale and to make it as easy as possible for your doctor, eh? A quick blood sample, and all that remained was to lie flat on my back for an hour and to drink plenty of fluid to try to ward off the apparently killer headache you can get as a result of the lowering of your CSF pressure. Easier said than done when you desperately need a pee, but I managed.

So, some 4 hours after we first arrived at the hospital, it was all over and I was free to go. The anesthetic was wearing off as I walked to the car, so I started to hobble around like an old man as the pain began to radiate from my back around my pelvic girdle, but no sign of a headache. Not yet, anyway. Lots of caffeine helps, apparently, so I've been chugging tea and coffee ever since. It's sore, but manageable.

On my way out of the hospital, I sneaked a peak at my notes. I think I now have an idea of why I'm not getting any post from them: although they keep reading my correct address back to me whenever I ask them about it, the address they have on the front of my notes is an address I haven't lived at for more than five years. Oh well, as long as they're good at the really important stuff involving really big needles and my spinal cord, eh?

Results are due in about three weeks time. I'm not expecting any great revelations as they've already told me I have MS, so what more do I really need to know?

Interesting times. Circumstances are turning me into quite the stoic.


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

bye bye blues...

I'm training for a half-marathon in September. There's still some way to go, but my weekly mileage is inexorably creeping up. I'm now past the seven mile mark on my longest run, and it will double before too much longer and as we get nearer to the big day.

My training programme last week went something like this:

Monday - 30 minute swim
Tuesday - 4.5 mile run
Wednesday - rest (day after injection)
Thursday - 1 hour of football
Friday - rest (I bottled going for another swim - too tired)
Saturday - interval running on a hill (1 min up, 1 min down x10 of each)
Sunday - 7 mile run

I'd actually like to squeeze another run in, but as you can see, there literally aren't enough days in the week. On the weeks when there's no football, that's exactly what I do.....

Until my longer run started to get significantly longer (it's up to 75 minutes this week, with some intervals thrown in), I was happily doing other exercise on my "rest" days too, but that's had to stop. I was starting to notice how tired I was; bone tired.....and so somewhat reluctantly, I've had to concede that I need to be more careful about how much I put my body through and how many spoons I might be using up. I was also, it has to be said, becoming more conscious of the wear and tear the increased mileage was placing upon my body.

So, as anyone else would do in the same situation, I bought myself some new Jimmy Choos.

OK, well not Jimmy's exactly. Hardly Manolo Blahnik's either... but do I look like Sarah Jessica Parker to you?

Actually, don't answer that.

I'm told that you're supposed to change your running shoes something like every 500 miles. It sounds a lot, but if you're doing only ten miles a week - and I'm currently doing nearer 20 - then that means you should be replacing your trainers every year. I'm very heavy on my feet when I run, and I'm a mild overpronator, which means my feet roll inwards from heel to toe as my foot strikes the ground. If I don't wear running shoes with the right kind of support, then this would place enormous strain on my joints and could easily lead to injury. I learned this the hard way by getting shin splints and tendinitis in my knees (to be fair, I was also a lot heavier at the time). Since visiting a specialist running shop, having my foot-strike properly assessed and then buying shoes accordingly, I've not had any problems. So not surprisingly, for the last few years, when I remember to replace my running shoes, I have actually pretty much bought the same trainer each time: from the Asics Gel GT 2100, to the 2130 all the way to my new pair of 2140s. Well, they do boast "IGS, an all new extended Space Trusstic System for greater stability, DuoMax Support System and Solyte Midsole Material". So there. What more could you want from a shoe? Lasers and a tractor beam? (actually, maybe that's what a Space Trusstic System is....?)

It's hardly the most glamorous purchase in the world (especially once you've put in the elasticated triathlon laces I like to use)..... but if it ain't broke..... and I don't really want to be broken, if I can avoid it.

That said, after running in my sparkly new trainers at lunchtime, I still felt bloody knackered. I was hoping they might help me with that, but it turns out that I'm still old and useless, only now I have cleaner looking shoes.