Sunday, 29 December 2013

Decisions, decisions...

I seem to recall that years ago when faced with having to make a decision about anything, it was all pretty easy. Shall I do this or shall I not? Black or white, no middle-of-the-road dithering about, it was straightforward; cut and dried.
So what's happened?
It's almost as though as the years have passed, so has my ability to make straightforward choices. Everything suddenly has a variety of bells, whistles and twiddly bits attached that all have to be factored into any kind of decision.

There's the big stuff like moving house or buying a car - the sort of thing that's guaranteed to be a complete minefield of side issues and conditions.
For example, twenty years ago buying a car was pretty simple. I'd have a limited amount of money (usually about 500 pounds if I was lucky) so I'd buy whatever came along at that price. Invariably it would be some end-of-life piece of rusty crap that I'd spend every weekend tinkering with to keep it running but at the time that was all part of the fun and it certainly taught me a lot and kept me busy. You don't have time to get bored and be desperately seeking a suitable hobby when you have an old car to maintain.
These days that's changed. Perhaps it's partly that having a bit more money (though not by much) to spend on a car widens the choice, but experience teaches you a few things that you now take into consideration. I love Italian cars because they always put a smile on your face when you drive them - it's like they're alive and talking to you. This fun is only slightly diluted by the absolute certainty that it will at some point go wrong because that's what Italian cars do. French cars have a similar reputation although my own experiences are at odds with the majority's. I had a Peugeot 106 that although it needed a calendar rather than a stopwatch to measure its acceleration was still hilarious to drive and it was only the dreaded metal maggot that sealed its fate. I also had a Renault Laguna diesel that despite having 190,000 miles on the clock, all the electrical gubbins still worked and it was the most comfortable car I've ever had. And it only cost me 200 quid....
The complicated decision I'm faced with now is that due to the ongoing leg situation I need a car with an automatic gearbox because I'm unable to operate a clutch. Being England where autos have never been very popular means that the number of available contenders is immediately slashed to about five percent. Then there's fuel economy to consider because as much as I'd love a 4 litre V8 Jaguar I simply couldn't afford to fund its drinking habit. Imagine doing your weekly shopping if you had Oliver Reed living with you.
Insurance isn't too much of an issue when you're an old fart, but vehicle tax can be crippling so that's a consideration along with parts costs, reliability and so on, not forgetting that however much you come to regard a car as little more than a white good, there are bound to be a few that you wouldn't be seen dead in. Found a brilliant car - cheap to buy and run, immaculate, low tax, low insurance, and only 11,000 miles from new. Unfortunately it was a bright red Hyundai Amica and I'm sorry but I'd rather chew off both my legs and be fitted with those cool carbon fibre blade things that the paralympic runners use, and run to work than drive one of those. Even a Smart would be preferable because at least it's kinda cheeky in a sticking-two-fingers-up-at-the-world sort of way. I also really don't want to have a Vauxhall because I've had them in the past and I just don't like them, and I definitely couldn't have an Audi because no matter how good they are I don't want to be tarred with that particular brush. It would be preferable to have something with character, but not something that attracts attention. It's all so complicated, and it's not just the big stuff that has this effect.

I've said before in one of my early posts (The Agony Of Choice) about the problems of too much choice making it difficult to make decisions and things haven't improved.
Even the task of buying new underpants requires the assistance of a team of crack military strategists to guide you through the incredible array of options. Whatever happened to the days of 'here's a pair of pants, take it or leave it'? It was so easy then. Sometimes we make things difficult for ourselves by choosing to take a more tortuous path. For example, some people would walk into a high street electrical retailer looking for a new stereo, pick out the one that goes best with the curtains and that is that. But when I bought my new hifi system earlier this year I spent weeks researching the current ranges of kit before booking a demo room at a specialist to listen to the components I'd shortlisted. After two hours listening to various combinations of CD player / amplifier / speakers / cables etc, I settled on the winning system and had to wait a couple of days for the parts to be delivered to the shop by the manufacturers before I could collect them and rush home to bask in the glory of a system of the quality I'd been hankering for for so many years. That's my thing though, and many would question the sanity of putting oneself through such a rigmarole, but I'd feel the same about someone wanting to spend countless hours with an effeminate kitchen designer figuring out which cupboard hinges go best with the solid granite worktops.

If you fancied a day out years ago your choice was limited to a day trip to the seaside (if you were lucky), or a picnic in the park with only a frisbee for entertainment. Now the choice of activities for the average person is mindboggling, and the deeper your pockets are the wider still your options become. Want to parachute out of a plane onto a raft descending a stretch of white water that deposits you in a lap-dancing club full of gorgeous 18 year-old Japanese girls who don't know the meaning of the word 'no'? Well somewhere out there is a company that'll organise it for you. If your credit card limit doesn't cover that then at the other end of the spectrum there's always the age-old pass-time of people watching. Just sit yourself by the window of any coffee shop nursing a large Americano and watch the world go by, admiring those who got it right and sniggering at those who got it so very wrong.
It's the boy's 16th birthday in two months, and trying to figure out what to do for him is about as easy as finding a university student with legible handwriting.
There's no end of things to do, but trying to motivate a teenager to be interested in anything at all is the ultimate test of patience, although it does raise an interesting point. If we choose to be content with our lot and not want for anything, then we'll have fewer decisions to make and quite possibly be happier.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Ideas, principles and opinions

Over the years I have spouted off about many things, expressing strongly held beliefs and opinions. As time goes on, some of these come back to bite me in the arse as I discover that perhaps I was mistaken.
At one time I was completely dismissive of air conditioning in cars due to the increased fuel consumption and unnecessary complexity of an additional system in a car when you can just as easily open the window. Then I ended up buying a car with aircon, realised how nice it was to be cool without a 70mph wind blowing around my right ear and accepted that the increased aerodynamic drag caused by the open window had just as much effect on fuel consumption as the aircon compressor.
I also remember being critical of those with excessively complicated mobile phones, insisting that all I needed was a basic device that just made calls and maybe did text messaging and anything else was pointless garnish. But over the last couple of years I've become one of those sad individuals who feels nervous if my smartphone isn't within immediate reach.
I dread to think how many times such things have happened, and now I start to reflect on this matter I'm realising how easy it is to make yourself look very silly indeed.
I suppose the answer here would be to not express any strong views on matters - rather than saying "It's a load of crap and anyone who likes it must need their head testing..." it might be better to say something along the lines of "It's not really my thing right now but who knows what the future might bring...".
The problem I have is forming a loose opinion on something and allowing it to grow into a firm belief. I then feel obliged to go for the jugular of anyone who expresses a different viewpoint, which would be OK if it wasn't for the usually shaky foundations on which that belief is built.
At some point down the line it's inevitable that it will become clear that I have had an error of judgement with some things and will have to reverse my previously rock solid stance.
I seem to recall hearing or reading somewhere 'It's better to have an idea than a belief - you can change an idea', and I guess that's true although exactly how you distinguish between an idea and a belief is a bit unclear. The solution, presumably, would be to approach everything with an attitude of flexibility. Events in life can easily change your perception of matters if they put you in more direct contact with a particular situation.
We all at some time have said something like "If that happened, I'd do this", but the reality is that we don't really know for certain until we're in that situation.
We might say "If I heard a burglar in the house I'd grab the baseball bat and stove the thieving bastard's head in" but how many of us if put in that situation would find ourselves cowering behind the bedroom door wetting ourselves because we wonder how effective the baseball bat would really be against a neanderthal psychopath with a sawn-off shotgun?
Taking a step back and looking at things that I currently have strong views about such as Christmas, television etc, I wonder if I should start winding my neck in a bit, biting my tongue and just nod and smile when people talk about them.
Sitting on my arse for a month and a half so far and the prospect of probably another month or two before I can get back to work has got me so desperately bored that I've even considered buying a new aerial and a TV license again. Then I give myself good talking to and remind myself that it's all a load of bollocks anyway and after a couple of days I'd be flicking through the channels getting frustrated at the lack of anything worth watching before lobbing the remote across the room and cancelling the TV license yet again.
On the other hand it might be nice to at least watch the news, so I need to implement a bit of flexibility here and there and accept that things aren't necessarily black or white but may in fact be some shade of grey in between the two.
Christmas can definitely still bugger off though, because that's something that has proved itself to be so nice to ignore. While the rest of the country is running around like headless chickens, for us it's just another day. We know we can have a big roast dinner and watch 'Bridge on the river Kwai' any time we want without racking up huge credit card bills buying presents for people to donate to their favourite charity shop in January. In the days when Christmas happened for just one day rather than from mid-September to the end of the new year sales, and people couldn't afford to eat well or have what they wanted whenever they fancied it, then celebrating the anniversary of Mary popping her first sprog was probably a good enough reason to actually have a nice dinner and exchange a small gift.
Since those simple days where people's expectations began and ended with the hope of still having a home and a heartbeat the following day the world has gone mad, driven by greed and selfishness, where everything is a competition. Who's got the most vulgar Christmas light display? Who bought or received the most expensive gift? I have no religious beliefs myself at this point in my life (covering myself nicely there) so I see nothing to celebrate, and I can't abide rampant consumerism, so there.
When all is said and done though, I have to accept that others do choose to celebrate Christmas to some degree for whatever reason, and in the same way I expect others to accept that I don't.
And leaving Christmas aside, last night's family get-together seemed to go alright. The music selection seemed to go down OK, thankfully, and the only down side for me was not being able to drink.
Sincere thanks to my sisters for all their work in making it all happen and to dad for funding it. I just hope I get to see the set of photos of individuals posing thoughtfully with a grape.
Don't ask..........

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Marbles and mealtimes

Much is made of ensuring we're provided for financially in our old age. We get swamped with confusing information about pensions; told that we must make sure we have sufficient income to see us through the grey fog between giving up work and giving up living altogether. The government however, seem increasingly keen that nobody is ever going to be allowed to retire and we'll all be carried away from our workplace in a wooden box with the obligatory carriage clock nailed to the top.
I think it's safe to say that most of us would love to retire as soon as we're able to, and as the government don't want to give us back what we've paid into the system because they're already spent it on second homes for all the MPs, we have to make our own arrangements.
But how much income does someone actually need when they've retired? Anyone with an ounce of financial savvy will ensure that they're debt-free by the time they think about giving up the daily grind, with the mortgage paid off and no big outgoings like car loans or credit card payments.
So what does that  leave that needs to be paid for each month? Once the utility bills are taken care of and there's food in the fridge there's not much else that's needed, and surely there's only so much money that can be spent on zip-up tartan slippers and cat food.
I suppose those who are still active and of sound mind and bladder might be keen to spend their twilight years travelling the world, and all power to them. There may be those who see this time as a golden opportunity to buy a top-of-the-range set of golf clubs to throw in the boot of the new Jaguar every day, play eighteen holes, quaff numerous sherries in the clubhouse and weave their way home hoping they don't get spotted by PC plod.
For the many though, I suspect that it becomes a time of getting up late, wandering down to the local shop for milk and a newspaper, watching crap TV and going to bed with a cup of something brown and vaguely offensive like Horlicks, hoping that tomorrow perhaps someone will remember you're still alive and pop round to visit.
This doesn't sound like a scenario that demands ensuring you have a private pension plan that pays out two grand a month or to have taken the precaution of having accumulated vast savings.
No matter how much you contributed to the good of the country during your working life, you'll end up getting sod all back from the government until you've spent all your savings which you'd carefully harvested in the hope of providing an inheritance for your kids after you'd taken that Mediterranean cruise or African safari you'd been promising yourself for all these years.
All this then begs the question of why we spend so much time and worry making sure we provide for a future that for all we know may not even exist.
For those still alive when it comes to pension time, a large proportion will be reluctant to spend their savings because they might need them later. What for exactly? When you're sat in the corner wetting yourself in front of 'Songs of Praise' you're unlikely to be thinking about buying a designer kitchen.
Even if your marbles are still in their rightful place rather than rolling around the floor gathering fluff, you'll have spent so long being used to not spending money that it has become second nature and the thought of actually spending some of what you've accumulated over all those years of scrimping and saving leaves you in need of a stiff brandy and a good lie down to get over the shock.
Nobody knows what's around the corner so why put off living today for the sake of tomorrow? So to hell with it. I'll make sure that the mortgage is going to be paid off by the time I retire which will hopefully be at sixty (if I live that long), and the works pension should be adequate to keep the bills paid and an acceptable stock of beer and Pringles in the house.
I'm not worried about putting away vast savings because by the time I get that far I hope to not need very much and I'd rather enjoy it now thank you very much. All we need come the final big push towards the bright light at the end of the tunnel is food, drink, and company, with plenty of happy memories of what we did when we were younger and fitter, and judging by the popularity of the twice-weekly carvery at the local garden centre's restaurant with the area's cloth-cap-and-Toyota-Verso enthusiasts, my theory isn't too far wide of the mark.


Sunday, 15 December 2013

We gotta get out of this place...

As soon as I can get around efficiently on my own two feet, we're going to book up a holiday. We were planning to do more in terms of getting away before the whole leg situation arose, putting life in general on hold, but once this period is over we should be able to get back on track.
But where to go?
I have a mental list of places I want to go in this country, and even a few places outside of the UK that I have a hankering to see. I've never been one for foreign travel; indeed it's the whole travelling bit of going places that I really hate. Once I'm safely installed in whatever place I'm staying in, I'm fine.
I'd love to go to the Scottish Highlands in search of the perfect photograph of such a beautiful landscape, touring the distilleries and being baffled by the local accent.
When I tell people how much I love the Yorkshire Dales and Moors, many say to me "Yes it's really nice, but have you been to Northumberland?". So often have I heard this that there's clearly something in it, so that's another one for the list.
I'm also keen to visit the Isle of Man, but not during TT week when it will be impossible to get a hotel room and getting around will be a bit tricky unless you happen to be John McGuinness. I would still love to drive the TT circuit, but at a somewhat more sedate pace than the world's two-wheel heroes would normally attack it.
I was born in Kent, and although I have been back there a few times I don't have any real desire to do so again. The only thing that would draw me there now would be to visit Dover castle to look at all the stuff from when it was used during WWII. The rest of the area I hail from - Broadstairs, Margate, Ramsgate - hold nothing for me at all, but to be honest it's just family history that I have no memory of, having moved to Cambridgeshire when I was only a year old.
I've done Devon, which although having some decent scenery (along with its neighbour Dorset) has failed to inspire me to make a return journey. I think this has less to do with the scenery, and more to do with the fact that the further south you go in the UK the more rude people become. In which case I definitely can't be bothered with Cornwall.

Going to another country will be a huge step. The last time I left Britain was nineteen years ago when we went to Austria for our honeymoon. Even then financial limitations meant going by coach which was good in a way because it avoided the airport nightmare, but also it was very tiring sitting on a coach for 23 hours each way. We were surrounded by old people who were obviously seasoned long distance coach users and therefore kitted up with all the essentials like inflatable pillows, bottles of brandy and the ability to fall asleep at the drop of a pork-pie hat.
That trip and a couple of day trips to France are the sum total of my time outside this country so far, and for most of my life this hasn't bothered me in the slightest. More recently however, I seem to have acquired a desire to explore other lands, cultures, and of course the traditional food and drink.
I have absolutely no interest in lying on a beach in Spain eating chips, drinking lager and going clubbing, but I would be happy to see the real Spain away from the tourist bollocks, and eating authentic paella.
I'd also love to visit Japan. Not Tokyo but whatever remains of old Japan, with its rolling hills and ancient temples.
Norway would be high on my list too, along with Alaska and Canada.
No list would be complete without America I suppose, but that would need to be a long trip to fit in the bits I'd want to see. Some would be predictable tourist traps no doubt, but even so I'd love to see the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. New York for Central Park and Liberty Island, San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz and Seattle's space needle would all be required stops, which is a hell of a lot of miles that would probably require at least a month's tour. And while I was there I'd need to try and get a tour of NASA's enormous supersonic wind tunnel facility if they'd let me in.
The rest of the world can wait for now. If I manage to do all of the above I'd feel as though I'd achieved something good. After that I might consider places like Italy's Amalfi coast (because it looks awesome in Forza 3), and maybe Poland because it must be pretty much empty by now.
The main purpose of any holiday though, seems to be the same no matter where you go and what you do, because however good a time you have, the best part is getting back to the familiarity of your own home with your own bed and the reassuring normality of everyday life.
Until the repetitive drudgery of normality gets too much and you book up the next holiday....


The SRN4 hovercraft "The Princess Margaret".
Long since retired, these beasts used to do the cross-channel run.
I was lucky enough to travel on this one and her sister vessel "The Princess Anne" on a school trip to France when I was about 12.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but Vauxhall Astras do it better

I've had enough and I want to run away. But given that I can't even bloody walk at the moment I guess that's out of the question.
I know there's plenty of people in a far worse situation than me, but I still can't help wallowing in self pity from time to time. I try to make light of things by doing Andy Pipkin impressions when I'm being pushed about in a wheelchair but thanks (presumably) to the side effects of the codeine I'm taking, my whole world feels like it has been turned upside down.
Somehow I now don't have much of a taste for coffee, preferring either tea or just water. I also seem to have a preference for savoury things rather than sweet, so expect shares in Cadburys to be in free-fall very soon.
The really bizarre thing is that my emotions have been affected in such a way that the least sentimental thing in a movie sends me off into floods of tears.
The fact that I've got the doc to prescribe a reduced dosage may be contributing to my feeling so crappy right now, suggesting that what I'm dealing with is withdrawal symptoms. But there's no way I want to be taking this stuff any longer than necessary - partly because I hate being reliant on any kind of medication no matter how good it is at its job, and partly because I'm so fucking desperate for a good old pint of ale.

On the up side, I've bought myself a walking stick in preparation for the next stage which should be in about four weeks time when I should be able to start putting weight on the left leg, and in just three weeks I'll be allowed to take off this damn leg brace.
The consultant was happy with the healing progress shown by the latest x-rays on Thursday, and as this was the first time I'd seen any of the images it was a bit of a shock to see the bits of bone floating around in the initial x-rays and CT scan. The latest images show the metal plates and screws very clearly, which is a bit disconcerting because it looks more like a shrapnel injury than a repair job but I suppose there are differences between orthopaedic surgery and the sort of engineering I'm used to.
All the spare time I've had sitting on the sofa hasn't been entirely wasted though, because I've managed to finish 'Red Dead Redemption' and spent lots of time searching for a decent car with automatic transmission so I can get myself mobile sooner and therefore be able to get back to work and achieve something a bit more meaningful with my days.
I've also devised a method of being able to make a cup of tea and get it from the kitchen to the living room without hopping and throwing it all over the floor and walls, by sitting in the wheelchair and scooting myself along with the good leg.
The wife says she's a bit concerned that I appear to be embracing crippledom, but I prefer to think of it as a problem-solving exercise and although I'm determined to not let this shit beat me, I'm also not going to try and rush it and bugger it all up and have to start from scratch again.
So there's definitely a light at the end of the tunnel and although it's frustrating having to take baby steps to get there, at least I can be pretty confident that I will get there in the end.


Sunday, 8 December 2013

That's nasty...

Just changed the dressings on my knee and thought I'd share the current state of it with you all.
Enjoy!

The struggle for inspiration

As a kid back in the 1970s I used to watch a TV programme called 'Why Don't You?'. It was narrated by and featured only kids, and its purpose was basically to give ideas for things to do in your spare time. This was all in the days before Playstations and YouTube, at a time when we had no option but to make our own entertainment. Back then we'd watch Blue Peter and then have a go at making whatever stuff they made on the show (which invariably made extensive use of sticky-back plastic) just for the sake of an hour's entertainment producing something that would find its way into the bin within a few days. But somehow it didn't matter because at least we were doing something.
The theme song for 'Why Don't You?' went something like "Why don't you just turn off your television set and go out and do something less boring instead....", and that's exactly what we did - after the programme was finished of course...

It occurs to me, having sat about for the past few weeks getting bored, that what's really needed is a new version of 'Why Don't You?' for adults in the 21st century.
A trawl of the web looking at various sites claiming to give ideas for hobbies or things to do leaves you wondering why you bothered. Most of these sites seem to assume that everyone would benefit from either fishing or knitting. There are a few that seem to be written for those who grew up in the 1940s and have a hankering for the good old days where top entertainment was to be found with a hoop & stick, a spinning top, and rickets.
Then there are other gems such as how to build your own boat which on the face of it sounds like a fabulous idea until you realise how much red tape the rivers authority puts in your way, and that the logistics of actually getting a boat to the river once you've built it make the whole idea a tad less appealing.
Wine and beer making can be great fun, but having dabbled with such things in the past I can confidently say that if I was to do it long term my liver would end up pickled in a very short space of time. Seriously, if it's there I'll drink it, which is why I only ever buy a couple of bottles of beer or one bottle of wine a week.
So even though the internet usually manages to provide the answer to any question you care to throw at it (possibly an inaccurate one if you rely on Wikipedia), it nevertheless seems to fall flat on it's face in certain areas. You may be able to read the latest news as it breaks, tell the world you've been to the gym, and dribble over Lucy Pinder's tits, but when it comes to finding non web-based practical entertainment you're better off elsewhere.
So what would an updated version of that old TV programme be like?
First thing would be to have presenters that are genuinely enthusiastic about practical activities. Someone like James May would be ideal as far as I'm concerned because he's someone I think I can relate to, rather than some plastic celebrity who got the job because they look good in a boiler suit.
Then we want articles on stuff to do outdoors when the weather's good, and stuff to do indoors when it's crappy. We want things to make that don't absorb every hour of the day and fill the house with so much clutter that you can't see when the divorce papers drop through the letterbox. We want hobbies that don't require the spending of hundreds of pounds on specialist kit before finding that it's not really what we want to do after all.
We want stuff to do that doesn't cost a fortune, occupies enough time to fill in those little gaps in the day currently occupied by Grand Theft Auto without becoming a full-time obsession, and that isn't so embarrassing that you feel obliged to lie if someone asks what you do in your spare time.
No activity will be right for everyone of course, which means that there should be plenty of variety in ideas covered. Hang gliding would be incredibly exciting but the Fens don't exactly lend themselves to it. Jump off the highest point around here and the resulting impact would barely require a sticking plaster.
And even though knitting would be a handy skill to have, I can't help but remember how annoying I found the constant clicking of the needles when I was a kid and mum spent her spare time knitting jumpers for the family for Christmas.
So until this new programme arrives, I'll ponder the question further. My shed is full of stuff that could enable me to take up a hobby making something, but what that might be is still a mystery.
The one benefit of sitting about waiting for my leg to heal and fighting with the resultant codeine addiction is that I'm not short of time to research the subject further. Until I get distracted by Lucy Pinder again....

"OK lads, we've got some wheels so all we need
now is a frame and a big fuck-off engine..."


Sunday, 1 December 2013

Karma Comedian

The last couple of weeks have been a time of reflection. I've often gone on about enjoying life's little pleasures, but I don't think I really ever appreciated just how many things I've taken for granted in daily life that aren't noticed until you can't do them.
I usually sleep on my front. Can't do that now, so I have to lie flat on my back unable to even turn on my side to relieve the stiffness in my back.
If I was to make a cup of tea I have no way to carry it from the kitchen to the living room.
I can't get in the bath or shower so I have to have a strip wash in a chair.
It's so unbelievably difficult to come to accept that I need other people to do the simplest things for me, especially having always been so capable and independent - always being the person doing things for others wherever possible.
Maybe it's karma giving me a good hard kick in the head. The past year has been a rollercoaster and in some ways perhaps my current situation is things being put back on an even keel.
Sometimes, though, you wonder if karma gets a bit carried away. Or maybe it also works like a sort of credit account where bad shit happens to you so that when you do something bad yourself, the balance is restored.
Depeche Mode sang 'I don't want to start any blasphemous rumours, but I think that god's got a sick sense of humour', and I suspect that much the same can be said of karma.

Having had extensive knee surgery on Monday, ending up with two metal plates installed and numerous screws to hold the bones together (should be fun if I ever go through airport security), and spending a few days on the ward getting to a state where I was deemed fit to be discharged, I've also seen and heard things that make my own situation seem pretty trivial.
The bloke in the bed to one side of me had a ton of hay bales fall on him, breaking both legs and a collarbone, and only survived because a wheelbarrow prevented all the weight crushing his chest. All this just a week after his German Shepherd ripped up his arm while playing ball. So there he was facing many weeks or months of pain and rehabilitation, lying about with scaffolding holding his leg together and suffering the indignity of loss of bowel control. I really felt so sorry for the poor bugger.
Elsewhere on the ward was some old lady clearly suffering with dementia (which surely has to be the ultimate bastard of diseases), who was in a terrible state and made everyone else upset with her frequent bouts of shouting and screaming, and then there was some bloke who was unable to keep anything down and spent extended periods vomiting noisily.
All this time the poor nurses, carers and porters were rushing around like blue-arsed flies and somehow keeping their heads straight amongst all the mayhem. They truly are angels - all of them.

Apologies for a lack of humour over past few posts but it's a bit hard to find things to poke fun at at the moment.
I'll just finish up by expressing my sorrow at the untimely death of Paul Walker. It was a real shock to read about it this morning, and my heart goes out to his family and friends. Rest in peace, Paul.



Sunday, 24 November 2013

Useless

I've always been someone who needs to be doing something. Sitting around for endless hours is not something that comes naturally to me, so it has been a serious culture shock to be able to do nothing but sit on the sofa with my busted leg up. The only thing that has enabled me to maintain my tentative grip on reality has been the countless hours spent playing 'Red Dead Redemption' on the xbox. The levels of frustration are incredible as suddenly I find myself unable to carry out the simplest of tasks; having to rely on others to do practically everything for me. It's pretty much all I can do to get to the bathroom and back and even after that I'm out of breath. The past fortnight of inactivity has left me so weak it's unbelievable. I wasn't exactly a gym-honed adonis before all this but even I find my current physical state distressing.

Friday saw me attending the fracture clinic at the hospital where I was booked in for my first operation which will take place tomorrow. The consultant explained that the knee joint will be opened up and metal plates put in to keep the bone fragments together in both the [tibia?] and the femur. Once these have healed sufficiently there will be the surgery to repair the damaged ligament which will be keyhole so at least my knee won't need to be opened up a second time. I've never had surgery before and if it wasn't for the side effects of all the codeine I'm taking I'd be shitting myself.
I've been through so much crap this year and just as things started improving for me, this happens. Maybe I'm being punished - maybe it's karma. All I know is that I've never felt so low and even putting on a brave face is a strain. Luckily I'm surrounded by a strong support team of family and friends who I know I'd be lost without and for them I'm truly thankful.

So tomorrow it's off to hospital again, and hopefully I won't have to stay too long, coping with that awful food....
Then I suppose I'd better get a wheel chair organised so I can get about more efficiently and try to rebuild some sort of life beyond the sofa.

PS - it's now 8:40pm and I have to admit that the prospect of being cut open tomorrow by someone who's like a cross between a butcher and a workshop teacher is scaring the shit out of me.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

An unexpected adventure (Part 1)



Monday:
Finished work at the usual time and headed home in the rain with the intention of dropping by to visit my sister en route.
Unfortunately, fate seemed to have other plans for me. As I filtered past the stationary traffic through town I came across a car pulling out from the left intending to turn right. The sudden realisation of an imminent impact, grabbing a handful of brake which proved pretty much ineffective on the wet road, the bone-jarring moment of impact, head bouncing off the a-pillar (thank you Shoei) and landing on my back in a complicated heap was all over in a moment and would have been bad enough. The car driver unfortunately didn't quite find it necessary to brake immediately and continued rolling forward over my outstretched foot, eventually coming to a halt when my foot managed to prove itself as a relatively effective wheel chock for a Vauhall Astra. It seemed to take an eternity of shouting and gesturing before the driver took notice and backed off me, by which time my left leg had been wrenched round in a manner that nature never intended.
Conscious of the potential for holding up traffic and the resultant tide of hatred, I managed to drag myself off the road and on to the path, all the time aware that all was not well with my left leg.
Bystanders picked up my bike and moved it to a safe position while someone phoned for an ambulance.
A paramedic was first on the scene and did some preliminary checks while we waited for the ambulance, and I took the opportunity to phone the wife to let her know what had happened, and a work colleague to ask him to collect my bike.

Once safely installed in the A&E department at Addenbrookes hospital, it wasn't long before I was whisked off to x-ray while being grilled by an irritating traffic cop. All I wanted to do was tell him to fuck off and let me deal with rather more pressing issues that his stupid bloody paperwork, but it never does you favours to get arsy with the rozzers so I just tried to get him out of my hair as quickly as possible.
After the initial excitement of it all began to dwindle I obviously began to drift off into a state of shock resulting in being put on oxygen and having a precautionary ECG (the wife told them of my worrying chest pains a couple of days earlier) and generally feeling woozy, hot, clammy and a bit sick.
Once stabilised I was given a cup of tea and a sandwich and then admitted to a ward. I suppose I did quite well getting to 42 before seeing a hospital from the wrong side, but this was definitely going to be a new experience. A little ironic too that having been riding motorcycles (including some pretty serious machinery) for about 25 years, sometimes like a complete loony, that the time I came a cropper was when I was just trundling through town on a little 125. Probably for the best that I wasn't riding the 1200 Bandit this day.
Really grateful to my colleague who collected my bike from the roadside and took it home for me. I owe him a great many beers. Wonder if it'll be a repair job or just a pile of scrap. Not going to worry about it now though, just as I'm not going to worry about insurance companies or police reports. Let's get me sorted first.

Tuesday:
With the expectation of me going into surgery the next day I was kept on Nil-By-Mouth status for what turned out to be around 18 hours before the wife decided to query it. By then I was so dehydrated I had to be put on a saline drip to bring up my fluid levels. At this point I was feeling so shitty with the pains in my leg, having had nothing to eat or drink apart from one sandwich and a cup of tea since lunchtime the previous day, and with the enormity of the situation I'd found myself in that I felt that I could quite happily have simply died there and then so I didn't have to deal with it.
Luckily the drip was like the elixir of life and before long I was considerably more rational and able to put things into perspective. Pushing away thoughts about whether or not I'm likely to ride a motorcycle again, I tried to stay positive with the notion that things could have been a whole lot worse.
This renewed optimism was slightly tempered by an almost complete absence of communication between patients, nurses and doctors, and it quickly became clear as to the effects of staff shortages and cost cutting on the NHS. The only progress today was that I was wheeled along for a CT scan of my knee, which they were careful to avoid discusing with me later. More painkillers, more blood pressure checks, more pissing in bottles, but definitely no information.
The wife and the boy visited, bringing the essentials of life like rhubarb & custard sweets and clean underpants. There was also some reading material in the form of the latest issue of Bike magazine. In hindsight perhaps not the most tactful choice, but maybe she felt a bit self conscious about buying Penthouse.
  Robocop Mk2 - preferable to a cast when the itches come…



Wednesday:
Wheeled off to x-ray for additional pictures of my foot, with a slight relief to the boredom brought partly from observing a radiology student being trained, but mostly by being propelled there by a motorised thingy that latched on to the bed at the front, which was controlled by the bloke who was also manually steering the other end. It felt a bit bizarre whizzing along corridors on what felt like an automated bed and I had suppress the urge to hold my hands out in front gripping an imaginary steering wheel and making engine noises.
By the end of the day I actually had some news - that because the CT doesn't show up soft tissue so well, they also needed to do an MRI to look for ligament damage before deciding on a course of action. This had been scheduled for Friday morning, which meant I'd have the whole of Thursday to kill. Thankfully I had visitors which helped me maintain my now slender grip on reality. I'm someone who generally needs to be up and doing stuff - sitting about doesn't come naturally to me. But having no choice has kind of made me find some sort of inner peace, and I suddenly find myself able to sit for hours on end with little to do without actually driving myself insane. Maybe it's the drugs…

Bruising starting to come out. Lovely.…

Thursday:
Enough is enough. Fed up with being stuck in this bloody bed, not being able to walk and having to piss in a bottle, I pointed out to the physiotherapist that if I didn't get crutches or a walking frame soon, I'd climb down from the bed and bum-shuffle my way to the bog. Surprisingly this did the trick and soon after lunch I was furnished with a pair of crutches, a little instruction, and the freedom to visit the smallest room at will - although the last time I took a shit was Monday morning and by now I'm starting to get a bit worried. Just as well the meal portions are very small...
Biggest surprise of the day though was actually seeing a doctor. A doctor! In a hospital! Wonders never cease. Turns out I also have a broken bone about halfway along my foot in addition to multiple fractures at the top of the lower leg bone. Still no firm info on what's going to happen until they've seen the results of tomorrows MRI scan. Repair job or replacement parts? Who knows? No doubt I'll be the last to find out - it's only my body after all. Wouldn't be surprised to find myself on eBay for spares or repair....

Friday:
Awoke this morning expecting big things of the day, and it was a promising start when I realised the sergeant-major was standing to attention. At least that still works, which is more than can be said for last night's laxatives. Too much information? Well, in a situation as dull and frustrating as this even the most mundane things become worthy of a higher level of scrutiny than they would normally receive.
Surprised to find myself carted off for the MRI not too long after the scheduled time, and it was an unusual experience for sure. Aside from having watched every episode of House MD, I didn't have much idea what it would be like. In summary I guess it's a bit like having to lie very still while being fed to a giant Polo mint accompanied by the sounds of a late 1970's video game arcade with the volume turned up to eleven. The female technician was very friendly but definitely not Olivia Wilde.
Got back to the ward just in time to miss lunch, but the timely arrival the previous evening of a packet of custard creams meant all was not lost. The food isn't too bad considering the number of people being catered for, but it most certainly won't be featuring in any Michelin guide. I'm gradually learning not to trust the food descriptions on the menu. The promise of roast turkey with cranberry sauce sounded good but turned out to be a slice of processed meat out of a packet, and the salmon was out of a tin, so the safest bet seems to be to stick to something with less chance of going wrong like lasagne or shepherds pie. Getting an odd craving for a Burger King but hopefully I'll be better soon.
Come six o'clock my mood had lightened somewhat with the restoration of bowel function and the desire was there to do a lap of honour round the ward, but I figured that people might not understand and I wasn't keen to end up being transferred to a rather different sort of ward where everyone wears those funny jackets covered in straps and buckles.

Saturday:
Monty Python had the machine that went 'ping'. How lucky they were. At the bed next to me last night was a morphine pump with a bad temper, or as I like to call it - the machine that goes 'EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!'. Needless to say there didn't seem to be much opportunity for sleep, resulting in a slightly more grumpy version of myself this morning. One thing I have discovered since sharing this room with some other people over the past few days, is that I'm perhaps not quite the moany git I've always considered myself to be. In fact I now see myself as a mere apprentice who has much to learn.
Needless to say, the supply of information today was useless at best. The doctors don't tell the nurses anything (obviously "information is power" is the founding principle of hospital politics) so the nurses couldn't tell me what the outcome of yesterday's MRI was and those who knew were too busy playing golf to talk to me. Weekends are obviously pretty sacred to doctors so whatever you do don't do.....well....anything at all at the weekend because if it all goes spectacularly wrong you'll have bled out before the 18th hole has been played. OK that's unfair - anyone doing such a skilled and pressured job as that needs regular R&R to remain on top of their game, both on and off the golf course, but it doesn't stop it being frustrating for those who really need to talk to them.
Fortunately the grouchy morphine pump was wheeled away this afternoon so with a bit of luck the earplugs I got the wife to bring in for me won't be needed tonight.
The left foot seems to be getting even more puffy and swollen today which is a bit disconcerting, but I daresay that if it explodes it might force someone to actually do something.

Sunday:
Managed to have a shower this morning instead of the usual wash with a bowl of water, which felt wonderful right up until I was trying to get dried by which point the exertion had left me so breathless I had to sit down to recover before I could continue getting dressed. Unbelievable, the effect of zero activity for a few days. I now feel so weak it's ridiculous and I can't wait to get home so I can set about rebuilding my strength with the dumbells. The leg will take somewhat longer whatever happens, but if I can make the rest of my body cooperate then that's about as much as I can hope for.
Received a visit from the consultant this morning who explained that the damage to the knee is pretty extensive with the bone fractures on the bearing surface and a ruptured cruciate ligament. The fractures should apparently heal in time, but the ligament requires surgery. They won't be doing this for a few weeks until there has been sufficient healing so for the time being I'll have to attend clinics so they can keep a check on progress but for now I'm going to be sent home. Woo-hoo!

So that was about 11am. At 5pm I'm sat at home exhausted and with a bag of pills and syringes to take care of the next couple of weeks medication. My leg is trussed up in a hinged splint and my mobility is very limited, but at least I'm home where I can sit comfortably with a proper cup of tea, the promise of some decent food and the comfort of my own bed.
Plus now that I have wifi access again I can upload this rather long blog post.

Here endedth the first instalment of my trials and tribulations - no doubt with more to follow.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Superstars and undeserved egos

The first thing I'd like to do this week is to say a big thank-you to the Met Office for their wonderful weather forecast on Friday which made it quite clear that I wouldn't be needing my waterproofs for the journey to and from work. Obviously I only have myself to blame for actually believing anything the Met Office say. There's something very special about riding a motorcycle with your scrotum being gently marinaded in a pool of cold water.
 No such inconveniences for the guys in MotoGP today as Marc Marquez clinched the world championship - the youngest ever rider to do so. What an absolute star!

At least I still get to watch the MotoGP thanks to BBC iPlayer, and the other evening I witnessed something that only served to confirm that the very worst of television programmes has to be seen to be believed and gave me assurance that doing away with the TV aerial and licence was one of the best things I've ever done.
It's bad enough at this time of year when every time you turn on the telly there's someone trying to convince you that you need a new sofa in time for Christmas, but having gone for so long believing that Big Brother, X-Factor, and Strictly Come Dancing were the bottom of the barrel in lobotomy TV, I've discovered a whole new low.
Perusing the 'recently added' listings on LoveFilm in search of something new to watch, we spotted something called 'Jersey Shore'.
I have the distinct feeling that many American readers will at this point be rolling their eyes in despair, and rightly so. This programme features the very worst examples of the human animal. People who quite frankly give rise to the suspicion that at the time of their birth the doctors in the maternity ward accidentally threw away the wrong bit. People who's perfect sexual partner would certainly be themselves because I've never seen or heard such prime examples of manic narcissism in my life. I've met many egotistical dip-shits who think far more of themselves than anyone else does, but these self-obsessed excuses for human beings take it to a whole new level.
Needless to say we had to switch it off before many minutes had passed as I didn't want to have to resort to throwing things at the nice new telly - it wouldn't have looked good on the insurance claim form.
So although getting rid of live TV enabled us to live a life with significantly less intrusion from the ever-present world of bullshit, it still managed to sneakily find a way of inflicting itself upon us.
Luckily there's always alcohol to round off life's sharp corners....

http://www.motogp.com 
Marc Marquez - we are not worthy.
(Image from http://www.motogp.com)


Sunday, 3 November 2013

Hang the DJ

Silly season is almost upon us once again, and as usual I'm quite happy to not be a part of it. For me, the annual commercial festival of greed and gluttony is something that happens to other people, and since opting out of it and not having it shoved down my throat at every opportunity by the TV, I'm able to trundle through this period with no additional stress whatsoever.
It goes without saying that it's not completely unavoidable because whenever you set foot in a supermarket from late September onwards you're confronted with yet another world record attempt at building the tallest tower of Quality Street mankind has ever seen, and every pub and restaurant is desperately trying to tempt you to book your Christmas dinner for roughly the same amount that would feed an African family for a year.

It also happens to be pretty much the only time when my whole family gets together, and because I like these family occasions with their comfortable informality and the chance to see those who I don't really see as often as I'd like, I'm prepared to dilute my principles on the whole Christmas thing to join in. This year will be a little different as it's going to be in a small local social-club type place that's normally used by old folk, rather than in someones house where things can get a little cramped. This does mean having to tolerate decor that went out of style around the end of WWII and worrying stains on the furniture, but at least the younger kids will be able to enjoy the thrills of being catapulted out of those chairs with the flip-up seats and playing endless games of 'What's That Smell?'.
In an unusual and slightly irrational moment I volunteered to sort out the music; some appropriate tunes to provide a backdrop of sound that might at least provide material for discussion during lulls in conversation, played at a volume that doesn't need to be competed with by having to shout but at the same time doesn't fade into an indistinguishable murmur that nobody notices.
Instructions from Father were basically "No Depeche Mode, no Fields Of The Nephilim and make sure you include some Christmas music".
Well really. Did he really think that I'd include Fields Of The Nephilim when however much I like them, I'm perfectly aware that it's totally inappropriate for a family do? But I see no reason to not include Depeche Mode's 'Enjoy The Silence' whatever he says, and as for Christmas music, well let's face it, it's all shite really. The only exceptions I'd make to this would be a selection of compositions by Bob Rivers like 'Chipmunks roasting on an open fire' or 'Walking round in women's underwear'. I'd love to be daring enough to slip in Kevin Bloody Wilson's legendary 'Hey Santa Claus', but I suspect the young kid's parents would be none too thrilled and the olds would be spitting their pre-mashed mince pies across the floor if I did so, so perhaps not.....
This leaves me with about four hours to fill, which shouldn't be a problem. After asking around for people's favourite tracks and combining most of those with a varied selection from my own collection I've already exceeded five hours without even trying. It's harder than expected, though, to pick tracks that will be acceptable to most and will be inoffensive to those who aren't really into them, particularly as the age range of those attending is likely to be between two and eighty. Finding things that tread the middle-ground between Bob The Builder and Glen Miller while avoiding the pitfalls of Eminem isn't as easy as it sounds, especially when you keep wanting to chuck in a few favourites to shake things up like The Prodigy's 'Smack my bitch up'.
So for now it looks like an easy going blend of 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's with a few surprises thrown in, totalling more hours than are available for the event and set on random, so that if the old bloke complains about the lack of Christmas music I can just pretend it's the computer's fault for not picking them out.
Next time I think we should have our family get-together in the summertime, and then I'll definitely be able to avoid any suggestions of Jim Reeves, Bing Crosby, Vera Lynn, and bloody Tijuana Christmas. AAARRRGGGHHH!!!



Sunday, 27 October 2013

The great commuting conundrum

Commuting. On a list of life's most depressing activities this surely must be pretty close to the top.
If I could see a way to avoid it I'd take it, but as long as I have bills to pay I have to go to work which means finding the least annoying method of getting from A to B.
The current method of choice is by motorcycle and that has been the preferred option for some time now. The car became too frustrating because one of my biggest hates on the road is sitting in traffic that's either crawling or not moving at all, so I gradually shifted from using the bike occasionally to using it all the time because when you're riding a motorcycle there's no such thing as a traffic jam. But as we move closer to the winter I start to have worries about the really cold days when there's ice on the road, there's bugger all grip, and my fingertips go beyond cold and numb and move into the realm of physical pain. It wouldn't be the first time I'd pulled up at traffic lights, knocked it into neutral and leaned down to cuddle the engine just to get a little warmth into my fingers.
These are the days when an alternative needs to be considered, and that's where the real problem begins. The car is pretty much a no-no because the wife needs it most days, and I'm determined not to buy a second car again.
It's too far to cycle every day and when it's dark, wet, cold and miserable my life expectancy would be considerably shortened if I was to attempt it.
This leaves me with public transport. There isn't a railway station near enough for that to be a viable option, which means using a bus. Oh dear.
The obvious problem with bus travel is that it doesn't go exactly where you want to go when you want to go there which means a timetable that's guaranteed to not work for you, and a considerable walk at either end of the journey. Now I know I usually love a good walk, but when it involves going to or from work it sort of takes the shine off the experience.
Then we have the issue of sharing your personal space with all and sundry - often those who you'd cross the road to avoid if you saw them coming the other way. Pick a bus at just the wrong time and you can let yourself in for all manner of living nightmares. Single mums with screaming brats, anti-social phone users who believe the whole world needs to hear their conversation, the ignorant youths for whom the word 'personal' as in 'personal stereo' means nothing and generally being surrounded by the great unwashed are just some of the horrors that await the bus user. You're also guaranteed (unless you're lucky enough to travel with a friend) to have the seat next to you occupied by one of the following :-

1. A little old lady with a giant shopping trolley who takes an eternity to climb the steps into the bus, and spends a further two ice-ages fumbling in her purse for her bus pass before plonking beside you smelling of wee.
2. A Special Brew-enhanced social drop-out with a dog that spends the entire journey trying to sniff your crotch.
3. A terminally obese ugly fucker who crushes you against the window while at the same time taking up half the aisle.
4. Someone who smells like they've spent the day cleaning deep fat fryers in a very hot environment with no showers.
5. The local nutter who'll manage to hold a conversation with you even though you deliberately avoid saying anything or making eye contact. The other passengers will be smirking or laughing at your misfortune, secretly thankful that it's not their turn today.

It truly is a nightmare. Trapped in a big tin box with the cast of Fraggle Rock trying desperately to focus your mind on reading a book, listening to music or staring out of the window - anything but allowing yourself to acknowledge the pitiful situation you find yourself in.
I hate driving the car these days because it's too frustrating; even riding the bike can be a test of nerves but it's still preferable. But even though I fear the bus and the horrors it holds, I know that it's inevitable that at some point during the coming winter I will have no choice but to face it because no matter how awful an experience it may be, it's nevertheless preferable to death from hypothermia or sliding under an oncoming truck.


Sunday, 20 October 2013

Never mind thumbs, what about the legs?

Those who are into the whole evolution thing are always on about how the human body will change over time, adapting to the way we live our lives. The standard joke has long been that we'll all develop an enlarged right thumb from constantly pressing buttons on the TV remote control, and these days one could argue the same case for the index finger from all the frantic mouse-clicking.
It might actually be interesting to attach a miniature pedometer to your finger to see just how many clicks you execute in a day; it could be that using a computer is like taking your finger to the gym. Now there's a new marketing strategy.......
The flip side of this argument is the question of what will happen to the parts of the body that get used less with the most obvious cause for concern being the legs, and that's what I'm going to focus on today.

Yesterday I was waiting in a hairdressers while the wife was having her hair done, and as she was paying there was a call from a client cancelling her appointment because she had spent twenty minutes trying to find a parking space and was giving up. Absolutely pathetic.
We had parked on the outskirts of Ely by the golf course and walked into town - a smidge over a mile to the hairdressers - popped into Sainsbury's for a few bits, and then back to the car. Total distance covered was three miles with no ill effects whatsoever and definitely no parking problems. So what was wrong with little miss "Why can't I park my German 4x4 outside the shop door?". She's just one of the current crop of individuals who seem to consider it beneath them to have to use their legs. That's what poor people do isn't it? It's yet another case of someone who feels the need to live up to a bullshit glossy magazine ideal where everything comes easy, and the world is perfect.
If 'perfect' is how these people consider such a life, they're grossly mistaken. The average person living such a supposedly idealistic life is a self-centred obnoxious arrogant arsehole who I personally wouldn't want to associate with.

Side-rant over, and it's back to using our legs.
We see examples of this problem every time we visit a supermarket. People who'll sit and wait for ten minutes for someone to get back to their car and vacate a spot that's twenty feet from the door, when there's fifty empty spaces at the other end of the car park. If they parked over there instead and walked a little further they'd be in the store quicker, but clearly I'm missing the point somewhere.
The worst bastards for this are those who park in a disabled area even though they're not disabled or carrying a disabled passenger. Scum.
Then we have those who live a stone's throw from the local shop but will still get in their car and drive there to buy newspaper. Or worse still, the ones who will go to the local pub in the car, spend a night on the piss and drive the five hundred yards home. Why?
And of course we have the school run mums who block up the roads every day with their armoured personnel carriers because it's far too much to expect little Quentin to walk or cycle half a mile to school when he's so much safer sitting in a traffic jam for an hour.
If this trend continues and the evolutionists are right, future generations will have something resembling toothpicks dangling from their pelvis.

It's not all bad news though, because while half of the population are firmly stuck behind the steering wheel campaigning for drive-through botox clinics, the other half are reversing the trend by increasingly turning to cycling. Clearly fed up with the government's intention of making car ownership so expensive that only the rich can afford to drive, and the town planner's ingenious schemes to make town centre access more or less impossible, more and more people are leaving the car at home and turning to two wheels. With the trend for heavy cumbersome mountain bikes at an end, the market is now dominated by practical lightweight machinery that makes the majority of journeys quicker and easier than they would be by car while at the same time invigorating their riders with that wonderful feel-good factor that exercise gives, and that sitting on your fat arse in a traffic jam doesn't.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Transatlantic swings and roundabouts

If there's one thing I really have no interest in whatsoever it's politics, but one thing that occasionally rears it's head is mention of this so-called 'special relationship' between Britain and the USA.
Funny thing is, nobody ever seems to be able to clarify exactly what is special about it.
I suppose we have a closer relationship with the American people than we do with, say, the French, but I daresay that may have much to do with language and history. Say no more....
When it comes down to it, perhaps it's simply about sharing a common language and way of life, although that does beg the question of why no mention is ever made of a 'special relationship' between Britain and Australia.
When browsing the web though, particularly on forums and suchlike, it's surprising how many people find it necessary to slag each other off based on ill-informed opinions on each other's geographical location. An endless parade of 'stupid Brits' and 'bloody Yanks' based arguments that do nobody any favours and only serve to make the individuals on either side sound ridiculous.
Yes, there are differences between the two nations and although I'm far from being any kind of expert I thought I'd see what I could come up with to show how different or alike we are either side of the Atlantic, and given that around a third of the hits this blog gets are from the US it's a golden opportunity to actually get some feedback. I've been doing this blog for quite some time now and I've not had a single comment. Just as well I do it mostly for my own amusement...

First of all I'm going to mention ice-cream. I've never been much of a fan of ice-cream, and for many years I've wondered what all the fuss was about American ice-cream. However, a couple of weeks ago the usually expensive Ben & Jerry's ice cream was on offer in the supermarket and in an uncharacteristically frivolous move I grabbed a tub from the freezer.
After dinner that night experimentation commenced and after just one spoonful I came to one simple and unpatriotic conclusion - British ice-cream sucks. Seriously, virtually every ice-cream I've tried in this country has left me unfulfilled, especially the normal cheap stuff in the big tubs which is so filled with ice crystals, the water content must be huge. So there's one difference - America can do ice-cream, but Britain can't.
That little victory can be offset though, because if there's one thing we do seem to do well it's chocolate. I've tried some American chocolate and frankly it's like the ice-cream scenario reversed. Dull, uninspiring and tasteless.
And let's not forget about beer. Britain has an incredibly long history of making great beer, although I've heard that there are a number of emerging micro-breweries in the US where they're making real ale. If they get it right then maybe the country will gradually be coaxed away from the standard lagers and enjoy some proper beer for a change.
Petrol is an area where Americans are very lucky. We often hear moans from them about the rising price of 'gas', but try having to pay the equivalent of 8.5 dollars per US gallon and see if you can still afford to run around in a five litre V8. In the UK, only the wealthy can afford to drive Range Rovers while the rest of us bimble around in frugal little euroboxes; not necessarily because we like them, but because the government will pull our pants down and do unspeakable things to our bottoms if we can't do at least 50 miles per gallon.
Personally, if I could pick any car I wanted and not have to worry about running costs, the top 10 list would include a Cadillac CTS-V, a Chevy Camaro (like Bumblebee) and a GT500 Mustang. I'm struggling to think of any car currently made in the UK that would interest me except perhaps the Ariel Atom.
If there's one thing Britain should be proud of, it's the National Health Service. We often grumble about it, with its long waiting lists and how the average GP is about as much use as a chocolate teapot, and although private healthcare is available it's incredibly expensive. But the idea of having to pay out extortionate amounts of money each month for health insurance like Americans have to makes me feel very lucky that I live in this country.
Americans have the right to defend themselves and their property with deadly force (yes I know laws vary from state to state), but in Britain if you were to have a go at an intruder you'd be more likely to do time than him. It's against his 'human rights' to be assaulted you know.... Yeah right - if every house contained somebody with a .45 and the legal right to use it, burglary rates would plummet.
Most of the TV programmes I enjoy come from the US, but I'm very glad that I don't have to put up with commercial breaks every few minutes.

So far then, this sounds like pretty much a draw. And that's what I would expect, because although we're separated by about 3000 miles of water our lives aren't really any different. It's not a case of one being better than the other, it's just two countries filled with a broad spectrum of people.
If this 'special relationship' really exists in some way outside of politics, its that we can appreciate aspects of each others lives and accept that when all's said and done we're basically all the same.


Sunday, 6 October 2013

Captain Custard Vs the onions of doom

There are many things that happen as we get older. The unfortunate growth of random hairs in awkward places, wrinkles, and the unwavering belief that everything was better back in the 'good old days' to name but a few.
Another thing that changes is our eating habits. I've always eaten like a horse, but somehow I don't seem to able to pack in quite as much as I used to before feeling completely stuffed and in need of a nice lie down to recover. Not to mention the fact that having slowed down a bit means I burn less calories and the race against an expanding waist is becoming harder to win. Twenty years ago my stomach was flat - concave even - but these days although there may be a six-pack lurking there, it's cunningly disguised under a fat bit which extends sideways to enhance the love handles. I hate it, especially as it's the only area of excess flesh I have. Why can't it be evenly distributed all over, then those couple of pounds wouldn't be noticed? Not fair.
My father has the appetite of an anorexic mouse, and as I seem to be unable to prevent myself from being like him in so many ways, I suppose it's inevitable that one day I too will be satisfied with a main meal that at one time I would have considered merely a starter.
It's not just the quantity that's changing either. Certain foods are beginning to drop from the menu because the body can't deal with them in the same way as it did in the past. Anything containing mustard is now out of bounds, and pasta can't be eaten two days in a row, but the one that's now starting to bug me is the humble onion.
It's got to the point where the smell of onions seeps from my pores and my mouth tastes awful. Even the onion powder used in crisp flavouring has a major effect.
But as onion is present in so many things it's hard to avoid completely, and a chilli or curry without onions would definitely be missing something crucial. Besides, where would we be without the entertainment value afforded by excessive onion consumption? Even at 42 my inner child still finds flatulence hilarious, and it would be a shame to have to rely on peas, sprouts and cabbage without the onion to act as a catalyst to boost the effect to cataclysmic proportions.
In fairness I suppose I've suffered from these side effects for a long time, and not just with onions but also their cousin garlic. Garlic is a wonderful thing in moderation, but on one occasion I fell foul of its awesome power in a big way. About 19 years ago when I'd not long met my wife, a group of us were at the seaside and decided to stop off at a burger stall for some sustenance. There was an assortment of burgers on the list including one that claimed to be a 'garlic burger'. To me this suggested that there would be a little garlic mixed in with the burger meat, so being the adventurous type I plumped for that instead of the standard cheesburger.
Unfortunately it turned out that the vendor's idea of a garlic burger was to slap an ordinary burger in a bun and drop a large splodge of garlic puree on top. Not having paid too much attention to this process, I proceeded to gorge myself. The first bite was the warning shot across the bow, but in my hunger I failed to heed the signs and carried on. By halfway through I knew something was seriously amiss and scraped out the remaining garlic but by that time the damage had been done.
The taste was ingrained in my body, everything tasted of garlic. The odour seeping from my skin was disturbing enough to keep the general public at arms length, and the UN declared a 10 metre exclusion zone around me to protect the innocent from my breath. In the end it was about a week before the smell disappeared and the world returned to normal. Looking back, I'm surprised my future wife didn't turn on her heels and run away.
Due to that experience I'm always careful with garlic and generally use less than recipes call for lest I end up with a repeat performance, but the after effects still linger a while.
I know this issue isn't exactly an allergy; more an intolerance if anything. Perhaps it's only a problem in the same way that drinking too much beer results in driving the porcelain truck, and I'm buggered if I'm going to eliminate beer on the basis that overindulgence results in a psychedelic yawn and a negative happiness factor.
I just need to be wary and face the fact that the onion family simply doesn't like me, while all the time being aware that by the time my meals become the size of my father's, the amount of onion consumed will be negligible anyway.


Sunday, 29 September 2013

Far from the maddening crowd

In an attempt to ward off boredom, disillusionment and terminal snack-induced fatness, we've taken to spending a portion of our Saturdays getting out into the big wide world and actually doing something. Walking has always been something we both enjoy, so a concerted effort has been made to ensure that a regular long walk out somewhere is undertaken in the hope that amongst other things, being out in the middle of nowhere will be the perfect stress reliever - especially if there happens to be a pub somewhere along the route.
Any length of time spent in a crowded city is hell on earth for me, but stick me in the middle of the countryside with an Ordnance Survey map and I'm in my element, with all the worries and frustrations of everyday life being blown away on the breeze along with assorted seeds and the occasional whiff of cow shit.
Yesterday's little expedition saw us doing a pleasant five mile circuit from Over to Swavesey and back, following various public footpaths that took us by the river near Overcote, through fields, along tracks, past the door of The White Horse in Swavesey (well, not exactly past, there may have been a brief stop involving a pint of Guinness and a bag of crisps), and back to Over alongside the extensive fruit orchards.
Returning home we were able to flop down with a quick and easy dinner in front of 'The Cider House Rules' without feeling in the least bit guilty that we really ought to be doing something more worthwhile.


Practically everyone you talk to these days seems to have a tale to tell about how hectic their life is; how they were up at the crack of dawn and didn't sit down until it was almost time for bed, and although some of these stories may be true, I suspect that the majority are somewhat embellished to make an ordinary day sound exciting, full of challenges and "aren't I amazing that I manage to cope with it all?". After all, there's a part of modern society that firmly believes that if you're not stressing yourself out to the point of cardiac arrest, you're not 'achieving' and therefore a social failure who deserves to be paraded through the streets being jeered and pelted with rotten tomatoes.
But when you look at the number of people in high powered jobs with genuinely stressful lives that either jack it all in to stack shelves in a supermarket or simply succumb to heart failure several years before being due for the gold carriage clock, you can see that quite frankly it's all a load of bollocks.
We're not built for stress, and those who think they are usually end up crashing spectacularly by the time middle age rears its ugly head. Western life has become so wrapped up in 'progress', 'achievement' and 'blue sky thinking outside the box', that people have lost the ability to just simply be. To take time over things and enjoy the little things in life. I know I've banged on about this before, but I believe fervently that society needs to slow down, enjoy the world around us without feeling the need to constantly change it, and take some time out once in a while.
Yesterday's walk involved eating some delicious blackberries picked off the bushes we found near the river, the boy spotted a snake, we wondered at the amount of fruit that was being wasted in the orchards, found a giant puffball mushroom, had a nice beer and saw the biggest feckin' bull I've ever seen with enormous horns that looked so grumpy you'd think he'd just had a personal visit from Mc Donald's chief buyer.
I'll happily take all that in place of a day wandering around those temples of commercial propaganda that are our towns and cities, and I invite you to do the same.



Thursday, 26 September 2013

Sandra Bullock isn't on Twitter

About a year ago I investigated Twitter. Everyone was saying how it's more popular than Facebook and not so full of crap, so I felt obliged to find out what all this Tweeting stuff was about and why it made inexplicable use of all those symbols on the keyboard that usually get ignored.
The site said I needed an account before I could gain access, which seemed fair enough because, let's face it, there doesn't seem to be a club in the land that doesn't have reams of red tape for a person to wade through before they'll let them through the door, just so they've covered their arse against any possible litigation arising from said newbie tripping over the 'Welcome' mat and damaging their pride.
Account created, I embarked upon what I hoped would be a voyage of discovery - a journey through the thoughts and ramblings of the rich and famous, and maybe even a few people I might know.
These hopes were quickly dashed when I found myself in a world of hashtags and assorted squiggles interspersed with bizarre encrypted comments that bore more likeness to the unintelligible texts of a three-thumbed teenager than any genuine attempt at useful communication.
Maybe I was missing something, but no matter how much I searched I couldn't find anything that made me feel like I had a reason to stay, and despite repeated attempts to make something of it over the course of a couple of weeks, I eventually came to the conclusion that it had nothing to offer me and I deleted my account.

Fast forward to today, and I'm thinking about this matter again - no idea why really, but it's probably just a symptom of the boredom generated by waiting in the house for a courier to turn up.
I know some people who use Twitter in preference to Facebook, so I tied Google to a chair and inflicted the Spanish Inquisition upon it (it didn't expect that!), bombarding it with the word 'twitter' followed by various names of those I either know or have an interest in, and I found I was able to peruse posts without having to sign up again. Some were actually entertaining, like James May and Jeremy Clarkson, while others were somewhat less inspiring.
I also looked up a number of well known females in the hope that I might gain some insight into what makes them tick rather than just that they look hot, but many weren't on there including Sandra Bullock (who I suspect would actually be a really good laugh if one got to spend some time with her in the pub) and Winona Ryder. Keira Knightley clearly got bored of Twitter a long time ago, but Emma Watson seems a little more keen and Nigella appears to be a rampant user.
One clear fact that emerged is that no matter how much you've seen someone on the telly, their lives aren't really that much different from anyone else's apart from doing a job that lots of other people see. Even Olivia Wilde has to pop to the shop for some eggs.

So why do people share all these little titbits of their life?
Different people doubtless have different reasons for doing so, but I think I've finally come up with something that might make me rethink the usefulness of this trend.
Now I'm far from being some kind of social butterfly, but on the odd occasion that I meet up with someone that I haven't seen for a while I always think it'll be nice to have a good old chat and catch up with everything that's been going on since I last saw them.
But when we do meet up and I'm presented with the inevitable question "What have you been up to lately then?", my default answer is almost guaranteed to be "Not much". Now my life isn't really very interesting and little happens beyond the endless circle of 'work - eat - sleep', but there are always a few little nuggets worthy of a couple of minutes of conversation. However, at the point that I'm asked what I've been up to recently, all these things vanish into a grey mental fog and I'm left with little in the conversational arsenal beyond the same old "Seen any good movies lately" stuff that generally serves the purpose of a filler between the bits of proper conversation.
I don't really have a life totally devoid of anything of interest, I just have a very bad memory.
Twitter on the other hand enables a person to jot down life's little events and share them with others so that when you're faced with the "What have you been up to?" question you can just whip out your smartphone, hand it to the person asking the question and say "Here you are, read that lot while I get the drinks in".