Monthly Archives: October 2014

I am an unprincipled bloke

I am unprincipled bloke. Despite my protestations, my bogus concern for the poor and needy, my lefty political rants and join-this-or-that- campaign bollocks, this morning, I found myself insisting that our two chubby cats were given the best possible cat food. Not the ridiculously extravagant ones like ‘Sheba’ but the next category down ‘Felix with vegetables.’ This is sufficient to put them both into ecstasies of anticipation and as my mother-in-law says “they cleana the plate.”

M and I play a game. She pretends to care about the price of everything fulfilling the objectionable stereotyped Thatcherite role of the thrifty housewife while I insist that we don’t bother with coupons, throw away anything 10 minutes over its sell by date, don’t recycle (those poxy multi-coloured annoying, smelly boxes) and take only one from a bog-off deal. The reason is simple – the only principle I even vaguely hold dear is the one of contrariness.

To me the important thing (just so long as I don’t actually endanger myself- I am not brave) is not to do what other people do or say I should do. If everyone recycles I buy an incinerator to burn plastic in the garden (causing a cloud of noxious gas to pervade the neighbourhood.) If my children’s friends are vegan, I buy veal, preferably the unspeakably evil type involving slow baby cow bleeding to death. A friend of mine was a convicted paedophile as far as I know I was the only one of his old friends to visit him in jail 4 times (therefore not a passing gesture- and a 250 mile round trip). I care more passionately about sticking my fingers up to authorities; even legitimate ones (do they exist?) than just about anything else. Why?

To be brutally honest; probably because of my dear Dad – He was the most dreadful stickler and admirer of authorities. If you had a title or were respectable or a policeman or a teacher or had a posh voice then you got respect. From as far back as I can remember I was suspicious of this premise. Dead dodgy people seemed to elicit admiration from him, mean old snobs continued to impress him up to the day he died. ‘An authorative achievement’ was what mattered – something in the paper, some letters after your name, a mention by another on his list of greats. Individual, off the wall achievements meant nothing – it was only those with an official stamp, preferably a certificate that cut the mustard. When I introduced his to ‘Sir’ Peter Hall at Glyndebourne, he radiated pride. When on the other hand, I premiered what I considered to be one of the few good pieces of directing I ever did, at some fleapit – he was certainly kind, but his indifference and lack of understanding was obvious.

This sounds like awful sour grapes. The protestations of a frustrated artist whose great works are ignored while his trivial lapses into commercialism are lauded. I have to admit I do feel that ‘achievements,’ a word my Dad embossed on the family psyche, is a big load of poo and stands as just one particularly relevant example of where ‘authority’ corrupts, deceives, bullies and generally fucks up stuff. Consequently I hate authority of any kind with a passion that overrules every fibre of my better and more rational self.

The authority I refer to is not just the obvious ones, police, teachers, politicians, bosses but also the insidious ones. Sneaky moral codes, that lurk in dark corners springing out when something complicated cannot be resolved to whitewash over ambiguity with some global claim of eternal ‘rightness.’ ‘Global Warming matters’ – who says? Do we? Does this planet? I for one am not that sure? My wife and children matter more than anything in the universe FACT! But what else – nowt much – except of course my two chubby cats.

What a looser! Peace and love again xxx


The Diving Bell Test (failure)

Don’t know whether any of you out there have experienced this one but it was quite quite a surprise. It’s part of a set of cardio-respiratory tests to test lung efficiency. You are put into a sort of gas chamber, or that is what it feels and looks like, and you pop your mouth into a breathing device with your nose crimped. The chamber is sort of sealed and and you are instructed to breath normally (fat chance) then to pant and then the thing you are breathing through is sealed off but you have to continue to make the muscular movements of panting. I have made it sound worse than it is, you are not in an airless chamber and you have an escape button but I am buggered if I could do it. Oh and the other thing is you must not move your cheeks. Anyway it reminded me of dance classes I had in the 80’s which required the isolation of certain parts of the body, something like moving your elbow without moving your shoulder – useful training if you plan to audition for ‘Cats.’ Needless to say I just couldn’t do it and became quite giggly-naughty once the fear of suffocation had abated. This test was followed by another test in which you are required to breath in Carbon Monoxide – again presented in the way it was this sounded like voluntary euthanasia, not particularly dispelled by the comment ‘you might feel a bit woozy.’ Anyway I think I passed that one. Another happy day at the hospital.

Russell Brand’s Revolution rah rah rah

I am very conflicted about this guy. He is sort of brilliant in ‘Saving Sarah Marshall’ – and ‘Get Him to the Greek’ – he really annoys me but I have to say I feel a surge of excitement when I see him behaving as he does in these two interviews – we should have many more interviews like this – people getting cross – saying ill considered stuff – but driving at something strongly felt. Actually I agree with him. Superb!


My muse needs bad stuff – why?

I still wake up early, despite being off the steroids for several weeks now. It may be that some of the medication I take has a stimulating effect but as far as I know this should not be the case. I like it actually. It may be a bit tiresome for M but she endures it uncomplainingly. Anyway when I wake up, after catching up on a few work e-mails and reading the BBC entertainment news hoping it will feature pictures of what ever her name is from Game of Thrones, I have taken to writing random bits of poetry and prose. Oh dear we should all cry! Cancer brings out the crap poet much as it brings out crap marathon runners and of course bloggers. Nothing to be ashamed of I suppose but probably best kept out of the public domain – just in case posterity is less understanding than ones loving family who are so nice and too worried to be anything less than encouraging of the limp literary efforts that emerge. Anyway none of my cobblers is intended for public consumption ( although one escaped onto the blog in a moment of misguided self appreciation eg. I found myself saying “coo this is pretty good – I must let my public know how clever I am” – secretly I still think that – so if you have not read ‘Chemo Café’ prepare yourself for a treat) and certainly none of it is intended to be actual poetry but all that said I have noticed a curious phenomenon.

For me writing about something personal and turning it into a poem is a matter of dwelling over those fragments of my life that continue to elicit feelings. I cannot imagine being a proper writer and being able to turn my hand to writing about something that I have not experienced. How do they do that? I know you can do a lot of research but how do you end up really caring about the life of someone who isn’t in someway you. Is this the mark of a proper writer as against a diarist or journalist? Naturally this has a limiting effect on what I can write about. Not having done that many things that would interest anyone but me I end up churning over my own preoccupations and obsessions in a neurotic way that is somewhat misleading (I am no more neurotic and disturbed than everyone else I know). Besides which, why is that the only things that stimulate the muse in me are sad or perverted in some way. Most of my life has been sublimely happy. From the moment I met M and subsequently had our two boys things have been pretty marvellous but these events and many other happy things remain unrepresented in my output at least so far. Instead I dwell on the few childhood traumas and the disturbing fearful side of my personality giving a pretty awful not to say screwed up impression of myself. I am not at all sure this is healthy. Anyway I have come to a profound truth. I have concluded that this is because it is easier.

I have long believed, indeed I was trained to believe that being light and funny in art is much harder than being earnest and deep. Shakespeare was a genius because he could do both.
The best actors I have worked with could do comedy. If they chose to do tragedy as well they were always brilliant. The reverse did not apply. Composers are the same in my view. I have long been a great admirer of the scariness of Benjamin Britten but boy he is embarrassingly camp when he is trying to be funny in Albert Herring. Mozart on the other hand manages to make Don Giovanni funny first and scarier as a consequence. It’s a doddle to produce some piece of esoteric weirdness that plumbs the depths of existential despair compared to the task of writing a joke that actually gets a spontaneous laugh from an audience less prepared to be conned by cleverness and obscurity. I would not dare to write a witty poem as I know the result would be excruciating but to write something full of unresolved implications laced with a few macabre childlike resonances – most of my oeuvre follows that formula, is easy-peasy.

What is it about the shitty bits of life that stick, compared to the jolly bits that don’t. Oh well I guess I am in a sticky bit – drat! Plenty of material for my future collection of existential musings – look forward all.

Greasy poo

I met the consultant in Leeds today and the news is good, if as ever, uncertain. It seems that the indicators are good but because of my extra rare condition there may be some additional risk involved in the autograft. To find out more I have to have a few more tests including a repeat of the hosepipe down the throat jobby. Joy! Assuming the tests look OK and the additional risk is acceptable or hopefully non existent I would have a choice between the procedure taking place in December or January. I would opt for December to get it over with. Other than that there was lots of very encouraging news about a potential cure for my rare disease (mice with Amyloidosis are doing very nicely thank you) and monthly developments in treatments for my cancer. So all in all a pretty good outcome.

I must admit I missed my familiar York environment. The facilities in Leeds are very modern but the vastness is quite daunting. Half-dead cancer patients dragging on ciggies festoon the entrance creating a less than favourable first impression. Some of them are barking loudly as they inhale – is the license to do this a form of legitimised euthanasia or merely a rather moving expression of the individuals choice to “do themselves in.” – discuss. Thereafter various other members of the undead push their intravenous drip trolleys in and out of the ubiquitous Costa. I guess it’s reassuring to see normal cafe life being played out in these surrounding but the sight of so much clinical tubing with gaud knows what pulsing along inside, alongside the lemon drizzle cake and the skinny lattes does put you off a bit. Also the slippers and pyjama trousers poking out beneath the crumpled dressing gowns are a tad excessively informal, but no doubt I will be there before long, pride is not something I can be bothered to hang onto when the chips are down.

Talking of pride, a highlight of the conversation with the consultant was to be cross examined on the consistency of my poo. Not something I had often had cause to ponder on. However all you folks out there beware of a greasy consistency (happily mine isn’t) as this could mean trouble – how you tell is a secret I will keep to myself for now but perhaps you could all hazard a few guesses and post them.

Two rootless, soulless parties have cleared the way for Ukip

This is such a good article I have copied the lot from the Guardian. It is a much more eloquent expression of something I tried to say in a previous post.

Bravo Owen Jones (who looks about 16. Smartarse!) His new book, The Establishment – And How They Get Away With It, is published in September 2014. I will be buying it.

Picture of Owen Jones

“British politics has become a careerists’ playground, creating disillusionment that charlatans can exploit

Has there ever been such a brazen set of political con artists, so sophisticated at manipulating genuine grievances for their own ends? A few months ago Ukip compiled a document titled: “Who are the Times journalists trying so desperately to undermine Ukip?” It was a determined effort to burnish the party’s anti-establishment credentials: Daniel Finkelstein was described as the “privately educated former senior official at Conservative Central office”; Hugo Rifkind the “privately educated son of pro-EU Tory former foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind”, and so on.

Satire is left redundant by the audacity of Ukip. Just look at the leading lights of this “anti-establishment” insurgency. Their leader is that rare breed in British politics, a privately educated ex-City broker. Their deputy chairman is Neil Hamilton, the disgraced arch-Thatcherite and one-time minister, booted from the House of Commons in ignominy. Their recent byelection victor is Douglas Carswell, an ex-Tory MP who used to work in asset management.

Their next byelection candidate is Mark Reckless, yet another public school ex-Tory whose previous career – like Nigel Farage – was in the City. They are bankrolled by ex-Tory multimillionaires like hedge-fund supremo Christopher Mills and insurance tycoon Arron Banks. Ukip talks of breaking the “political cartel” while peddling policies the entire political elite agree on, quibbling only on scale and detail: tax cuts for the rich, privatisation, slash-and-burn austerity, curtailing workers’ rights. They are the lone critics of immigration – leaving aside, of course, the Sun, the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, the Times, the Tories and, oh, the Labour leadership too.

But fair play to Ukip. Britain’s political elite has fuelled more than enough disillusionment for enterprising charlatans to exploit. Yes, there are honourable exceptions, but it has been abundantly clear what the political elite has been becoming for quite some time. Technocratic, rootless, soulless; a professionalised morass of time-servers who see ministerial posts as springboards to nice little earners on corporate boards; manoeuvring constantly not on the basis of political principle but for shameless self-advancement.

How did we end up here? It seems almost unimaginable now, but Britain’s political elite once had deep roots. The Tories may have always functioned as the political wing of the well-to-do, but the dramatic expansion of the franchise in the 19th century compelled them to seek legitimacy among the masses. At its height early last century, the Primrose League – built to foster popular Conservatism, to “embrace all classes and all creeds except atheists and enemies of the British empire” – achieved a membership of 2 million. Even in the early 1950s, the Conservative party could claim a membership of nearly 3 million. In 1955, most Scots voted for the Tory sister party, the Unionists; Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester were all northern cities that boasted a strong Tory presence.

Then there’s Labour, founded to give working people a voice. Sustained by a trade union movement that, at its peak, represented about half the workforce, the party itself was once a million-strong. Local government and unions gave aspiring working-class politicians resources, education and know-how. The Labour leadership encompassed a spectrum of views and backgrounds, including the likes of Tony Crosland, Tony Benn, Barbara Castle, John Silkin, Peter Shore and Richard Crossman.

Today, both parties are husks of what they once were. The Tories are in long-term decline, less popular than most strains of bacteria in much of the north, leaving Ukip (perversely) as a less toxic rightwing choice. There is no one simple reason: a general fragmentation in society and the triumph of individualism; the disappearance of industries that once sustained cohesive communities; the smothering of local government and unions; a political convergence that has left parties quibbling over nuances. These are reasons, of course, not excuses. But they help explain how parties have become the playthings of careerists inspired by their own ambitions and little else. The figures on the professionalisation of politics speak for themselves.

In 1979, 21 MPs previously worked in politics, but in 2010, the figure had reached 90. One in eight MPs elected in 2010 previously worked as private consultants, a jump from one in 25 in 1997. No wonder the Tory and Labour parliamentary parties are so stuffed full of people who can’t even do a rough impression of speaking like a human being. Universal suffrage – fought for at such great cost by our forebears – is silently, stealthily unwinding: a huge gap in turnout now separates middle-class professionals and unskilled workers.

Yes, there was the expenses scandal, the Iraq war, the Lib Dems’ decision to trash what little faith young people had in democracy – all have helped fuel disillusionment with political elites who were never, after all, loved. But for a generation, politicians have surrendered democratic power to the market. In postwar Britain, the promise was that citizens would be provided with a secure job, an affordable home and publicly owned services and utilities to support them. What is left for politicians to promise but the odd tinker here and there, as well as cuts and yet more surrendering of power?

And so we end up with a Labour leadership unable to offer anything resembling a coherent, inspiring alternative expressed in a language people can relate to. No – unable to offer a bit of hope, a sense that politics can be a vehicle for improving your lot, your family’s, your community’s, your country’s. Wages falling, work ever more insecure, an affordable house a fantastical dream for many. With politics unable to satisfy basic needs and aspirations, and in the absence of a convincing message of hope, anger is directed at anyone but the powerful: immigrants, unemployed people, public-sector workers. And now Ed Miliband seeks to defuse the Ukip threat by pledging further crackdowns on immigration. How has that worked out for David Cameron’s Tories, exactly?

Enough. Ukip was 600 votes away from taking a working-class Labour seat last week. A discredited political elite that unleashed the beast of rightwing populism is not going to defeat it. For those of us who think politics should be about hope, about satisfying people’s needs and aspirations: well, it’s soul-searching time.”

Chemo café

Chemo café

A delicate me, skinny me, nearly held by the arm
She kindly asks me…as we travel…
My stick her soft click and slip along at a considerate pace
We chat nicely passing by…

Until we pop into
a café cluster of undressed limbs and jackets
Trolleys of packets – sugar shakers
every which way they sit up and read and doze and chat too while
Signal sentinels dish out liquor
and she attends them and
she helps me into
A comfy chair Dettol fresh wiped
My place and a towel and pillow
“Lovely” a meringue folded under the hurty bit
“That’s great, thanks a lot”
Radio 2 is tuned and light
We wait for our bits or wait…
To check our order is just so

By my chair, my trolley, my packets, stripped one by one
Over there lemon drizzle over bare cold caps
Intimate with women and men sharing, dripping tips
Warm soaked to elbows
Towel dry
Strapped my limb-bare arm bedded on a pillow
“Yes that’s fine”
Taped tapped the liquor pops in
in for 30 mins…

Our chemo café is full now
No sticky sicky stuff, just throth, biscuit light
Buzz tickle the whispered hums
We joust and jostle our lightest stuff
No regard for the hard stuff
All good health and hearty

30 mins up.
I am untapped now and she can straighten up.
Time to wrap up.
“Bye, see you next week.”

Bone marrow update – UKIP MP (boooo) – Mediocrity


Looks like my bone marrow autograft might be going ahead. I am booked to go to Leeds next week to undergo some tests and to talk to the nursing team. I am also booked in York for lung function tests – I guess I need to pass the fitness test (oh dear it reminds me of school gym tests – not my strongest suit). I was quite enjoying the ‘holiday’ from hospital letters although I miss my bi-weekly visit to York to be poisoned by the jolly people so it’s a bit of a rude awakening to get three appointment letters in one week. The third was from the amyloidosis centre for an appointment in March 2015. I like long distance commitments, inspires confidence – perhaps I should symbolically plant a vine or asparagus seeds (5 years to fruit). Still I am pleased to get things going and hopefully to get it all over before Christmas. As ever we will have to see.

 UKIP Blahhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!

I have been wanting to write a piece on mediocrity for some time, but my thought processes were interrupted today by the very bad news that UKIP have an MP! Oh no ! – still I suppose the theme of mediocrity is rather apt in the case of Douglas Carswell. His life experience includes education at Charterhouse (so we can all relate to that), working in corporate affairs for an Italian TV company (from my experience you might as well say working for Berlusconi, that bastion of political propriety) – my relatives in Italy once apologised that they could not get me a job in Italian TV because they did not know which Camorra boss to pay – and some ambiguous job or other, hedge funds and whatnot, in INVESCO. A company that specialises in ‘distressed investing’. Apparently this and the fact that he fiddled his parliamentary expenses qualifies him to represent the good people of Clacton. Ahh me! Stll perfect UKIP material.


So as well as Carswell and most of the political establishment, let’s face it some of us subscribers are, at best, pretty mediocre human beings. This is brilliantly expressed in ‘Amadeus,’ (Peter Shaffer) by Salieri, one of my favourite (not mediocre) film performances of all time by F Murray Abraham. His frustration at being overshadowed by Mozart drives him to indirectly murder him.

It seems to me that most creative people I meet (that of course includes lots of scientists as well as artists and me of course) find the notion of mediocrity pretty unpalatable. We all want to be exceptional and strive for opportunities to try to show that we are. Trouble is to be a Mozart or a Shakespeare, an Einstein or a Darwin involves a hell of a lot of hard work and most of us can’t be bothered. We settle for the illusion of a secret exceptionality (that really shouldn’t be a word), that for whatever reason has yet to emerge or be given a chance. We blame a lack of opportunity, family responsibility, old age, youth, money or whatever when the truth is we are too arrogant, too untalented or just cannot be bothered. We would rather do nothing than get on with the big something we feel we are destined to do. I suffer from this a lot and need to constantly kick myself up the butt to actually do what I am deluded enough to think I should be so good at doing. I suspect I will die with the epitaph “I’ll do it once Antiques Roadshow has finished.”

Still what is perhaps sadder is those unfortunate individuals who cannot come to terms with their own mediocrity and frantically chase the illusive exceptionality dragon. I have sat through countless auditions with singers with ‘unfortunate’ voices who are clinically deluded about the quality of their voice relative to those who are ‘successful’. Embittered with a strong a sense of injustice they continue auditioning into their 40’s accusing successive generations of perky Guildhall graduates of ‘stealing their jobs’ just like Farage’s fictitious Romanian’s.

Being mediocre is perfectly fine – I say to myself – being mediocre and not accepting it, is painful, humiliating and embarrassing for others. As Salieri says

“God bless mediocrities everywhere.”