Monthly Archives: May 2022

Well, I coped brilliantly with that…

Didn’t I!

My disposition inclines me toward panic and pessimism, and I can only apologise for the stream of worries I offloaded onto my blog during the last week.

The results from my health tests have been very positive and now I am left with the shame of not having been able to face them with a bit more guts. Oh, to be the sort of person who can face fear with a strong jaw, a stout pair of brogues and a slice of Dundee cake. Stuff it I am a wimp.

Anyway, the worse is over and to celebrate I am contemplating killing off this blog to prevent me ever vomiting up my (what should remain) private and personal concerns to my loyal readership again.

Escaping some more

I have hours to kill before my scan and results. You probably haven’t noticed (ha ha)  but when I am on my own and discombobulated I like to share a disorderly stream of reflections and anecdotes. Call it therapy if you like – I call it escape.

The hospital accommodation is super posh in a minimalist way. It’s on the fifth floor of a brand new science block. The ground floor is wall to wall labs for UCL immunology students I think. Really really impressive looking kit being manipulated by really really impressive looking students. You can sense the brainwaves circulating as you enter. Access to the accommodation means you need to do fancy things with cards in the lift which confounds all of us wrinklies who were hoping for the presence of an attendant in a maroon uniform sporting a peaked cap. The room is small but the quality is high without being fancy – quite lab like actually – absolutely no complaints. Breakfast is like a child’s pack up from a disinterested parent but is delivered to your room by a charming hostess. Chocolate muffin, clementine, long life croissant, milk, Museli + polystyrene bowl for said – to be honest – yuk – but again this is all on the house, so zero complaints. Only two things could, for some, be a deal breaker, both are somewhat relevant to the human computer interaction  module I teach, so worth documenting in this post. Remarkably it appears (and remember this is part of a super efficient eco build) you cannot turn the TV screen off. You can turn the TV off but the screen glows like a full moon throughout the night smack bang at the bottom of the bed. Insomniacs would go bonkers. I had a look at the back of the telly and it appears that it’s not a telly at all it’s a computer. So now it makes sense. It on permanent standby just in case it gets an instruction to do something important, the fact that it has no means of receiving an important instruction is by the by- It does not know it’s a Telly!

Hey and guess what neither can you turn the air con off. You can adjust the room temperature by accessing a tiny tiny button that gives you about 5 seconds to read the screen and respond appropriately, it’s effectively a wack-a-mole control, should you manage to wack the mole you basically have three times three options: on, on a lot, on a hell of a lot, cold, hot, Sahara, windy, stormy, hurricane. So my night was spent engulfed in a windy, warm, noisy airflow oscillating between so sweaty my tee shirt was wringing and so cold I had to put my cardigan on. 

This and other experiences yesterday have convinced me that some technical innovations are actually based on the principals of gaming. Here’s a few examples.

Rail tickets on your phone. You get sent a link to your ticket. Super all done I have my ticket. What you may not have appreciated is that the link is to your account not your ticket. Now in all probability you set up your account at the last minute in order to purchase the ticket so you haven’t necessarily memorised your account details. So the game is how much embarrassment can you endure when the ticket inspector wishes to see your ticket and your confident ‘here it is’ manifests no ticket but an entertaining game of guess the login details that may include a password reset while entering a tunnel with no internet access.

Paying for the taxi with Apple Pay. The payment device is attached to a side panel inside the cab. The cab is quite dark inside. The device is quite small. Because of early onset cataracts and outdated glasses prescription you can’t see the screen. You know that you have options as to the amount of tip but can’t read them. In your haste to look like an experienced Londoner you press random buttons and hope. You then pass a massive cash tip to the driver just in case you have tipped him nothing at all. He looks surprised as if you had just passed him your gold watch. Which of course is another option.

Paying for coffee at Pret. So I have got the hang of the Apple Pay thing after the taxi debacle. I put on my London face, not too smiley, not too much of a rural grin, authoritative, in a bit of a rush, successful. I hold my finger at the ready as the person before me managed her transaction in a fraction of a second and set a high bar. Go! Pay! I look down – there are three payment machines, any of which could be the right one. How do I know? Should I perform a sweeping gesture over all three or would I have just treated the queue to a full complement of macchiatos? My hesitation had reached an uncomfortable 5 seconds. I mumble something about which one that goes unnoticed she is already onto the next order. Finally one of them lights up and I recognise my order. I press and Siri kicks in. Yes I have over depressed the home button and the Siri game has barged in. More frantic button pressing – it beeps I have paid. No one has noticed, no one cares. A minute or so later the barista confesses her ordering system dropped my order. She apologises nicely, she’s friendly. We bemoan the perils of new technology, little does she know.

An adventure

What an adventure!

It’s probably good for me but I don’t like it. I have been returned forcibly to the world of other people. I have been shielding since March 2020, that’s 27 months without doing the stuff that other social animals do regularly. Shopping, taking a train, talking to strangers (not wearing masks), taking a taxi, sharing a lift, using public toilets, staying in a hotel, eating in a restaurant. I have packed all these activities into the space of just 6 hours. How ironic that I have engaged with these most risky activities in order to evaluate the risk of one of my diseases evolving into something more risky. I feel like I have had a shot of compressed London essence straight into my veins. It has left me exhausted, confused and feeling very old.

So I am in Belsize Park – it’s posh – not mega posh but its London for the comfortably well off. The old cliches certainly apply –  it’s full on multi-cultural which makes one feel immediately good and modern and young – the school kids talk posh and have raggedy hair and quirky clothes (Outnumbered land of course!) the dads holding their daughters hands on the way back from school are scruffy, in an expensive way. They don’t look too happy. I sense a Netflix media deal gone sour or an important call from a client missed. They don’t look like bankers but maybe they are in disguise. The women wear cropped off trousers and are tanned and about 40. They are in a hurry to get somewhere or finish something. Teenagers gather in outdoor cafes and buy expensive coffees.  Aside – It occurs to me now as I sit outside Prete (a safe choice, I was going for the Tapas place but got scared yes scared pounding heart, checking for wallet and phone, wallet and phone, wallet and phone) how I only focus my attention and analysis on those individuals who I can imagine myself being or knowing intimately in some other life. This indicates I have an inflated view of my prospect should reincarnation be true. The delivery guy outside Prete with his very scruffy scooter, still with L Plates on, didn’t interest me, his scooter did but the person is out of my range. The newspaper seller who I thought was talking extraordinarily eloquently to himself (it turned out he was talking to someone out of view)  I just wouldn’t be able to play him. My world view is exclusively middle class. Any other class up or down is out of my range. I suppose that’s how I feel now about London, it’s just out of my range. I can’t play/do London anymore – at least not on my own like I am this evening, maybe with my boys and girls to hold my hand. All this rampant Londoness is just across the road from my hotel and here I am hiding in my room with Wheeler Dealers on the telly in order to avoid the scary metropol that I used to love and thrive on. Earlier I braved a stroll down towards the tube station but my feet felt awkward. I wasn’t used to the continual changes in surface, the lumps and bumps thrown up by kerb stones, gutters, rubber flooring for outdoor cafes and plastic ramps running off pavements into the road presumably there to make the journey for wheelchairs, prams and scooters easier. Yes scooters and electric bikes everywhere. Parents scooting their kids (twosie style) back from school and nobody bats an eyelid. Nobody says oh that’s cool, that’s a fun thing to do – it’s as if they are putting the bins out – it’s that interesting. It’s like the circus is on the street doing fabulously virtuosic things but no one gives a shit.  Back to my stroll or rather stumble  – For those of us with varifocals you end up having to keep glancing down at the ground like to avoid scuffing the soles of your shoes and producing a sort of involuntary disabled moon walk. In my efforts to finder a flatter surface I entered a book shop. I felt self conscious and  nervous because the owner/assistant was speaking French, some young people inside were discussing BOOKS, recommending titles to each other. Another woman was speaking to a child in an Eastern European language and the child was replying in English. This is out of my league I thought as I sidled out without buying anything. What has happened to me? I was quite brave once. Quite independent – secretly always a mummies boy but at least I knew how to fake it. Now I seem to be cast as ‘old man found confused on London street wondering where his hootspar and his glasses went.’ Yep on leaving Pret I reprised the wallet and phone pocket pat and added glasses only to find them perched on my head. In my mind all of Bellsize Park stopped to watch and to mock 

Earlier this afternoon – 

After a very straight forward and remarkably efficient bevvy of tests and probes and prods and running up and down the corridor myself and another elderly couple set off to find our new accommodation. They were both very poorly and very slow, she was on dialysis but as we were both off to the same place and I was a comparatively young sprightly chap  I thought it charitable to accompany them as their guide. She was really really struggling to walk but declined all offers of help from either me or her husband who was only marginally less feeble than her. The Royal Free is a famously chaotic site with buildings and departments all over the place and lifts that offer destinations that make no sense, like SL and UG. It’s built on a very steep hill and  as the journey progressed I began to really worry about my charges capacity to make it to the accommodation without  a minimum of one maybe even two wheelchairs. I could imagine me pushing the less feeble husband while he pushed his wife – bit like a geriatric bendy bus. Needless to say my infallible sense of direction together with their increasing desperation led us literally back to where we started and panic began to set in all round. I could at this point have abandoned them and seriously contemplated legging it but I felt a heroic obligation not to, as well as fear that I might reencounter them at breakfast and suggested that while I go off and figure the way out, they stay put and lean against the wall to recover and then I would come back and get them. This routine was modelled on a sort of mountain rescue principal where the fit able one leaves the injured on and one other behind while they make the descent and alert the helicopter. Fortunately before this doomed to disaster plan was put into effect (no way would I have ever found them again)  a hospital orderly came over and asked us if we were lost. He was clearly on his lunch break and we were clearly catastrophically lost as we had stumbled into the staff restaurant, an area forbidden to patients due to Covid restrictions. Anyway he cheerfully walked us the whole way (at what was now an arthritic snails pace) all the way to the reception area of our accommodation. Because of the speed restriction this must have taken 30 minutes even though it was only a short distance. I offered him a generous tip to at least pay for his missed lunch which he declined. What a nice bloke but how useless was I!

Can I find my brave again? (Have you noticed the prevalence of this grammatical structure – I hate it – universities use it in their marketing all the time – ‘find your exceptional’ ‘live your excellence’ ‘do your extraordinary’) I doubt it. My only comfort was that this was my first day out on my own for such a long time and that if I force myself to go on more adventures I might even manage to eat at the tapas bar and buy something at the bookshop next time. 


Have you noticed – I only blog when I am worried.

Like busses, my health tests tend to come along all at once. Within the last 10 days I have had: my regular hospital blood tests, National Amyloidosis Centre tests part one, more of those to come on Thursday and Friday, glaucoma tests, more of those to come in June, and PSA tests, results today – not doubt more tests required. Ominous letters from the hospital and emails containing incomprehensible results are as common as TV adverts inviting subscriptions to funeral plans or ‘no fuss cremations’ ‘in afternoon episodes of Antiques Road Trip. Nothing blunts your appetite for the transitory absurdity of life than frequent reminders of death. What is deliciously fragile but full of promise morphs into a one way trip to nowhere land. Nothing sinister to report so far I am glad to say but I wish my tests were distributed a bit more evenly throughout the year so that my petty anxieties were less compacted – speaking of compacted I have to go to the dentist to have my newly minted and very expensive temporary tooth thing, yes you’ve guessed it, tested. But on the subject of health here is an interesting thing: my blood pressure is super good – miles better than usual – I could claim it’s all the sports and healthy eating I practice but I can only assume it’s the drugs I have been taking for 15 years taking their time to have any effect. Either that or I am very very chill, but the evidence (see above) is that I am really really not.

I am truly truly sick of health stuff. It not a subject that interests me even when it my health being discussed. ‘How’s it going Chris?’ or worse ‘How are you coping Chris?’ usually provokes an impatient ‘fine’ accompanied by a look of “Really! do you care!” “Do I care to discuss it” – It’s frightening, boring, time consuming, brain consuming, cash consuming (first class tickets to London (in order to avoid Covid close encounters) to the NAC this week). It also causes me to exhaust myself performing the role of how brave I am, how devil may care I am, how resigned I am to the progressive decline of all my faculties until my body is towed to that great scrapheap in the sky like my gold Ford Cortina did in 1983 and Maria’s Ford Focus did just last week. Yep her car died an unspectacular death at the hands of Leon the mechanic  whose graveside prayer comprised ‘Well if all goes well it will be a grand and if it don’t, it will be two and a half grand.’ So the next day we bought an old, but red and shiny Kia, the cheapest car they had in the garage leaving them with a dead Focus, a full spare can of diesel and one of those magnet things to hold your mobile phone on the dashboard which Maria has asked them to recover form the scrappy (this was embarrassing) but not as embarrassing as trying to drive off in the Kia when neither of us could figure out how to start it (depress the clutch)- and then subsequently pulling up to get petrol, accruing a heathy queue and then realising we didn’t know how to open the petrol cap. Tip: when you first get a car read the manual.

I just want to think sunny thoughts do sunny things and dance the night away in a state of splendid euphoria, but while bits of me are in the process of unpredictable decline, sunny thoughts can prove illusive. The secret is to be busy or asleep or watch telly. So I do a combination of those three. TV starts for us at about 7:30. Maria insists it’s light hearted with no subtitles as she has to look down while she’s eating – huh? Just look up and spill it down your front I say – and do. (Important –  remember not to do a zoom meeting with your students with the remnants of last nights pasta adhered to the shirt, one might have slept in, presented in close up.) By 8:00 we are into subtitles or subtitles + gore + brutality and angst. By 9:00 we are both in a state of high anxiety after an hour sharing the suicidal Finish detectives battle with addiction and a brutish and insightless boss and the case of the dismembered girl found by her mother in a suitcase left at the school gates.  So we watch Inspector  Montalbano so that Maria can practice her Italian (Sicilian) I can become utterly confounded by the plot within the first three minutes and we can both relish the moments in true pre ‘me too’ style that Montalbano’s lieutenant helps solve the case by sleeping with the principal suspect who happens to be the spitting image of Gina Lollobrigida only with fewer clothes on. Then it’s bed. I sleep like a baby for 5 hours straight, assisted by the chemotherapy and beta blockers both of which seem to act like anaesthetics. I wake at 4:00, quite often more than ready to do something important. I love the early morning, it’s the most optimistic part of the day and I am quite often super energised. I actually relish a bath at 5:00 am listening to the world service or farming today with a mug of tea propped next to some experimental soap product likely to end up being used for purposes it is not designed to fulfil. I think particularly of the shampoo bar I use as shaving soap, definitely the best shaving soap ever and the conditioner I used as body wash (less successful, rather greasy and no lather to speak of). My morning energies are currently directed to endless marking (blah!) and to three potential conference opportunities to demonstrate my phone box art in order of increasing scariness – namely: Hull, Newcastle, Prague so I have been spending my spare hours reconfiguring ‘the red telephone box that talks a bit like me’ such that I can live video broadcast from it (thus not having to physically attend the conference) with all the audio complexity under my control from within the box rather than in my studio in the house. I have successfully managed this temporary transformation but have created a new challenge. Manual and mind dexterity is not my strong point – so imagine me cooped up inside this small, sometimes boiling hot space manipulating a mixer, laptop running complicated live broadcast software, a microphone, a webcam, a mobile phone, an iPad and a 1937 telephone dial and receiver. (Case in point – tested this at the weekend and attempted to make a 30 second video to include here – i left the video recording for and 1hr and 29 minutes filling my phones memory and then accidentally deleted the lot – this is indicative of my technical incompetence when i have to manage more than one device at once) I feel like RickWakeman in Journey to the Centre of the Earth, (one of the more disasterous 1970’s concept albums) wearing a magicians cape and 18 inch flares while wrestling with what looked to be the innards of Jodrell Bank only to produce the sounds  of incredibly over amplified 80’s video games slowed down a lot. Initially I was embarrassed by the dog walkers seeing this weirdo all wrapped up in technology talking to himself inside a phone box but now I am used to it and have been known to be in there in my dressing gown at 6:00 am, greeting a villager with a friendly wave with no explanation requested or provided.

I suspect I am becoming known as the local nutter. So that’s good news.