Friday, March 28, 2008

No, that isn't the problem

Radio 4 afternoon phone in programme about sleep with an expert on hand.

CALLER: Just one query, in these night time hours [when I’m awake] you tend to drink tea or coffee, but I’ve heard that can make your sleeping problem worse. Is that right?

This guy has had sleeping problems since 1968.

Did you know the majority all queries phoned in to computer helplines are solved by switching the computer off and on again?

My father, when he was in the Navy, was an electrician. He said nearly every difficulty he was called out to help with was sorted by first of all checking that the non-functioning item was plugged in, and if so, by then checking it was switched on.

I fully understand that 80% of all problems are explained by the completely bloody obvious happening to be overlooked.

But I get sick and tired of each new professional I meet thinking they’ve seen the obvious with my problems, when I’ve already trodden that ground with every previous professional I’ve seen.

They all seem to leap to the conclusion that my Fatigue is caused by Depression and by a quick look at my circumstances think it’s quite clear.

"No, my daughter’s Down’s Syndrome isn’t the problem. Honestly, she’s a wonderful girl and in some ways is easier than my Übermensch son.

"No, no, my son isn’t the problem either. He’s a great lad and I’m really proud of him. And it’s a hell of a lot easier to cope with only 2 children.

"Oh, yes, there used to be five. Three stepchildren from my wife’s previous marriage. Oh of course there were difficulties; there is in any family. And yes, stepfamilies have their own particular nuances. But no, we worked through them and that isn’t the problem. And now we even have a less intense lifestyle.

"Yes, I sold my business and we moved to another area, but these weren’t stressful things; on the contrary they relieved a great deal of the stresses I’d previously been under, so that’s not the problem.

"Well of course we have less income, and this bloody tiredness isn’t helping, but I’m canny with the cash flow and we’re not in debt. Besides, we’re spending less money on food since I lost weight [laughs], so that’s not the problem.

"Yes, I’ve lost somewhere around a hundred pounds…

"No, no, no, the weight loss was a result of eating more healthily - cutting the crap out of our diet and making healthier choices. Losing it was a good thing, not a dangerous thing. It certainly isn’t the problem. I have a full understanding of why I was overeating to combat Depression.

"Yes, I’ve had an on-off relationship with Depression for most of my adult life and know how it affects me, but the anti-depressants I’m now on have sorted that out but I’m still tired. The Depression followed the Fatigue not the other way round, so that isn’t the problem."

And so on.

And so on.

And so on.

What I don’t understand is why no one thinks I ought to talk to someone who knows something about sleep. If someone is tired all the time, surely that’s the first thing which should be looked at?

Still, earlier this week I finally had an appointment with the local CMHT (Community Mental Health Team), and they’ve agreed I would benefit from CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) for my CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome).

However, the waiting list time is currently unknown but is unlikely to be less than six months and could easily be in excess of nine. Apparently the more acronyms involved, the greater the time span.

So, yyyyaaaawwwWWWWWWwwnnnnnn, in the meantime don’t expec…


Monday, March 24, 2008

Hung over... again

This morning was only the 2nd time in 18 months I’ve been hung over (see Hung Over for the last time).

And it was for exactly the same reason as last time.

I did not drink too much – in fact not a drop of alcohol passed my lips yesterday.

No, I overate.

I overate cakes and chocolate to be precise. This was a sugar hangover.

Mary introduced us to her friend Dina last year who, among her many other talents, creates incredible spreads and invites lots of people round to enjoy them. And on Easter Sunday, in addition to the tables straining under the weight of scrumptious food, another table was straining under the weight of a variety of scrumptious cakes. Of course there was also the vast number of chocolate eggs hidden around the grounds for the Great Easter Egg Hunt, with further goodies handed out to all the children afterwards.

Maggie had been unwell and was unable to join us, so Dina insisted on loading us up with extra cake to take back to her. What with Rogan and Meg’s vast hoards of chocolate booty, I wondered whether the rear axle of the car would cope with the strain.

Car and children home in one piece, and Maggie beginning to look a little brighter, we decided to devour the remaining cake for supper.

After the children were in bed, Maggie brought out some chocolate treats she’d procured for us earlier in the week. Well, how could I resist?

This morning’s Headache From Hades had me proclaiming, between whimpers, I would never be so foolish again.

That is until this afternoon when I discovered the delights of mini-chocolate eggs skewered on cocktail sticks and dipped in a mug of dark roast coffee...

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Bamboo Chronicles

As Brave Astronaut recently pointed out to me, everyone and their dog seems to have a blog these days.

But blogs from pets are, like, sooooo 2006.

Plant Blogs are the next big thing: Check out The Bamboo Chronicles

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Am I mad, in a coma, or back in 1981?

I’ve been watching Ashes to Ashes on BBC1 the last few weeks. It’s a sequel to the highly enjoyable series last year, Life on Mars about a cop in a coma who seemed to have travelled back in time to 1973. Despite the dodgy premise, it was cleverly done and a great way to revisit the era of my early childhood memories with today’s knowing attitudes. Ford Cortinas, flares and nylon everything – superb.

Ashes to Ashes has a different cop, this time transported back to 1981, and here the fun comes from the fact that I was 15 then. So all the references to the Royal Wedding, state-of-the-art computer games like Space Invaders, and really dodgy synth-pop music are ones I understand completely.

So the other day, when I saw a woman in the street with large, spiky blond hair up top with trails running a down the back of her neck (remember Limahl from Kajagoogoo? If not, check Google Images and you’ll see what I mean), wearing a leopard print short skirt and a leather jacket with shoulder pads, I wondered whether an 80s revival was underway. Perhaps she got her clothing from her mother, I thought.

Then she turned round and I realised she was her mother. A woman in her 40s dressed as she might have 25 years ago.

Maybe she was heading to a party, but at 11am on a Monday it seemed a little unlikely. Perhaps this is the way she usually looks. Considering Peter Stringfellow and Rod Stewart still dress the same way a quarter of a century later, I guess it’s not unusual for people to stick with a style they’re comfortable with, long after the rest of the world has moved on.

After all, the Queen dresses like my grandmother did; there are plenty of old guys in the pubs who clearly haven’t upgraded their style sense since the 50s; and most denim and leather clad bikers these days look exactly as I remember 30 years ago, except they’re now all bald and have long grey beards to go along with their rather faded tattoos.

But then it dawned on me I haven’t exactly moved with the times either. In essence I wear more or less what I did 20 years ago –a t-shirt under a denim or cotton shirt tucked into my blue or black jeans.

What was that? A shirt tucked in? Surely no one’s done that since the 80s have they?

Even ignoring the current trend for jeans to be half hanging off the arse with the crotch somewhere down by the knees, I could at least update my appearance by untucking my shirt, but here I’ve run into a few problems: my shirts are the wrong cut to be hanging out. In fact they’re all several sizes too big. The shirts I wear are the same ones I wore when I was 100lbs heavier, so if I do untuck them they flare out and hang down to my knees in a way that, I must say, looks even less fashionable.

So why haven’t I updated my wardrobe in the last couple of years? Money aside, I haven’t a clue how to dress as a thinner man. As a hefty individual it’s quite straightforward – you search for ages, then finally wear whatever fits; there’s little choice available. However I’m now thin enough to fit into clothes from just about every high street retailer, but I have no idea what would suit me.

Like the über-low-crotch jeans I know most of the stuff hanging on the rails would just look silly on me. Of course it doesn’t help that I’m not quite thin enough – today’s clothes are designed for skinny 16 to 24 year olds, not overweight middle-aged men. I might be 100lbs lighter than I was, but I’m still 20lbs heavier that the fashion designers cut their cloth for. If I were to wear a shirt designed to hang loose out of the trousers, my belly would look even more exaggerated.

Having watched plenty of Trinny and Susannah, and Gok Wan on TV, I know if I were a woman my shape would best be flattered by an A-line dress. However, given my beard, deep voice and preference for trousers, I doubt this is really the way to go.

But until they start a new TV series on Channel 4 called Blokes – How to Look Good Overweight and on a Budget I’m going to continue to have to dress in ignorance.

Where’s a fashionable gay friend when you need one?

Friday, March 14, 2008

School Report Intimidation

We were sent a text by Rogan’s high school today to let us know he was bringing home his School Report. Presumably this is to counteract the common practice when I was a lad of forging parental signatures to make it appear they had been read and approved, without the parents ever knowing such reports existed. Occasionally one parent or the other might casually comment that when they were young, schools gave out annual reports, but we would shrug and mutter something about the world being different in the Olden Days.

There was no need to remind Rogan we were expecting his school report, however. He’s an honest lad and I can’t remember the last time he got a bad one. Occasionally I fear he might not be underhanded or devious enough to achieve global domination, but the fact that he can bake mouth-watering scones like his mother makes up for it.

But this report… well, this one was scary.

Page after page of glowing comments, top marks and high achievement.

After a while I found myself rebelling against it all. Couldn’t he have set fire to the school or something? Anyone this smart is bound to be the geek of the class – but no, apparently he’s friendly, sociable and well liked too.

Have you any idea just how intimidating it is?

Actually, if you’re a parent, of course you do. It doesn’t matter how academic or otherwise your children are, they are perfect.

You are handed this beautiful, perfect little being, a true miracle of life. How can you possibly get them to adulthood without screwing them up? The responsibility is huge and the task feels impossible. The best you can hope for is a certain amount of damage limitation. With luck I won’t pass on too many of my own neuroses, although in the process I will probably set them up with other personality disorders instead.

Sometimes I’ve felt his intelligence is wasted on us. There are some parents out there who push their kids hard to do well at school. These parents would sell their souls if they thought it would help their kids achieve the grades Rogan appears to gain almost effortlessly.

Personally, I’ve never held much respect for school and academic achievement. At the age of 11 I knew how to read, write and use a pocket calculator; if I’d left school then I would probably have achieved a great deal more with my life.

Once we have the basics, far more important than a few bits of paper saying you sat an exam are drive, passion and empathy. With these characteristics you can achieve anything without having to hurt people on the way. It’s a shame the education system doesn’t value these as highly as memorising a few bits of general knowledge you could have looked up anyway.

Still, this isn’t to say I’m not proud of Rogan. In the end I think the only thing that could have impressed me more was if he faked his report.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Who's the Baddy?


To look at this bunch, it all depends on whether you are Agatha Christie, Van Helsing, a Paranoid Westerner, James Bond, a Socialist, or Little Red Riding Hood.

But once you take on a particular viewpoint all the others become irrelevant. James Bond isn’t going to worry about a wolf; Agatha Christie would never say that the Vampire did it; the Socialist will probably see the Butler as an example of the oppressive class structure we ought to be tearing down, rather than the murderer of 1920s detective novels.

Admittedly Van Helsing might be eyeing up the Wolf as another supernatural being, but would most likely view the Muslim as a knowledgeable Mystic from the East instead of the potential terrorist of the Paranoid Westerner.

The story we are in, or the Narrative we occupy at any one time (and we are constantly moving between many different ones), dictates how we view, filter and interact with the world around us – who we see as allies, enemies or just an irrelevance. The Narratives also shape our own roles – whether we see ourselves as the hero, sidekick, the misunderstood outsider, or in any one of a number of other positions.

But these Narratives in which we exist; these Narratives that fundamentally manipulate our experience of the world - were they created by us, for our benefit, or were they created by other people with other agendas?

Who is writing yours?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Embarrassing Questions

"Dad, can I watch Mitchell and Webb on TV tonight?"

I don't know son, the humour can be quite adult...

"Oh pleeeaase. All of my friends at school watch it."

Hmmm... OK, but only on the condition that if there's anything you don't understand, you don't ask.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

How's your heart?

Carole, on her blog Fractured Thoughts, mentioned the other day about it being a year since her granddaughter, Nebraska, had open-heart surgery. The photo of the wee lass, post-operation, twanged all sorts of emotional strings with me as Meg went through an almost identical journey when she was tiny.

Meg’s operation had a profound effect on me, which I’ve written about elsewhere on this blog (see Losing My Religion). But had we not put her through it, she would have been unlikely to live beyond the age of 8 (see Meg is 9).

This is now, dare I say, a relatively routine operation. But it wasn’t always the case. Around 40% of children born with Down’s Syndrome have some kind of heart defect, ranging from a mild murmur that will never be a bother, right through to hearts that give out shortly after the child is born.

It wasn’t until relatively recently that a) these operations were performed early enough to have the best effect, or b) they were even offered to children with DS.

But then it’s only been a couple of decades since they stopped immediately whipping away children born with DS to be put in institutions, while it was recommended to the parents that they just tell friends and family their child was stillborn.

Born in almost any other era, or even today in certain other countries, Meg would not be alive now.

By coincidence, I took Meg along to see the consultant today for her heart check-up, nearly 10 years after her operation, and everything sounds fine. She will be seen again in 4 years, but it was quite obvious the consultant doesn’t expect to find any problems again.

Meg aged 5 months

Meg aged 10 years