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Thursday, 26 May 2016

"The Belly of an Architect"

I take it I'm not out of the ordinary in not liking pain. When it comes to pain - I'm a coward. I freely admit it. Not for me walking barefooted over hot coals, or sticking needles through my cheeks. Frankly I go into spasms of agony at the thought of plucking my eye brows.

So when I received the letter from the hospital informing me that they'd kindly laid on an endoscopic procedure appointment I was already imagining the  searing pain as a large tube was thrust into my mouth, down my throat and thence down into my stomach. In my mind's eye I saw an Alien like mouth opening up, slicing into my soft abdominal flesh as the one eyed monster lit up my innards searching for malignant growths and gaping ulcurated sores that littered what remained of my stomach lining.

I got no support whatsoever from 'er indoors.

 "Well you didn't have to have it, did you. If it were me I'd have left well alone."
"Your blood test was fine, wasn't it? They found nothing lurking in your stools did they?"
"And those PPIs seemed to do the trick didn't they?"
" So why agree when the doctor, who is young enough to be your grandson, suggested you have a gastroscopy."
" What does he know? I bet you're his first. Stands to reason he's only just qualified."
" He knew you'd agree: you're like that  - soft and easily persuaded."

I wondered what she meant by PPIs. They are not tablets to counteract Payment Protection, I don't have any. "Proton Pump Inhibitors" that's what they are. Sounds scarily sci fi don't you think. Protons, electrons, neutrons, atomic fission, atom bombs. There in my gut micro nuclear explosions were going off - no wonder I was feeling bloated.

Then there was H Pylori or give him his full name Helicobacter pylori a friendly little critter that burrows into the muciod lining of the stomach. It was these 12 months ago that gave me a major bout of belching.

Well this time around they could find no trace of saucy HP in my gut, but nevertheless I still had the belches so it was off to the hospital to see what other nasties might be lurking in my stomach.

I could have been brave and had the tube shoved down my throat au naturelle - without sedation. I am, however, a coward and the offer of being semi conscious during the procedure was something I could not refuse.

We turned up early at the centre, my stomach rumbling not having eaten  for 6 hours. As I was going to be quietened down, I needed someone to take me home - the missus. She was extremely caring.

Once I'd been safely delivered into the hands of the nursing staff she sped off to do some shopping at the local Tesco's super store. I, or one of the nursing staff, would phone her when I was ready to leave. 

They give you masses to read about the procedure beforehand. " Having a Gastroscopy - Your questions answered" The picture of a cut in half body with a pipe sticking out of its mouth and a tube with light on it scanning the stomach wasn't that reassuring. They said they aimed to make your visit as comfortable and stress- free as possible and then go on to describe in considerable detail what nasties they'll be looking for and what could possibly go wrong!

I had to fill out four pages of a form, self assessing whether I was alive and what was  my state of health. After being escorted into the ward I was placed on a hospital bed and a delightfully smiley nurse, checked my name, date of birth and whether or not I was of sound mind. She then took my blood pressure and my heart rate - surprisingly both were not off the scale.

At this point I started to wonder how they were to administer the sedation which I so desperately required if I was not to start screaming the ward down. I soon found out as the nurse tricked me into believing she was going to take a blood sample but instead inserted a massive plastic tap into one of my quite ancient veins. She suggested that I stop biting my lip as blood on my shirt would be difficult to wash out.

Then another nurse approached me, asked me my name, rank and number, smiled and left. Then another nurse - this time the head nurse - visited me. She it was who was going to do the procedure. She explained that it might be just the tiniest bit uncomfortable, that I might gag and possibly faint at the thought of a long piece of plastic with a light on the end and fearsome teeth rummaging around my interior.

I was disappointed that I wasn't required to disrobe and climb into one of those back to front gowns - the others in the ward were dressed like that. I then walked from the ward pushing my bed along with me to the "operating room".

It was all extremely hi tech, in a NHS sort of way, and cramped. Me, my bed, head nurse, three lower nurses, two TV screens, heart monitor, a throbbing, flashing piece of Japanese technology, a PC, keyboard and computer screen...and an obscenely long piece of piping which they were to shove down my throat...all in a tiny room.

I smiled weakly as they sprayed bubble gum into my mouth and injected dulling liquid into my vein. I closed my eyes as the pipe went into my mouth, down my gullet, taking a sharp left and scraping the sides and then there it was, so to speak, in my tummy. I felt the super nurse wriggle its head around exposing parts of my anatomy that had remained in darkness for more years than I care to remember. I bet the bugs got the shock of their lives.

Then it was out. It was all fine. I was wheeled out of the room and into the recovery area. I say recovery area; it was a room with a few chairs, a table and a tea urn. I was offered sweet tea and biscuits "The Blood Donor" style. Not having eaten for ages I asked for more tea biscuits - I ate seven!

After a short rest, I was escorted to another room where my wife was waiting. I forgotten I'd phoned her when the procedure was over.

I had a look at the snap shots of my insides as the camera helter skeltered it way into me. I was handed my very own Gastroscopy report. It said that they'd taken a sample of my stomach, I had a mild flat erosive with no bleeding but otherwise I was A OK. No further follow up and my physical status was ASA 1.

I was bemused by that: what did I have to do with head sets? Googling I discovered that ASA  referred to the American Society of Anesthesiologists physical status classification system. It had 6 categories. 1, me, a healthy person to 6, a declared brain-dead person whose organs are being removed for donor purposes. Fascinating.

I went home on the bus with my escort and promptly fell asleep. When I awoke; feeling very chuffed with myself I texted my friend in Cornwall describing my heroism in the face of overwhelming odds. He immediately replied that he'd had been attacked from both ends on the same day without any sedative. Also because of the double entry method he'd not eaten for 18 hours before the procedures. What courage! What fortitude! I felt quite deflated.

I look forward to my next visit to the doctor. I confidently expect a call from the surgery asking me to attend a wrap up session. 

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Farmer Giles of Ham

I love the crime thrillers on TV don't you? I'm definitely old school - Morse, Lewis, Frost, Miss Marple. I'm not one for the Scandinavian thrillers, or for that matter the French or Italian models. Far too dark and sexy. It has to be sensibly English. I've even been known to sit through a Wycliffe.

What surprises me is that there's not been a murder series centred around an allotment. There's Rosemary and Thyme: but the title gives its nature away - light hearted Midsomer Murder fare. Not a proper "whodunnit". No, I'm staggered why there's not been a crime series centred on an allotment such as  " Art Chokes Two For a Pound" or "Post Mortem amongst the Potash."

I say this because in recent weeks life down on the allotment has taken on a definitely "The Archers" turn of events. It was all because of a "slight" miscalculation by our branch's Treasurer.

You see at this year's AGM our new Treasurer, in presenting last year's accounts made great play of the fact that in the past 3 years we had spent £5,000 on repairs to our lawnmowers and strimmers. He said, in his written report, that this could not continue. He suggested, quite strongly,  that the damage to our horticultural tools which had occasioned such extravagance was due to the carelessness and incompetence of some of our allotment holders.

New measures had to introduced. Plots were to be surveyed to ensure that the grass paths between plots were sufficiently level to ensure that the mowers, if used, would not come a cropper. A report was to be drawn up  highlighting those plots that were insufficiently flat. In those cases remedial action was to be taken. Subsequently a report was prepared and certain plot holders identified and spoken to.

Machinery in future would only be loaned out if it was signed for and on return inspected for damage. On no account was machinery to be passed from one plot holder to another without being returned and checked. Signs were suggested - written in large type; all plot holders were to be e-mailed with details of the new regime. Any damage was to be paid for by the culprit plot holder.

Unsurprisingly the grass between the plots has grown uncommonly tall. People, including me, have been afraid to take out any mower or strimmer for fear of inadvertently transgressing one of the new diktats.

I wasn't at the last but one committee meeting. It was a humdinger. One of the committee was incensed that the Treasurer had more or less accused them of incompetence in allowing the cost of repairs to grow so large. Especially as that committee member had done his own calculation to show that the amount spent on repairs was not £5,000 but less than £1,500. Accusations and taunts were thrown across the committee table. One member resigned on the spot in disgust and the rest of the committee walked out, leaving behind a rather bemused Chair and Secretary.

There followed a string of e-mails which clearly showed that the lower figure was correct. The new regime, which had caused quite a bit of resentment amongst plot holders, had been based on widely inaccurate figures. Still words like "idiots", "criminals" littered the texts and a certain member of the committee was asked to apologise, which they did in one e-mail only to retract it in the next.

A further committee meeting was called for last Sunday which I attended. Before it began the Chair itemised the series of insults and accusations that had been flying around - that had to stop. The meeting was so boring. No one said anything but just grunted or nodded when asked to agree on matters under discussion.

It's a miracle that blood had not been spilled at the earlier meeting. I had visions of heads being severed with pruning knives, legs cut off at the knees as strimmers were wielded, hands sawn off and noses snipped as accusations of bad faith and skullduggery were hurled across the committee room.

It would have made for truly exciting afternoon drama sponsored by Viking Cruises.

My potatoes are doing fine, as are the beetroot although everything else is unusually late. I suspect all the plants are lying low, fearful of what might happen to them should they be foolish enough put their heads above ground!    

Sunday, 8 May 2016

"Money For Nothing"

On Wednesday my mate Peter and I were where the beautiful people hang out: King's Road, Chelsea.

We met at the entrance to Sloane Square tube station. The air was heavy with "Creed" eau de parfum and the crinkle of expensive cotton. We were dressed to kill and on our way to the Satchi Gallery to visit The Rolling Stones exhibition. Peter wore his faux leather jacket, I wore my hipster outfit: we looked pretty young but we were just backdated.

Walking through Duke of York's Square we experienced the thrill of not being able to afford anything in even the cheapest boutique there: not a Poundland in sight. This sense of the unaffordable was reinforced when we had a quiet coffee before the exhibition. Little change out of a tenner: but we had to wait to be shown to a table.

The exhibit was approached along a set of barriers - installed no doubt to filter out us plebs from the VIPs who had their own queue. Before entering we were scrutinised by two huge Russians in black suits. Unsmiling would not adequately describe their demeanour: deadly would be more appropriate.

You knew you were in a "Rolling Stones" exhibition the moment you entered as "Brown Sugar" alerted one to that fact. We learnt about the Stones early days, how they met up, the flat in "unfashionable Chelsea" they shared in the early days, which the exhibition recreated. Food encrusted plates in the sink; ancient gas cooker and gas meter on the wall. Unmade beds, beer bottles everywhere and discarded clothes. Made me quite wistful for my student days.

Keith Richard's diaries - tiny writing on tiny sheets of paper. Their first contract, their first demo. Masses of posters of their early gigs at "The Odeon", "The Gaumont", supporting "Gerry and the Pacemakers", sharing the bill with Brian Auger and Julie Dirscoll. God, the memories came flooding back.

...And then liftoff. They are discovered by America. There was a novel display; an airport departure board showing all the gigs they did in those early years: They must have earned enough "Air Miles" to fly to Pluto and back.

I liked the early black and white photographs the best. There's a real beauty in many of them as well as depicting the post war dirt of London which was still around in the early '60's. There was the multiscreen display of concerts, shots of screaming fans as well as action shots of Jagger: very reminiscent of the multiscreen shots in the film "Woodstock".

Lots of loaned paraphernalia: Guitars by the dozen with notes on whose they were, when bought, on which tracks they were played. A mock up of an early recording studio with original equipment - massive reel to reel tape recorders and mixing decks. The recording studio was set up to look as if they'd just finished a set with their instruments placed on their stands. Quite effective I thought.

As we progressed thro' the 70's, 80's and 90's everything got bigger, more extravagant, more indulgent. This was a small corner shop which had grown into a worldwide mega brand.

The exhibit rooms reflected that with architectural models of the stage settings for their concerts and a room full of their stage costumes - now many looking extremely cheesy or cheap. But what the heck: it's only Rock and Roll.

The tour was rounded off with a 3 D experience of a excerpt from one of their recent concerts. We waited "backstage" in their dressing room. It was really quite authentic - or at least it was what I imagined it would be like - except I missed the smell of sweat, booze and pot. While we were waiting I hit upon a tour manual. It gave masses of instructions on what had to happen, who did what and where they had to be on every day of the tour. It listed the support team - I counted well over two hundred and that didn't include all the agents, press and PR people, the financial accountants and other essential persons. A giant corporation indeed.

We were handed our 3 D glasses, to be returned when we left, and shepherded into the dark room when the concert started. Most people sat on the floor, but Peter and I thought it best to stand as we'd have trouble getting up. Having a 73 year old Mike Jagger strutting his stuff on the stage like a two year old didn't help, but I was reassured to see that Keith Richards had a very pronounced beer gut. Charlie Watts looked worryingly healthy while Ronnie Wood looked, well like Ronnie Wood.

And that was that: save for the obligatory trip to the souvenir shop. We bought nothing: not with the souvenir catalogue costing £30 in paper back and £50 for the hard cover. A pair of Rolling Stones themed pyjama would set you back £250.

We re-joined the beautiful people of Chelsea, had a pub lunch and thence to Oxford Street for a personal demonstration of a Saga Heston coffee maker that had been arranged for Peter. I won't embarrass him by quoting its price.

Home to up and coming Walthamstow for me and to quietly dignified St Albans for Peter. Both of us, no doubt, reflecting on our youth and those long off days of summer.