Sunday 30 January 2022

Fragments from my widespread world

(Above) Don't work harder, work smarter.
Better still get someone else to work
(Below) Back to three fingers' width
UP YOURS TONY. On TV, Tony Soprano, head of organised crime in New Jersey, has to walk down his drive-way (in dressing gown and slippers) to pick up the morning newspaper. My drive-way is marginally shorter but no matter, The Guardian is delivered through my front-door letterbox.

URINATION. Old age (for men) brings reduced pressure and greater inaccuracy. The answer? Do what women have been doing since the Middle Ages – sit on the pot.

OP ONE – ON MY MOUTH. Back in August 2021. Reduced my mouth opening by two-thirds, interfering with high notes when I sung. Now I’m back to three-fingers’ worth of space (see pic) as before.

GARDENING PROBLEMS? HIRE SOMEONE YOUNGER  AND FITTER. See how the green bags accumulate.

ARE THE BEACH BOYS HISTORY? Am conducting research via my two daughters. Initial findings seem to suggest the BBs are still relevant.

TRISTAN UND ISOLDE. OK, you don’t like Wagner but you may give him a try some day. If so, don’t make it this one. Flying Dutchman (at 2 hr 20 min) is nearly half  TuI’s length. And there are other reasons.

FACE SMEARING. To keep my cheeks moist. The guck I’ve been using is now discontinued. The recommended replacement is called ZeroDerm. Can’t say I’m encouraged.

TOASTING. My toaster does only half the area of two sides per timed session. Does yours do the full sides? Let me know the make.

PERAMBULATION. What is the absolute minimum time for “a walk”?

Monday 24 January 2022

I'm letting mine grow longer

Hereford centre at a warmer time of year

VR, my wife of 61 years, is stir-crazy; hard to remember the time she last strayed outside our front door. True, she had her hair cut a week ago but that hardly counts. The buses that once served our estate have been cancelled but that shouldn’t have mattered; we’ve accumulated huge reserves in our current account (What might we have spent it on?) so hey-ho for a taxi (cab in the US).

Except BlueLine, our normal service, had no taxis available until after 10.00 hr – a large percentage of drivers having returned to Lithuania and Rumania thanks to Brexit. The remainder are all permanently booked up for school-runs and the salon appointment was for 09.00 hr.

Finally we found a taxi and I accompanied her to Hereford centre, there to play Solitaire on my phone while VR’s white locks were snip-snapped. Since it seemed wasteful to return home immediately (I always tip taxi drivers inordinately; they all have wild foreign stories to tell) we decided to do some luxury shopping on non-essentials in M&S’s food hall. But I hadn’t bargained for it being the coldest day so far of 2022.

I am recovering well from surgery but my resistance to low temperatures is well below par. “Should we get a melon?” VR asked. I shook my head; it was cold in M&S, God knows what the temperature would be on the walk to the taxi rank. Would I have the strength?

Meanwhile I take my car out of the garage every week or so, just to check the battery and to run the engine to add charge. I’m denied using the car for six weeks post-op, just in case my surgery is subject to an emergency stop. Another two weeks to go. There’s always Tone Deaf.

Wednesday 19 January 2022

Self-jab ordeal now over

(Above) A Sharp Box, labelled with dire
warnings and destined for the furnace.
(Below) The "dead wasps" (ie, used syringes)
awaiting the destructive flames.


Yesterday I self-injected the anti-clotter for the last time. Twice a day for 28 days (I think), so there’s 56 used syringes in the yellow Sharps Box – reminiscent of the piles of dead wasps after we’d had the wasp-man in, a couple of years ago.

The routine was one injection at 08.00 hr and another at 20.00 hr. Alas, I was terribly forgetful and frequently late with the evening jab. Nor did I become any more skilful. I was supposed to pinch a fold of belly-skin and jab into the centre of the fold; but holding the fold steady was frequently beyond me.

There were times when the jab was completely sensation-free, not just pain-free. This occurred in perhaps 30% of the total and I think must be attributable to the thin-ness of the needle. Even when there was pain it was minimal. Despite this there were always worries before-hand. Why?

Perhaps because pain consists of two quite separate experiences: anticipation and the actual rending of the flesh. Theoretically the anticipation should be pain-free but it’s as if the sensors in the flesh start pre-reacting as the source of the pain draws near.

Certainly this was the case when I broke my wrist roller-skating. My mother filled me with analgesics and was then able to handle my wrist quite robustly. A few hours later I couldn’t bear her hand less than 6 inches away from my arm. What I felt through this “gap” may not have been pain but it was genuinely unbearable.

I walk round the block twice a day to encourage my bowels to do what bowels do. The elapsed time has dropped from 15 minutes to 10. These walks have the desired effect but incipient gentility prevents me from saying what this is.

Sunday 16 January 2022

Old argument in new clothes


Old man – new approach. Less planned. Random, even. Making sense, but not excessively. Tangentially. Through the back door. Up through tectonic plates and lo! – tsunami!

(Fool’s gold, surely? Words drop in, group themselves and thus are shaped, planned. You want a verbal accident. Knowing accidents are not made; they only happen.)

So I’m a fool. Another penalty of old age. Wanting that which I may not have. Damnit, the sentences get longer as planning sticks in its snout. Down sir, down.

(I told you so.)

Begone, sir. You are predictable, a source of clich├ęs. Three a penny. The leaden clump of the said-before. Give me the new new. The true new. The blue new. Aha! Can new be blue? Is it – might it be? – unexpected?

(And so self-delusion creeps in. Signs of senility.)

The hell with you. If I’ve got senility I may put it to work. And bring about that verbal accident. Unplanned words round a grain of sense. Blue words. To turn  your fresh-faced nonentity blue. Even ultramarine. Hey, I didn’t see those four syllables coming.

(I’m proud of being blue. It’s a logical political colour.)

Alas for you. Blue on this side of the Atlantic lacks honour. On a face it signals lack of oxygen. You may snuff it before I do. And I may resurrect my old trumpet and play Land Of Hope and Glory over your coffin. Badly. Intentionally.

(Uh-uh.)

And that – at least – was unexpected.

Wednesday 12 January 2022

Poignancy and the NHS

NO CODE Marta, the ward nurse, came from Poland; our snatched chats exceeded bed pans and blood samples. The state of modern Poland, for instance.

Five days after the op, I was ready to leave. Getting a surgeon’s discharge was often tricky – surgeons could be whisked away to the theatre – but Marta kept up a barrage of phone calls. Early evening I was being towed (backwards) in a wheelchair towards the main entrance.

Marta didn’t have to accompany me but did so. I was touched. I passed through significant swing doors; Marta, following me, abruptly stopped. “I need a code to get back through these doors and I always forget it,” she said.

The gap between us widened, no time to say anything worthwhile. I blew her a kiss, and she blew one back. The door swung and she was gone.


CARE My first surgical appointment was aborted for a week. I needed to get back into my street clothes. In the next bed, was a gaunt elderly man, awake but totally immobile; his expression fixed. To my knowledge he hadn’t moved for at least two hours.

I was curtained off to spare other patients my bare bum. Through the curtain I heard the quiet urgent voice of a nurse assuring Immobilised Man others would look after him when he returned to his solitary home. I, meanwhile, could expect to be greeted by VR and my two daughters.


VOCALS S, a young man in his twenties, had once worked in a bank. Had switched to hospitals and, inexplicably, was now out work. Did odd jobs round the wards. Like me he was taking singing lessons, but for pop music. He sang me a verse and it was clear he’d done his homework. We talked, impassioned.

Saturday 8 January 2022

Yeah, we remember Berck. Hmmm...

On this Berck beach you can display yourself in the
altogether. But not in your car or on your motorbike

One year our best US friends were over for a visit and we decided to take them for a quick flit to France. Not tourist France, ordinary France, somewhere in the north. Mike, the husband, comes from Rhode Island and is linked umbilically to the sea. So why not a resort on France’s channel coast? Why not, say, Berck-sur-Plage which would be new to me too?

The moral of this story is when in France, it’s best to know where you’re going.

Berck has one single raison d’etre, providing convalescent care for invalids. And when I say “invalid” I mean those with long-term needs, stretching way into the future. Lots and lots of them. Strangely, many were comparatively young.

So not only were the sidewalks crowded with slow-moving folk using walking sticks (the US calls these things “canes” but I never got the habit) and Zimmer frames. Others, with greater incapacity, lay on what looked like those minimalist beds you see in operating theatres which they managed to propel by means that were hard to discern.

Look, I’m as sympathetic as anyone to those with illness but this was an occasion for showing Mike and Maggie the wonders of France and I fear Berck didn’t cut it. We dropped into a bar and two very pale individuals with half-drunk glasses of beer gazed at us with supreme lack of interest. I must confess we became uneasy, didn’t talk much.

Yesterday I walked to the newsagent, a mile there, a mile back. Easily my longest walk since the op. I think I walked more or less briskly but can’t be sure. Did I look like an invalid? I wondered whether my face was pallid, whether I occasionally shuffled. And if so, did I deserve the Berck sentence? What goes round…

Tuesday 4 January 2022

PP: A role it's hard to give up

Elder daughter leaves for home in Luton today and it remains to be seen whether I have the wit and energy to grow out of my role as Permanent Patient (PP).

What, you may ask, is a PP?

A PP lolls on the couch all day long (even though it isn’t good for him) doing bugger-all. A PP issues vague instructions about the food he thinks he can ingest, leaving his carer to turn these utterances into dishes that are bland but somehow stimulating, novel but not disturbing, simple but not childish. A PP hardly ever goes upstairs other than to bed. A PP always gets first crack at The Guardian’s quick crossword. A PP’s drinking-water bottle is refilled as if by magic.

In social status a PP resembles a pasha of Old Turkey lacking only a punka-wallah to agitate the ceiling fan and disperse sick-room odours.

What tasks must a PP now face? The car has remained in the garage since the day of the op, December 21, since I am forbidden its use as a driver for six weeks. Its electrics need testing. Yet I am the only person on the planet who can reverse it through the garage door (only an inch or two wider than the car itself) without scratching the paintwork. Just into the driveway you understand.**

Unload the online grocery order from Sainsburys. And withstand the disappointment of “Unavailable Items”.

Wash up. (ie, resume my long-standing obligatory duties chez RR)

Mastermind the garbage and trash disposal preparations.

Start reading again instead of gazing vacantly at television.

Examine my stomach (externally) in a mirror for blank spaces (among the red dots) where the anti-clotting agent needle may be inserted.

Take advantage of the fact that my singing voice still exists and chant lustily.

** Started in a second

Sunday 2 January 2022

Q & A: Difficult choices

Christmas dinner was postponed
until New Year's Eve so that I
could be present. As usual Beef
Wellington was served, of which
I ate not a scrap (Dietary restraints).
I refuse to explain the explain the
slogan on Zach's black tee-short.

“How are you?” they say. And I never know how to answer.

I live on what we in the UK call “an estate” a dense cluster of residential houses. Yesterday, on daughter PB’s orders, I went outside to disassemble the artificial Christmas tree for transportation up to the loft. Part of a cathartic exercise whereby every trace of Christmas is removed from the house – inside and out – in an exhausting couple of hours. Leaving all three of us completely knackered but deliciously purged. Back to normal.

News travels quickly on the estate. As I disentangled the flashing lights and baubles an intermittent stream of pedestrians passed by, to the supermarket, walking their dogs or getting some exercise. A high percentage would know I spent Christmas in hospital; some would want to pose the question above.

Most would be satisfied with an “OK” but how to judge? It’s been nine days since the op and familiar acquaintances would want an update. In what degree of detail?

As an earlier post has explained my op is not easily discussed. The target area is intimate and the vocabulary involves terms usually avoided in public conversation. On occasion I’ve made the wrong choice. Been altogether too frank, causing a blank look and an obvious desire for my questioner to be on his/her way. Oh, not that!

Mercifully this is not happening during my stay in the USA. There, I almost always got it wrong, even with less controversial subjects. You see I have this tendency towards polysyllabic language when responding. Showing off, of course. It didn’t go down well In Dormont, PA.

Too much or too little? Perhaps a feeble joke: a word-play on plumbing. Illness isn’t at all straightforward these days.