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Tuesday 27 December 2022

Retrospective rage

I (accidentally) provided plenty of reasons for a gloomy family Christmas 2022. Just a glance at my swollen neck – post op – would have put a damper on most domestic celebrations. That I allowed a beard to grow over the swelling (too sensitive to shave) suggested I was fathering some nauseating tropical fruit that even orangutans would find unpalatable. No matter.

Playing a demanding game based on word definitions almost cracked the ceiling plaster. Drink flowed in torrents (if not for me). The Beef Wellington was superb. And there were table presents.

Table presents are gifts intended to provoke wit. As for instance the carefully-chosen book I received: Cars We Loved In The 1950s. My initial reaction looked no further than that hilariously erring participle “loved”. Surely the author had mistyped “loathed”. But reflect. At the time – assuming you are old enough – one didn’t loathe these wretched contraptions. These were the only cars available. Only the passage of time revealed their terrible defects.

Poverty forced me into owning one such vehicle. I’ve mentioned it before so it remains nameless. It had a four-speed synchromesh gearbox which may need some decoding. Synchromesh allows drivers to change gears without wearisome  “double declutching”. Yet my car lacked this facility between first and second gear. A garage mechanic explained: on my make of car synchromesh always failed permanently within the first year. Even on modestly steep hills, engine power was so feeble I often had to select first gear. And thus double-declutch.

Male Brits tend to glorify car defects, maintaining they form character. Being able to double-declutch was the subject of much boasting. I could do it, but remained enraged that the symptoms of this industrial failure were so casually accepted, even seen as a way of expressing techno-manhood.

Yup, I loathe those cars.

Saturday 24 December 2022

Minor op

Two days to Christmas. I am the only occupant of the waiting room at the Medical Centre. The scar starts behind my left ear and curves down and forward along my jawbone. About 15 cm long, although its route has always been too sore to measure accurately. Black and spiny, like a small, irregular hawthorn hedge

The practice nurse is available almost immediately. She calls my name, and coughs as if she needs to cough.

Anticipation is at least fifty percent of the un-anaesthetised trauma of taking out stitches. The penalty of being adult is not being allowed to squeal. Fact is, the pain intensifies occasionally but never becomes unbearable. Ten minutes and we’re done. She holds out a dish with her trophies; not worth mounting on a wooden plaque.

We discuss her unusual surname, Turkish, her ex-husband’s. A dim almost forgotten figure. She coughs again and I sympathise; she says she’ll be off to bed for the afternoon. I compliment her on her skills and she shrugs professionally.

Life resumes. 

Friday 23 December 2022

Tiny but encouraging

My jaw hurts; like toothache but it’s not that.  The result of surgery nearly a week ago. Ibuprofen holds it at bay but it returns. Hurts so I can’t think.

Seventy years ago, when I lived with my Mum, she had a slender volume on her shelves: The Problem of Pain, by C. S Lewis, better known for Narnia, The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, Perelandra, etc. Lewis was a literary Christian and TPOP  tries to explain why bad things – like pain – can routinely exist in a world controlled by a so-called loving God. I never read it but guessed at its contents. Didn’t reckon it could help.

These days I’m slightly better informed. Pain is the body’s way of letting us know there are things within that deserve our attention. Or that the body has deteriorated to such an extent it’s now too late for help or hope.

Ibuprofen has its benefits and is not wildly addictive. Even so it’s an analgesic and, if possible, I prefer to avoid such druggy stuff. Besides, it only addresses the symptoms not the root cause.

I concentrate hard on writing this (Hey, it’s not exactly Big Lit.) and for tiny periods it seems I suppress the ache. Not enough to let me get back to sleep but, never mind, a minor triumph.

Despite pain’s continuance I get a kick out of these duller moments. That  I, an 87-year-old, long-retired, hack journalist, who has brought little benefit to the world and is probably no more than a practitioner of poltroonery is going ten rounds with a force of nature and scoring a point or two, here and there.

Mankind fighting back.

Yeah. Go for it.

Monday 19 December 2022

Polar news

Considering it was major surgery (ie, over 4 hr long) the cutting and subsequent convalescence were quickly achieved: Into the Gloucester Royal, 07.30, December 14; out of that rambling collection of buildings at 19.30 December 17. But long enough to disprove a worldwide belief – that hospitals are always over-heated.

There I lay on my back, like long-dead Tutankhamun, in my summer PJs (Keeping my baggage to a minimum as instructed,) arms tightly to my sides, legs as one, covered with three hospital blankets not much thicker than handkerchiefs, shuddering, close to hypothermia,  wondering if night would end.

The next night I discarded my PJ trousers substituting them for chinos (with galluses) I had worn en route to the hospital. Only marginal improvement.

Next night, and on top of my PJ jacket, I wore my outdoors reefer jacket made out of material as durable as two carpets. True I felt stiffer – more corpselike – but only slightly warmer.

The trouble with being cold in bed is you can’t risk having your hands exposed, thus you cannot read. You may only spend endless time sharing your thoughts with a David Attenborough commentary about the new fate of polar bears. Except that those poor creatures are suffering because the ice caps have, ironically, become TOO WARM.

Occasional Speeder sneaked her way in – outside visiting hours – with a bag of Cadbury’s milk chocolate discs. She had emailed me asking for a list of my needs but was incapable of meeting my one vital request: “A burning fiery furnace.”

OS took the above photo and captioned it “Cauliflower cheese.” I trust you’ll agree it accurately captures my sense of distraction.

Pain kept me from sleeping at home. I took two codeines, bravely risking the threat of constipation. Bad health is rarely glamorous.

Friday 9 December 2022

Isn't that whosit?

Examining images of oneself might be regarded as narcissistic. Fortunately, Rembrandt legitimised the practice and his self-portraits towards the end – which relentlessly track the gradual decay of his face – are arguably his greatest work. Most important, the paintings are entirely honest. Verb. Sap.

Fifteen minutes before daughter Occasional Speeder (OS) took the above photo I’d emerged from the sixth hospital (Cheltenham added to Hereford, Kidderminster, Worcester, Gloucester and Redditch) in the recent healing process. Discussion had centred on anaesthesia and the conflicting need for anti-coagulants. The conversation was adult, with some wit, and the staff nurse and I had got on well. Even so I was mildly exhausted; illness requires so much stuff.

OS was my chauffeur. “Let’s do a pub,” I suggested. At The Old Spot she chose mulled wine as a reminder of our ski-ing days. Anti-coagulants mean I’m off booze but the 0% draft beer was not half bad. I relaxed and – unknowingly – I was clicked.

OS says it’s a “nice” pic but that’s not for me to say. What I can say is the expression is unique, I’ve never known it before. It’s a face that has “taken the blows”, tiredness is playing a part, the smile is only half-realised, and the first op has left two deep grooves to the left of the mouth which unbalance the face’s symmetry. Huge bags beneath the eyes but I’ve been aware of them for ages. The hair is artfully scattered. Best of all the whole image is pushed to one side, it’s not straight on. Makes it more interesting.

Tell the truth, I don’t exactly know this guy, perhaps because he has been, and still is, ill. I need to talk to him. Can that be arranged?

Wednesday 7 December 2022

Always be nice to your surgeon

Another op looms but it’s a subject I’ve overdone. After all, what is an op? A day’s work for the people dressed in blue but for the patient – foolishly imagining he/she is the star of the drama – it’s a period of unconsciousness. Skilled writer I may be but there are limitations on describing being blotted out by chemicals.

But hist! (That’s a first usage in Tone Deaf although there are precedents from that guy who tried to make it big in Stratford-on-Avon.) This time there’s a director’s guidance on improving my performance, the medical equivalent of not bumping into stage furniture or forgetting one’s lines.

“After midnight,” I am told, “you may not… chew gum or sweets.” As if I would, for goodness sake! Sweets – better known, if confusingly, in the USA as candy – are no temptation. What grabs me is savoury stuff, so I’m assuming a Big Mac would be OK.

Gum I wot not of. It holds envelope flaps in place. Occasionally it gets licked. But not usually chewed.

But here’s the twist. “Please bath or shower and wash your hair before coming into hospital.” This is another first but is it specially included for me? Have previous surgeons complained about my personal hygiene once they’ve cut off the bits that have gone bad?

They may have a point. There’s something heroic about going dirty. With me it started in the USA when I learned how long a shower is supposed to last. A veritable eternity! And without the distraction of reading a book, as when taking a bath. I could well run out of hot water; lan’ sakes. In and out within 90 seconds is my rule.

But it doesn’t pay to antagonise surgeons. They’ve got sharp knives, even saws. Guess I’d better conform.

Thursday 1 December 2022

Laddishness gone too far

I'm thinking of re-christening Breaking out, calling it Godspeed Garden City. Please note: in creating objectionable characters I am not necessarily siding with them

 ... Wendy put on a light jacket and carefully closed the front door behind her. Walking along the familiar route gave birth to novelties instead of a 30 mph blur: grass between the sidewalk blocks, the imprint of a dog's paw, small shards of ceramic pipe. Her footsteps echoed.

The delicatessen owner, Aldo, hairy and insolent, leant against the cash register. Wendy had last seen him at midnight on Thursday; then too he had been unshaven. Normally he had an audience of Yankee supporters loafing around for argument and Wendy would not have been thought conversationally worthwhile. At eight-fifteen on a Saturday morning he was ready to lower his standards.

"You walked. On your feet. Nobody walks in this town."

Pretending to deliberate over platitudes made Wendy stammer but, like Aldo, she felt bound to make the effort. "Riding a hearse is no fun at all," she said with a smile that cracked her cheeks.

"Some dames can hardly slide outta their cars," he said, nodding approval. "And they're the ones who wear Bermudas."

"You should worry. They buy your cookies and cream cakes."

"But letting themselves rot like that. What man wants a beer barrel round the place?" Though close to fifty, Aldo was hard and lean; his sallow-faced wife who occasionally spelled him behind the counter had ankles like hams and measured five feet square. These facts did not prevent him from scratching his tee-shirted navel and announcing sternly, "My feeling's this: a guy marries a broad, feeds her, buys her clothes, gives her a home. Her job is clean the house, get the kids to school, and stay off the mashed potatoes. Otherwise phooey on the contract."

"Some men are a bit pear-shaped," Wendy objected.

"Broads got an obligation."