Saturday, 30 January 2010

london shines in school tables

London shines in school tables: London is the highest performing region in England at GCSE level, the latest secondary school league tables show. The data shows 54% of pupils achieved the benchmark of five GCSEs at A* to C, including English and maths, in 2009. This is a striking turn-around in just over a decade - in 1997, just 29.9% of London's pupils reached this level. Apart from the South East, London is the only region which has already met the government's 2011 target of 53% of pupils attaining the GCSE benchmark. Indeed, London's state school pupils have outperformed the national average in GCSE performance every year since 2005.

the ross sisters

This Youtube clip of the Ross Sisters - singers and contortionists - is creepy and awesome in equal measure.

'I won't do what you tell me - except I will'

Rage Against the Machine beat X Factor winner in charts: Rock band Rage Against the Machine have won the most competitive battle in years for the Christmas number one.
The band's single, Killing In The Name, sold 500,000 downloads beating X Factor winner Joe McElderry's The Climb by 50,000 copies to clinch the top spot. Their success followed a Facebook campaign designed to prevent another X Factor number one. One retailer said it was a "truly remarkable outcome - possibly the greatest chart upset ever".
- BBC, 20 December. Of course, the most ironic thing about this was choosing a song with the key line 'I won't do what you tell me', presumably intended to refer to the X Factor, but the people doing what someone else is telling them are the people buying the RATM song rather than the folk who are choosing to buy Joe McElderry's song because they like it. I don't think I heard either song.

taking your own appendix out

Here is an article from the Christmas BMJ about a doctor on an Antartic expedition who removed his own appendix in 1961. (I remember when I worked at St Thomas's and used to see the BMJ that the Christmas issue was always full of interesting and unusual articles and cases.)

howard jacobson in the radio times

Also in last week's Radio Times was an article by Howard Jacobson, in advance of a C4 religion documentary involving him, on his tolerance/appreciation of religious experience in others despite his own atheism, and his lack of appreciation of Richard Dawkins. This blog (by no one I'm familiar with) the only extended quote from the article I found (I'm not up for retyping it myself); most of the hits I got, it has to be said, were to tetchy atheists who weren't impressed with his view, in particular his criticism of Richard.

dead santa

Recalling his childhood Christmas in 1944 [in BBC4 doc Shooting the War], one civilian, Jurgen Filbrich, describes how Santa Claus humiliated him in front of everyone in their air-raid bunker by saying, 'Don't suck your thumb.' When the all-clear sounded, the children emerged and saw Santa lying dead, apparently shot by a low-flying aircraft. Jurgen says, 'All I remember thinking was, "Serves you right."'
- Radio Times' Moment of the week, 23 January

Friday, 29 January 2010

did aliens help to line up woolworths stores?

Did aliens help to line up Woolworths stores? Researcher Tom Brooks reckons primitive man was a navigational genius. It's true, but only if you ignore the evidence to the contrary
Every now and then you have to salute a genius. Both the Daily Mail and the Metro report research analysing the positions of Britain's ancient sites, and the results are startling: primitive man had his own form of satnav.
Researcher Tom Brooks analysed 1,500 prehistoric monuments, and found them all to be on a grid of isosceles triangles, each pointing to the next site, allowing our ancestors to travel between settlements with pinpoint accuracy. The papers even carried an example of his map work, which I have reproduced here.
That this pattern could occur simply because one site was on the way to the next was not considered.
Brooks has proved, he explains, that there were keen mathematicians here 5,000 years ago, millennia before the Greeks invented geometry: "Such is the mathematical precision, it is inconceivable that this work could have been carried out by the primitive indigenous culture we have always associated with such structures … all this suggests a culture existing in these islands in the past quite outside our expectation and experience today." He does not rule out extra terrestrial help.
In the Metro Tom Brooks is a researcher. To the Daily Mail he is a researcher, a historian, and a writer. I hope it's not rude or unfair for me to add "retired marketing executive of Honiton, Devon".
Matt Parker, his nemesis, is based in the School of Mathematical Sciences at Queen Mary, University of London. He has applied the same techniques used by Brooks to another mysterious and lost civilisation.
"We know so little about the ancient Woolworths stores," he explains, "but we do still know their locations. I thought that if we analysed the sites we could learn more about what life was like in 2008 and how these people went about buying cheap kitchen accessories and discount CDs."
The results revealed an exact and precise geometric placement of the Woolworths locations.
- Ben Goldacre's Bad Science, Guardian, 16 January

Thursday, 28 January 2010

fox most trusted news channel in us, poll shows

Fox most trusted news channel in US, poll shows: Survey showing approval rating of more than 50% for rightwing network vindicates its drive for partisan audience
The onward march of Fox News, the relentlessly rightwing channel that has revolutionised American television news by making it overtly partisan, has been boosted by an opinion poll that suggests it is the most trusted news operation in the country.
Almost half of all Americans surveyed in the poll of 1,151 registered voters said they trusted Fox News. That is a notably larger vote of confidence than the 39% who said they trusted Fox's great rival CNN, and vastly more than the credibility ratings of the traditional news networks ABC News (31%), CBS News (32%) and NBC News (35%).
The poll findings are vindication of the commercial strategy of Fox News, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch and is the brainchild of his controversial henchman Roger Ailes. Fox News threw out the old model of television news – pitched towards a mass audience across the political spectrum and aspiring to standards of fairness in reporting – and replaced it with an aggressive drive for a niche audience of rightwing voters.
- Guardian, 27 January

three ways of classifying music

Music to listen to, and music to dance to.
Good music, and bad music.
Music you like and music you don't like. (I think this is better than 'good and bad', since it's all subjective.)

victoria coren's fear of flying counsellor

I had read or heard this somewhere before, and have it noted down somewhere, but I heard it again on a Speechification podcast of a BBC radio documentary by Jon Ronson on the fear of flying, that Victoria Coren's fear of flying counsellor had cured her of her fear of flying during the two or three sessions that she was able to attend with him before he died in a plane crash.

owen coyle - judas, moses or joshua?

"I can't complain, they wanted to come and vent their anger. But if we're going to get biblical, then maybe it should be Moses, because we led them from the wilderness" - Bolton manager and Old Testament scholar Owen Coyle responds to taunts of "Judas" from Burnley fans, apparently unaware that Moses actually led his people *into* the wilderness.
- Quote of the Day in yesterday's Guardian Fiver

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

stickler syndrome

Have at last googled Stickler Syndrome. Here it is on Wikipedia. There's the Stickler Syndrome Support Group in the UK, and Stickler Involved People in the US. I've had a look over these things, but don't suppose I'll revisit them very often. I shall plod on and not think about it, just as I did before now; it doesn't seem to make any particular difference, knowing I have this compared to not having known, except that I could worry about a new range of things if I wanted, which I don't, particularly.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

sorry, I've got no head

One of our favourite comedies of this year has been on CBBC, Sorry, I've Got No Head, and we came across it by accident. Fun for all the family, and most of the sketches would hold their own, and actually not look out of place on, any early/mid-evening sketch show. We particularly like the fearless vikings, the thousand pound women, the museum of the imagination, and my favourite is the North Barrasay School for Gifted Children, the Outer Hebridean island school with one teacher and one pupil (I notice Moray Hunter's name in the writing credits and wonder if this is his - the cast and writers are full of people who write and act adult comedy).

Wikipedia. British Comedy Guide entry. Guardian review. Clips on YouTube.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

stickler - the operation, part two

I learned towards the end of the surgery that there were four people in the operating theatre with me. From the start I knew there was at least there my surgeon - Dr Mahmoud, I think, not sure of the spelling - and two nurses, I'd reckon both of south-east Asia background. I found hearing the doctor and nurses chatting quite lightheartedly to be quit reassuring, adding to the idea that this was a routine operation with nothing to be worried about in particular. Nevertheless I was quite tense, and did tell the nurse, who I took to be the main nurse, that I was scared; she laughed, more or less, and reassured me. After I had my first anaesthetic injection I said I could still see, and she said that was a goodsign, laughing again. Iwasn't sure how much of my vision would disappear during the operation; I certainly didn't want to be gazing up at anything descending upon me. I had to get off the trolley I came on and onto the operating place - this before the anaesthetic, of course. There was a little pillow, perhaps gel-filled; it wasn't particularly comfortable bur I don't think that was the idea, the idea was that it would keepmy head sitting in it nicely. They covered my eyes with some material and moulded it to my face I think by spraying something on it (I'm giong to be quite uncertain on a lot of the details here, and the sequence of things, and of course my impression of what was giong on at any point may not reflect reality very well), and then I think/presume they cut a hole in it over my eye.

Forgot to mention that when I was up in the clinic on the eighth floor Dr Mahmoud popped in briefly to see me fist thing, before he came down to the operating theatre, an one of the things he did was to draw an arrow in black marker pen above the eye to be operated on.

I had at least three injections of anaesthetic, those are ones I felt and heard being referred to at least - I had the first which the doctor told me was coming, then before too long he said he was going to give me another one, which I guess may have been because I was behaving as if I was in discomfort and tensing and moving about, which is certainly true, although as per previous posting I'm not sure I could describe it as pain; although as I heard a couple of people say durng my various visits, people do express pain differently. I then had a third one well into the operation, again perhaps because I was reacting a little and also perhaps because the operation was taking longer than anaticipated. I may have had another one later than that too. Around the time of the third mentioned injection, I did feel something different from the 'pressure' a couple of times, a little spell of something which felt like very faint tickling, and then also, not sure if earlier or later, a few little pinpricks. I did occasionaly see a tiny spot of red or green light, as if you were seeing a traffic light which was very far away. I think I had my left eye open pretty much all the time; I really can't remember what the vision was like, I think just as if my eyes were closed, I certainly had no sense of looking at anything with my left eye, though when they took the material off at the end I could see perfectly normally with my left eye.

They put liquid on my eye a few times; at the time I thought it might be cooling or numbing me insome way, but on reflection it may ahve been more for rinsing and washing away stuff.

I knew that the operation was going to involve both laser work and cryo work, but I didn't look up in advance what exactly these things would be doing to me, and I haven't yet since. You could hear the equipment, though; in paticular at least one of them would give a spoken message to say 'cutter on' or 'cuter off', presumably to emphasise to everyone exactly the status of that particular item.

There was a point fairly early on where I wondered how long it was going to be, but found that very unhelpful to think about, this certainly being a phase where I was aware of pressure, and so I stopped thinking about that. When it was over and I asked what time it was, which was when I was in the entrance lobby to the operating theatre with the clinic nurse waiting for a porter to come and wheel me back upstairs (and just before I got another warm blanket put on me for mey return journey from the hot cupboard in the corrider outside, which felt very good; I've a feeling the warm blanket I got on the way in didn't stay on me for very long), I was surprised that it was longer than I had thought. I felt more at ease, I seem to remember, when the actual 'meat' of the operation was going on than in what I took to be the preliminaries; towards the end I was probably a bit more at ease than at the start since I knew we were in the home stretch.

As I've implied, I was in reality less troubled by actual pain during the operation than by my imagination of what the pressure and other physical sensations I was feeling in my eye corresponded to in physical practice; my imagination was the problem to a large extent. And it's not one of these situations where you can think to yourself, or have told to you, that it's not as bad as you imagine: if you were imagining entirely accurately what was going on, that would still be a terrible thing to be imagining. I started off with a typical diversion tactic, as mentioned before, of taking your mind off a sensation in one part of your body by creating a discomfort or pain in another part, and was pinching my right hand; then I stated using my right hand to pinch my body; then I found the thing to do which I did for most of the operation, to the extent that there was a point during the laser work that the surgeon had to tell me to stay still, and I stopped then: with my right thumb and forefinger I was pinching around my belly button as if it was a clock, and saying to myself (silently, in my mind) the 'o clock' which each pinch represented, and visualised those belly button pinches going on. I don't know what the stuff thought I was up to, but I guess they're used to all kinds of peculiar behaviour. I didn't see it myself, but afterwards Bethan said I had a very red ring around my belly button.

The operation was well under way when all of a sudden I heard Mr Laidlaw say something like 'Why are you cutting so far down?', from above my head somewhere. That was the first time I knew he was there; I don't know how long he had been there. He was the senior consultant over my case and I had seen him on the Tuesday, and had heard him and Dr Mahmoud discussing who would be done tomorrow, but I wasn't surprised when I seemed to be in Mr Mahmoud's hands alone. But I guess Mr Laidlaw was supervising, either because this would be routine, or because it was a potentially unusual op because of the Stickler syndrome, or because Mr Mahmoud was still gaining experience on this kind of surgery - I did hear Mr Mahmoud on the Monday say something to someone as if he was a bit frustrated that he hadn't got to do any actual surgery on that day, and a couple of things on Monday and Tuesday made me wonder if he was relatively new in the department.

So things became very interesting then, hearing the two surgeons talk about what was actually going on, with Mr Laidlaw obviously teaching Dr Mahmoud to some extent. I don't know if it was planned, but Mr Laidlaw did seem to take over the larger part of the surgery after he first piped up. I guess some people might have been a bit freaked out by the thought that there was some kind of practicing/teaching/learning/instruction going on in the operation currently in progress within your actual body but it didn't bother me at all; it's a teaching hospital, and how else are people going to learn how to do these things, and the man in charge was there too. And as Margaret said subsequently, if they had really been worried about how a 'learner' might have got on doing your op, they'd have given you a general anaesthetic so you'd be none the wiser.

I was then in a bit of a dilemma, of course, because I did want to hear them talking about the operation and what was going on, but without visualising how the things they were saying corresponded to the actual activity in my eye, so I was trying to listen and store away what they were saying to process later while still at work on my belly button clock. It worked okay. At the end Mr Laidlaw said it was the trickiest eye he'd done for quite a while,, but that it had gone well. I also picked up from what they were saying at various points that the Stickler syndrome gave the eye jelly an unusual consistency that made it hard to work with, and that the Stickler syndrome also explained why my retina was virtually falling apart as they worked on it, and that in the end they had fixed the whole 180 degrees length across the top of the eye, some with laser and some with cryo (and that you can't do cryo on bits you've lasered), and that it's not advisable to do work on a bit that you can't actually see. Some people might have felt touchy about them talking about my eye, during and particularly afterwards while I was lying there and they were talking about how the operation had gone to each other, as if it was a medical exercise and not appearing to think of me as a person, but again I was perfectly happy with that - I had no interest in being thought of as a person, just forget about me and concentrate on the matter in hand, that's fine by me. At one point Mr Laidlaw shouted 'Get off the phone!' One of the nurses had taken a call from one of the other doctors about something; he said afterwards that he was sorry for shouting, but that it had taken them an hour to get to that point and they needed to act quickly before the moment slipped away; the nurse didn't mind, and said she'd worked in theatre for six years and it was far from the first time she'd been shouted at. There were a couple of mentions of the fact that they were working with only the four of them there, which made me wonder if someone hadn't got in with the snow or whether they were just having to run a tight ship staffing wise.

At the end of the operation Mr Laidlaw was obviously stitching me up; I guessed that they might be stitching my eyelids shut, but it became obvious the next day when they took the dressing off that this isn't what he was doing and that he was actually (no, no, don't even type it) stitching my eye. When I had my post-op check-up on the Thursday, after they'd taken the dressing off and the doctor looked at my eye, he said that the pressure in the eye was a bit high and there had been a bit of a bleed, and that one of the stitches looked a bit long and might need to be cut, which I took to be related to the eye pressure, and that made me really not look forward to the check-up on Tuesday and the thought that they might get to work on the stitches in my eye if thepressure was stil high. Happily there was no word of that subsequently.

Well, I think that's about it for the hospital experience; I'll note down any other details if they pop into my mind. I got Bethan to take some photos of me when I was lying recovering back up in the clinic recovery area, just for the historical record, with the eye padded up and, I believe, a dried trickle of blood running down to my ear which they'd missed in cleaning up, or had come since. I was going to take photos of myself once the padding was off, but actually there was pleasantly little to see - the area of my eye was swollen and red, but there was no bruising. The eye itself, including the white, was very bloody though, and Bethan gets lots of credit for doing my eye drops without flinching in those early days in particular. I think the Monday was the first time I tried to do a drop by myself, when Bethan was out at work I guess, and it was really hard for me since I had no depth perception and of course couldn't see out of the eye I was trying to put the drops into - it took me about a dozen goes to get one in, and that being the Pred Forte, is still the easiest one to do and the only one I do myself, as it's more frequently needed and is also white which makes it easier to see if you've got it in. The white of that drop is also very instructive in that I've previously had eye drops where I put a drop in and a drop went out of my eye immediately and I thought it was the same drop, but the white drop shows you that when this happens it's dispalcement of some of the liquid in the eye already, not the same drop rolling straight out, even though the drop that comes out is quite white, they liquid in the eye is white too.

Friday, 22 January 2010

stickler - the operation, part one

Imagine squeezing and pulling down your earlobe. You can feel the pressure, but you wouldn't describe it as painful; you can pull it quite hard before you start to think that it's going to be painful. Imagine someone else is squeezing and pulling your earlobe. Again you wouldn't say it was painful, but you might make a noise or give an indication thatyou're getting near to the point where it would start to be painful. Now imagine feeling that pressure in your eye; obviously some pushing or puling or tugging is going on, you can feel the pressure, but you couldn't particularly describe it as painful, but it just feels very very wrong to be feeling that kind of sensation within your eye. So in one way you could say that it's no different from someone tugging your earlobe; in another, you could say it'sa feeling that makes you want to have it stop right now and certainly not think about what those messages of feeling being sent to your brain imply for what's actually going on.

So, even when I was getting my eye inspected on Monday and Tuesday before the operation, I really don't like it. I don't like the sensation of having my eye poked and prodded, however much the professional involved knows what they're doing. The doctor looking at my eye on those days asked if I was feeling pain, obviously surprised at this possibility, and I would say no, just that I could feel the pressure. Whenever my eyes were being looked at I ould have my hands touching each other and be pinching one or other hand when I felt the pressure going on; I would also go 'mm' if I felt the pressure in particular, which is when they would ask me if I was feeling pain; I also did this during the operation. They must have thought me a terrible wimp.

When the doctor was describing the planned surgery he asked if I was happy with a local anaesthetic, and I said yes, and he said are you sure, and I said yes. I thought if grannies could have cataracts done with local then I should man up and have local; and also, local is obviously the routine process now. So many things are routine now, it's amazing, which before would have been unthinkable.

I had to sign a consent form after the doctor described the operation to me. Of course, my pupils were so dilated with drops that I couldn't read the form, which I presume indicated I was giving informed consent to the operation and that it had been described to me. He had to guide my hand to where I had to sign; I hought that was very funny. He did describe the possible dangers and side effects. But of course when option two is, we won't operate and you will lose the sight in your right eye, then you're going to go for option one pretty much whatever it is.

The nurse did the preparatory questions and drops not long after I arrived on the eighth floor, but said there was no point in putting me in the gown until they knew when they were going to do me. There were three operations booked in for that morning, they call them all in for the same time and I guess decide on the day which order hey're going to do them in. One of the operations was on a girl who was an inpatient and was going to have general anaesthetic, so the nurse thought they'd probably do that one first, which indeed they did - her parents came up into the clinic where I was later on in the morning to wait while the operation was going on. The third patient didn't make it in from wherever they were coming from because of the snow; we knew very early on they weren't coming, so I knew I'd be second. They took me down just before eleven and I was back up in the recovery area of the clinc about half past one.

I had to take off my shirt before the gown was put on, but I was still in my trousers and shoes. My shirt, fleece and jacket, and anything from my trouser pockets (I had deliberately emptied them at home), went into a locker in the clinic. My wedding ring was wrapped on my finger in surgical tape. They asked if I had any implants or anything metal (including piercings) in my body; I said just my fillings but I didn't know what they were made of.

Oddly enough I was trying to remember last night and this morning if I had walked down with the nurse to the operating theatre or been wheeled down by her on a trolley/bed (which is certainly how I came back) and I just can't remember. An older couple had been with me in the clinic for a while, and they were going down in the same lift as us, they on their way to the eye clinic on the ground floor, and the man (who was the companion rather than the patient) gave my shoulder a squeeze as we left the lift on the second floor.

My only previous experience of an operation was as an infant, in relation to my hare lip and cleft palate, which of course I have no memory of, but which it turns out I can also thank Stickler's Syndrome for. When we went into the theatre corridor on the second floor it struck me as more industrial than I would have imagined, more so than the ward or regular hospital corridors. I have a vision of the coridor ceiling in particular, which is oneof the things which makes me think I must have been lying down during my journey. They also had hot blankets in the corridor outside the operating theatres, and I'm pretty sure the nurse got one out and put it on me, now that I think about it, which also suggests lying down travel.

Well, turns out this is going to be a two-part post, as I've just got to the door of the operating theatre and I feel like I need a break. More later.

stickler - bright

Yesterday evening watching a programme on telly I found it was too bright for my right eye and ended up watching it with one hand over my right eye so that I didn't have to keep the eye closed. I found things quite bright this morning to with my right eye. I guess returning vision is giving greater awareness of the brightness around even though it's quite a grey day outside. I went to the GP this morning to put in a form for a repeat prescription of my various drops, and home via Tesco's to get some pizzas for tea, and for a lot of the time I had my right eye closed. I think I will have more of a listening than looking day today.

I did sign up to a new podcast, which is the radio four series of fifteen-minute programmes by the director of the British Museum entitled A history of the world in one hundred objects, which started on Monday, and I guess is going to be on monday to friday for twenty weeks. I noticed last night something which implied that all the hundred objects were actually in the British Museum, which made me more interested in listening to the programme, and I listened to my first one live today, after Desert Island Discs with James Ellroy (which is also available as a podcast; I'm swithering as to whether I should sign up for that). Hurrah for London-centrism, that's what I say.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

adam and joe made-up jokes

Adam and Joe had on their programme - they're off-air at the moment though I'm still working through podcasts (I had re-signed up to them recently after a break) - a feature where they read out jokes which listeners had made up. Some of them turned out to be not made up, of course, but you could tell that quite a few of them were, as they're the kind of joke you would make up at home and not hear a professional do (here's one I made up, for example: Why did the boy's hair laugh? Because he slept on it funny.) And of course it's perfectly possible that the same simple joke can be made up by many diferent people independently, and over time.

One gave me the giggles at bedtime when I listened to it sometime before Christmas such that Bethan made me tell it to her since she couldn't sleep with me laughing beside her in bed. Of course when I told her it, it didn't make her laugh, and it won't make you laugh either (Martha sent it in, made up by her coworker Mike):
The farmyard animals have entered a competition organised by the farmer and his wife. A marquee kitted out with decks, lights and a glitter ball is the prize, which goes to the animal which presents the best Shakespearean passage. The sheep does Macbeth, the horse does Hamlet, and the cow does Richard III. The farmer and his wife have a tough job choosing a winner, but finally they announce, 'Cow is the winner of our disco tent.'

Some others, as I'm just listening to them now on the backed-up podcasts (all paused at the point where the made-up jokes came in).
How do you make a questionnaire laugh? You tickall its boxes.
Did you hear how Velma from Scooby Doo's teaching evaluation went? She would have gotten an A with it if it wasn't for those pesky kids.
Have you heard about the new sitcom in which a young man advises his stepmother about the weather? It's called, It Ain't Hot, Half-Mum.
What does any aspiring journalist or novelist hope to get in their Christmas cracker? A pull-it surprise.
Holmes and Watson notice that the birds have taken the fruit off all the trees in their garden except one. Watson wonders why that one has been left. 'It's a lemon tree, dear Watson.'
What do bees in Kensington do when they build a new home in an unusually high tree? They have a high-swarming party.
It's really cold in Motown. Do you know what the maximum temperature is? Three Degrees, Four Tops.
Who's the coolest guy in the hospital? The ultra-sound guy. Who replaces him when he's away? The hip replacement guy.
And an old one from Adam/Joe: What's the difference between Robert Burns and Walt Disney? Robert buns but Walt disnae.

stickler - capacity

I should have mentioned, of course, that mycapacity for sitting around doing nothing is such that it is unlikely I will become bored while I convalesce. I am quite a patient patient, it turns out, when it comes to sitting and waiting. I was quite content sitting for hours in corridors in St Thomas's, even when I couldn't have my ipod on in case I missed anything (which was most of the time); I knew I was in the system and in the process, soI'd be reached eventually. The only time I was less relaxed was when I went in last Thursday after seeing the consultant on Wednesday, because I knew my name wasn't on any list and I hadn't signed in - I was reliant on the staff who knew I was there remembering I was there and trying to move things on; happily the nurses about were ones who remembered me and I was reassured when I checked about ninety minutes into the wait tha I was on the agenda.

I didn't find any audiobooks at all in Smiths, which of course isn't to say that they aren't there. They did used to have a section, but it's not a section I've paid much attention to so it might have been gone for a long time. They've certainly pretty much done away with their CD sectionover the last couple of years. We miss Woolies. The Woolies unit did get filled just before Christmas by the returned Clarks factory shop.

stickler - odds and ends

Yesterday evening looking in teh bathroom mirror I realised I could see in the pupil of my eye the liquid wobbling from side to side when I wobbled myhead; imagine the washing machine with a tiny bit of water visible in the bottom of the window. What makes it most noticeable is that my pupil is extremely dilatd, with just a thin rim of green, because one of the drops, possibly the one fo reducing the pressure in the eye, dilates the puil. One of the many side effects I noticd in one of the three drops was that it might change the colour of your eye, so perhaps I'll end up with a David Bowie thing going on there. Anyway, I'm not keen to per at the wobbly water in my eye again, though I guess the tide will increase as the gas goes; I don't know if it's just started to be visible now or if I've just noticed it now. What is noticeable though is that from last night the blurriness in the right eye became noticeably more mobile and watery and wobbly. I've also noticed a swirling pattern sometimes, since last night, in teh bottom of that vision, so in the top of the gas, dark and light pattern of swirls which puts me in mind of a maori tatoo pattern in motion.

I think I've probably put on some weight, as I've been living a rather sedentary lifestyle but have been as hungry as normal. I've been thirstier than usual, and have been outstripping Bethan in my tea intake, which is unusual, but I have certainly taken this as my body wanting more liquid for some health and recovery reason best known to itself. I've only had a couple of cups of coffee but they haven't done the job at all, coffee does tend to dehydrate I think.

I can't remember if I said that I've probably moved into the phase where you are tempted to get bored and overdo things because you feel better in a lot of ways, and feel guilty about not doing anything in particular, especially anything useful. But I was surprised how tired I was in the evening yesterday even after just having gone out twice briefly, the library in the morning and the school in the afternoon. As well as the other things I can do, I am finding that the guitar is a useful thing to stop me getting bored. Ishould say that I had taken the guitar out a few months ago and had picked it up since then more often than for a long time, mainly because I I had such a hash of pitching my singing the last time I sang at Sharp's that I had lost my nerve and hadn't sung there on my last few visits, and was wondering whether I should start using the guitar too, primarily to help me pitch it properly. Although of course in some ways that just doubles your exposure of potential for demonstrating incompetence and forgetfulness.

I will make an excursion to the shopping centre now, and perhaps look in Smith's for audiobooks there that might suit me better than whats in the library.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

stickler - recreation

The day before the operation I went to the library and got some audiobooks out, although in fact none of them were strictly audiobooks. For the first few days after the operation I wasn't up for concentrating on anything very hard, so waslistening to quite a bit of radio, including bbc 7. Then and since I've also been making an impact on the backlog of various podcasts in my system. Not a backlog, as such, but whenever I come across a podcast which I like, I tend to dowload all the back copies which are still available, completist that I am. I discovered Coverville very recenty, and they produce three programmes a week of cover versions in radio programme form, so I'm catching up with that. I'm also making mighty inroads into my WNYC Radio Lab podcasts, which are interesting and well-put-together programmes on science and psychology. One of the interesting things which incidentally became apparent was that one of the presenters believes in some kind of higher power while the other doesn't, but they spend no time at all arguing about that, which I found refreshing. It also reinforces my notion that science and religion grapple with similar issues and can seem equally implausible the more into science you get; on the one hand, for example, how anyone can nod sagely at someone explaining the scientifically respectable multiverse theory and find it in any way more plausible than the idea of a creator is beyond me; on the other, for example, the issue of free will versus predestination which so exercised young theologically minded people in my youth, and was a stick to beat them with, is exactly an issue in the science world, except that there the scientific view seems to come down unequivocally on the side of determinism, which you thought might be a bigger debating point among ordinary folk if they knew this was where scientific thought was at; would they accept the proposition that they are foolish to believe they have freewill as happilly as they would accept the proposition that someone else is foolish to believe in a god, and would they have the right to accept one and not the other?

Other podcasts - Danny Baker, Adam and Joe, The Moth, This American Life, Word, Speechification, Robert Elms, Kermode/Mayo, R4 Choice, New Yorker political scene. I've finished Richard Herring's As It Ocurred To Me, which I tried having given up on the Collings and Herrin podcast, both of wich served to emphasise that when you remove boundaries of taste and decency from your humour, you can revel in saying more extreme things but it just gets less and less funny. A similar thing happens in music, where artists who manage to 'unshackle' themselves from a record company whichhas been 'restricting their artistic freedom and expression' invariably sem to go on to make a terrible album, once they're alowed to do whatever they want and there's no one there to stop/help/criticise them. In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg continues to come up with the goods. Friday Night Comedy from R4 - ie Now Show and News Quiz. Frank Skinner Absolute podcast - his Saturday morning show; he is extraordinarily quick-witted. Mike Harding. Fighting Talk. Also just discovered, or may just have started with the new year, The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor, a (dispensable) poem and some date-related literary info. It mounts up, doesn't it?

I got a couple of R4 comedy series out of the library, but only listened to one episode of one; had enough on the radio to start with, then seemed too trivial later. I borrowed a James Naughtie BBC series on the history of music, but didn't get through the first episode, didn't like the style. I did borrow and listen to two out of the set of many Shakespeare plays they had in the library from the full set of fully dramatised Shakespeare plays produced by an American project called Arkangel, although they've also got a BBC America Audiobooks imprint. I listened to the two plays which I have never seen, King John and King Henry VIII (though I saw an abridged version of the latter at the Rose Theatre site in Bankside). The series is from the early 2000s I think, and has familiar names in the casts: Henry VIII included Jane Lapotaire, Timothy West, Anton Lesser and Stephen Mangan, while King John included Michael Maloney, Eileen Atkins and Bill Nighy. I enjoyed them both, though I guess I could see why they didn't get performed so often, although in some ways they didn't seem radically different or less good than some of the other plays. King John was a bit silly in places plotwise, but no more so than some other things. Henry VIII in particular had lots of long speeches by people telling other people about things which had happened off-stage, or reflectively monologuing; I could envisage a staging being done by treating much of the dialogue as virtually a narration of a documentary, using screens to project or depict the actions or events being described. I'd have to do further research to find out why they're not supposed to be so good. As it happens, I subsequently saw an email from Shakespeare's Globe listing this year's season, and they're doing Henry VIII, so I'm sure I'll get along to that this summer, all being well. (There's a Scotish production of Hamlet coming to Greenwih in early January, but I'm not sure if I'll be up to going along to that.) I was the first person to get both of those plays out for over a year.

I went back out to the library today, which I think is my first non-hospital excursion. I borrowed a couple of BBC detective serials. I found choosing things hard, as I don't want to be borrowing things just for the sake of it, things I feel like I'm just wasting time with, but things I'd want to listen to normally, whether book or dramatisation.

My namesake at church had mentioned Librivox a few times over the months, and I found my way to it on Sunday - volunteers, mostly American, reading out of copyright books which you can download for free, including via iTunes as chapter-by-chapter podcasts. I downloaded the first chapters of four and ahve stuck with one, an old history of London by Walter Besant which has an acceptable combination of god reader and book worth reading, which none of the other three managed.

I've also been playing my guitar more than I have for a long time, as that's something I can do sitting up without using my eyes very much; of course now I'm regretting not having done it more often in recent years. So much to do, so little time, etc. I haven't played along with a song, either the tune or a rudimentary bass lie, perhaps since school. I don't think there are things I wanted to do as an adult when I was in school which I regret I haven't done, because I didn't really have any ambitions or expectations when I was in school, but there are things which looking back in retrospect I think of course I could have done or tried to do. In fact I remember when I was in school being aware that what I would do after school was go to university but that I neer really thought it would happen, not because I'd do something other than go to university but because I somehow couldn't envisage living long enough to go to university, so that it would never arise. What an odd child. Knowing what I know now, I'd want to have come to university in London to study English and with a bass guitar. When I said that to someone about coming to London, they asked which university I'd have come to, but that seems rather unnecessary detail for my hypothetical alternative. Conversely, if you had told the sixteen-year-old me that I'd be where I am now, I think I'd have been perfectly happy with that future. You probably wouldn't want to mention the eye surgery, though.

stickler - check-up

Had my two-week check-up yesterday - if things had gone more straightforwardly this would have been the only check-up I'd have had after the post-op check-up on the Thursday. Anyway, I saw Dr Wong again, who had seen me last Thursday - Dr Mahmoud, who I've seen most and who did the surgery was also around and took a peep, and Mr Laidlaw was passing too and said to Dr Wong that my file might indded have been in the vicinity of his office last Thursday...

The doctor was hapy with how things were going, obviously on track no. The pressure was down - when the nurse checked the eyes the right was twentyone and the left was twenty, whatever that means. She was the senior nurse, Josephine,who I'd seen before; by now of course several of the doctors and nurses are knowing me. When she took the eye pressure last Wednesday the right eye was twentyeight; this was sufficiently high that tshe took it again, and got the same result, and looked at the machine as if it might be broken, and then checked my good left eye and then reacted in such a way to make me think that the left pressure was high too and she thought the machine might indeed be broken, and she checked the left pressure again. Anyway, it was better on the Thursday, and still fine yesterday.

I'm to carry on with the three drops as before - I say I but of course it's we, with Bethan doing most of the dropping work. We're to reduce the steroid drop week by week, from every two hours to four times a day to three to two to one and then stop, and then stop the other two drops when this one stops. The eye is still full of gas, which should come out gradually over the next few weeks - they said to make an appointment in six weeks time by which time it should be all gone, we got an appointment mid-March. For posture they said continue to be upright during the day, and to sleep on my left, not my back or my right. Since I'm not a still sleeperI'd be worried I'd be ending up in bad positions, so I'm going to carry on sleeping in the chair for the time being, since I'm sleeping perfectly well there - it's our blue Ikea chair withthe associated footstool.

I'm signed off for another two weeks from now, and they said I could go back to work after that whenever I felt able to, though taking care not to overdo it and to stop whatever I was doing if I felt pain. I guess it depends on having things you can do without using your eyes too much, and also the extent to which you feel able to work with the partial sight in the eye. My understanding is that as the fluid returns, the vision returns where teh fluid is and is blurred where the gas is; the vision reappears from the top, as the fluid is 'filling up' from the bottom (a reminder that what's going on in the eye is 'upside down' from the messages it sends you about the outside world).

The thought of going back to work still seems strange. However much it is said that it's nothignto do with screen work, I'm going to be hesitant and nervous about overdoing things with my eyes, especially the screen work - this applies at home as well as work, of course. I've always been aware that oneof my difficulties is that while so much of my work is screen- and print-based, so much of my leisure time is the same (computer, tv, books and print) that it's hard to give my eyes a proper break. A change of career, or a change of leisure pursuits?

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

stickler - vision

When I went back for the pre-op on the Tuesday the dark patch at the bottom of my vision was bigger, and when I mentioned that to the doctor he said that's what they would have expected, and I think he said that's whythey had postponed two other operations to fit me in the next day; I waasn't sure I'd haerd him right, as no one had been making a ig deal about it, but Iguess that's part of the system, and why should they alarm me, unless I'm trying to put the op off or not taking it seriously myself. On the Wednesday morning, the day of the op, the dar patch was covering tmore than half of my visionin that eye. I don't know if all they inspecting and exercising of the eye had sped up the process, or just whether that's how it happened to go.

For quite a while on the Wednesday morning I was the only person in the ophthalmic day care unit on the eighth floor, and I had a good view sitting by the window looking down on County Hall and Westminster Bridge in the snow and light traffic. By the time I left it was dark, of course. I have lost track of which days were particularly snowy and icy, as well as when other things happened in my health recovery. The days' experiences do tend to merge into one.

I remember early on in the vision I would see something likeconcentric raged circles, or quarter circles, as if the centre of teh circle was in the bottom left of my vision, in black and white; like a quarter of a tree trunk, perhaps. For the first few days Icouldn't see much out of the left eye either - the vision wasn't afffected, but it seemed quite sensitive to light and seemed hard to focus. The only thing I could really look at by way of reading for the fist few days was the radio listings, and then not for very long at all. I am more comfortable looking at the Radio Times now, and have started to read some emails and related websites, but nothing more substantial than that. I try not to be reading on the computer too long at a time. On the Friday afternoon after teh peration we watched Scrooge with Alastair Sim on DVD; well, the others watched it while I listened to it and had the very occasional peep for a couple of seconds at the screen, that was enough for me. On Monday I again 'watched' a couple of things we'd recorded, but they were very much things that I could listen to rather than watch. Monday was a day I felt a lot better, but didn't want to overdo it, and thought I might have by the end of the day. To put it in context though, feeling better meant that I actually spoke to someone on the phone, and overdoing it meant that I thought maybe I shouldn't have done that.

This last Sunday evening was significant, as I was getting a bit of a headache, and I realised it was from holiding my right eye shutwhile I had my left eye open. I realised that when I opened my left eye my body wanted naturally to open my right eye, and that was the first time that had happened since the operation. I don't know to what extent previously it had been the body protecting itself and keeping my eye wanting to be shut and to what extent it was because my eye was swollen or was painful if I opened the eye. Through that previous week the experience of vision in the right eye was probably developing from an undifferentiated grey to being aware of patches of light and dark - ie I could tell where the window or the light was. But when they tested my vision each time I was in the hospital , up until last Thursdaythere was still no way I could have said how many fingers the nurse was holding up; the first times, the Thursday and Tuesday say, I could seethe movement of shade against light if they waved their arm; I think the last time, on the Thursday, I might have been able to tell they were probably holding a hand up, even without moving it, but that might have been me experimenting since myself. Sometime in the middle of last week also I started to get a bit of sense of colour - I could see a red patch where the red blanket was, for example.

Later on Sunday evening I also realised that I could see the vague presence of my elelashes. And yesterday evening sitting at the table playing the guitar I realised I could see some specks in my vision. At first I thought I might be seeing something in my eye, some debris, but then I had an idea and moved my glasses slightly, and sure enough, what I was seeing was specks of dust on my glasses lens (these weren't tiny specks, of course; I hadn't had to be cleaning myglasses much since the op sine I wasn't really making use of them very much.

That's enough shut-eye typing for the moment. Not for the first time I appreciate learning to touch-type at the castle.

Monday, 18 January 2010


An interesting start to the new year for me. I'll be touch-typing this - and subsequent notes - mainly, with my eyes shut; I may or may not fix mistakes, and there will not be as many links as usual.

A quick recap. Sometime in November - probably earlier than I like to imagine, probably in optimistic denial - I started getting some flashes and floaters in my right eye. Flashes which looked to be from my guess the lines of veins in my eyes. I've always had floaters in my eyes - old friends I've had all my life, that I can choose to notice if I want but generally don't - but these were new ones. I thoght, again in optimistic denail, that they might just be because I was tired, too much screen work and so on, and they did seem to settle down, although perhaps I was just getting used to them.

Then during my Christmas time off work - I think it was in Christmas week, but again I may be in denial and it may have been in the week before that, as I had finished work on Tuesday fifteenth -I started to notice a dark patch at the bottom of the sight in my right eye, which bobbed up when I looked up. I don't think it got worse during the holidays, though again I may have been kidding myself, but I knew I should go and see someone about it. I plannd to go at the end of the first week of January, after I'd gone back to work.

On New Year's Day, however, I exchanged New Year greetings with Margaret over the phone, and asked ehr advice, as I wasn't sure whether I should go to my GP or my optician. When I described my symptoms she told me to do neither, but to go to a and e. St Thomas have a specific eye a and e, which is open daytimes, and she said I should go there on Monday when it was open again, but that if it got any worse I should go in to a and e straight away, that I might have a detached retina.

From Friday to Monday I was a bit stressed then, because Margaret is no alarmist and knows what she's talking about. Monday morning I was at St T's eye a and e, and sure enough I had a detached retina. I popped home at lunchtime and Bethan came back in with me,as there was a possibility they would do surgery on me that day. They didn't in the end.

Tuesday we went back in for my pre-op things. I saw the senior consultant, who asked a few questions about non-related things and told me that I had Stickler's Syndrome, which is as good a syndrome for a pedant to have as any. It has no particular implications for my future health, as far as I understood it - I haven't been able to google it yet - it just describes what I've got, that is hare lip and cleft palate, slight hearing loss, dodgy eyeballs, although the thing I haven't had yet which is associated with it is joint trouble, so perhaps I've got that to lok forward to. He got all the other doctors to come and have a look to see what a stickler eye looked like. It was probably a good thing that they didn't fit me in on Monday - I don't know hwo likely that was - as then they knew what to expect when tey got into my eye.

It was snowy and icythat week, but they said to be sure to get in. No difficulty for me, being at Elephant and Castle, I could have walked it if I had to. Someone else scheduled for that morning - Wednesday, that is, the next morning didn't get in. I had my surgery on Wednesday morning - I had to get in by 7.30, the op ended up being eleven until one. I had to lie down for four hours afterwards before going home, to let flid drain off I think.

I was fortunate in that my posture for recover was to sit up - the tear being at the top of my eye, so you want the bubble of gas to be where teh healed tear wsas to keep the fluid off it. Bethan's dad had a similar operation a few years ago and had to lie face down for two weeks. They said I should sleep proppped up, but I said I could slpp sitting up if that was bettter, which it was. My ability to sleep in any position does come in handy soemtimes. I don't know if it's attributable to growing up in Lewis and sleeping sitting up in buses and cars on journeys around the island and on holiday. Bethan can only sleep lying down in a bed. So I've been sleeping downstairs sitting up in a chair; the extent to which I haen't slept has been attributable to my health rather than my posture. I'm not sure I'll get back into my bed, as Bethan may e getting too used to the absence of a snoring lump.

Bethan took me back into the hospital on the next day, Thursday, for post-op clean-up and check up. The doctor prescribed teh usual two sets of drops, a steroid and something for inflammation, plus a third drop as the pressure in the eye was high (and there was a bleed at the front of the eye).

On Monday I felt quite a bit better in general, apart from the eye of course. On Tuesday Bethan took me in for a first follow-up, an extra one because of the pressure. The doctor reckoned I was having a reaction to my eye drops, and changed all three drops. When I used them at home, one in particular was quite irritating, of the new ones that is, and I thought I should go backin on Wednesday - I tried ringing the numbers I had on the Tuesday evening but didn't get anywhere. I hadn't felt the first set of drops were espeicaiily troublesome; I'd had some irritation and teariness, but I took this as normal, just like the aching and occasional pricking/stabbing/stinging. When I went back in on Wednesday, to the eye a and e, I saw the senior consultant this time - it just so happened he was around and intersted I think - and he reckoned I wasn't having a reaction but that I had a 'brisk infection'. He changed my medication again, in particular putting the steroid up to hourly, during waking hours, I guess to blast the infection, and said to come in again on Thursday morning.

I came inagain on Thursday first thing, and waited quite a long time - they couldn't find my notes, these things happen. A doctor saw me without my notes in the end - I had Bethan's notes of the sequence of medication I'd been on, which I'm sure helped. He was happy with how the infection, or inflammation he called it, was going, and said to keep hourly for two days then to go two-hourly. He said the pressure was normal now, but to stay on the medication for that. Just as the Tuesday doctor had said, he said to get int ouch, or better come in, if anything got worse now, as nothing should be getting worse at this tage, and that otherwise they'd see me on Tuesday - that is, tomorrow - for my scheduled check-up.

That's enough typing with eyes closed for the time being. Entries to follow, hopefully, on the actual surgery, the sight experience, the recovery experience and so on.

Friday, 1 January 2010

top of the noughties pops

Top of the noughties pops: Can Bob Stanley listen to every No 1 song from the noughties and escape with his sanity intact? He recalls a musical decade that ranged from the sublime to the very ridiculous
There's no rule that New Year's resolutions have to be joyless, or involve financial or calorific sacrifice. With the end of the decade 12 months away, I vowed to spend 2009 listening to the No 1 singles of the noughties every day, one a day, in chronological order. Glancing at the charts from some weeks reminded me of the record shop scene in A Clockwork Orange, with its chart on the wall full of queer, invented names. Worse yet, a few of these seemingly imaginary singles were among the No 1s I had to listen to. Rui Da Silva's Touch Me? Had I even heard it, maybe unwittingly in a cafe or a taxi? It turned out I hadn't.
That may seem like an odd admission from someone who theoretically earns a living wage from writing about pop music, but I doubt many could hum – or even recognise the titles of – every No 1 of this decade. Do you remember some of the acts who can now stroll into their local and claim that, if only for seven days, they outsold Girls Aloud, Madonna, and the Beatles? Can you recall not just Rui Da Silva, but Black Legend, Tomcraft, Fatman Scoop, Petey Pablo, and Meck? Or should I say Meck featuring Leo Sayer – that might ring a distant chime of doom. You may remember some, or most, of their chart toppers*. But blink, or let your gym membership slide, and you missed them.
In 2000, there were 43 no 1 hits; in 1967 there were only 15. Before 2006, when downloads were added to physical sales in the calculation of chart positions, there were plenty of records that would fly into the top 10 one week and die spectacularly the next. The most extreme example was McFly's Baby's Coming Back which debuted at No 1 and dropped to 20 the following week. The combination of these seven-day wonders with the demise of Top of the Pops meant it became easy for even a reasonably alert pop fan to be completely bypassed by even No 1s. During the first three years of the decade, only five records stayed at the top for more than three weeks: Atomic Kitten's Whole Again, Kylie's Can't Get You Out of My Head, Enrique Iglesias's Hero, Elvis Presley's A Little Less Conversation and Girls Aloud's Sound of the Underground. Ritalin manufacturers must have been having a field day.
- Guardian, 17 December.

My journey led me to discover that knocking late period Oasis is less easy when Lyla and The Importance of Being Idle are listened to alongside Stereophonics' Dakota, Pussycat Dolls' Stickwitu, and Busted's Crashed the Wedding, rather than straight after Definitely Maybe.
A happier result of my journey into populism is a new fascination with music from the year 2000. This was something I'd imagined over and over when I was a small child, weaned on the space race. In 1974, while Terry Jacks half bored me and half frightened me with the singalong death ballad Seasons in the Sun, I imagined how I'd look in the year 2000 (married, two kids, semi in Purley, moustache) and how the first No 1 of the new century would sound. I knew it would be electronic, and may involve a certain amount of silver lurex. Instead it was Seasons in the Sun by Westlife. As it turned out, Rui Da Silva's Touch Me – the first No 1 of 2001 – actually nails it. The sound of the future had arrived in that most cosmic of years, exactly as it might have been imagined by Stanley Kubrick: spacy, disembodied, oddly beautiful. Now, this future sound is almost 10 years old.
The vast number of seven-day wonders in the early half of the decade meant that you had a better chance than before of getting to No 1 with a great record – ordinarily there would be an Engelbert or Joe Dolce blocking the door. Although there were singles that joined Ultravox's Vienna in the "unfairly denied the top slot" corner – Daft Punk's One More Time (kept off by Leann Rimes's Can't Fight the Moonlight), Pink's Get the Party Started (George Harrison's death pushing My Sweet Lord back to the top) and Kelis's Milkshake (stuck at second base for a whole month thanks to Michelle McManus's All the Time and then LMC's Take Me to the Skies Above) – it was also true that only the genuinely great have hogged the top spot this decade. Rihanna's Umbrella (10 weeks) and Gnarls Barkley's Crazy (nine) were the chart leviathans, infinitely more exciting than 90s heavyweights Bryan Adams, Whitney Houston and Wet Wet Wet.