Saturday, 24 December 2011

Ramblings: Eye Eye

My biggest fear has always been going blind. The thought terrifies me. I can’t imagine not being able to read, watch films or see live theatre. It’s a horrifying thought. I started to get migraines aged 8 and in my teens had my first bout of visual disturbance. I was in a Biology lesson and everything went patchy and disordered; Bunsen burners and people’s faces mixing wildly and everything becoming slightly surreal. Twenty minutes later it was gone and I could see again and had just the throbbing headache and projectile vomiting to contend with. This became a common occurrence for me, with visual disturbances brief and warning of impending migraines necessitating a few hours in a darkened room.

About seven years ago I was leaving work and stopped to speak to a colleague when I noticed there was a little eyelash flapping in the corner of my eye. Frantic blinking and flicking at my eye resulted in nothing and the flicker persisted. Within a few hours I was laying on the sofa, holding my head, as a pain like a juggernaut tore through my left eye and the side of my head. I slept for a while, took loads of pills and it persisted. I had to walk around holding my eye, the pain was so intense. It lasted for three days, by which time I was desperate. The doctor, understandably, thought it was a migraine and it wasn’t till I woke up blind in one eye the next morning that I realised that maybe it wasn’t just a migraine.

The emergency doctor was dismissive, leaning his sweaty torso over the desk as he peered into my eye and shone lights.

“There’s nothing I can see wrong. I suggest seeing an optician”

“Sorry to be pushy, but I’m blind in one eye. Surely that’s a bad sign?”

I stumbled one eyed to the optician and managed to get seen. I was seen by three different opticians who all muttered a lot, pronounced me blind in one eye (but still tried to flog me a new set of glasses as my 'prescription had changed') and sent me off to the emergency eye clinic. The emergency eye doctor was a bit surly and it was only when he started being nice to me that I realised maybe something was really badly wrong. The phrase “...if there was some quite bad news would you want to know it?” alerted me further. Of course I wanted to know.

Apparently I had a swollen optic nerve, was unlikely to get 100% of my vision back and there was a 50/50 chance that I had multiple sclerosis. Queue a lengthy (three month) wait for a scan, hours spent in clinics, a hideously claustrophobic MRI scan, a test involving a wire being put in my eye and electrical currents put through it and a lot of blood tests. There was a lot of waiting around. Naturally I was worried. In my head it was only a few weeks before I’d be bed bound. I’m nothing if not fanciful.

I decided to research the matter. I checked out reputable internet sites, talked to friends who were health professionals and knew about neurology and tried to be patient waiting for my eyesight to come back and for my scan to check for MS lesions. Unexpectedly, after the initial shock and worry I began to cope. I managed to take in and listen to sensible advice and relaxed into the whole business with a peculiar fatalism. An opthamology registrar gave me a pep talk which helped. Reminding me that MS wasn't a guareteed route to severe disability. I’d already had an MRI scan three years before following a period when I was dragging my left leg and the neurologist wanted to exclude MS. That one was normal. The blood tests were normal. I actually stopped worrying about the thought of possible MS and concentrated on the issue of managing with one eye.

Unsurprisingly I took to the sick role fairly well. I mentioned my problem at any given opportunity, referring to it at least 100 times a day. My poor partner was sick of hearing about One Eyed jack and his traumas. I went back to work and squinted a lot, managing fine. I watched films, read books and saw sights through one eye. The only thing I hated was the interminable waiting in eye clinic. Each appointment would take a minimum of an hour and once they’d put drops in my eyes to dilate them I was stuffed, no television or books whilst I waited, just the illicit joy of eavesdropping.

I always insisted on going to appointments alone, being independent is an innate trait in me. I was caught out the first time as I staggered out with blurred vision and couldn’t count out my change for the bus or use my mobile phone to call anyone to save me. I had to ask an old lady for help in counting my bus fare. I think it was an old lady, anyway. From then on I’d go armed with the right change in a separate pocket and lurch wildly across the busy main road to the bus stop.

I was still half blind a month later and I insisted on going on holiday. My GP was dubious about me flying but on checking with eye clinic it was allowed and we jetted off to the classy bit of Tenerife. I’d read that it was classy and the bit of it I saw through one eye looked fine. It was quite Spanish and there were no cheap Irish bars or Bingo places. We went in February and it was warm and sunny, a respite after a long winter in England. We had the usual misadventures: getting lost a lot, having diarrhoea in remote locations miles from any toilets and ending up in a very odd nightclub doing improvised Salsa. All the things which make holidays fun.

We walked a lot (whilst I kept up a monologue about how hard it is to be blind). We did go to a stunning zoo which had an amazing penguin exhibit where you entered a giant freezer the size of a sports hall and travelled round on a conveyor belt looking at penguins doing funny penguin type things on mini glaciers. Naturally I only saw it through one eye. Did I mention I only had one eye?

On returning home my sight very quickly came back ending my month of one eyed moaning. I made a miraculous recovery, losing only 2% of my total vision. The MRI was clear too. There were no signs of MS, even though the other scans had shown I had some loss of the outer sheath on the nerves in my eye. My diagnosis was downgraded to possible MS or a viral illness of the eye. There’s no point investigating further yet as there’s nothing they would do yet in terms of treatment. It just means that every time I stumble or twitch I end up back in the scanner (4 scans so far). I once started to panic badly in the scanner, being mildly claustrophobic and decided to think of things to distract myself. Visualising kittens and Bambi didn’t cut the mustard so I decided to think about dirty sex with the man who played the doctor on “Lost”. This set me off panicking further as I suddenly wondered if thinking about sex had lit up an area in my brain on the scan and made them think I was a right pervert. It was back to Bambi.

There’s always a positive thing about any bad experience and to be truthful this was quite a scary time. Sometimes the positive things are very tiny and pale laughably in comparison to the crisis. In this case I learnt three things: 1) its pretty crap being on the other side of health care 2) I do go on a lot when I’m ill 3) I actually do have some resilience deep down. Hopefully these lessons will stand me in good stead but hopefully they won’t be needed for some time yet.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Ramblings: The Divine Miss Dors

Anyone remember Diana Dors? She was the plump middle aged lady with peroxide blonde hair who played the fairy godmother in the Adam and the Ants video for “Prince Charming”. She was the blowsy lady spilling out of a too tight dress on Celebrity Squares and Blankety Blank in the 1980s. She was scandalous tabloid fodder for her hosting of wild sex parties and her troubled marriages, way before phones that could be hacked were invented.

There’s a lot more to Diana. She was actually a very talented young actress, an accomplished singer and cabaret artiste and was considered a great wit and beauty in her day. She was the youngest girl ever to have attended the London Academy of Music and Drama and the youngest person registered as the owner of a Rolls Royce. She couldn’t drive it, it was all a publicity stunt.

She was marketed as a very British answer to Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfied. There’s not much hope of glamour when you’re born in Swindon and called Diana Fluck but she managed to attain celebrity and notoriety. She said of her name: “They asked me to change my name. I suppose they were afraid that if my real name Diana Fluck was in lights and one of the lights blew...”

She was often clad in gold lame dresses which she burst out of and teetered around in preposterous heels, often seen draped over leopard skins. Being typically British she failed at maintaining the illusion and was often too frank, talking openly about her private life, causing her to lose a Hollywood film contract for immoral behaviour. When asked where she’d bought a leopard skin she was sprawled out on she informed the journalist that she’d picked it up cheap, second hand.

When her first marriage failed and she was held at gunpoint and forced to sign over her assets, she embarked on a cabaret tour and recorded a swing album called “Swingin’ Dors” to bring in some cash. It’s a bloody good album too. You can still buy it.

Diana’s acting talents were never in doubt and she achieved recognition for her 1956 film “Yield to the Night” in which she did something actresses didn’t do at the time. She played a murderess waiting to be hanged and appeared on screen with dark roots and no make-up and proved that unlike some of her American contemporaries she could actually act. Interestingly, the film was loosely based on Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in England, who was a friend of Diana.

There’s loads of interesting stuff about Diana Dors: she left behind a coded message stating where her hidden millions were, leaving an unsolved mystery as the money was never found. She once had a fling with Bob Monkhouse. She wrote tacky paperbacks about her life including the salacious “Behind Closed Dors”. She was a shrewd business woman who marketed herself and turned her image into a product but at times was terrible with money and went bankrupt in the early 1960s owing more than £40,000. The Archbishop of Canterbury once called her a “brazen hussy”, an accolade I’d be proud of. You’ve got to admire the woman. She certainly packed a lot into 52 years before her death from ovarian cancer.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Poems: Pessimism for Beginners

I love this poem. Low expectations make the the little things that happen, however few and far between, so much more enchanting. Two fingers to the cult of positive thinking. Positive thinking makes for banal people. I much prefer this approach.

Pessimism for Beginners

by Sophie Hannah

When you’re waiting for someone to e-mail,
When you’re waiting for someone to call –
Young or old, gay or straight, male or female –
Don’t assume that they’re busy, that’s all.
Don’t conclude that their letter went missing
Or they must be away for a while;
Think instead that they’re cursing and hissing –
They’ve decided you’re venal and vile,
That your eyes should be pecked by an eagle.
Oh, to bash in your head with a stone!
But since this is unfairly illegal
They’ve no choice but to leave you alone.
Be they friend, parent, sibling or lover
Or your most stalwart colleague at work,
Don’t pursue them. You’ll only discover
That your once-irresistible quirk
Is no longer appealing. Far from it.
Everything that you are and you do
Makes them spatter their basin with vomit.
They loathe Hitler and Herpes and you.
Once you take this on board, life gets better.
You give no-one your hopes to destroy.
The most cursory phone call or letter
Makes you pickle your heart in pure joy.
It’s so different from what you expected!
They do not want to gouge out your eyes!
You feel neither abused nor rejected –
What a stunning and perfect surprise.
This approach I’m endorsing will net you
A small portion of boundless delight.
Keep believing the world’s out to get you.
Now and then you might not be proved right.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Reviews: December 2011

December can be a bleak month and for me, it’s my least favourite time of the year. I’ve written before about my pathological hatred of all things festive and I also really don’t like the short days (see “The C Word”). Going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark is not joyous. I’m always glad when the 21st has passed and the days start drawing out, too slowly for me.

I always feel like hibernating in December and don’t venture out much. I have an overwhelming urge to sleep and eat stodgy food. I avoid the city centre, it’s packed with amateur shoppers clogging up the roads and streets and the enforced jollity, designed to make you spend money, grates on my nerves. It generally takes me 30 minutes longer each day to get home from work due to clogged up roads which annoys me.

Eating out isn’t always too good either and bars are a definite no for me. One hearing of “Last Christmas” by Wham or any of the numerous cheesy pop songs about Yuletide and I start to feel a little psychotic or become like the Witch in “The Wizard of Oz” on entering a Jacuzzi. Added to that, most places are full of drunken works’ parties and staffed by temporary teenage waitresses and the food is usually churned out with an eye for making as much cash as possible and quality goes out of the window.

Lots of friends are unavailable throughout December as they endure festive parties and family events and I hope for their sake, that they can get drunk enough to think they’re fun. Theatres are full of horrifically bad pantomimes starring has-been soap stars and people from long failed sitcoms and little else. Consequently, December is my most reclusive month so this month I’m mostly reviewing books and T.V.


Anne Tyler “The Amateur Marriage”

This book has been sitting on my bookshelf for several years. I picked it up and was instantly engrossed and wished I’d discovered it before. It’s the story of Pauline and Michael, a mismatched couple who meet in the 1940s and attempt to survive a marriage doomed for failure. Anne Tyler writes evocatively and portrays drama and mood through describing the mundane details of daily life. She slips in plot turns and twists subtly amongst the domesticity as she plots their life through to the 1990s. Pauline is a feisty fire brand of a woman, whilst Michael is staid and measured and the character portrayal is deft and sympathetic. I’d definitely recommend this book.

Jeffrey Eugenides “The Marriage Plot”

I love his work. I adored “The Virgin Suicides” with its nihilistic darkness and “Middlesex” was outstanding. This new novel took a while to draw me in but once it did I wasn’t disappointed. The story is a romantic comedy with an intellectual twist. The book follows the lives of three university students in the 1980s and examines whether love and romance are still pertinent in the age of pre-nuptial agreements, feminism and quickie divorces. It’s definitely comedy looked at through a glass darkly and is a brilliant book.

Harriet Lane “Alys, Always”

This novel is a sinister tale of social climbing, Machiavellian manoeuvres and exclusion. I was lucky enough to get a free copy from Waterstones to review. The book is, sadly, not published till February but it’s definitely one to look out for. I devoured the novel in a day. The characterisation is succinct and the tone and style of the book is sparse and chilling. This is the author’s debut novel and it’s a corker of a book. Good psychological thrillers which are well written are few and far between but this book is in a class of its own.


American Horror Story

I have a new addiction. I’ve wolfed down 10 episodes of this drama in less than a week. It ticked so many boxes for me. Dylan McDermott plays one of the main character and is obliged to walk round semi-naked an awful lot. Surely I don’t need to go on? That’s enough to make me watch.

It’s the story of a couple experiencing marital problems who move to L.A. only to find they’ve moved into a murder house which is beyond sinister. It reminds me of “The Shining” crossed with “Rosemary’s Baby” crossed with “Halloween”. It’s terrifying to watch and is very cleverly written. The house itself is a stunning place with art deco and arts and crafts features and is almost a character in itself. Jessica Lang stars as the creepy neighbour and her performance is impeccable, augmented by her creepy appearance, due (I think) to a lot of misguided surgical adjustment.

A hot man walks around semi naked, there’s a scary sub-plot about a gimp mask and it’s hideously scary. What more can you ask for?


My Week With Marilyn

I wasn’t at all tempted by the premise of this film. I thought that on paper it sounded really cheesy to have an actress mimicking Monroe. I imagined it’d be a dull film that was a bit tacky and couldn’t see the point of it. I was totally wrong. It was amazing, well written and paced. Michelle Williams gives a fantastic performance as Marilyn, evoking vulnerability mixed with a fragile egotism and a manipulative nature. The ensemble cast is brilliant. The film reminded me of the best qualities about British cinema and why I love it. Definitely, definitely see this film.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Ramblings: I (Don't) Want to Ride My Bicycle

I think I may have mentioned before, but one of my oddities is that I can’t ride a bike. If I tell people this they look at me gone out like I’ve just said I’m a hermaphrodite or I can’t write my own name. It’s considered, by most people, to be decidedly odd. I personally think that riding a bike is even odder. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I think its witchcraft.

I’ve always been a bit clumsy. I trip over a lot, am prone to bumping into things and am generally uncoordinated. I have mismatched eyes. Not like David Bowie, a green and a brown one, but I have one very long sighted one and one almost normal eye. The first time an optician noted this when I went for an eye test aged 12, he asked me if I was especially clumsy and accident prone. My mother nodded eagerly, finally latching onto to a diagnosis to explain my bizarre mishaps. Recently an optician asked me if I wore my glasses to drive. When I told her I didn’t drive, I’m sure it wasn’t just my imagination that made me see a look of relief wash over her.

I also have terrible balance. I’m rubbish at standing on one leg (I practice often), could never master stilt walking or roller skating as a child and the very thought of ice skating or skiing gives me an icy chill and a vision of plaster of Paris and traction. I get terrible travel sickness and have been known to run out of films with wobbly camcorder type shots, green faced. If I try to send text messages in a moving car I start to feel dizzy and throw up. I have to look away when a fast moving train goes by or I start to spin and I never liked roundabouts or fairground rides that spin round. I once spent a whole evening in bed with a bucket beside me after an ill advised go on the Waltzers aged 7.

These are my excuses for not mastering the art of staying upright on a bicycle. I had the usual sit in and push along cars as a toddler, progressed to the tricycle then onto the little bike with stabilisers. Then the problems began. My father developed a permanent frown and a mouth full of tightly gritted teeth as we repeatedly tried to get me to stay aloft a bike without 4 wheels. He’d push me along, let go and I’d fall off. This went on ad-nauseum, usually until I trooped off home in a strop, abandoning the bicycle with a wobbly bottom lip and a lot of bruises.

I’m not one for perseverance. “I’ve tried it once and didn’t like it” or “If at first you don’t succeed then give the bastard thing up as a bad job and avoid ever trying again” could well be ideal mottos for me. The shiny bicycle which my dad had bought second hand and lovingly restored stayed in the shed until we sold it and I spent the money on books. You know where you are with books (just don’t ask me to balance one on my head).

To be honest, I don’t feel the need to justify my inability to balance on a bike. I look at people going past on them and am startled by what a weird thing it is to do. Surely it’s some kind of sorcery? These people must have magic powers. Balancing on two wheels is nonsensical.

I knew I was on to a loser when attempting to learn to drive my instructor said to me on my first lesson: “It’s much like riding a bike” followed not long after by “You can’t ride a bike? What! How strange”

I’m happy to walk, thanks.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Ramblings: Smile Please

I keep passing a sign on my way to work outside a local dentist advertising “Snap-on-smiles”. The picture shows a hideous device like those comedy false teeth you got in Christmas Crackers in the 1970s. It’s a fake set of teeth that you simply snap on over your existing rotten yellowing teeth to con people into thinking you’re a Hollywood film star. I imagine they’re rather expensive too.

I find this whole white teeth obsession puzzling. My teeth are a healthy off white and yellow combination with a smattering of iron grey fillings which are revealed if I laugh loudly. I often laugh loudly. I’m actually quite proud of them. Having rotten crooked teeth marks you out as being British. We’re famous for them throughout the world. We have a variety of patterns and shapes and the colour spectrum is represented beautifully from battleship grey to canary yellow through to eau de Nil.

I watched an old film last night from 1961 of “The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone” by Tennessee Williams. The film was a weak adaptation in spite of Vivien Leigh doing miserable and deranged as only she could, but what distracted me most during the film was Warren Beatty’s teeth. Warren Beatty played an Italian gigolo with a bottle tan and a dazzling set of huge white teeth. They were most disconcerting and constantly took my mind off the plot and dialogue. It became a dental fiesta. The lights were dazzling, reflecting off his huge mouth full of frightening dentition.

I wonder why we’ve become a nation now obsessed with having sparkling white, perfectly straight teeth when in reality they look pretty scary. There’s nothing quite as disconcerting as an ordinary British person who has teeth which if caught in the right ray of light could remove your cataracts. Perfection doesn’t look good. Take the example of women who plaster on foundation make up with a trowel. A pure matte, evenly coloured face looks odd and unattractive. They look much better with a hint of the natural, a bit of variety of tone.

I’ve had a long running issue with my teeth. The dentist says it’s genetic and I firmly hold with that. I clean, floss, gargle and have regular check-ups. In spite of that I have fillings, veneers and crowns aplenty. When I gave up smoking once for nine months, I chewed so much sugar free gum that half my fillings crumbled away with the repetitive action and I ended up spending more money on dentistry than I ever saved through not buying cigarettes. I started young. I had fillings in my milk teeth. I was a frequent visitor at the local NHS dental clinic and had to have various teeth yanked out due to an overcrowded mouth. I became a bit dental phobic and stopped going at all once I grew to adulthood.

I was scuppered one day by an abscess and had to return in my mid twenties for a clutch of fillings. I managed to temporarily overcome my fear until a year later a wisdom tooth rotted. The dentist decided to pull it and I’ll never forget his face when the tooth made a decidedly nasty crunching sound and he snapped it in two.

“I’m afraid this may be considerably more complicated than we first thought.” he said, grinning and placing a box of large metal corkscrew type implements on my chest. I left an hour later, dazed and covered in blood with a bruise on my chest where he’d rested his knee as he played tug of war with my tooth fragments. I remember staggering out and trying to light a cigarette and almost falling into the road in a dramatic faint. I didn’t go back for a few years.

Let’s face it, dentists are invariably wealthy. They’re sneaky blighters, always looking to make as much money as possible. Have you ever met a poor dentist? I don’t trust them at all. My current dentist advertises dental whitening parties especially for Christmas. You and your friends and colleagues can all have a lovely party where you spend huge amounts of money to get glow-white teeth. Sounds fun, no? Not my kind of party and not my idea of an investment.

Ultimately, I don’t want to blind people with an unnatural smile which eclipses all my other facial features. I don’t want to look like an Osmond circa 1978 or a crazed Mormon door stepper. I certainly don’t want to look like Mr Ed the talking horse or a comedy vicar from an old situation comedy. I’m happy with my grotty old teeth. They chew food and serve me well. Receding gums, crooked smiles and stains are good enough for our aristocracy so they’re good enough for me too. Leave your teeth alone, you’re fine as you are.

I’ll leave you with the words of Spike Milligan:


 English Teeth, English Teeth!

 Shining in the sun

 A part of British heritage

 Aye, each and every one.

 English Teeth, Happy Teeth!

 Always having fun

 Champing down on bits of fish

 And sausages half done.

 English Teeth, HEROES' Teeth!

 Here them click! and clack!

 Let's sing a song of praise to them -

 Three Cheers for the Brown Grey and Black.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Ramblings: Accidents Will Happen

Maybe my career as a nurse was predestined. I don’t remember ever wanting to be one but I definitely had a childhood fascination with accidents. In fact my earliest memory is off an accident. I was a grisly child, as most are.
I was three years old, at nursery school and we were forced to drink horrible sour milk every day. It was always warm and slightly stale and was utterly hateful. Margaret Thatcher stopped free school milk, whilst still a minister, which to my mind was the only good thing she ever did. I loathed it and used to gag. It came in tiny little bottles which I imagine only held a quarter of a pint but it felt like a gallon when you had to glug the lukewarm stuff down and put up with it coating your mouth for hours afterwards. I’m an inveterate milk sniffer now and do a sniff test every time to test for freshness. My tolerance of the slightest whiff of being on the turn is very low.
I vividly recall a little girl called Mandy deciding to help the teacher by picking up the crate of empty milk bottles and walking with them up the two steps. You can imagine the rest. I was utterly fascinated by the drama created by one such small event. There was blood and glass everywhere and nursery nurses running around frantically. My goodness, this was far from the usual routine. Incidentally, Mandy wasn’t badly scarred. She soon recovered. I suppose I enjoyed the livening up of the day and secretly envied the attention she got as iodine and bandages were tenderly applied.
A few weeks later it happened again. Another accident! Our nursery school consisted of two rooms in a Victorian school which in memory seemed immense and dark but were probably tiny. There was a playhouse which I loved, a climbing frame which I hated and was fearful of and the obligatory tanks of stick insects which schools seemed to have in the 1970s. They just bored me. School bored me. Other children were weird and a bit scary and they made us sleep in the afternoons. Every afternoon they’d pull out these horrible little canvas and metal beds with scratchy red blankets. We were each assigned a symbol (mine was a beach ball. I wanted the doll or the teddy but was unlucky) and our peg and blanket had these painted or sewn on them. I hated being made to sleep in the afternoon. Ironic, as now I crave a daily nap. I’d lie there, fidgety and restless, singing little songs to myself and making up stories till the teachers came along and told me off and ordered me to sleep. Not easy for an excitable child with a nervous disposition.
The second accident was when a boy fell off the climbing frame, proving my timidity in climbing things justified all along. He landed with a terrible crack, fracturing a bone in his arm. This time it was really exciting. The nursery nurses were stricken and pale, running around, ringing for ambulances and the little boy, Mark, was brave but shaken. I was enthralled. I was also extremely excited by the concept of him having to stay in hospital. It seemed so alien and exciting that you were able to go and spend time away from your parents and eat jelly. I thought this sounded like Utopia and decided to have an accident of my own.
I remember deciding to fall down stairs. My resolve soon weakened when I realised that the actual process by which I needed to break a bone involved falling which was very worrying. The velocity needed was actually beyond the level of courage I had to do it.
Ironically, I actually went on to have a genuine accident a couple of years later and fell down the stairs with aplomb, from top to bottom, cracking my head. I also managed to slip on a discarded copy of “Milly Molly Mandy” once and bang my head on the TV, roll onto a discarded fly fishing hook which my father had dropped and get it embedded in my head and swallow a string of rosary beads. The rosary beads incident was scary. I was about 5 years old and the doctor they called out to me was quite stern, telling me I might need to have my belly cut open. Understandably, I wasn’t keen on this option but once the x-rays excluded a need for this I thoroughly enjoyed an afternoon in the casualty department and reflected back on what fun the hospital was. There was so much to see. It was one of many visits. I suspect that if I were a child nowadays my clumsiness would land me with a file from a concerned Social Worker.
I remember my grandmother rubbing butter on the huge lump on my head after the fall onto the TV (I also cracked the screen) and I loved the day in Casualty when they had to dig the fishing hook out of my scalp. It didn’t hurt at all and the smiley nurse was a vision of loveliness and kindness. I remember an antiseptic spray which smelled of oranges and was quite heavenly.
As mentioned on a post before about my Hitler look-a-like cat, Whiskey, we often had altercations. I was never more proud than when I was bandaged from wrist to armpit and reeking of Savlon. It made me feel very superior to the other children at nursery school. I also loved Witch Hazel and the smell still sends me into ecstasy. I’d get wheezy and snotty in the summer and come out in hives which I’d scratch relentlessly till they bled. The Calamine Lotion was cool and sticky and smelt beautiful and the Witch Hazel dabbed on the bleeding bits was stingy but divine smelling.
My favourite toy at that age was a toy hospital made by Playmobil. It had two storeys. Each ward had 3 beds with little mountainous temperature charts and sickly little Plamobil patients. There was a Playmobil doctor (who was black) and two smiley blonde nurses. I loved that toy but wasn’t especially nurturing. My favourite game was to affect an earthquake and watch them all cope with the calamity as the walls fell apart, sending patients skittering around the floor as they tumbled off their beds. Don’t worry, I’ve never had this yet whilst at work.  
I think there’s sometimes an inevitability to things. Maybe hypochondria added to a love of high drama is what inspired me to enter nursing. Maybe it was just an abiding love of the smell of antiseptic. Who knows? I love it still, anyway.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Ramblings: Tim Burton

I recently re-discovered Tim Burton’s book, “The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and other Stories”. I love Tim’s films and this little book of grisly stories with fantastic illustrations is a must for any twisted child who’s now old enough to experience this gothic joy.  

Here’s an example, especially for the festive season. It’s not the best one but it’s short to type (give me a break, already!) and is topical.

The Boy with Nails in His Eyes

The Boy with Nails in His eyes

put up his aluminium tree.

It looked pretty strange

Because he couldn’t really see

Poems: A Christmas Poem

I’ve held back so far but after battling my way into the city centre on a steamy over crowded bus on Friday I need to let it all out. It’s getting all festive which for me is not good. The queues to collect parcels are becoming horrendous, there’s nasty tasteless everywhere and the drunken works’ parties are starting to invade the dining venues. I thought a few poems as an antidote to the rubbish might help. Enjoy them, they’re more interesting than the queues for Satan (is that how you spell Saint Nick?). I especially relate to the second poem. Seeing people who’s grief and pain is magnified by the expectation that they should be happy because it’s December is a common sight for me at work.

A Christmas Poem

By Wendy Cope
At Christmas little children sing and merry bells jingle,
The cold winter air makes our hands and faces tingle
And happy families go to church and cheerily they mingle
And the whole business is unbelievably dreadful, if you're single.

A Christmas Song

By Wendy Cope

Why is the baby crying
On this, his special day,

When we have brought him lovely gifts

And laid them on the hay?

He’s crying for the people

Who greet this day with dread

Because somebody dear to them

Is far away or dead,

For all the men and women

Whose love affairs went wrong,

Who try their best at merriment

When Christmas comes along

For separated parents

Whose turn it is to grieve

While children hang their stockings up

Elsewhere on Christmas Eve,

For everyone whose burden,

Carried throughout the year,

Is heavier at Christmastime,

The season of good cheer.

That’s why the baby’s crying

There in the cattle stall:

He’s crying for those people.

He’s crying for them all.

Poems: Flowers

As ever I love the poems of Wendy Cope. She conveys so much in such succinct verse. I like the sentiment here. I’m not at all fussed about getting the flowers either. I much prefer a man who knows me well enough to agonise over whether the flowers were right for someone as particular as me than one who expects me to accept what he thinks I want. The thought of the flowers linger longer for me too.


By Wendy Cope

Some men never think of it.
You did. You’d come along
And say you’d nearly brought me flowers
But something had gone wrong.

The shop was closed. Or you had doubts —
The sort that minds like ours
Dream up incessantly. You thought
I might not want your flowers.

It made me smile and hug you then.
Now I can only smile.
But, look, the flowers you nearly brought
Have lasted all this while.

Ramblings: Big Daddy

One of my favourite lines ever from a film is uttered by Blanche DuBois as she’s genteelly carted off to the lunatic asylum at the end of “A Streetcar Named Desire”: “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers” Let’s face it, who hasn’t at some time or other. Depended on strangers being kind, I mean, not been escorted to a sanatorium for the insane.

The reason I mention this is to talk about one of my favourite authors and playwrights, Tennessee Williams. I’d urge anyone who isn’t familiar with his work to look it out. There are so many fantastic film versions of his works as well as volumes of his short stories, his novella “The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone” and various autobiographies about his life. His plays still appear regularly on the stage almost 30 years after his death and his films attracted actors and directors from the highest echelons.

This man was addicted to amphetamine injections and sedatives, had tempestuous homosexual relationships, nervous breakdowns, issues with alcohol, a rampant wit and died not from the pills he took so many of, but from accidentally choking on the top of a bottle of eye drops. What would make you not want to read about a life like that? It’s not hard to see why this writer would understand and be able to reflect the life of the damaged so well.

His female characters have such strength and depth. It’s hard not be charmed by Blanche DuBois and her real and assumed frailties in a world that’s left her behind. She postures and witters but ultimately is sympathetic and real. I’m sure many of us can identify with her fear of ageing and being left to wither away, losing all we once held as so important. We almost all dislike being under a naked light at a certain age. The desperately shy and crippled Laura and her overbearing mother, Amanda, in “The Glass Menagerie” provide high drama in small domesticities. Maggie the Cat in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” oozes sensuality and speaks of what it is to be a woman willing to use all she’s got to keep her position. Her seductive tangos around her drunken and damaged husband and bombastic father-in-law are a sight to behold (as is the young Paul Newman in the film, but that’s just me being a bit lecherous).

Tennessee Williams wrote about the kind of people that fascinate me: gigolos and drifters, faded Southern Belles, washed up film stars and drunkards. He depicted the shy, the lonely and the damaged and the ruthless and depraved too, with an eye for human frailty and an understanding of their flaws.
I could wax lyrical for hours about what I love about his plays and prose but my suggestion would be to see some of his films. You honestly won’t regret it. They’re pure quality

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Poems: At Eighty Three She Lives Alone

The poet, Ruth Stone, died this week aged 96. I’ve only recently discovered her. Apologies to those who hate the word “cunt” but I think it fits well and her work shouldn’t be censored. This is such a poignant poem about ageing and our invisibility in society, in spite of our often unchanged inner world.

At Eighty-three She Lives Alone

By Ruth Stone

Enclosure, steam-heated; a trial casket.
You are here; your name on a postal box;
entrance into another place like vapour.
No one knows you. No one speaks to you.
All of their cocks stare down their pant legs
at the ground. Their cunts are blind. They
barely let you through the check-out line.
Have a nice day. Plastic or paper

Are you origami? A paper folded swan,
like the ones you made when you were ten?
When you saw the constellations, lying
on your back in the wet grass,
the soapy pear blossoms drifting
and wasting, and those starts, the burned out ones
whose light was still coming in waves;
your body was too slight.
How could it hold such mass?
Still on your lips the taste of something

All night you waited for morning, all morning
for afternoon, all afternoon for night;
and still the longing sings.
Oh, paper bird with folded wings

Poems: November

I posted this poem on Facebook last year and my cousin pointed out that unless you lived in a cave it couldn’t possibly be true. It’s certainly not true in any literal sense in November 2011, as we’ve had some pretty freakishly good weather, but I like this poem nonetheless as it captures that feeling of winter blues which so often marks the onset of the season.
by Thomas Hood
No sun - no moon!

No morn - no noon -

No dawn - no dusk - no proper time of day.

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,

No comfortable feel in any member -

No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,

No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds!


Saturday, 12 November 2011

Ramblings: Crazy in Love

A couple of years ago I read a book by a psychologist called Frank Tallis, called “Love Sick” I went through a phase of reading pop psychology books during a turbulent phase in my love life and had just recently discovered that I was indeed a “Woman Who Loved Too Much” (albeit the wrong gender) and that it was also “Called a Break-Up Because it’s Broken” I was also using a special lamp for self diagnosed seasonal affective disorder (interesting diagnosis as I’ve always been depressed in the summer) and reading lots of cognitive behavioural therapy books about anxiety and depression. I soon got bored of it all, of course. The lamp helped a bit I think but only in that it meant I had to sit still for 30 minutes each day.
Frank Tallis spoke to me in my state of disillusionment at the time and answered the doubts about love harboured by poorly concealed inner cynic. He proposed the theory that love is actually a name for a quite debilitating mental illness which afflicts many with transient madness and in some cases is even terminal. How many murders and suicides are motivated by love that has gone awry? Here’s a quotation from his website:
“The symptoms of love are many and varied. What’s intriguing is that if we list them- for example, preoccupation with the loved one, tearfulness, euphoria- and check them against accepted diagnostic criteria for mental illness, we find that most ‘lovers’ qualify for diagnoses of obsessional illness, depression or manic depression. And this is no superficial relationship. Neurochemical and brain scanning investigations have shown a considerable overlap between ‘the brain in love’ and ‘the brain in the throes of mental illness’ Why should this be? Why is love experienced as a kind of madness?”

Scary stuff, yet at the time of reading the book I was still actively seeking it out. I wanted more madness. I’ve always hated that horrible cliché that the time you stop looking is when you find a partner. Statistically this has got to be untrue and makes no sense. It’s just a perception we have. It’s hard to stop hoping for something that you really want.

My first experience of love, aged 16 was pure infatuation. I had a bet going on with a friend who was 9 months older than me that I could lose my virginity before she did. She’d managed it at 16 and 9 months and I needed to catch up quickly. If I wasn’t to lose face I needed to lose my big V. This is probably not the best reason for losing your virginity, by the way.

I won the bet and gained an infatuation of startling intensity within days. The boy, a 17 year old from my school, was equally infatuated and we were archetypal love sick teenagers. I mooned about, didn’t sleep, didn’t eat. I was nauseated and restless and whole heartedly obsessed. I adored everything about him for about 14 days then I suddenly snapped out of it and realised that he was a bit of a knob with a very dull Doctor Who fixation and mild body odour issues. I then spent weeks trying to get rid of him and he took a (thankfully small) drug overdose complete with dramatic note addressed to me. I found it all very exhausting.

My subsequent experiences of love were at times, equally exhausting. I’d love to get back the hours I’ve spent thinking obsessively with a churning stomach. I’d love to take back the psychopathic text messages brimful of meanness and a fine vocabulary of inventive swearwords. I’d like to have not experienced the drunken stupors and crying fits and the bleakness of spirit. I’d like to have not experienced the misdirected self hatred after rejections and infidelities. I suspect many of my long suffering friends also wished they'd not gone through this with me too. I think Frank Tallis had a point in many ways and as I mooned about swamped with fatigue and full of pain after another bad experience I’d hold him up as an icon.

However, I still sought it out sporadically, lurching from relationships to relationships with minimal intervals in between. Along with the lows there were highs. The exhilarating feeling of experiencing someone’s passion for you is one not to be missed, even if that passion does turn out, ultimately, to be rather weak and transient. It’s a fine sensation to feel excitement when he calls, to tremble when you see him and have a head full of dreams. Mental disturbance isn’t all bad. I saw it as a risk worth taking, a pay off worth paying for.
I’m not overtly romantic in a traditional sense and like to think of myself as a cynic. I once told a friend who’s wedding I couldn’t attend that I’d go to the next one (it turned out I was right and I did indeed attend number two). I also once said to an annoying taxi driver, who was boasting about spending thousands on his daughter’s wedding, that it was important to make it special as getting married was something you experience only 3 or 4 times in your life. I was moderately contented on my own and met Paul entirely by accident in an improbable place after a long period of single life. I wasn’t seeking a new partner but equally wasn’t not seeking one.

I still think Frank Tallis is right. Love is a strange biochemical process based on neuro-transmitters with a lot of societal pressures and psychological foundations. You know what though? Mental illness never felt so fine. Maybe I’ve got wiser as I’ve got older. Miracles do sometimes happen even to the cynical non-believers.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Ramblings: Freak Like Me

Last week I saw a tiny little man who was wearing a floral shower cap on top of his turban. He was all of 5 feet three tall, wizened and elderly and his immaculate dark suit was topped off exquisitely by a lurid 1970s shower cap. I think he was a very sensible man, it was raining after all and no one wants a damp turban all day.
I often see a man who works at the hospital who dresses as an Edwardian gentleman. He must be in his 50s and is tall and rotund. He sports a series of fetching waistcoats stretched over his ample belly and he has a huge waxed moustache which sprawls over his face. I saw him walking through the city centre one evening and he was also wearing a cape that night and carrying a sliver topped cane. I admire him and often smile at his outfits, commenting on a particular natty cravat or a dashing checked trouser. Naturally, he works in psychiatry. Where else could you get away with that look? I asked him once if he lived in a re-created Edwardian house and I was gladdened when he affirmed that indeed he did.
There used to be an elderly woman who walked around the streets with a small white poodle in a huge Silver Cross pram. He was harnessed in by his lead and would sit quite happily, yapping at passersby as he was wheeled around in style. She would merrily chatter away to him as they strolled.
I always admired a tall thin elderly lady who lived nearby. She would set out from her house with a very purposeful gait, striding briskly, head down, sending people scurrying out of her way in terror. She always wore a blue rain coat and a matching hairnet and had a full beard. She would often smile at people, revealing a lot of missing teeth, and give a jaunty wave with her hand held high. She’d shout “Hello!” at deafening volume. Occasionally she’d appear with a huge brown dog on a lead which would drag her around and she’d trot along breathlessly behind with a happy expression on her whiskery face.
I could write all night about these people. There are scores more of them in my mental bank of people I regularly see. To me, these people are rational and normal. No one wants a wet turban. They must become so heavy. Why not arrive in style in a shower cap if it keeps you dry? The Edwardian style suits a large man and if you can get away with sauntering around at work in full costume then why not? It’s fun. Poodles are unwieldy things to carry around. They wriggle so. If you have a spare pram to hand going to waste then why not convert it into a poodle carriage? I’m sure he was a good listener to as she talked away. If you struggle with messy hair and don’t have time to shave your beard then why not be proud of it? Walk along with a tooth deficient grin and shout greetings at full volume. The depilatory process can be wearing to maintain. Brazen it out.
My point I suppose, is that “normal” is all about perception. Maybe we’re the mad ones for spending time plucking stray hairs or walking around with wet hair when we have perfectly nifty shower caps to hand?
I asked on Facebook last year for people I knew to come out of the closet and admit their inner freakiness. The response was quite phenomenal. People admitted bizarre rituals, filthy habits and strange beliefs. They collected nail clippings, believed that their identical twin was better looking and were scared of sponges or wet wood. They ate inappropriate foods, had attachments to unusual items and perceived things in peculiar ways. All perfectly normal to me. It doesn’t take much chipping away at the surface to reveal a great big scary freak underneath. As for my odd habits, well, I describe them enough on here.
My definition of strange is a teenage boy in canvas shoes on a wintery day, walking along with trousers halfway down his thighs and buttocks showing. Wearing jeans with elasticated ankles and a baggy gusset which makes it look like you’re wearing a nappy, suits no practical purpose and looks pretty odd. Surely we should stop stare and point.
I think madness is to spend thousands of pounds on a huge white wedding party, inviting people you barely know to attend the protracted rituals and wasting money on a frock you’ll wear once and then look back on with blushes as the fashions change. I’m puzzled by people who watch TV constantly, celebrate Christmas with gusto, believe in holy spirits or find clowns endearing. Now that is very weird.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Ramblings: Send Out the Clowns

I hope no one reading this is a clown or mime artist as the following may cause offence: I think you’d look better dead. I believe that shooting a clown should be a legitimate pastime and like crimes of passion were in France, should be exempt from prosecution.
Mime artists were unavoidable this year at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh. Every time you turned a corner there was another buffoon dressed in a stripy top and beret pulling on an invisible rope or pulling him or herself up on a nonexistent wall. Their hideous whited out faces would be forming “comedy” expressions and jauntily raising eyebrows whilst I’d be twitching for the Kalashnikov I wished I was carrying. I had strange urges to pop their balloons with my cigarette.
Bizarrely, people crowd around and watch them and even give them money when they pass around their battered hats complete with “funny” wilted flower. This is also known as the “You’re blocking the pavement. Get out of my way!” situation. The words “Nothing to see here, move along!” were sorely needed and I was gagging to shout it out. I didn’t. I try to behave.
I went to see a version of “Uncle Vanya” by Chekov which was performed by a theatrical troop from Los Angeles. It had won an award and garnered rave reviews and was described as physical theatre at its finest. Stupidly I ignored this and thought it sounded fun. It wasn’t. I forgot that physical theatre actually means tomfoolery that wouldn’t keep a child of three entertained for long. I was trapped in a small theatre whilst a group of five grown men wreaked havoc on a Chekov play by turning it into slap stick comedy with a series of clowning moves and weird mimes. That’s an hour I won’t get back. I couldn’t even have a sneaky sleep as the sound of the actors repeatedly falling over kept me awake. It’s just what Chekov intended, I’m sure, when he wrote his witty plays full of angst. I bet he thought to himself: “This play lacks a man slipping on a banana skin, that’s always funny.” Actually a friend of mine slipped on a banana skin once and ended up with a fracture. He didn’t laugh.
I got back to the apartment and posted a review on the Fringe website warning everyone it was dire. The next night I went to see an amazingly good play (with no comedy falls) and the man sitting next to me looked familiar. We started chatting and lo and behold, he was one of the Chekov vandal clowns from L.A. Naturally, I told him it was a great performance. I squirmed a little at my own insincerity but what can you do when you’re trapped in a theatre.
Clowns are horribly scary. Clown phobia even has a name: coulrophobia. If it has a name it must be scary. It’s not just “It” by Stephen King or Ronald MacDonald, purveyor of dead cows and saturated fat, which gives them a bad name. Google John Wayne Gacy and you’ll soon share my phobia. A gay serial killer who dressed as a clown and lured more than 33 teenage boys into his house and stashed their corpses in the cellar? It’s bad enough without the clowning, but with the outfit, that’s just sick. I bet the blood was a bugger to wash off his nylon dungarees and the size 24 shoe prints must have been a dead giveaway for forensics.
Clowns just aren’t funny. I loathe slapstick. I get hives watching Laurel and Hardy. They were fine for silent films but we have these devices now which can broadcast words and dropping a piano downstairs has been superseded in the funny stakes by verbal badinage.
I remember as a child going to someone’s house and they had a series of oil paintings of clowns crying. It was the 1970s. People collected this sort of rubbish. I was horrified and shook a little in my Clarkes’ sandals. I suspect the tears were like crocodiles’ tears, a trick to make children feel sorry for them so they’d come near enough to be dismembered. My mother has a collection of porcelain clowns which are thankfully in a glass fronted cabinet to stop them escaping and killing people in the night. I think she bought them to keep me away, a bit like an evil eye.
It is however safe to get into a clowns car. They always fall apart a bit when they start the engine with the big handle and you can leg it quick before they try and put one on you with their sweaty white gloved hands and big upside down smiley mouths. Don’t be fooled by the innocuous flowers on their lapels though. One step too close and they’ll squirt in your face which is always a bad thing.
Speaking of which, clown porn does exist. I haven’t Googled it, that would be too frightening, but I once accidentally (honestly Officer) stumbled on a program on late night TV about people with sexual fetishes involving clowns. That gave me nightmares: so wrong on every single level. Sex can be messy at the best of times without a custard pie in your pubic hair.
A cautionary tale here also: I was once having a very serious conversation with a tearful woman at work and her mobile phone kept going off, signifying text messages received. Her ring tone was a clown car horn. Always think about you’re alert tones. They can be inappropriate and cause embarrassment in situations of a delicate nature.
So, I advocate burning all the clowns. If you see one, approach him carefully. Sneak up and pop his balloons as a distraction, step on his oversized foot, snap the elastic on his sinister nose and go for his jugular. Always carry a banana skin too in case a clown runs at you. You’ll be doing all of us coulrophobics a massive favour if you fracture a clown somewhere.
I personally am carrying the torch for clown haters and in a couple of weeks I’m going to a fancy dress party as Marcel Marceau. Well, a dead Marcel Marceau, the finishing touch will be a knife in the back and a lot of fake blood. Mime artists and clowns only look better that way. They’re less scary once maimed or injured. You can’t say fairer than that.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Reviews: November 2011

I’ve been seeing a fair bit of stuff, reading a lot and generally enjoying stuff this month so thought I’d share a few of my experiences in the hope that you can enjoy it too.

This a fantastic film which I could really relate to and it left me reflecting on weekends I’ve had in the past much like the one depicted here (only without the drugs, Mr Officer) and about missed opportunities. I absolutely loved this film. It was quietly intense, moving and funny. It worked on different levels for me, both as an entertaining examination of a series of interactions between two very different men and as a meditation on some aspects of modern life for gay people. I’d defy anyone, gay or straight, not to enjoy this gem of a film which is winning awards and acclaim left right and centre. It’s definitely worth catching. I loved the writer/director’s previous film “Greek Pete” too but this one definitely blew me away. I was thinking about it for days afterwards which has got to be good. Oh, the boys are quite cute too, which is nice.
Yes. You’ve read it right. C, the arch anti-tv snob is talking about TV programs he likes.
The Slap

I loved the original novel this was based on and watched the Australian TV adaptation with trepidation, expecting it to be a bit glossy and crass as TV adaptations often can be. It’s actually really well executed, capturing the brutality and raw edges of the novel. Any TV program which makes your hand twitch whilst watching it as your desire to slap vile people and children mounts, is working for me. It’s on now on BBC4 and available on the catch up service for the next month.

I only know one other person who’s privy to the sublime joys of Madmen. It seemed to go under the radar here in England. I’ve been working my way through the DVDs and loving it just as much as the first time I watched it. The show is set in the early 1960s in a New York advertising agency and is very perceptive and wryly amusing. The interiors, clothing and period detail are beautiful and the characterisation is acutely observed. You feel like you should be wearing a lounge suit and sipping a cocktail whilst watching it. I’m also in love with the main character, Don Draper, in spite of his philandering ways. I’d forgive him.
Nottingham Contemporary

I don’t always get contemporary art, finding some of it baffling and inaccessible. It can excite me but also can leave me cold and I know a lot of my friends and acquaintances wouldn’t conceive of going to an art gallery, seeing it as pretentious tosh. Paul, my partner, is an artist and since meeting him, I’ve seen a lot more art and am still having occasional mixed feelings. The current exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary is amazing. I loved it. The work of Klaus Weber is visually stunning, easy to grasp the concept and as ever in this awe inspiring space, presented well. It contains strange gadgets, a museum of random oddness and pictures made by bees. I’d definitely recommend this, it’s free to see and there’s also a really nice cafe bar. What have you got to lose?

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

I’ve mentioned before that I have a morbid fascination with asylums and the history of mental illness and psychiatric treatments. As such, I’ve always loved the film of “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. The production of the play at Leicester’s Curve Theatre was pure genius. It’s hard to perform such an iconic classic of a piece and do it justice but they more than achieved this. The stage set was dazzling, a huge temple of a brilliant white hospital ward which captured its stark beauty. Nurse Rached was suitably frightening and lit to perfection. The whole production was polished and worthy of a West End theatre or Broadway production.
The Curve is a great theatre which puts on loads of innovative and eclectic plays and is well worth a visit. It’s a stylish place too with a breath taking foyer area and the stages are perfect for creating inspiring stage sets and scenery worthy of the shows.
They’ve just released the new season of plays for Spring and Summer and there are some corking productions coming. I’d recommend checking it out.