Determination

This blog may have given the impression that I am some vague sort of cove who just drifts through life like snow in a stiff breeze.  Yes, my attempts to empty a small storage unit may be close to reaching 3.5 years (though some progress has recently been made).  OK, I may have taken 6 months to fix my bookshelves to the wall to enable them to carry the books from the aforementioned storage unit without the risk of their owner being crushed beneath his library (though, what a way to go!).  I’ll admit it took more than 21 years to organise a guitar lesson.  However, occasionally my cup of motiviation is filled to overflowing with dedication and purpose.

This last week has seen two examples of my commitment to a project going well beyond the point of sanity or common sense.

The first relates to my guitar.  In an attempt to make up for the rather dilatory start to my life as a guitarist, I have been practising regularly.  If I’m at home, I normally manage to put in a few minutes of practise every day.  Only a very few minutes each time  (around five) as the fingertips on my left hand can only take so much punishment.  In an attempt to toughen them up, after Christmas I moved to practising twice a day: morning and afternoon.  This is having the desired effect and my fingertips are hardening and the dead skin is starting to peel as the necessary callouses form.

The upshot of this process was that at my guitar lesson last week, I was able to spend a much larger portion of the hour actually playing the instrument and much less time talking about it.  This was wonderful and there were very brief sonic glimpses of something Spanish or Latin American emerging from the instrument (though they are still swamped by the dross).  I even managed to produce an F successfully for the first time!  This may not sound like much, but my index finger has to hold down two strings (on the first fret) at the same time.  Previously the squidginess of my finger had rendered this impossible.  It’s always nice to make a break through while your teacher is watching. In fact, guitar-playing is becoming much less of a white-knuckle experience all round and I no longer give the impression that I am trying to throttle the life out of my guitar.

This may have led me to get a little carried away, so by the end of the lesson the tops of fingers 1, 2 and 3 were completely shredded.  My attempt to practise the following day had to be aborted very quickly and I needed another two days of rest (while I was over the Irish Sea) before I next braved the guitar: even typing on a laptop keyboard was somewhat of a challenge.  Still, today my fingers were up to a full session on the strings and producing an F is almost second nature.

My other main physical project is on the bar: an attempt to master the muscle-up.  Yesterday, I was attempting the tricky transition from being under the bar to being over it and pushing myself up.  This is starting to go really quite well and I can gain a lot more height over the bar with relative ease (still aided by a thickish rubber band), though synchronising the switch of hand position and the movement from pulling to pushing up is more tricky: but I did manage it a few times.  Again, my determination rather overwhelmed any sense and after twenty minutes or so attempting the maneouvre I noticed my right hand seemed a little damp.  On closer examination I discovered it was bleeding (from an unknown source) and it had a sizeable blood blister where my little finger joins onto the hand.  My left hand had another two blood blisters: also where the fingers join onto the palm.  The left hand blisters are already mostly healed, but the right hand one is still pretty impressive looking and rather painful.  It would seem my life of desk-jockey, clean-fingernailed ease has not prepared my hands for this sort of high-pressured, frictional punishment.  Still, no can doubt that I am committed to this project.

I think the problem in both cases is that (a) I don’t like to be defeated (or so it would seem) and (b) it feels so good when the thing actually works.  I also suspect my brain is quite good at ignoring pain signals from the rest of my body when I’m concentrating and it’s only when I stop (or am forced to) that it deigns to notice the damage inflicted.

Actually, this isn’t the first time I’ve found myself to be bleeding recently.  Not even the second – which was a couple of weeks back when I mounted the bike rather ineptly and scraped my leg on the rear mud-guard.  I thought nothing of it at the time and cycled off to my appointment.  On arrival, I was asked if I knew my leg was covered in blood: to which my answer was, “No”.  A few weeks earlier, I had just given blood (deliberately) and was tucking into my celebratory lemon squash and chocoloate biscuit (or several) when I noticed my arm was wet.  My first thought was that there must be a drip from the ceiling, but after a while I moved my attention away from my book and macaroon and noticed that I was coagulating rather slower than normal and that my arm and (white) top were covered in blood (mine).  This was quickly rectified by the NBT staff, to be honest I think the flow has staunched itself, but it did make me wonder if, were I suitably distracted, I could bleed-out without noticing.  After three such incidents now, I am beginning to suspect that the answer is “Yes”.

So, if you spot the author out-and-about and notice he is bleeding, please let him know as he probably won’t have noticed.

Lifelong learning

Lifelong learning has intermittently been popular with our political masters, so long as it doesn’t cost them anything in terms of either effort or money (and certainly does not cause us to start thinking for ourselves).  For me, the discovery of new knowledge provides much of the grease which eases my way through this veil of tears whilst retaining at least a nodding acquaintance with sanity.  For you dear reader, matters are far less sunny as I feel the need to share at least a proportion of this new learning with you via GofaDM.  Still, in the words of Westley (aka The Dread Pirate Roberts, at the time), “life is suffering, Highness” and so I shall continue unabashed (as previously noted in this far-from-august organ, I have largely out-lived my shame).

Given recent posts have covered Philosophy, Politics and Economics, readers may fear that I am trying to become a rather elderly SPAD (or am hoping for the call to help out in Westminster) – a fear that may not be helped by the knowledge that I studied at Oxbridge (or Camford, if you prefer – though no-one does).  Fear not, gentle reader, my preferred reading of PPE is Personal Protective Equipment (give me a helmet and some goggles any day!) – if only this were more generally the case in the corridors of power!

Sometimes new knowledge comes upon one unbidden – at times answering an earlier question or a seed which may have grown into a question – and at others I actively seek it out.  I think I prefer the former – as a single chap, too much of my life is self-directed (by a fool) and a bit of serendipity is welcome – but both can be fun.  This post will share some of each from the last few days…

Over the weekend, the peerless Ella Fitzgerald came up on my MP3 player while I was working out.  For some reason, I seem to have been paying more than my usual degree of attention to the lyrics of The Lady is a Tramp and so discovered that included in the list of indicators of being a tramp is “I go to opera and stay wide awake”.  On this basis (and no doubt many others), I am a tramp – though most of my opera-going lies a few years in the past now.  Actually, in this specific case it is quite hard to separate being a tramp from chronic insomnia – so perhaps I should withhold judgement for the time being.

Whilst listening to a recent edition of The Verb (an activity I heartily recommend to all readers) I think I discovered the answer to a question I had yet to ask.  In my younger days, every train and airline seat was fitted with a rather cheap and nasty antimacassar – whilst cheap, these were presumably still too expensive for the privatised rail companies as they do seem to have vanished.  Well, the guests on The Verb discussed macassar oil which styled the male Victorian barnet long before the days of L’Oreal Studio Line and its range of gels, muds and fudges, before even Brylcream.  This was made from coconut or palm oil and would make a terrible mess of a seat if the head were rested against it – hence the need for some sort of countermeasure.  I am slightly worried that if macassar oil were brought into contact with an antimacassar they would annihilate with a release of significant energy – or perhaps the Standard Model does nor offer a good description for haircare products?  Time for a Large Hairdron Collider?

Age brings many things, including a modest degree of self-awareness.  As a result, I know that I am far from being an original thinker – but sometimes this is brought home rather forcibly.  On this very blog, I have noted the advantage to be gained by avoiding use of my glasses in conjunction with a mirror (or other reflective surface) if one wishes to retain some illusions about one’s continued contact with fleeting youth.  Last night, I was reading Letter from America by Alistair (né Alfred) Cooke and found he has beaten me to my observation by almost 50 years.  Way back in 1946, he noted that “the great gift of astigmatism is to rob a face of its peculiar lapses from the ideal”.  Whilst he was talking about girls as viewed by his teenage self he had clearly beaten me to the punch.  Given the style of the essays which make up GofaDM, I rather fear astigmatism (and a Y-chromosome) may be all Mr Cooke and I have in common (and I still haven’t left the 1940s).

On Monday, I was able to give blood again for the first time in twelve months – and for the first time in Southampton.  Once again, my blood fell stone-like through a vial of copper sulphate – and so my haemoglobin is officially back to pre-lapsarian levels.  As I lay back, flirting with the NBS staff, I noted a bottle of the fluid used to clean the hands before they are used to puncture the donor with a needle.  This promised to have both an antibacterial and fungicidal action – which left me wondering about the third great realm of prokaryotic life: would it deal with any unwanted Archaea?  Does archaea eschew the hospital environment?  Perhaps it’s squeamish?  Nobody knew, and so I have had to research it myself using Dr Internet.  It would seem that, in general, antibacterial agents do not affect archaea as their cell walls are rather differently constituted – and they are also generally proof against antibiotics.  As a result, long after we have gone, I suspect the fate of the Earth will be decided in a knock-down, drag-out fight between antibiotic-resistant bacteria and archaea – and the archaea may have something to prove having previously been enslaved by bacteria to form the eukaryotic cell and put to work as mitochondria.  If there were any way to collect my winnings, my money would be on the archaea as they have already had a billion years to plot their revenge for past indignities.

So, GofaDM may not be as well written as Letter from America, but to Hades with the quality just feel the width of topics covered!

My heart will go on

Fear not, no ocean liners (or icebergs) were harmed in the making of this post.

Those with a long memory – and perhaps a slightly obsessive interest in the author – will recall that at the end of April last year I discovered that I had low haemoglobin and should seek urgent professional medical attention.  Well, last week I finally got around to doing this – s0 well within 10 months (virtually instantaneous in geological terms) – and had various samples of my blood taken and sent off for analysis.  This was quite traumatic for me – not the blood extraction itself, this is no trouble – but the need to fast for 12 hours before hand.  As a result, my blood letting procedure was booked to be as early as possible (9am) and I planned a very major meal at 20:30 the previous e’en.  With these precautions (and pockets full of food to consume the instant my blood had been taken), I managed to make it through this very difficult time.

Well, this morning I received the results – and you may be pleased to know that I passed!  My blood is entirely normal – though my HDL (aka “good”) cholesterol is somewhat higher than the norm but this is a “good thing” (I do wonder if the medical profession are dumbing-down their analysis for our benefit) and a result of exercise.  In conjunction with my blood pressure, BMI (now a part of Lufthansa, I believe) and honest answers to the lifestyle questionnaire I can now confirm that I am officially immortal.  OK, that may be a slight exaggeration – but according to NHS statisticians I have only a 3% chance of a heart attack in the next decade (this seemed quite a big chance to me, but apparently is very low indeed).  So, any of you hoping that this stream of drivel would be brought to a sudden close by some sort of cardiac incident look likely to be disappointed.

So, it would seem that I am in excellent physical health (which I had always secretly suspected, but one doesn’t like to boast).  No test was made (or will be, if it’s up to me) of my mental health and so I continue to evade the attentions of the men (and women) in white coats, my jackets remain far from strait and walls remain unpadded.  I now feel strong enough to turn 100 (in base 7, which is NOT the same as dog years) at the weekend.  Huzzah!

Sucking on a rusty nail

In an attempt to head-off at least one source of disappointment at the pass, I would like to make clear that this post will not discuss cocktails – so please put your whisky and Drambuie away (unless they help you make it through the day or this blog).

In recent days, this blog has been concerned with the possibility that I may be one of the undead – an idea which I had largely discounted, but recent events suggest I may have been too quick (pun fully intended) to judge.

As I may have mentioned, I am part of a large scale medical experiment to see how frequently one can gorge on biscuits after a brief siesta without adverse consequences.  OK, I’ll admit the nap and biscuit feast are only side-effects of the real process – the giving of my blood (470ml – or a whole armful as I believe it is in Imperial units – per session).  In the old days, this could happen every 16 weeks, but in recent years has increased to every 12 weeks.  As part of the Interval Study, volunteers were randomly assigned to a group giving blood every 8, 10 or 12 weeks to see how well this works.  I have been part of M10, giving my blood every 10 weeks for the past 18 months or so.

On Thursday, I went up to Cambridge for my latest donation – but when the tiny sample from the pricking of my thumbs (OK, middle – or bird – finger)  was popped into a tube of copper sulphate it floated (rather than rapidly drowned as usual).  This indicates that I may be witch, but in these modern times one is not condemned quite so easily and so a larger sample was subjected to a spectrometer test.  This too confirmed that I was a witch – or at least that my haemoglobin was too low.  It was even too low for a woman (sorry ladies, but biology is no respecter of equality) and so my blood is off-limits – in fact, I have been placed on the bench for a full twelve months (a long time to go without a Bourbon or Club).  Still, in the olden days I would have been burnt at the stake, so I guess I shouldn’t complain too much.

It is unknown why my haemoglobin is so low – we have established that it is not because I am a marathon runner (as if!) nor because I drink too much tea (the tannin in which can line the stomach and prevent absorption of iron) as my peak consumption of three cups per day is very low (by UK standards at least).  Whilst I am (mostly) vegetarian and so do not obtain much iron from the flesh of others, my balanced diet is rich in sources of iron from the plant kingdom (perhaps rather too rich on some cases) usually accompanied by something rich in vitamin C (and quite a lot of cheese).

I have to say that without the test, I would have had no idea that I was low on iron.  I have not been finding it any harder than usual to find the north – though I do seem to have been (even) more clumsy than usual of late, could this be haemoglobin related?

Still, despite my lack of symptoms (except this strange craving for human blood), this coming week I shall go and see my GP (having first obtained a GP) to discover what, if anything, I need do to restore my iron levels.  Well, it’s either that or avoiding sunlight and garlic and taking an interest in virginal necks.  I suppose that I do wear quite a lot of black and am permanently hungry, so I have some of the basics for life as a vampire.  Plus, I’m pretty sure that if anyone drove a stake (or even a steak) through my heart it would kill me.  However, I am generally of the view that immortality is even less desirable than the alternative, so let’s hope that a new career as a blood-sucking fiend is not in the offing.

I did it!

Some of you may have doubted that I would go through with it (I know at least one person who did) but having come up with the idea there was no way I wasn’t going to carry it through to completion. I am committed to the integrity of this blog!

As background, I should mention that I am back in Cambridge for a couple of days, ostensibly to give my blood for the use of others (in exchange for biscuits) but in reality to renew auld acquaintance (with both people and places}. Blood safely given yesterday afternoon, this morning I treated myself to the traditional post exsanguination massage.

Some may recall one of the finest posts to this blog (in many ways, a critical triumph) which referred to the last such session. If not, you may wish to remind yourself as to why I shouldn’t work with the public. Here, after some discussion as to why my massage therapist averted his eyes while I disrobed, I promised at the next session I would strip to suitable musical accompaniment. This was no idle threat, with the aid of some research, YouTube, an iPad and a 3G phone I arranged what I consider to be the traditional music to be used while stripping to play whilst I divested myself of my clothing. I tried to make something of the act of stripping – and certainly having the music helps to set the right frame of mind. I retained my scarf, to substitute for the more traditional boa, and tried to bring an (in)appropriate degree of sensuality and louche abandon to the act of undressing. I like to think I pulled it off – though I like to think if I ever perform the act professionally it will be accompanied by less laughter. Actually, I think I might have a real talent for stripping, and this coupled with my gymnastic training (the looser hips were definitely a plus) and buff middle-aged bod might open up a whole new career as a Chippendale (or at the very least, a Chesterfield)!

Apparently, I was the first client who had ever performed thus for my therapist – and despite the published threat, it was rather unexpected. Still, I’ve known my therapist for several years – so it can’t have come as a complete surprise. I understand from the lawyers that after only a few months of counselling the nightmares and screaming should cease and a resumption of a normal life is a definite possibility (for my therapist, for me there is clearly no hope).

I have attached a link to the music, if any readers wish to imagine the event. For one (un)lucky reader, the challenge will be stopping the memories resurfacing in series of erotic PTSD-style flashbacks

Of course, I am now wondering how I can top this opening at my next session in a scant 10 weeks time. Any suggestions considered…

Perhaps unsurprisingly, after this opening the remainder of the session took a somewhat unusual course (conversationally, the massage itself was as professional as ever). This conversation will lead to more posts and might take GofaDM in an exciting new direction with new opportunities for reader participation. Watch this space…

Not the centre of the universe?

Clever folk, both before and after Copernicus, have worked hard to demonstrate that I am not the centre of the universe.  Indeed, the whole concept of the universe having a physical centre is looking a little shaky since relativity and the growth of the dark.  Oh yes, as Susan Cooper warned us, in modern physics the dark is truly rising.

Nonetheless, contrary to my book-learning, Dame Nature and her handmaiden Coincidence do seem determined to convince me that everything does revolve around me.  Before I illustrate with a couple (of hundred) recent examples, I feel we should all take a moment to consider a quotation a wise, old friend of mine used to trot out whenever coincidence was in the air.  “How often didn’t that happen?” he would ask – and those around would cease their foolish prating.

My first example comes from my recent arrival in Cambridge.  Having travelled up from the south coast in dry sunshine, the moment my train arrive in Cambridge it started to rain.  I manage to catch my bus down to Addenbrooke’s only slightly moistened, but as I disembarked the wrath of God was loosed upon the earth.  By the time I had made it the 200 yards from the bus stop to the Blood Donor Centre, I was soaked through and my umbrella had been reduced to a useless wreck.  As I checked-in with reception, I noticed that my right hand was dipping with blood – my own as it transpired (perhaps from an umbrella disintegration-related injury?) – so I looked more like I was making a withdrawal than a deposit.  Fortunately, my injury was not severe and did not prevent my donation (or the ensuing biscuit-based mini-feast).  The Lord may have been wrathful, but it didn’t last long (is Our Father by any chance strawberry blonde, I wonder? – or at least was before he was stricken by old age).  A rampant egomaniac (like, for example, myself – well, just consider this blog you are reading) might feel he was being singled out by Fate for some payback.  Of course, subsequent viewing of the news suggests that most of the divine, weather-based retribution was aimed at Scotland and the east coast – so, I should be grateful that he could spare a small part of his bounty of rain and wind for me.

You will be pleased to know that my blood loss, both planned and otherwise, was soon made good through the medically recommended combination of mulled wine and mince pies.  However, these weather-related coincidences are not uncommon: oft rain will start just as I go outside and cease as soon as I regain cover.  I have even been to Florida when it snowed – first time in 80 years!  But not all coincidence is ill-favoured, which brings me nicely on to incident number two.

On Friday afternoon, I made it to the tail-end of a Christmas party at Hughes Hall college.  I am able to sneak into such events and enjoy a tepid glass of mulled wine and a mince pie as it was with Hughes Hall that I left my piano when I departed Cambridge to live in more southerly climes.  At this “do”, I was introduced to only three people – one of whom, it was soon revealed, had a penchant for musical theatre and had made much use of my piano (probably rather better use than I ever managed).  This same chap, it transpired, had been an undergraduate at Southampton University and so was perfectly placed to introduce me to a singing teacher near my new home.  What are the chances that one of an effectively random group of three people would prove to be so useful?  Then again, I did meet my current singing teacher in a rather similar fashion – so perhaps this is the established way to find vocal tutelage.

So, whilst coincidence is my constant companion, more-often-than-not she smiles kindly upon me (if we ignore some of her weather and train punctuality-based work).  Indeed, late yesterday afternoon as I returned from my singing lesson to my (Trave)lodgings (oh yes, I know how to live the high life!), strolling along beside the oily blackness of the Cam under the merest sliver of crescent moon with a song in my heart, my ego soothed by a positive response to my last post, I couldn’t help feeling I was the luckiest chap alive.

Selling your grandmother(s)

Long ago, I devised a measure to rate the naked ambition of one of my then colleagues.  This was based on the number of his grandmothers he would be willing to sell to climb the next rung up the corporate ladder.  In those more innocent days, I was not positing that the sold grandparents would wind up in a 100% beef lasagne, probably just on a quay-side in Valparaiso – a location for some reason linked in my mind to the white slave trade (I have no idea why and I would like to apologise unreservedly to the Chilean port for this base canard).  On this scale, my ex-colleague scored significantly above two – thus requiring the imagining of a thriving secondary market in female grandparents.

This government seems to share the messianic zeal for privatisation of its ideological predecessor – well, I say ideological, though in my more cynical moments (basically, those moments between me waking in the morning and falling asleep at night) I suspect it has far more to do with the financial kick-backs.  I might take a different view of privatisation had ever proved successful, but with the mess made of the railways and with BT and the privatised utilities being among the most hated and least trusted corporations in the land – the successful privatisation (from the perspective of the UK populace) is as rare as hen’s teeth or frog’s fur.  Privatisation has often been described as selling the family silver – usually at massively below its “market” value – but I think recent news suggests we have now moved into selling the family (or at least its older, female members).

Yesterday, I gave blood – the quickest method of weight-loss I know, though one somewhat ameliorated by the subsequent gorging on free biscuits.  For my previous 74 donations, this blood was used purely for the public weal – but now, it would seem that my public spirit is also to enrich a bunch of US venture capitalists.  In the catalogue of wickedness perpetrated by this government, this sets a new low.  It also strikes me as very dangerous to introduce market norms where they do not belong – perhaps the government would do well to read Michael Sandel’s excellent book What Money Can’t Buy.  I do wonder if people will be quite so willing to give freely of their life blood if such generosity is going to reward foreign venture capitalists?  I am far from convinced that I trust commercial interest with our blood supply – let’s face it, commercial corporations have not covered themselves in glory in recent years with their probity (particularly, when they thought no-one was looking or had ensured that it was in people’s financial interest not to look).  I wonder how long we will have to wait before the horse plasma scandal breaks?