DOMS

Yes, the title is supposed to be in capitals and an apostrophe is not missing as this post is (almost) entirely unrelated to anyone called Dominic (or Domhnall for any Irish readers).

DOMS as an acronym for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, something the author finds himself suffering rather acutely this morning.

I have had two (2!) colds during January – the first time I’ve been hit twice in one month by the sniffles since the mid 90s.  I guess a lot of the bands from that era are re-forming, perhaps I’m just tapping into the viral zeitgeist?  This, coupled with my travels across the Irish Sea, have rather interfered with my physical regimen of late and this does leave a chap more at risk of DOMS.  Given some rather severe physical jerks peformed by yours truly on both Thursday afternoon and Friday morning, my current pain is not wholly unexpected: but the process does still retain an air of mystery.

I ceased serious physical activity (if we ignore use of the bike and some brisk walking) at 11am yesterday morn.  I was free of aches and pains when my head hit the pillow just before midnight (some 13 hour later).  When I awoke at 01:30 (not intentionally, I would stress – my obsession with the 1A peak does not stretch that far) I found that everything hurt.  What had happened in those 90 minutes?  Had the concentration of some biochemical clock reached a critial level freeing the pain?   Does being horizontal bring it on?  If so, should I take lessons from a horse in how to sleep standing up?

Whilst I ache in many places – and there is some indirect pleasure to be gained from the feeling of a job well done, or at least an ageing body punished for its failings – the most urgent pain comes from my gluteal area.  This makes sitting down rather less comfortable than one would hope.  In fact, possession of buns if not of steel than perhaps at least of apatite (the tastiest mineral, and several steps below steel on the Mohs scale – never say this blog isn’t educational!) is much less desirable than one is led to believe.  If the buttocks both lack padding and are firm(ish) themselves, there is a lot more pressure on any chosen seat to bring the comfort and all too many fail the test.  I can see the attraction of bringing one’s own “booty” to chair, sofa, bench or pew – though I fear my genetics make this an improbable outcome without surgical intervention.  While I know sitting down is bad for me, I am unable to use a healthier squat for any length of time: I may be relatively fit for a chap of 50, but only in certain limited modes of operation.  I also suspect that squatting, whilst better for the back may well put some strain on my whinging “ass” (to use the American vernacular).

To add insult to injury, when I emerged from beneath my duvet this morning I looked like Tin Tin.  No, I had not (sadly) turned ginger overnight nor acquired a white Wire Fox terrier (an unexpected link to Montmorency – what a literary breed the Wire Terrier is!) but my hair had acquired the Belgian hero’s disinctive, soi-disant quiff (surely more of a DA?).  Let’s just say it is not a look I can pull off with any panache…

Human warmth

I have been living in Southampton for two-and-a-half years now, but have never had cause to use the heating in my flat.  I can usually get by living parasitically off the heat of my neighbours (one of the advantages of flat living: just ask Edwin Abbott) and waste heat from my culinary adventures.

There is now a hint of traditional winter in the air: a nip, if you will.   I’m also finding that visitors to my demesne are starting to arrive wearing ALL of their clothing in a desperate attempt to stay warm.  Offers to share my rather limited body heat have generally been re-buffed as (a) inadequate and (b) wholly inappropriate.  People also seem to take little comfort when informed that shivering is an excellent route to weight loss, though no-one has (yet) tried to deck me.

So, on returning from my last sojourn across the Irish Sea, I resolved to at least test the heating system to ensure that I knew how it worked and could (if suitably motivated) dispel any frost forming within the flat.  In this way, I may narrowly avoid becoming some sort of social pariah in the winter months.  I can move away from being considered ‘cold and unfeeling’ to merely ‘unfeeling’.

My flat does not have central heating but, in a throwback to my childhood, is equipped with night storage heaters: though unlike in the 1970s I believe these can be encouraged to produce heat without 24 hours written notice (if you are willing to eat the cost of the peak electricity consumed).  Yesterday evening, and more importantly last night with its promise of frost, was the time scheduled for the first heating test.

In theory, storage heaters have pretty basic controls: you choose how much heat to store during the night on a scale from 1 to 6 (with no link to a more widely known unit of energy) and the rate at which you would like it released on an apparently similar (but probably rather different) scale from 1 to 6.  However, puzzlingly, my flat has a rather flash looking controller with up to four programmes for when to turn on and off some sort of heating device.  How could this fit into the heating system?  The documentation that came with the flat gave no clues and the device itself gave nothing away, save its manufacturer.  As a result, I was forced to use an internet image search to discover what purpose the controller served.  I now know it to be an RF07T Towel Rail Controller.  Yes, my flat is possessed of a radio-controlled heated towel rail with a more sophisticated control system than the central heating for anywhere I have ever lived.  What the internet is unable to explain is why I need such an exquisitely controllable towel rail.  I would also have to say that in my tests last night, the towel rail seemed to be on regardless of what I did to its controller.  I think I shall have to download the instructions if I wish my towel rail to follow bow to my will: to- date, I have merely hung my bath towel over it while it was entirely quiescent and relied on ambient heat to dry my towels (after they had, in turn, dried me).

Having identified the RF07T as a red herring, my attention turned to the storage heaters themselves and I can confirm that my tests were a success.  When I awoke this morning, the flat was unnaturally warm despite only choosing 4 for storage and 3 for recall.  Unlike my childhood, the first use of the storage heaters for the winter (or in this case last three winters) was not accompanied by the dreadful smell of burning dust: so perhaps the technology has moved on.  Future visitors need only give 24 hours notice of their arrival and I have the option (but not the obligation) to ensure that they are toasty warm throughout their visit (or until the storage bricks run cold).

I think we can all now agree that I am a splendid human being and an excellent host.  The possibility of a warm welcome awaits all who visit and suggestions that I spend my spare time farming cold comfort can now be put to rest.

Getting the boot

Many of us, though by no means all, will find ourselves in a soi disant new year.  Many of you will already be surrounded by the broken shards of your resolutions – a fate I neatly side-step by never making any.

To add to the sense of jollity and mirth which characterises this time of year, kindly Father Janus has brought me a cold in his bulging sack.  The two-faced wretch!  So I find myself writing between sneezes, surrounded by discarded tissues (please try and lift those minds free of the gutter for just a moment).

The weather seems to have paid little attention to the currently fashionable calendar, even one followed by a sizable a portion of humanity.  It has begun 2016 much as it ended 2015, with yet more rain and strong winds and despite shaving a degree or two off the temperature remains unseasonably mild (or so it seems to those of us relying on recent history to form a view as to what is seasonally appropriate).  As my waterproofs are continually put to the test (and not always found sufficient to the task), I like to imagine that if Southampton is copping a load, then perhaps northern England will be spared.  Sadly, the weather doesn’t seem to work in quite that way and there seems to be more than enough sky-borne water to go round.

Despite the south coast having seen less rain than much of the country (and possessing a rather quicker route back to the sea for that which does fall), it is still becoming an increasing challenge to find walking routes around town where the water level does not overtop the protection offered by even the tallest of my shoes.  As a result, I find myself considering the purchase and use of wellington boots for the first time since my childhood.  I recall them as being rather uncomfortable and sweaty back in the 1970s, but surely we have made vast technological strides (and I don’t mean mechanical, antipodean trousers) since then? .  Hopefully, we haven’t devoted too much attention to shaving a tenth of a millimetre off the depth of the next generation of mobile phones and as a consequence neglected the humble wellie.

A little research suggests that there is quite the range of wellies available to suit even the most bloated of pockets, including something described as a ‘surf wellie’ (which I imagine is nearly as practical as an ironing wellie or ballet wellie).  I rather fear I may have to sample some of the Iron Duke’s eponymous footwear to ensure it meets my exacting requirements.  The purchase will be overshadowed by the fear that as soon as I am suitably shod, the rain will cease and be immediately replaced by a hosepipe ban: still, I am willing to ‘take one for the team’.

But now I must leave you and return my head to a bowl of steaming water, to which a few drops of Olbas oil have been added.  This oil, despite an expiry date safely in the last millennium, seems to remain surprisingly potent.  I reckon the bottle contains another seven years worth of contents at the current rate of usage – which made it a surprisingly good buy back in the 1990s.

Self-medicating

It has often been said, mostly by those with no medical training, that laughter is the best medicine.  While I was up in Edinburgh, I developed a cold (OK, as this did not involve a lab and a team of rogue geneticists perhaps I should say a caught one) and I am unconvinced that any over-the-counter ‘medicines’ have any positive impact on the progress of the virus (except – if I’m lucky – for acting as a brief palliative).  However, my location and the time of year did mean that I did extensively self-medicate with comedy.  The cold proved very mild and the worst of the symptoms swiftly passed – could this be down to my frequent laughter?  Or was this purely coincidental?  As I am unwilling to be infected with multiple cold viruses and then ‘treated’ with varying degrees and styles of comedy we will probably never know – sorry folks, my commitment to the advancement of scientific knowledge only stretches so far.

Despite my obviously overweening self-regard, I do realise that the vast majority of the readership of this blog will not be visiting the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.  However, this is also true for significantly more august organs with a much wider readership and the fact doesn’t stop them – and so it won’t stop me.  Plus, I do have an actual reader request for my comedy highlights!  And, you never know, these funny folk may visit a venue near you one day…

So, in no particular order (though I have not properly randomised the list) are my favourite ‘acts’ from those I saw over the last week.

  • Kieran Hodgson (FF): this is the third year I’ve seen Kieran’s one man show, in which he tells a story playing all of the characters.  The bad news (for me) is that his genius has now been recognised by others, including a 5* review in The Guardian, which may make him rather harder to see in future (or it may involve arriving very early to be sure of a seat).
  • John Robins: probably my 5th or 6th visit to his Edinburgh shows.  He really is a very funny performer, mining two-and-half relatively minor incidents for a full hour of laughs.
  • Brett Goldstein: my first time, inspired by seeing SuperBob earlier in the year.  He was a lot of fun, and surprisingly soft-spoken given that when he is invariable cast as a thug when you see him acting.
  • George Egg: almost a speciality act with jokes.  George cooked a full, three course meal using only the equipment you find in a typical hotel room. e.g. iron, kettle, trouser price etc.  At a time when many struggle to microwave an instant meal, the man should be an inspiration to us all – and perhaps placed on the National Curriculum.  His poached sea bass was glorious and you will never look at a wire coat-hanger in quite the same way again.
  • Max and Ivan: incredibly funny, apocalyptic story-telling.
  • Alfie Brown: inspired to see him following his interview on ComComPod.  Very funny and the finest Derby accent you will ever hear (including in Derby!).
  • Stuart Goldsmith (FF): I’ve seen and loved all of his Edinburgh shows.  This was his first time on the Free Fringe and he seemed much more relaxed and the show was excellent.  Arrive early as it tends to fill-up.
  • Nick Doody (FF): effortlessly funny, intelligent comedy.  I think we can all see why I’m not paid as a critic – this is nearly as bad as writing “satisfactory progress” in a school report, but Nick was brilliant and criminally under-attended last Tuesday.

It was great to see some old ‘friends’ doing well, some newer discoveries and some acts entirely new to me this year.  None of the people I saw are massively famous (as far as I know – be aware, this does not preclude massive fame) and it is hard to see the character comedy, in particular, working as well on radio or TV.  As I grow ever more ancient, I become increasingly convinced that comedy works best seen live and preferably in a small, sweaty venue – somehow it loses something important on the television and in larger spaces and even, sometimes, on radio (which is the medium that introduced me to comedy).  In so many parts of the country, it seems so hard to see a broad range of comedy – and, particularly, the full hour scale shows which can be important for more narrative acts.  I usually have to travel to London or Edinburgh to see old friends or expand my comedy horizons – a situation not helped by the fact that the ‘industry’ seems to believe that comedy should start late in the evening with little thought for those who have to catch the last train home (and the rail industry’s view that this last train should be well before 10pm unless it departs from London).

I always suspect that live comedy is missing a substantial, albeit latent, audience who are put off by the difficulty of seeing so many acts and the late nights and/or additional hotel costs which even the keen must endure.  Then again, I am broadly recognised as slightly odd and so generalising from my own experience may be fiscally irresponsible.   Nevertheless, if I had a larger parlour (and owned a few more chairs), I would be tempted to book acts myself and then attempt to defray the costs across an audience of 20 or so friends or acquaintances (or total strangers with cash – though this may cause issues with my lease): I suspect a couple of hundred quid (plus standard-class rail travel) would be enough to tempt many to indulge in a mid-week visit to the south coast.  I suppose I could rent a space – but this increases the costs and so would require improved marketing to boost the audience and keep my costs down.  Then again, how much can a church hall or pub room cost?  I think I shall investigate: if things go well, I could have a whole new career as a live comedy promoter!

Cold comfort

Some readers may have been wondering about the break in service here at GofaDM, most (I suspect) will have just been enjoying the peace and quiet.  A few may have correctly guessed that my cold, once eliminated from my sinuses, did not do the decent thing and leave my body.  No, instead it chose to begin a seven day residency in my chest and throat – which has meant me spending much of the last week coughing (both day and night).  I have also had much reduced appetite – though in some ways, for a chap trying to base his diet on local fruit and veg, this is about the best possible time of year to eat rather less.

I am far from alone in suffering under a prolonged cough, based on my friends and family, I am thinking of naming 2015 the Year of the Cough (though I note that our Chinese friends went with the Goat).  Indeed, I spent last week staying in an unseasonably warm Edinburgh with friends who were both similarly afflicted.  Obviously, this rather limited my scope for sympathy – but the excellent Edinburgh Science Festival provided further restrictions on traditional responses to a nasty cold.

A common response is to seek an antibiotic prescription from your doctor – rarely useful as most colds are viral in nature and antibiotics can (at best) see off bacteria (and perhaps archaea? fungi?).  Having been to a brilliant talk entitled Antibiotic Apocalypse! I was fully aware of the risks to both patient and society of unnecessary prescribing of antibiotics.  I could have been suffering from “strep” throat, but since it seems to have largely cleared up with the benefit of time, some menthol sweets and a lot of hot drinks (many containing honey and lemon) that now seems unlikely.

It was also very hard to wallow in self-pity after going to a talk on Motor Neurone Disease (or ALS for any American readers).  This would tend to put one’s minor ailments in their place at the best of times, but the fact that I spent a good hour sitting within a few feet (at times less than three) of a chap who really was dying (and fast) really did make it impossible.  He – Gordon Aikman – is a one time national gymnast and is still barely thirty: which certainly reminds one of the capricious (and cruel) nature of Fate.  The talk was fascinating and rather affecting: we know neither what causes MND nor can do anything to prevent its progress and Stephen Hawking is certainly not a typical sufferer – half of all patients die within 14 months of diagnosis and very few live for as long as five years.  It is surprisingly common – with some 400 current sufferers in Scotland alone.  Given our extensive ignorance and the swift, debilitating progress of the disease, efforts focus on improving the (all too short) lives of patients and basic research to try and understand why neurons in the motor cortex and spine start dying.  Some of the former efforts can be quite simple: for example, arranging for patients to have a single appointment to cover everything rather than forcing them to waste their very limited remaining time visiting five different specialists.  Others are more complex, including an attempt to use modern technology to allow sufferers to keep their own voices – rather than a standardised electronic voice – which improves quality of life for both them and their friends and family.  It certainly made me think how important it is not to waste NHS money on things which benefit neither patients, medical staff nor tax-payers.  It marks the current government’s awful, bodged attempts at soi-disant reforms (which seemed cunningly designed to help none of the traditional stakeholders even had they worked) as particularly wicked – they have probably set back real attempts to improve the financial management of the NHS by decades.  It also threw into sharp focus the trivial nature of any of the election debates on the subject of the NHS.

Anyway, lacking a decent route to self-pity and unaided by antibiotics, my immune system has had to do some work and see off the invaders on its own.  It does finally seem to be gaining the upper hand and (according to at least one test) I am now restored to 75% of normal function.  As a result of my reduced depletion, blogging should be fully restored.

The illness was not a complete dead loss as it led me to discover Belvoir Fruit Farms’ Ginger Cordial – which I purchased for its medicinal properties (well, a chap can dream), but which turns out to be worryingly delicious (at least when taken hot, I have yet to try it cold).

The Completist

I am current suffering suffering through (what I hope is) the tail end of a cold – my second of 2015 (though, apparently, this still does not make for a statistically significant rate of infection).  Given the timing, I had a number of social engagements whilst the cold was closer to its peak and so did a little research to identify whether I was likely to be infectious – despite my naturally giving nature, I felt sharing my viral load with friends and family was probably de trop.

Reference to Dr Internet (largely due to my iron self-control) did not lead to any escalation of my self-diagnosis, but nor was it particularly definitive as to whether I would be playing the role of Typhoid Mary de nos jours across East Sussex.  However, NHS Direct did suggest a number of precautions I could take to reduce the risks for those I would be visiting.  Only time (and lawsuits) will tell whether these will have proved successful.

My colds tend to be follow a very standard timetable – from first detection I have a sore throat and catarrh then after 72 hours my nose will run like a tap for 12 hours. I will then start to recover, though initially will feel worse and the cold will then degenerate into a cough.  I have yet to find any cold “remedy” that does much good, though anaesthetic throat lozenges help with the sort throat and Night Nurse helps with the disturbed sleep.  NHS Direct also gave details of the typical length of an adult cold and the normal symptoms.  I tend to have all the standard symptoms and most of the uncommon ones – but this time, I managed to achieve the whole list and some extras!

In terms of the progression of a cold, I tend to follow my father – however, with this cold I also followed both my sister and mother.  On Good Friday in particular, my sinuses were clearly massively unhappy – this means that as well as my nose feeling vaguely on fire, my brain felt too big for my head and all(!) of my teeth ached constantly.  NHS Direct did rather fail to mention the toothache aspect of the typical cold – but my sister has experienced this, so I’m not the first.  For some reason, I also had issues with the movement of my eyes within their orbits – and so it was much less painful to move my head to look at something than more my eyeballs.  This is surprisingly hard to remember to do: the eyes do seem to have a mind of their own.  In addition, my eyes were horribly bloodshot (I could have been cast, make-up free, as a zombie) and became very photo-sensitive as well: the lighting in railway carriages really needs a dimmer switch.  I think this extension of symptoms to the eyes I have from my mother.  I’ve even had to give up on the Night Nurse as my body mostly ignores it, then about three hours into the night sweats to an insane degree and I awaken drenched – which apparently happens to my dad when using paracetamol as well.  If nothing else, this cold strongly suggests that I am not adopted!

Fortunately, today I am feeling somewhat better – though my overly emotional response to watching the latest re-boot of Thunderbirds may suggest that normal service is still a little ways off (or perhaps it brought a tear – or a flood thereof – to the eyes of many a middle-aged chap).

Anyway, as a result of the severity of this cold (and the completeness of its symptoms) I have been forced to live for four days as conventional wisdom would suggest much of the population lives all the time.  Basically, illness has made me into a couch potato – with little or no exercise and far more time spent sitting or lying down than is normal for me.  How do people do this?  I ache everywhere – far worse than after even the most extreme of gymnastic sessions or even a full day of art gallery viewings – and that’s after only four days.  Does one eventually adapt to being a settee tuber?  Fortunately, today matters have improved and I have travelled a modest distance on my bike and had a very gentle session at the gym – which did cause my body to receive olfactory hallucinations, but the aches are diminishing.  On the plus side, whilst my nose is now imagining smells, hanging upside from the bar has done wonders for clearing my sinuses.  Well, when was the last time you saw a bat or sloth with the sniffles?

Life in the fridge

Not a low-budget, austerity-friendly sequel to David Attenborough’s series of 1993 set in the tropical paradise of Antarctica (or so it now seems), but day-to-day existence in South Cambs in Spring 2013.  It has now been many weeks since the temperature outside has reached the one inside my fridge – and that’s even before you account for the 30mph of wind chill.  I would turn off the fridge as an economy measure and keep my perishable food outside, but fear they would become too cold for reliable preservation – my snowdrops seem to have been freeze-dried.

Given the very limited breaks in the cloud cover, I think I’d also have more chance of obtaining a tan inside my fridge – though I would have to leave the door ajar or the light would go off (or would it?).

Today, the Met Office suggested the ambient temperature in Sawston would finally beat my fridge, but sadly their optimism was misplaced.  They are now promising the same for tomorrow, but my faith has been shaken (not stirred).  Of course to those in the know, we are in an Ice Age and have been for many thousands of years, so perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised by the low temperatures.

Rather than just moaning about this state of affairs, I have tried to take matters into my own hands, using psychology as my guide.  Last week, I bought a jumper – so I now own two!  – but to no avail, the big chill continued unabated.  So, today I have been forced to take more serious action and have bought a very warm jacket.  To make this coat, a flock load of geese will be going cold this Spring – but, frankly,  it was them or me.  I should now be invulnerable to temperatures which would make a copper-alloy simian wince (or worse).  Under the protection of my new coat, I should be able to venture outside virtually naked from the waist up (calm down ladies and/or gents, I will probably retain some upper body covering for the sake of propriety, if nothing else) though may struggle to manoeuver through narrow doorways.  Still, this will be a small price to pay for the heat wave which is about to commence.

No need to thank me – it’s all part of the service for the GOfaDM readership.