Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Does turkey cause drowsiness?

We had our official Christmas day yesterday. Paul and Josephine arrived safely on Sunday after a hair raising drive up from London that was delayed when they discovered that their hire car had been vandalised leaving them having to hire another on Sunday morning at very short notice. Despite the setbacks resulting from the local council's failure to clear any ice from the road between Southport and the M58 they got here in one piece. We did all the usual present stuff and then Marion cooked the most fabulous Christmas dinner and we all promptly fell asleep.

Now I know that falling asleep after somebody has slaved for hours cooking a dinner isn't exactly the best way of showing one's gratitude but we were all (apart from Marion who spent the remainder of the day tidying up) flat out. Josephine told me that it is a well known fact that turkey has soporific effects. Being American she knows these things and it seems that in the USA everyone flakes out straight after Thanksgiving dinner. Now I don't know if it was the turkey or the large glasses of Ironstone Zinfandel but it took me, Paul and Josephine out for a good couple of hours.

Not being one to take things as fact just on one person's say so (even one with such authority as Josephine), I decided to research this further and indeed the Internet is awash with articles on whether or not turkey can cause drowsiness. It seems that the meat is full of an amino acid called Tryptophan and this induces sleep. However if you check the Tryptophan per 100g in turkey compared to other foods you'll find that there's almost twice as much in Cheddar cheese so surely that blows the whole theory out of the water.

So I decided to carry out an experiment today. After our lovely young couple left for home at noon (thankfully now on slushy rather than icy roads) I made a couple of rounds of turkey sandwiches and settled down with them in my special hospital chair together with a glass of red wine and The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Within half an hour my eyelids were heavy and I decided to lie down. I woke up ninety minutes later. Whilst I had been taking regular siestas as part of my post operation recovery programme  I had stopped needing these a week ago.

So, if you can draw any conclusions from my, admittedly not very scientific, research, turkey does have soporific effects. As I have not been sleeping very well since my operation, perhaps I'll now have to start eating a turkey butty  before I go to bed.

Then again, a nice glass of red wine might also do the trick.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Oh Frabjous Day

This post has been under embargo for a while but I'm finally free to share our news with the world.

I'm sure you're familiar with what this is and no, don't worry, Marion hasn't been to Italy to see one of those fertility experts. Our lovely daughter Sarah and her partner Duncan are expecting their first child and on July 13th (hope that's not a Friday), if all runs smoothly, our long standing wish to be grandparents will come true. I only knew my nana and grandad on my mum's side but when I was a kid I adored them, particularly my grandad,  and I hope that we can give our grandchildren the same fond memories of those daft old people who took us on days out and spoilt us rotten. Our grandchild (currently christened Pip by Sarah and Duncan) will be half Scottish so that means that we can look forward to some interesting cultural developments and perhaps some sporting arguments in years to come.

I know that it may perhaps seem not that big a deal as it happens to most parents in the long run but couples are leaving it longer and longer before they start families and I had visions of being too old to make much contribution to my grandchildrens' lives. But now, freshly retired and with the new hip on the mend, I hope that, together with Marion, I can give Pip the grandparental support that can make an impact on his or her life. Don't worry Sarah and Duncan, we live too far away to be overbearing and interfering but we're sure that you're aware of how much this means to us.  

So the best Christmas present ever. We are truly overjoyed. Does this mean that all those books and toys in the attic can be sent up to Scotland?

In America they've even got Grandparent's day and a cloyingly sweet song to go with it.

Which is all very nice. But I hope that we end up more like this nana and grandad.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Not Another Review Of The Year

It seems that the done thing at this time of year is for every editor of every publication to get his or her team together and ask them all to fill every available space with reviews of the year's "insert journalist's specialist subject here". Failing a review, a quiz will suffice and failing those there's always forecasting what's going to be hot next year. We bloggers are tempted to fall into the same trap and blog on the good, the bad and the ugly that has befallen us during 2010 but let's face it, is anybody really interested to know that we went to see twenty films and that L'Illusionist was perhaps our favourite or that Twitter was the best thing we got involved in during the past twelve months.

So I'm going to avoid that. No quiz, no review. So what the hell am I going to write about now?

Well I could start with the world's best snowman brought to my attention by someone on Twitter. Sorry I've forgotten who it was but, as you can see, this is a snowman to beat all snowmen and should go down in the annals of snowman history for the masterpiece that it is.

But instead, I'm going to devote today's musings to my wonderful wife Marion who has been with me since she was the slip of the girl in the photo at the top of the blog and has managed to put up with me for over forty years. Without her I couldn't have survived the past three week's experience of a hip replacement and the subsequent recuperation. She has had to manage on her own in the worst winter weather in decades and has single handedly coped with huge snow drifts and ice rink roads in order to bring some semblance of order to the Christmas festivities.

Here is an extract from her trusty notebook that goes everywhere with her and enables her to prepare everything with military precision. She's got things organised right through to next week and I love her for it. Let's hope that when I can walk unaided again, I can make it up to her for all her efforts.

I'm getting quite excited about Christmas now. We've got Marion's mum and our next door neighbour coming round for a bite to eat on Christmas day but the real festivities will follow when Paul and his wife Josephine and her mum Jenny arrive on Boxing Day and then on Wednesday when we go to St Andrews to visit our daughter Sarah and her partner Duncan.

I'll close by thanking and wishing a Happy Christmas to everyone who has checked in on this blog. I know it's all vanity and self indulgence but the statistics show that I have a small but growing band of readers and, whilst I have not yet returned to the halcyon days that came from our chance meeting with Britain's Got Talent's Greg Pritchard and ended up getting fan mail from the USA , I'm sufficiently encouraged to carry on. 

I've spent ages trying to find a version of this that didn't have embedding disabled. Watch it now as it will probably be taken down by Channel 4 soon.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

It's Feel Good Thursday

Last night Marion and I were flicking through the Sky Plus planner in a desperate attempt to free up some space in time for the holiday season. As we have a copy of virtually every episode of Paul's programmes, Magic Numbers and A League Of Their Own on the Sky box (in HD) we're almost always down to the last 25% of space. We decided it was a toss up between watching Jimmy McGovern's The Accused (feel bad) or Sam Mendes' Away We Go (feel good) and I'm delighted to say that we opted for the latter. Telling the story of a young couple expecting their first child and looking for the perfect place to live, this gentle and very funny movie left me with a warming afterglow that was deeply reminiscent of the times when we read The Trip To Panama to the kids.

If you haven't read it, this out of print book is one of the most joyful picture books ever. Like Away We Go, the book charts a couple (Little Bear And Little Tiger) in their search for their own Nirvana. They go looking for Panama - the land of their dreams, after finding that a broken packing crate stamped Panama smells of bananas. In the end, like Burt and Verona in Away We Go they find that their Panama is closer to home than they thought. Note to any publishers out there - get this back into print my (two) copies are battered.

And just to keep that feel good factor going, Film4 have got the wonderful Juno showing tonight at 9pm. Anyone who used to read my old Instanta blog will know that this was my film of the year when it came out. Why? Because it's just so nice and whilst you cringe at me using the word "nice" hey what's wrong with that it's the most appropriate word that I can find for the film. Watch it and I guarantee you'll be happy tomorrow.

All I need now is for the nice Amazon postman to deliver my copy of It Is Just You, Everything's Not Shit (a guide to all things nice) to carry my pre-Christmas spirits through to the New Year. Written as a riposte to best seller Is It Just Me Or Is Everything Shit this should be the ideal light relief after my ten day marathon book reading. Today I'm reading a biography of Bess Of Hardwick one of the most interesting women in British history as research into the possibility of one day writing my own historical novel.

Life's all about choices. No doubt if we had chosen The Accused last night I would now be trying to work out how to hang myself from the bannisters with my dressing gown belt. But I'm not. So happy Thursday to one and all.

I'll leave you with another way to feel good. (Thanks for pointing me in the direction of this one @AmandaSweeney)

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Oh Those Optimistic Neighbours

If proof were needed that we live in a world of unbounded optimism look no further.

This was the scene this morning as we pulled back the curtains to see that the neighbours had managed to manhandle their wheelie bins to the roadside as it is, after all, Wednesday and Wednesday is wheelie bin day. Yes, notwithstanding the fact that Southport is gripped in Arctic temperatures and ungritted roads     that have left vehicles performing involuntary pirouettes and slow motion spins all over the town, the residents of Coudray Road believe that the intrepid bin men will manoeuvre their enormous lorry from the depot about two miles away and somehow empty the bins into it. As it took each neighbour around fifteen minutes to get their bin down their drive and into position at the kerb side did it at no time occur to them that they were expecting the impossible? Perhaps they thought that the lure of Christmas tips would drive the council's finest to superhuman feats but if they have any sense I somehow suspect that our refuse collectors are currently sitting with their feet up somewhere as their Christmas has arrived early.

It's a glorious day today and something of a thaw has set in. Temperatures are still freezing but the sun is melting the snow on the roof and the house is shaking at regular intervals as large drifts of it shift from the top of the house to the conservatory roofs further down I imagine that's how it felt in Cumbria last night as Eskdale was the epicentre of small earthquake. I wonder how big this icicle will get before it disappears into a memory.

I've managed to get myself into a post op routine. Get up, have a fantastic breakfast courtesy of Marion, do some exercises to try and get the hip moving freely and then confinement to the hospital chair to do the quick crossword, check Twitter, blog and read. I'm living the life of Riley really as Marion is waiting on me hand and foot despite my protestations and offers of help. I really owe her when I am mobile again.

If you've been reading this blog you will know that I have been catching up on all the lost reading that I've missed while working. I love to read but don't like to just get through one or two chapters at a time and until retirement I didn't have enough time. Yesterday I read Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger. I've read some bloody good books in the past fortnight but this one is really special. Written in the form of a series of letters to a Chinese official who plans to visit India, the book tells the story of a low caste young man living in "The Darkness" - the poor Indian countryside, and how he becomes an "entrepreneur"in the city. Corruption, which is the major theme of the story, runs like an open sewer through everything that the narrator Balram experiences and every decision hinges upon it. The book is written with great style and imagination. It is easy to read, highly entertaining and a real delight.

Has the Pope lost his marbles or has something been lost in translation? In his Christmas address to cardinals and other officials in Rome yesterday he is reported as saying that paedophilia was not considered an absolute evil as recently as the 1970's and that child pornography is increasingly considered "normal" by society. For the pontiff to be so far out of touch with reality it is hardly surprising that the Catholic church has been such a hotbed of child abuse over the years. It beggars (or should that be b*****s) belief.

I'll leave you today with a great sketch from the forthcoming One Ronnie. Echos of Four Candles - My Blackberry is not working.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Small Business Advice Part One - Work Life Balance

You know how all those business self help books are often based on one simple idea repeated over and over again? When I was young The One Minute Manager was all the rage amongst my colleagues who were bowled over by what was a very good statement of the bleedin obvious spread into twenty of more chapters. I imagine that anybody who had to read a book to tell them how to manage their time efficiently was never going to become leader of the board.  I hope to periodically offer similar pearls of wisdom here but I feel that, whilst every football team needs at least one star player, no team has ever won anything with only one man and no one idea is going to make you successful in business.

So, in no particular order, I am going to cover topics that have influenced my career and played an important part in giving me a modicum of success. One of those closest to my heart is striking the right work/life balance.

Over the past thirty or more years I have seen more and more emphasis placed on working hours. Today, many business people seem to wear their excruciatingly long working days as some sort of badge of honour. "I was in the office until midnight". "Got a breakfast meeting at 7" "I don't have time for lunch " are all spoken as if they prove a dedication to the job in hand whereas, in my humble opinion, they are an admission of failure. By that I don't mean that all those hard working people are failing in their jobs but they are failing in their LIVES.

Unless you are particularly religious you've only got three score years and ten (or maybe four score nowadays) on this mortal coil and there's not much point reflecting in your dotage on sixty and seventy hour weeks. If you are single and you love work then go for it, if that is what you enjoy, but remember that you may not always be single and once your have created a working environment it is going to be very difficult to put things into reverse. But if you are not single remember that you have a partner and maybe children. Your son is not going to be chosen as an angel in the school nativity every year and a video is no substitute for your being there. Whilst the kids might appreciate their new XBox and the two weeks in Florida (despite you spending the whole time on your Blackberry or laptop)they would much rather you took them to the park after tea a couple of nights a week. Likewise your partner might appreciate the luxuries that your endeavours provide but a shared night in front of the telly could be just as welcome.

Think about it. You run a business and you earn a reasonable income. But you are working sixty hours or more plus your lunch breaks and all that time answering your emails in the evenings. Are you earning that much? You might be better of in a 9-5 job and have no pressure. By deciding at the outset on what is a reasonable working week and sticking to it I believe that you will have a far happier working life than if you become a business obsessed workaholic with a one track mind. Of course there are times when you have to deviate from the chosen hours. You may want to launch a new product or attend a trade fair and in those exceptional times you should throw yourself into it wholeheartedly. I managed to work for over forty years and typically averaged about 35 hours a week. I saw plenty of the kids, never checked my business calls or email on holiday and it didn't cause me a problem. If you are successful you will employ others and if you lead by example on your own working hours you will find that your staff will be far happier with theirs. If you doubt me, just give it a try and see how much your life improves.

I'll be posting another small business advice topic after Christmas but in the meantime here's a nativity for the digital age.  

Monday, 20 December 2010

NHS Hip Replacement. Stitches Out

The District Nurse managed to brave the sub zero temperatures and ice rink of a road to arrive on time this morning and remove my stitches. There's something quite cathartic about this. It gives me a feeling of completion and, although my pain has been minimal for the last few days, my wound suddenly feels even less tight and more relaxed. The DN tells me that it should leave very little by way of a scar despite my thigh looking at the moment like a joint on a butcher's slab. All I need to do now is carry on with the exercises and getting as much practice at walking as possible.

Unfortunately that walking is going to be restricted to indoors. This is the heaviest snowfall we have seen since we moved here in 1989 and, as beautiful as it looks, it is creating a lot of headaches. There's so much snow on the roof that the gutters have pulled away and a few roof tiles seem to have dislodged. Poor Marion has dug the car out of the snow and taken it for a hair raising drive to the petrol station but the biggest worry is the Christmas plans. Our son Paul and his wife Josephine are due to drive up on Boxing day and we are booked into a very nice hotel in St Andrews on 29th to see daughter Sarah. Unless things improve rapidly both these rare chances to see the kids may be lost - very sad.

My reading blitz continues unabated. I've been getting through almost a novel a day since the operation but this latest offering Parrot and Olivier in America presented the biggest challenge so far and there was no way that I was going to get through this epic in 24 hours. Shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker prize, Peter Carey's picaresque tale of an English servant and his French aristocratic master is a masterpiece of literary descriptions and I know that I should gush about it if I have a scrap of intellect within me but, whilst I can appreciate Carey's silver (nay golden) tongue, I can't say that I enjoyed the book like I did Like Bees To Honey and Started Early Took My Dog. I finished it in a little over two days and am pleased that I have read it but I can't say that it is particularly entertaining reading - more an opportunity to worship at the feet of a master wordsmith in the sure knowledge that I will never come close to writing anything of this magnitude.

If you know me or you've read my blogs before you'll know that I am fascinated by the latest technology. I stumbled across this the other day. It's a Thing O Matic by Maker Bot and is described as a 3D printer. You program the machine with a 3d CAD image and it will "print" the image in plastic. Although the resultant plastic figures are fairly small, with some imagination I can see endless possibilities for this equipment. For example when I was working we often had to have expensive models of small plastic components made to see if the ideas would work. With one of these we could have saved a small fortune. I'm not buying one at the moment but this is an area of technology to watch.

Now that I have retired I wonder if anyone out there would be interested in some business advice. If you want to be another Peter Jones or Alan Sugar then stop reading now but, having run a British manufacturing company and managed to sell it as a going concern and retire at a respectable fifty seven, some of my ideas may (just may) be of use to others starting out in their own business or maybe finding things hard in the current climate. I'm going to start a series of nuggets of advice tomorrow. I'm starting with one that's closest to my heart - getting the right work/life balance.

Until then I'll leave you with a lesson on how not to get your automatic car back on the road in these conditions.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

A Fabulous Gift

While Marion was at the shops yesterday I spent time playing with this wonderful new toy. It's an iPod dock with a difference. Known as a Carbon Trinity amplifier, it uses a hybrid valve system to create the most pure sounds imaginable and we have it plus speakers as a retirement gift courtesy of very generous friends. The sound quality is unbelievable and I foresee a pretty musical retirement.

My reading binge continues unabated and yesterday I read Nick Hornby's Juliet Naked. I really like Nick Hornby. He has that nice guy aura about him that makes you believe that he would be a good bloke to share a pint with and we share an apocryphal moment. At the time that his character in Fever Pitch, watching things unfold in a TV shop window, is sent into ecstasy as Michael Thomas slots home Arsenal's last gasp goal in the 1988/1989 season to win 2-0 and take the title from Liverpool on the lowest margin ever, I am in the ground, tears welling up and shaking my head.

This is another good book. You may think by now that with all the positive comments this week I like everything I read but Marion is very good at researching and makes long lists and reads loads of reviews before buying. The story is about relationships and is built on geeky super fan Duncan's obsession with an obscure 80's rocker Tucker Crowe. He takes his long suffering girlfriend Annie on a pilgrimage to the USA to witness first hand the locations of Tucker's pivotal career moments. Although this might sound far fetched, these people do exist - I know somebody who spent his summer holidays in Sweden at the end of Agnetha Falskog's drive. Crowe has been a silent recluse for twenty years so when a new album arrives out of the blue Duncan seizes the opportunity to review it on his Tucker Crowe Internet fan site. The album is a pared down version of Crowe's epic album Juliet and the deluded Duncan in a king's new clothes moment treats it as some sort of newly discovered holy grail. The album becomes known as Juliet Naked. Annie sees it for what it really is - a heap of shit - and posts her own review on the site. Her review is spotted by the great man himself. I won't give any more of the plot away but I couldn't stop turning the pages to see how the characters moved on. My initial feeling on finishing the novel was that, although a great read, I couldn't see some of the events happening. However, on reflection, Hornby is actually very much up to date in his thinking. The long tail economics that I have just been reading about ensures that there is a market for the tiniest niche product when you have the whole world to aim at and with the advent of Twitter never has it been easier for fans to interact directly with their idols. Well worth a read.

Woke up today to the heaviest snowfall we've seen here in Southport for over twenty years and the dreaded message "No Satellite Signal Is Being Received" on the TV which is hardly surprising considering the dish was carrying almost a foot a snow. I knew that these crutches would come in useful and Marion held open the window for me to knock the snow off the dish using them.

I'll close today with a super Christmas greeting received from those lovely people at Workhouse Marketing in Ribchester. Check it out Workhouse Marketing Christmas Card

Friday, 17 December 2010

17th December 2010 My week.

My first full week at home since retirement has also been my first week at home since my hip replacement. I've already lost track of what day of the week it is and I suspect that this will be typical as the lack of work routine leaves the days to blur into each other. I've managed to get back into the habit of reading - with a vengeance. I've read seven books in the last ten days and I've enjoyed all of them.

None more so than Started Early - Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson. I remember loving her debut novel Behind The Scenes At The Museum which was a nostalgic and intricately plotted look at generations of a family and I was surprised to discover that Kate has now moved into the crime genre and this is the latest of several crime novels that she has written. The novel is again intricately and quite brilliantly plotted and all the pieces fall perfectly into place at the end. There are many layers of character and plot and a timeline that shifts between a Leeds living in the shadow of the Yorkshire Ripper to one living in the current recession. I can see this novel transferring seamlessly to the small screen.

I've been reading about and listening to Bob Ainsworth's call for legalisation of drugs. This is something that I have argued in favour of for years. So much time and money is wasted in the war against them - time and money that could be invested in more beneficial areas like health and education. Chicago in the prohibition era demonstrated how banning alcohol created a huge demand that could only be fulfilled by a criminal supply and the city collapsed into corruption and near anarchy. Our police and customs officers are fighting a similar losing battle against the drug barons but if the market is suddenly legitimised they will have to look elsewhere for their income. OK there are risks to vulnerable users but with so much potential saving in public spending there should be enough to improve support for drug abusers.

I've also been reading all about the Julian Assange extradition case. If this was all about freedom of speech I could understand all the celebrities jumping onto the support bandwagon but Assange has been accused of rape. That's a pretty serious offence as far as I am aware and Sweden is neither renowned for huge miscarriages of justice nor somewhere that he might expect an unfair trial.Do all his supporters know him well enough to be convinced of his innocence or are they simply thinking that because he has been involved in the cable leaks this makes him an all round good guy? I hope that he is innocent of the charges but if the evidence goes against him it is going to leave a lot of media types looking pretty embarrassed.

This was the photo of the week. Waves from Lake Erie crashing onto the Cleveland Harbor West Pierhead Lighthouse created this beautiful frozen structure like something from Narnia.

Another who has been given massive media coverage this week is Jody McIntyre. Jody is the cerebral palsy sufferer who was dragged from his wheelchair by police at last week's student demos. The vile Richard Littlejohn created outrage with his column in the Daily Mail by likening McIntyre to the character Andy in Little Britain. Andy is a malingerer who is not really disabled whilst Jody is undoubtedly disabled and severely so. Littlejohn opens his big mouth too often with this sort of outburst. I have researched Jody McIntyre. He is a bit of a regular at protests be they Student Fees, Gazza or Tower Hamlets and is certainly proud of being an activist. He is capable of walking and wrote how he climbed to the top of Millbank Towers whilst his brother carried his wheelchair. But there's nothing wrong with that in a twenty year old. If he wants to express his views at demonstrations he is as entitled to do so as any other person and the police (even if they know him well as an activist) were wrong to manhandle him unless he was seen as a threat. Sadly Littlejohn will again be basking in the publicity he has created for himself. Let's hope that the hundreds of complaints to the press commission cut him down to size (I somehow doubt it).

I'll finish today with the uplifting story of a geeky bloke who has been with his girlfriend for ten years.He loves the muppets. He decided to propose. This is how he did it. He persuaded his local cinema to add this clip to the trailers when he took his Sara to the movies. I was left blubbing into a tissue.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

NHS Hip Replacement. Home Sweet Home

It's eighty four hours since I nervously arrived in the Ormskirk District General Hospital Orthopedic ward and I've been given my discharge. Matron Jenny hands me my discharge goody bag containing all my painkillers, a packet of dressings for the district nurse to apply in a few days and an outpatients' appointment card. I complete a quick survey and, before I know it, physio Charlie is wheeling me away leaving little time for thanks and farewells. As I pass all the faces who have cared for me so well, my mind turns inexplicably to bankers' bonuses and I imagine that one such bonus would exceed the annual income of every single one of these carers for several years. That can't be right as I certainly know which are contributing most to society. It saddens me. The hospital corridors are much cooler than the ward and I realise just how cold it has been recently. Marion and Charlie manhandle me into the car and we're off home.

Home now resembles a hotel disabled suite. Everywhere I look there are frames around toilets, special chairs set at just the right level for washing and watching TV. I've got a grabber to help me if I drop anything on the floor and a device to help me put my socks on. I've contributed £10 to all this lot. I know that it has to go back when I am better but this is a simply outstanding level of care. The NHS may have its detractors and its knockers but I have not one single word of criticism from my experience.

From now on it's up to me and Marion to set up a routine to enable a speedy recovery. Marion has become a regular Florence Nightingale and is at my beck and call constantly. I split my time between reading (after four novels in hospital I now read The Longer Long Tail - a fascinating book about economics), playing with the new 3D TV that arrived whilst in hospital and was my retirement gift to myself, finishing Professor Layton on the Ninetendo DS, sleeping and repeating the exercise at regular intervals. I'm five days into this routine now and I'm getting more flexible, the "problem" has disappeared, my right leg is now only 50% bigger than the left and I am moving on the crutches like a gazelle (OK slight exaggeration there). So that's my experience of having a hip replacement on the NHS to date. I don't plan to bore readers with many further details although I will write if anything of note arises or I reach a particular milestone. Anyone who has read these last few blogs will know that mine has been an extremely positive experience. Perhaps I was lucky but my hospital was not high in any league tables and I think that maybe it's all about the people. My ward was staffed by a team of carers who worked together efficiently and treated patients with dignity. From business experience, if you look after your staff and your customers well, you are half way down the road to success.

It's just starting to hit home to me that I am not going to be making any Orange Wednesday cinema visits in the near future which is a pity as there are few films out that we would like to see. We decided to see what Sky was offering last night and watched Wolfman on Sky Anytime. This film was launched in 2010 and seems to have passed me by as I don't recall reading much about it but, with a strong cast including Anthony Hopkins and Benecio Del Toro, we thought we'd give it a try. It was like stepping back into a time machine and finding ourselves in the cinema in 1969 watching the latest hammy Hammer horror. Complete with empty moors, swirling mists and a village tavern full of yokels "you aren't from these parts",  I couldn't decide whether the film was intended to be viewed with tongue firmly in cheek or if we were meant to take it seriously.  It didn't win on either level with too few laughs to be comedy and no scares at all to be horror. It did get me back into watching something for a couple of hours which can't be a bad thing.

Time to catch up with YouTube which I haven't had chance to look at recently. I know that there's been some controversy about this new album of Michael Jackson recordings but even if this is a cynical attempt to cash in on his death, it's quite a catchy song.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

NHS Hip Replacement. Getting Discharged.

It's Wednesday. About forty eight hours ago I was on the operating table but now I am walking back to the ward from the bathroom having washed and shaved myself. I say walking but it is really a case of dragging myself along on crutches. As I enter the main ward I meet my fellow patients properly for the first time. Graham who has worked outdoors all his life looks slim, tanned and healthy, Bob less so. The three of us look like triplets with our one elephantine and one normal leg. Bob and Graham have had knees done. We congratulate each other on our fine progress to date and I return to my single room. It's been pleasant having company for a few minutes but I want to recuperate in silence - and then there's the problem.

I haven't mentioned "the problem" on previous blogs as it's a little delicate and not something one normally shouts to the world. But the aim of this record is to give those who are going to have a hip replacement on the NHS an idea of what to expect and so I better give you the full story. Since I arrived back from theatre on Monday I have been creating enough gas to fire a small condensing boiler. Totally uncontrollable, the gas surfaces regularly throughout the day and forty eight hours on there's no sign of it blowing over. I believe that it's the result of painkillers causing constipation and constipation causing flatulence and I'm on some sort of windy merry go round until either the painkillers or the constipation die down.

Charlie the physio has given me some exercises to do in bed to speed recovery. One of these, the buttock clench, leaves me giving involuntary renditions of Colonel Bogey - and I'm supposed to repeat this hourly. I knew that private room would have its benefits and this is certainly one of them.

I fill in my time by starting to read nother novel. Like Bees To Honey by Caroline Smailes hails from the same The Friday Project stable as the excellent Confessions of a GP that I flew through yesterday. This is a wonderful and extremely original book. The author uses an interesting repetitive writing style combined with some highly innovative type setting to produce a unique reading experience. The book's theme is coming to terms with loss but this is done in such a different way to other rites of passage novels and when I tell you that it involves a beer swilling Jesus with scarlet toenails residing in Malta and competing for popularity with John Lennon you will appreciate that it is no everyday book. I can't put it down. I love it.

I don't flake out after Marion's visit this time and watch Arsenal play their Champions League match whilst reading The Guardian at the same time as the match is pretty dull. The nurses hint that I am making good enough progress to be sent home tomorrow. My spirits lift.

It's Thursday and potentially discharge day. I follow all of yesterday's lessons exactly and have myself washed and shaved in no time. I'm quite chuffed with my progress but Mr Ali arrives in the room and tells me that my walking is rubbish and I should be bending my leg more. It's not that easy after eighteen months of stiff legged limping, even more so with a leg that's ballooned to double its normal size. Anyway, he's happy with his handiwork. He tells me that my hip was a mess and he has cut off several chunks of arthritic growths of bone known as ossification (I think). He gives me a copy of my x ray as a souvenir and tells me that once I have walked up some stairs I am free to go.

Charlie wheels me to the hospital stairwell, It's freezing after the warmth of the ward and my teeth are chattering. But I want to master this and secure my release. He gives me a simple mnemonic "The Good The Bad And The Ugly" great for a film buff like me. I make a comment about Sergio Leone but it misses its target. I'm up the steps and down again in ten minutes. I feel like waving my crutches in the air in celebration. It's painful but it has  allowed me the chance to return home and at around 3pm, just over three days since admission Marion will be able to drive me back to Southport.

Monday, 13 December 2010

NHS Hip Replacement. The Post Op Days. Continued

It's 6 am Wednesday. I saw my consultant surgeon Mr Al briefly yesterday when he checked out my wounds and sent me for an X ray. He told me that I should expect my leg to swell up. I'm glad that he did as when I look down at my toes it appears that I have had a transplant from an elephant donor. My right leg is enormous and with the cuffs inflating and deflating around it I feel as if I am being pumped up and am not far from the point at which explosion becomes inevitable. But, as I am forewarned, I am forearmed and don't panic.

Last night has not been so good. It's still less than forty eight hours since I arrived in hospital but the feel good drugs that gave me such a high on Monday have now run their course and I flaked out completely the second that Marion left the ward. At around 10pm the nurses on their rounds had startled me awake from a deep sleep and I went into a fit of uncontrollable shivering for a minute or so as I came to my senses. I was detached from the monitor and from then onwards the monitor would simply be wheeled in as necessary. I start another shivering fit as I survey my elephantine limb. But a few deep breaths bring me back under control and I reach for Confessions of a GP.

Dr Benjamin Daniels is a pseudonym to protect patient confidentiality. His book is written at a cracking pace and crammed full of short three or four page chapters. One of our best friends is from a medical family and her mother was, her sister is and her son will be a GP. I know from our conversations that Benjamin is telling it as it is it and I laugh out loud at some of the observations that he makes. Having said that, the book is not aimed at the funny bone alone and there are a number of more poignant anecdotes such as examining his reaction to a paedophile who is sleeping in his own excrement or visiting a patient so morbidly obese that maggots have taken up residence between his thighs. I fly through the pages.

The ward starts to hum into life at around seven. Today's crop of nervous patients are starting to arrive with their equally nervous partners. I can hear them in the main ward but in my inner sanctum I am alone with my book although I have a steady stream of visitors. I have done my utmost to learn the names of everybody who has been looking after me and to find out a bit about them. The array of different uniforms is fascinating. A lady in green starts to clean my room. She is lucky to have a daughter who recently qualified as a barrister  who gives her a lift every morning. Her other daughter is a flight attendant with Easy Jet. There are lots of workers in pink tunics. Liz is a grandma and hopes to retire in five years. She is finding it a nightmare to get to work as the local roads are like an ice rink. Another has given up her season ticket at St Helens in favour of a visit to the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Student nurse uniforms come in two colours - grey for squeamish "Susan" and her pal from Edge Hill University and White for Gemma from UCLAN who used to be at school with my Goddaughter Kate. I learn about so many sons and daughters. I hear about the benefits of an insulin pump from a nurse whose diabetic induced renal failure led to three years of painful dialysis (I saw the scars) before a kidney transplant.

They are all, without exception, a credit to the NHS. Their uncomplaining positive attitude lifts the spirits of the place and gives me a feel good feeling however bad I feel. Nobody does this better than Jenny who I assume to be what we used to call matron or sister, I don't ask her her title. She has a dark blue uniform and runs the place with military efficiency without dropping the humanity for a second. I am so impressed by her hands on attitude and willingness to muck in and share the workload with everyone.

After breakfast my ankle cuffs are removed. The cannula is next to go and then finally it's time for the catheter to be pulled gently from where it has nested for the last two days. I've never experienced a catheter in my bladder before but I have to say that I have become quite attached to it in more ways than the obvious. There's something strange about watching a steady trickle of urine leaving your body and filling a bag alongside you while you have no sensation of what is going on. I could see it becoming popular with lads out on the town who don't want to leave their seat in the bar or be caught by the police pissing in doorways after closing time. There would invariably be machismo discussions on whose bag was filling the quickest. I'd happily insert them myself into some of the incontinents on row 65 of the Kop who somehow manage to take three trips to the loo inside ninety minutes.

My physio Charlie (white tunic, royal blue trousers) joins me at ten and moves me onto crutches. He is joined by Occupational Therapist Claire (white tunic,green trousers) and together they walk me to the bathroom and instruct me how to wash and shave myself safely and then leave me to it. Independence at last. I feel good and refreshed. I discover that Claire was in my daughter Sarah's class at school.

Back to the ward and I'm starting to feel that I'm making good progress.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

NHS Hip Replacement. The post op days.

It's 4pm Monday. Marion has just left after visiting time and I'm starting to take in my surroundings. I've only been in hospital for nine hours but the op has been and gone. Whatever stimulant they gave me at the end of the operation, it's one hell of an upper and I don't think that I have felt as alert in years. I find time to make a couple of phone calls from my bedside. I'm linked up to one of those monitors that you always see in films and there are all sorts of electronic charts creating a constant stream of data being fed into it by a number of electrodes. I'm wearing some snazzy white stockings to reduce the risk of DVT and around each of my calves is an inflatable cuff that rhythmically expands and contracts at regular intervals. A similar cuff is attached to my arm and my blood pressure is monitored through this.

I find that there's a clip on my index finger and that sends info on my oxygen levels to the monitor. Unfortunately my circulation is poor so the monitor keeps going into alarm and bringing in one of the nursing staff. "You don't have Reynauds?" she asks."I did when I was small" - that explains it. So I keep massaging my fingers to save the nurses wasting their time.

I'm still wearing just a hospital gown. From my groin area a clear tube carries a regular stream of urine from my bladder into a plastic bag. From my leg wound another tube is full of blood directed into another bag and to the cannula in the back of my hand there's a tube sending fluid in the opposite direction. The cannula that had earlier been the gateway for my sedatives is now channelling a nutritious saline drip into my body. Later in the day the same cannula is used to deliver anti-biotics and to empty my full blood bag back into me - the ultimate in recycling. Best of all, shortly before lights out I get a dose of a morphine painkiller that works instantly.

I planned to read during my stay and I carry on with The Finkler Question. When Marion comes back at 6.30, I've had a few slices of bread and some soup and we spend the visiting time planning my TV viewing. I love Monday's on the BBC and after Marion leaves I start with University Challenge and , being in my own room, I can shout my (usually wrong)answers at the telly. Then there's Miranda. I adore Miranda. Then there's Liverpool writer Jimmy McGovern's brilliant drama The Accused. Andy Serkis is a low life stalker who wastes his money on gambling and abandons his wheelchair bound MS suffering wife for the unaware victim of his stalking. Blimey Jimmy anyone watching this would think that scousers were miserable bastards. Viewing finishes with Coogan and Brydon's culinary journey around the North West - The Trip. Brilliant.

I spend a few minutes doing the Professor Layton puzzles on the Nintendo DS before the morphine kicks in and I'm fast asleep.

It's six on Tuesday morning and before the ward gets active I finish The Finkler Question. I bought this specially for hospital as it was acclaimed as a comic novel and I could do with a laugh. There's no questioning that it is a brilliant literary work which draws the reader into the inner sanctum of Jewishness. But comedic? I see it as more tragic but maybe that's my state of mind. I start a new novel The Silver Linings Play Book by Matthew Quick. Breakfast of Weetabix and toast bulked up with my own pear and banana is welcome. At nine I am visited by a couple of care workers who help me to have a bed bath. There's no point in prudity or modesty although the women do treat me with great dignity.

A few minutes later I'm feeling refreshed and wearing a T Shirt and some clean boxer shorts. A nurse comes in and asks me if I mind a couple of student nurses getting involved. "Not at all". I chat to the girls and discover that they enrolled in September and today is their first work experience and their very first step into hands on nursing. And their first "hands on" experience? Checking my backside for bed sores - that's a memory that will stay with them. Actually one of them - I'll call her Susan- had another experience that she won't forget in a hurry a few minutes later. After checking my bum, the next job is to remove the drain from my wound. "Ok girls stand back and watch this" says the leader. I watch Susan and her colleague as the lead nurse pulls the long blood filled tune from deep inside my leg. Susan turns green and then white and I ask if she's OK. "Do you mind if I step outside?" she asks and the poor kid has to leave. I've certainly created an impression.

As morning progresses I'm unhooked from the monitor and told that the physio will be be along soon. By eleven o'clock, less than twenty four hours after the op, Charlie the physio helps me to my feet and into my zimmer frame which I use to drag myself a few feet to the bedside chair. There I remain for the rest of the day reading The Silver Linings Play Book which, a few questionable plot issues apart, is a highly entertaining study of depression and recovery from mental illness. I fly through the pages and by visiting time I've finished it. We do the Guardian Quick Crossword and Marion brings me some books published under the Friday Project label by Scott Pack who blogs and tweets entertainingly as meandmybigmouth (he's on my blog list up at the right). I choose Confessions of a GP by Dr Benjamin Daniels as it seems somehow appropriate and Like Bees To Honey by Caroline Smailes. I eat some pasta and the nursing staff help me back into bed. At the six pm visiting slot Marion once again helps me to choose my TV viewing schedule. She heads for home at eight and I settle back to watch and fall immediately into a heavy sleep.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

NHS Hip Replacement. A Personal Experience

When I was working, one of the things that I enjoyed the most was our regular weekly work football sessions. Up to twelve of us from all parts of the business would take part in an hour or so of healthy competition and I liked the way that it gave everyone the opportunity to get to know others in various parts of the company - an assembly worker might be on the same side as me the MD with the Marketing director playing alongside the service engineer. I enjoyed it so much that I didn't give up when I started to suffer regular injuries about four years ago and it was only when I picked up what I thought was a groin strain in April 2009 that I reluctantly hung up my trainers. Months of visits to the GP and the groin strain didn't improve. I tried a chiropractor without success and then finally a new doctor suggested I see a physiotherapist. I'll never forget the physio's words as I limped into his waiting room for my appointment. He took one look at me and said "You're here about the groin strain". "Yes". "That's not a groin strain, that's your hip." And there in thirty seconds, after three months of misdiagnosis, I had my answer.

Within a couple of weeks I was seeing an orthopedic consultant who explained that my hip had been arthritic for years and would need replacing. He told me everything about the procedure and asked if I would like to be booked in. Running our own company it was not that simple to take out a couple of months for recovery so I said that I would work towards it. We had had a number of companies interested in buying our business so Marion and I decided to take the plunge and sell up before booking in for the operation.

Fortunately we achieved a sale quite quickly and in January 2010 the business was no longer ours. However we had promised our new owners that we would work for them until 30th November to ensure a smooth transfer and I did not want to renege on that deal. We returned to see the consultant and asked if I could be booked in for the first available date after 30th November. We retired last Tuesday and on Monday this week I found myself in Ormskirk General Hospital orthopedic wing at seven o'clock sharp.

And less than six hours later this is what my hip looked like. I certainly seemed to have hit the jackpot and I really should have bought a lottery ticket on that day as just about everything that could have gone right did so.

I don't support private medicine. I don't think it is fair that those who pay can jump the queue ahead of those that can't and I think that we should all be treated as equals. Having said that it would be a pretty valid argument to say that those who do pay are saving the rest of the taxpayers a substantial sum. Anyway I read in my admission booklet that a single bed ward was available at a small extra charge and to phone in advance to check availability. I phoned and it was available and there was no charge - stroke of luck number one. I found myself in a pleasant and quiet room. When other patients asked how I had wangled it I simply asked if they had read the booklet - they hadn't.

My next bit of good news was that I was first on the list which meant that I had less time to feel nervous and the staff would be at their least tired. The good news continued to roll as Mr Ali the foremost consultant orthopedic surgeon in the area popped in and confirmed that he would be doing the operation in person. I hope that this was a result of all the effort I made in losing almost three stone at his suggestion before the op. After Mr Ali's quick briefing, a few blood tests, blood pressure and other readings and some consent forms to sign, my bad leg was marked with a big arrow and I was wheeled down to surgery. A few apprehensive moments chatting to other patients in the pre-op holding area followed before I was wheeled into theatre. Yet another stroke of luck. I was greeted by the consultant anaesthetist - I could not be in better hands. He explained the anesthetic procedure would involve a needle in my back which would numb my lower body. I told him that I got squeamish watching Casualty and didn't want to hear my bones being sawn through. He reassured me that he would give me a happy drug that would mean that I would know nothing about it. A cold spray on my back and a cannula being inserted in my hand was the last I remember.

The next words I heard were Mr Ali saying that it was all done. I could sense someone pushing at my thigh and I was suddenly wide awake and incredulous that it was indeed all over and I had felt nothing. I have had more painful visits to the loo. By one o'clock I was back in my room sitting up, eating a slice of toast and drinking tea. I started to read a new book. At 3pm Marion came to visit for an hour and returned at 6 for two more. I managed to complete the quick crossword, do a few puzzles on the Nintendo DS and almost finish reading The Finkler Question before flaking out exhausted at 10. What an incredible event it had been. I was treated so well by everyone from the consultants to the porters and the support staff on the ward had been exceptionally caring. I'll continue writing about the rest of the experience and the three nights in hospital as I make my recovery. 

Until then I'll leave you with my favourite act for tonight's X Factor final. I have put my entire Betfair account on Cher. I doubt that she will win, but if the audience vote on whether somebody has something special about them rather than being merely a good singer, there's only one real winner.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

I Never Knew I Was So Popular

Being out at work all day left me oblivious to all the phone calls that I have been missing on the home phone. I never dial 1471 as I guess that if anyone has anything important to say they'll leave a message. At home for the first time in ages on Friday I seemed to spend all day answering the thing.

First to call was Becky who sounded about 12 and started by saying "I'm not trying to sell you anything, I'm just checking that everything is ok with your finances". Well that was very nice of Becky to be so concerned about my financial stability and I told her so. I asked her how she thought that she might be able to save me from penury (not in those words) and she said that she could amalgamate all my debts into one easy monthly payment. This would be quite difficult as I don't have any real debts at the moment so I politely declined her offer and wished her a nice day.

Throughout the morning a caller who kept ringing off as I trecked to the receiver had me wondering if this was some cruel practical joke and a neighbour was watching me hobbling to the hall and putting the phone down on me the second I picked up. But I finally caught it to discover that it was a very nice Indian gentleman who wanted to send me a brochure on his fabulous land investment scheme. I told him it sounded wonderful and I would wait for it in eager anticipation.

Finally there was Dan (call me Dan, Daniel or Danny - multiple personality disorder?) from an affiliate of MBNA. Danny had a wonderful scheme where I could get 25% off top restaurants for a small monthly fee. Which top restaurants? He enthusiastically reeled off a long list which included half a dozen branches of Pizza Express, Cafe Rouge and other fine dining establishments. He turned out to be Pompey fan who parked outside Anfield when Portsmouth were playing Everton but couldn't get to watch them play Liverpool as it was on a Tuesday night. I felt that we were becoming real buddies but had to let him down gently by pointing out that most of the places on his list offer similar discounts on their websites and I was very unlikely to be visiting most of them in the near future.

On a serious note, all of these callers were young and I had a tinge of sympathy for them. It must be soul destroying constantly having the phone slammed down on you for a living. It only costs a few seconds of your time to be civil and at least these kids have got a job. So next time you get one of these calls do your best to call them by their name, politely decline what they are offering and wish them a nice day. You'll feel better for it - and so will they.

I'm going into hospital on Monday so I won't be in a position to blog for some time but please keep checking back.

Remember the BBC promo Perfect Day. Here's one on a similar tack from Norwegian telly. Quite a bizarre mix of celebs.


Friday, 3 December 2010

My View On Wikileaks Is Not One You Might Expect

Those of you who know me as a bleeding heart liberal and fully paid up Guardian subscriber might be surprised at my attitude to Wikileaks and might consider my views more at home in the Daily Mail. The members of the Twitterati that I follow might block me instantly if they were ever to read this.

Now I'm all in favour of whistle blowers. Many have risked life and limb, reputation and livelihoods to stop wrongdoing from being swept under the carpet and when Wikileaks is uncovering torture and corruption I'll back it to the hilt. But the current leak of the cables is not about whistle blowing it's about diplomacy - "dih-ploh-muh-see - skill in managing negotiations, handling people, etc., so that there is little or no ill will; tact". And whilst Julian Assange might be rubbing his hands in glee at the results of his opening of Pandora's box, I for one, am unhappy with it.

Let's consider a couple of scenarios. In my time in business I had to meet people from all walks of life. Some I liked and mentioned them favourably on my blog. Others I maybe liked less but I didn't blog to that effect, I merely held my tongue. The following is fictitious but imagine a large industry dinner. I'm seated alongside an important customer who spends tens of thousands with my business every year. For the entire evening he spouts racist, homophobic and anti-semitic views that I hate with all my heart and soul. The correct thing to do would be to renounce him to the table as a despicable bigot but I have to spare a few thoughts for others. I denounce him to the table and lose my business their biggest customer, the knock on effect is that a factory floor worker or maybe several workers lose their jobs and their kids go short and maybe the same happens in a supplier's business when I have to cut back my orders with them. So it would be madness for me to do the right thing. I go back to the office write up a report of the event mentioning the foul views of the customer and file it away. What would be the point of releasing my opinions to the world? There would be no point other than to undermine my business and jeopardise jobs.

Or perhaps my wife has invited her brother to stay for Christmas. he's going to bring his new Thai mail order bride who I think I might once have seen in a pretty undignified position on the internet, along with his spoilt brat children and their yappy, flea ridden dog.Do I upset my wife and insult her family when they turn up at the front door in the snow? No. But I might drop an email to friends to the effect that Christmas has been cancelled this year, together with a humourous explanation why.

My best friend's mother turns up to my daughter's wedding looking like mutton dressed as lamb. What do I say? "You look beautiful" - obviously. It's all about diplomacy. And that's where I think Wikileaks has made a big mistake. There may well be some important nuggets of information in those millions of files that should be given a public airing and anything encouraging war or violence should be condemned. Although the fact that a prominent public figure has the manners of a pig or a penchant for nubile blondes might well be something worth noting on file for the benefit of colleagues, diplomacy dictates that it is information that should be kept between friends. By publishing thoughtlessly and indiscriminately, Assange has done the freedom of speech lobby a huge disservice. I don't approve of the site being taken down but I do feel that Wikileaks has done democracy and diplomacy no favours.

Ok that's my view. Let him who is prepared to have his every opinion on everything and everyone aired in public, cast the first stone.