Tags: london life

Venus transit

Knifage

Originally published at And Then He Said.... Please leave any comments there.

Off to hospital again yesterday (the Charing Cross, in Fulham Palace Road) for a check-up following my leg and elbow operations earlier this year.

This has been a long-running saga, dating back to at least early 2003, which came to a head this year when I finally persuaded them to get to work on me with a knife.

To summarise, some time in 2002 a numb patch appeared on the outside of my right thigh. In Feb 2003 a neurosurgeon diagnosed me with meralgia paresthetica and put me on a waiting list for surgery. He warned me it would take a year or so before anything happened. Over the next few months I had some conductivity tests (electrodes jammed into the leg) which confirmed the diagnosis, and settled down to wait.

After that, nothing happened.

For several years.

In late 2006, with the leg worsening and new problems developing in my left elbow, and a few other unrelated health things also worrying me, I got bored waiting and went for private consultation, first with a GP and then with a neurosurgeon, who stuck a rocket up the backside of the NHS and got things moving again.

More tests and consultations followed (mostly repeats of the 2003/04 stuff) then in July they finally did the cutting. Transposition of the left ulnar nerve and decompression of the right cutaneous nerve of thigh, for those who thrive on details.

If you were stuck in hospital with nothing but a piss-pot and some coloured pencils, you'd find this funny too

I woke up after the surgery to mixed results. The elbow? Perfect. No more finger-twitching or numbness. The leg? Disaster. Much more numbness and a world of pain. Some very unhappy weeks followed, involving painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, horrible limping, sleepless nights, black despair and a walking stick.

Eventually, some of the numbness and most of the pain receded. It still hurts occasionally, but there’s variety in what type of pain occurs and it never lasts long, so that’s an improvement on balance. The numbness is significantly worse than before the operation, but I can still detect pressure, even at the place with least sensation, so I’m no longer worried about not knowing if I’m burning myself against a radiator or whatever.

And there’s more than a chance it will improve further over the next few months.

Which is where I was yesterday when I went off for what turned out to be the final stage in the saga. A quick five-minute consultation with a jolly woman I’d never met before and that was it - discharged, with an open invitation to contact them again if there was any deterioration.

A bit anti-climactic, actually. I don’t know what I expected, but this was something that had for a long while been a major part of my life (or, during the early years, something lurking on the edge of my attention, impossible to entirely forget) and it just fizzled out. On balance, I’m glad I had the operations done - the elbow was a success, the leg about break-even with hope for further improvement. But where was the full stop at the end, the handshake with the surgeon and the “good luck, old chap” to see me off?

I wasn’t sure what to do with myself afterwards. Having dragged myself down to London on just three and a half hours sleep and then waited around in a hospital corridor for a late appointment, it seemed too soon to go straight home again. On the other hand, I was dog tired, had nothing in particular to do, and wanted to be back before a workman arrived to fit blinds to two rooms in the house.

I pottered up the Fulham Palace Road, peering in through the window of the Spitfire Polish restaurant at the Battle of Britain memorabilia, then trailing around a bookshop with no great enthusiasm. Eventually I refuelled with a cheese and mushroom crepe and a coffee from a hole in the wall in the Hammersmith shopping centre and descended back onto the Tube. A train was just about to leave Kings Cross when I got there, so I was relieved of the need to think about anything and away I went. A brisk walk from the station and I was home in time for lunch.

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Love is…

Originally published at And Then He Said.... Please leave any comments there.

Hard to believe, I know, but there used to be a time - only a couple of weeks ago - where I could go whole months without posting about politics, instead filling these pages with reportage, bon mots, raconteurism and other pretentious Gallic words that all basically translate as “the usual stuff you find on blogs”. There were even photos. So, in memory of those far-off days, here is a van I saw while out taking photos for a Lib Dem leaflet.

'I love you Joey' scrawled on a van bonnet, apparently in lipstick
I love you Joey
I don't know if that really is lipstick and I've never met Joey, either - but I bet whoever he is, he's smiling through gritted teeth and saying 'that's so romantic darling, but I have to drive it to work tomorrow'.

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Better than badminton

Originally published at And Then He Said.... Please leave any comments there.

Finally have time to write up my thoughts about the Any Questions leadership debate, from the perspective of being in the audience.

The comically long queue outside the hall, which wound along corridors and through doors and almost to the Surrey / Hampshire border, made it look like the event was going to be packed, but in the end there were a few spare seats at the back.

The organisers had given everyone coloured squares of paper to indicate which candidate they were supporting, or that they were undecided, and the stewards were directing people to different areas of the hall depending on the colour of their marker. Since we're a split household they tried to separate us, but I stamped my little feet and said we'd go home if we weren't allowed to sit together and they let us pick our location.

We seemed to end up in the 'undecided' section, very near the back and next to what seemed to be the Huhne supporters' section - it had noticeably more empty space in it than the other blocks. Susan Kramer and David Howarth sat at the back of it, like old-style Soviet commissars waiting to machine-gun the troops if they turned to flee - although both were chatty and friendly afterwards.

Behind us were a very nice but slightly baffled couple who didn't really have any particular thoughts about the leadership or even, so far as we could tell, the Liberal Democrats. They'd turned up for their badminton class as usual and found that the hall had been requisitioned for a radio programme. Offered the opportunity to stay and watch, they settled down in the back row. I'd have loved to ask them what they thought of it afterwards, but they were out of the door too fast for us.

Every seat had a photocopied sheet on it from the BBC with potted biographies of the candidates on it. A typo in Ming's section, where the West Lothian Question was mentioned, quoted him as saying “I have never had a problem with Brutishness”. A useful quality in a leader, I would have thought. Sadly for Sir Menzies, he left his best answer behind in the warm-up, where candidates were asked a light-hearted question so that microphone levels could be checked.

The question was, essentially, “doesn't Sir Menzies have better things to do on Burns Night than come here?” and he came across by far the best in the responses - the other two were a little over-keen to be amusing, hadn't fully settled down, and were just a bit too eager to connect with the audience. Ming was urbane, amusing, and even a little scandalous when he said that, in reality, Burns Night lasted several nights and consisted of equal parts haggis and whisky - with rather more of the latter for some people. There was a sharp intake of breath across the entire hall as everyone similtaneously thought the one word “Kennedy”, but Sir Menzies looked inscrutible, as if he'd just said “fuck” in front of a vicar and was quietly enjoying the confusion.

I won't say that was his high point, but once the actual broadcast began all three candidates acquitted themselves equally well without actually managing to outshine the others.

There's little point in running through the debate point-by-point - Nick Barlow liveblogged it with impressive accuracy, for one thing - but it seems reasonable to give my impressions of the three candidates.

  • Ming is still trying too hard - he's at his best when he relaxes and speaks with authority, but he seems at times as if he's striving to make some kind of connection that he fears would otherwise not be made. It doesn't help - it just makes him sound over-anxious.
  • Chris has improved as a speaker since Meeting the Challenge and - partly because of the format - also sounded more well-rounded in subject matter. But he still doesn't sound like a leader to me - can't quite put my finger on why. His voice is quite extraordinary, a beautifully modulated baritone.
  • Simon was mostly as powerful and as passionate as we all know he can be and I, for one, saw nothing that would scare the horses in Tory heartlands. But the danger is, of course, as much in how he is portrayed as in what he actually says and if he allowed himself to get sidetracked into the long grass occasionally, for example over English devolution, that could easily be because his mind was on what the next day's Sun was going to say.

I marked it afterwards as a score draw, and I think if you'd arrived as a Lib Dem member with no idea of who you were going to vote for you'd have left none the wiser. On the other hand, if you'd arrived as an ordinary member of the public, perhaps a floating voter, you'd have been greatly reassured by what you saw - the event was a good advert for the party and, if we can have a few more like this, the ship might yet be steadied.

Incidentally, if you're reading this via the Lib Dem Blog Aggregator, my posts don't show up on it until eight hours after I make them - the result, I think, of some problem with time zones that I can't troubleshoot.

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Nightmare

Originally published at And Then He Said.... Please leave any comments there.

Ugh.

It's 2am and I just woke from a bizarre nightmare in which Beloved Other Half, myself and dozens of others climbed up the wire fence that used to run alongside the access road to our flats in order to escape the floodwater surges from a tsunami that had run up the channel of the Thames. Among those around us were a Big Issue seller I sometimes chat to on Upper Street, Islington, called Tony, a minor character from the movie Notting Hill and a TV news reporter (identity unknown) who was broadcasting live, despite not having a camera crew, and who screamed “it's my Uncle Charlie's funeral” at the moment of greatest danger when we all thought we were going to be washed away.

Odd.

Can't sleep now, so I might as well try to get some work done.

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Alas, poor Mark

Originally published at And Then He Said.... Please leave any comments there.

So Mark Oaten has departed from the Lib Dem leadership race, his campaign having been met with a certain amount of derision and rather a lot of underwhelmed silence. While some people clearly have a lot of faith in him and others were out to get him from the start, most gave him a fair shot and were simply unimpressed.

From my own point of view, I've never been a fan - rather the opposite - but I'd come to realise over the last year or two that he wasn't the scary right-wing nasty man he'd initially seemed. As a result I was open to the possibility I might be convinced by his leadership credentials although I thought it was a very unlikely prospect indeed. Once the campaign started and I saw him in action, though, it seemed to me very obvious that he didn't have what it takes.

Quite apart from any other critera based on philosophy or ambition to take the party forward, he simply didn't look like a leader. No-one takes the slightest bit of notice of the leader of the Liberal Democrats unless that leader makes them take notice, or is such an exotic creature that he or she is rendered newsworthy by their mere existance, as Paddy Ashdown, Boris Johnson, Mo Mowlem and George Galloway all are or were (to ping-pong randomly around the political spectrum in search of examples). Oaten is not a politician in that mould. He is simply another man in a suit.

So who's left?

Chris Huhne is the man with the Big Mo - and I'm not referring to the late former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland this time. The momentum behind Huhne, and the A-list of supporters he's attracting, is very impressive. I'm not quite sure what's doing it, as his performance is sound and professional rather than sparkling and inspiring. Undoubtedly he is the candidate who is most engaged with policy and generating new ideas - but he reminds me a lot of people I used to see in the Green Party: their arguments are irrefutable, but their manner is unelectable. Under Huhne we would swiftly be ghettoised back in the loony fringe, however unfairly, with the inevitable electoral consequences.

Simon seems to have gone a bit quiet recently. I hope he's not ill. Ming seems to be cranking it up, by contrast, recovering with a far sounder PMQs performance this week. I'm almost at the point where I can come out an support him. But not quite - not yet.

Away from the turbulance of the Parliamentary scene, I am currently doing my first bit of campaigning since I retired from active politics in 2003, by helping out an old friend who is up for re-election to the local council in May and faces attacks from all sides. We went touring the ward with him to take photos for a leaflet we're designing for him and his running mates, ending up at a small community sports club. This club has been built up from almost nothing by one dedicated man, who has organised the renovation of a clubhouse, the fitting-out of three soccer pitches and the survival, revival or creation of numerous teams for players of both genders and all ages - he even runs that very rare thing, a disabled soccer team. Amazingly, the clubhouse and dug-outs have no graffiti - a clear sign that he's having an impact on the local youth too.

And you know what? He says none of it would have been possible without my friend the councillor, who championed him against the initial suspicions of residents fearing noise, vandalism and disruption and who helped him wade his way though bureaucracy and paperwork. It was a wonderful reminder of why good people - like my friend - get involved in politics, what they can achieve, and why it all matters.

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From the passenger seat

Originally published at And Then He Said.... Please leave any comments there.

Something you don't see every day: a London Underground District Line train being driven round the M25 this morning on the back of a lorry. If this is the Greater London Authority's latest attempt to get people to commute using public transport, all I can say is they seem to have missed the point somewhat.

Tube train on the back of a lorry on the motorway: 1
The next train is for Ealing Broadway

Tube train on the back of a lorry on the motorway: 2
Mind the gap

Tube train on the back of a lorry on the motorway: 3
Stand clear of the closing doors

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Wednesday whinges

Originally published at And Then He Said.... Please leave any comments there.

Ugh. Someone in the next cubicle in the gents' just now was finishing off a crafty cigarette and now I stink of smoke…

On another note, why are so many good domain names taken but undeveloped? I've been sniffing around after ones for some business ideas I have and all the best ones have been taken - but don't have websites attached. People, if you're not going to launch a site, give up the name so others can use it! It's very galling.

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Changing room buttocks

Originally published at And Then He Said.... Please leave any comments there.

It was a bad buttock night tonight at the gym.

There's an etiquette to men's changing rooms in England, quite different to the one I found when I was in Iceland. It may, thinking about it, have evolved from what you did at school when you were changing after games lessons and knew you'd get chased into the shower by a hairy rugby teacher if you didn't shed your childish inhibitions and get your kit off quickly. (Unlike school days, however, it's not the done thing when you're an adult to roll your towel into a tight whip and slash at your fellow changers' legs as they skitter past.)

The approved way of acting is to ignore the other chap's clothing status. If you walk in, kitbag on shoulder, to get changed and spot the fellow you thrashed at squash last week, you simply nod a manly hello, just as if you'd spotted him across the street. You do this irrespective of whether he is fully dressed, stalking back damply from the shower clutching a towel in front of him, or wearing a jacket and tie from the waist up and stark bollock naked from the waist down.

Now, it so happens that I don't know anyone at the club (I'm more likely to play in the traffic than play squash) so I don't need to worry about that aspect of things. I just have to remember the etiquette for my own nudity. This boils down, basically, to one maxim: be cool.

Wrap a towel around you when you're walking to and from the showers, by all means, but if you're too fat or the towel's too small just hold it casually in front of you. Flaunting the fact you're hung like a donkey is a social faux pas, but indulging in desperate contortions to hide yourself is, frankly, just as embarrassing. And buttocks are just buttocks - not worth disguising at all.

Of course, there's an undercurrent to all this studied nonchalence. Or rather, two undercurrents. One can best be expressed as “is he fatter than me?”. The other is, of course, “is my dick bigger than his?”. I shan't comment on my position in these two great debates (you all know I'm overweight anyway), instead I'll just sit here and smile enigmatically. One doesn't stare, of course, but you can learn an awful lot in the split second between noticing the figure in the corner of your eye has dropped his shorts and finding a legitimate and entirely coincidental reason to be facing the other direction. And if the naked figure is waddling out of the showers, and you're heading off to use them yourself, then you'll be practically in a position to produce an anatomical drawing by the time you get past him, despite your best intentions to treat him like your bank manager.

So, a typically English solution - lots of unspoken rules to regulate a potentially embarrassing situation. No-one ever tells you them, you just grow up knowing them. The trouble comes when someone appears who doesn't know them, or doesn't care about them.

Some days ago I was returning from the showers, daydreaming vacantly, and turned the corner to the seat closest to the locker where my clothes were. At first I wasn't sure what I was looking at, so unexpected was the vision that appeared in front of me. And then it snapped horribly into focus. Two very large, very white, very hairy, very wobbly buttocks thrust upwards to the sky as the owner bent forward to dry one of his feet - a foot he'd placed up on the seat I'd been planning to use. I beat a hasty retreat.

Not long after, I found myself drying my hair next to one of the club's few blatant exhibitionists. My secret vice is that I like to use the hairdryer there - with my barnet the length it is at the moment, attacking it with a hairdryer gives me the ludicrously bouffant locks of a WWE wrestler. This guy looked like a wrestler too - he was obviously born to be a snarling bad guy, the sort of wrestler who is basically triangular with shoulders that won't fit through the door and a body that tapers down past endless perfectly-defined muscles to a washboard-flat stomach. In this guy's case, once you got there a tattoo declared ominously “Only God can judge me”. He stood in front of the mirror, twisting this way and that as he teased his close-cut hair and examined his muscles from all angles. He wore no shirt and his jeans were artfully undone, staying round his waist in direct defiance of the law of gravity, the fly open far enough to allow the bulge in his underpants to be on full display. And you know what they say about bodybuilders on steroids? Either it's not true, or this guy's clean as a whistle.

But these events took place a few days ago. So why did I start this post by saying it was a bad buttock night?

Well, I was sat down shortly before leaving, putting my shoes on, when I chanced to look up. There in front of my eyes, close enough to bite, was a pair of buttocks. They were so close that I could have easily stuck out a finger and - well, anyway, you get the picture. The owner, I think, didn't know the rules. I was sitting directly in front of his locker, he needed something from within it (his underpants, hopefully), so he went and opened it, ignoring the effect on me, sitting there at cheek level. Now, I like a shapely pair of buttocks as much as the next man, but there are limits. I felt like tapping him politely on the shoulder and saying 'now look here, old chap, this simply isn't on'.

I mean, if anyone's going to stick their arse in my face like that, I expect at the very least to be taken to dinner first…

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Life lessons

Originally published at And Then He Said.... Please leave any comments there.

From observation tonight in the changing rooms at the club, I can give you this piece of advice:

If you're a fat, dark-skinned man you really should think twice before wearing bright white y-fronts.

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Pumped out

Originally published at And Then He Said.... Please leave any comments there.

This is utterly ridiculous.

The car's almost out of petrol and I've now made four attempts to refill it today. Failed every time because of the effects of wombats panic-buying.

Twice during the daylight hours I went to petrol stations only to be driven off by queues that stretched into the next county. A third time the queue was marginally shorter - although the fat-head at the front of it was filling petrol cans, which he stashed in his boot once he'd also filled the car - so I stuck with it until a pump came free. Turned out it was a diesel pump, but discovering this cost me my place in the queue and I couldn't be arsed to go through the whole jostling-for-position thing again, so off I went.

Just now I went out specifically for petrol, figuring that now night's well and truly fallen all the panic-wombats would have gone home and there'd only be a little casual passing trade to contend with.

We found out earlier today that our favourite all-night garage has been bulldozed - presumably to build flats on, or possibly yet another Tesco - but I tried all our other usual haunts. Most were closed, one had sold out of everything except diesel, and the third had nothing left but chocolate, the Daily Sport and those dodgy Ginsters pasties full of cheesy slime.

I wouldn't mind all that much, but we need to be able to get to the hospital at the moment to visit a sick relative. So tomorrow's going to be fuel-hunt day.

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