Monday, November 28, 2011

I'm sure that one day I'll look back and laugh...

‘I’ll try and get up now.’


The nurse proffered her shoulder as support.

‘Hey, it’s handy me being this teeny isn’t it.’

I didn’t answer that and made my way back on to the undersized stretcher/trolley.

The doctor reappeared.

‘He just got up on his own,’ explained the nurse and disappeared.

The doctor told me to stay put until I felt truly able to walk and then he left. I stayed put on the undersized stretcher/trolley for another hour or so. I then felt as though I had rallied. There was no sign of anyone coming back to monitor me, so I thought I’d get dressed and head for the taxi rank.
I slowly stood and peeked out into the corridor. I could see the reception desk staff and could hear them chatting about the expense of the extras in the new Mini Cooper. My faculties seemed to be in order. My nurse looked across.

‘Just thought I’d stand up and get ready,’ I said.

‘Right you are.’ She smiled her kindly smile and continued her conversation, which had moved on to woefully inadequate boot size.

When I came to on the corridor floor, what can only be described as a crowd had gathered around me. Many faces peered down at me - some with kindly smiles (staff), others without (passing patients).

Sunday, November 27, 2011

You show me yours.....

So, hospitals continue to host some of the most embarrassing incidents in my life. There's nothing like a bang on the head to aid reminiscence.

When I was nineteen years old a lump appeared at the very base of my spine. It was the result of an ingrowing hair – a common masculine complaint – and had to be excised. A small operation was necessary. I attended my appointment and did exactly as I was told. The young nurse seemed personable - she put me at me ease about the minor nature of the procedure and the swift recovery I could expect. I had read the guidance leaflet and knew that pre-operative shaving was necessary.

‘I will, of course, have to shave your…er…bottom area. So, if you could just get yourself ready on the bed. I’ll get the shaving stuff.’

I was painfully shy as a youth. I was, therefore, troubled in the extreme by the idea of lying naked on a hospital bed behind a thin curtain in a busy ward. I had seen plenty of hospital-based comedy in my time. I knew that mistakes were easily made in such hectic environments. Hospital staff could easily fling back the wrong curtain. I imagined a consultant at the head of a cohort of eager medical students with pencils poised over notebooks. The group would be moving at speed and the consultant would be cavalier in his approach to personal privacy, guessing at the location of an interesting case of elephantitis he had heard about. In his attempt to broaden the experience of his proteges he would inadvertently show them the pale backside of a shy young man from Fallowfield.

My fears were unfounded or, at least, inaccurate. The curtain was pulled back by the correct nurse. She entered and placed the shaving paraphernalia on the bedside table, turning swiftly to restore the curtain and preserve my dignity. I looked back. A large can of shaving foam, a bowl of water, a towel and a disposable razor sat on a small tray. I was slightly perturbed by the low quality razor and the prospect of dabbing shaving wounds with a styptic pencil. I was more perturbed by the nurse’s hesitation:

‘Right….er…I think I’ve got everything we need. Razor, foam, water, towel. Yes….everything we need.’

By this point I was quite relaxed. But then I have always found the nervousness of others quite tranquilising. How, I thought to myself, could this situation become any more embarrassing? Once embarrassment has been achieved to this level, surely it can only plateau and result in the getting on with the task in hand. I looked around at the nurse. The cheap razor trembled in her hand. Her embarrassment had not peaked, it was refusing to plateau and seemed instead to be turning into terror:

‘I, I can’t do this,’ she whimpered. ’I’m sorry.’

She fled. Moments later a burly male nurse appeared and held the razor with a steady hand. As he wordlessly prepared me for surgery, I could hear a group of chattering medical students trooping past. They didn’t trouble my curtain.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

'it might make you a little bit woozy....'

The only option left for paramedics in a small vehicle who can’t right an upturned house husband is to call an ambulance - so an ambulance was called.

‘It’s not an emergency one’, explained Clive. ‘It’ll probably take about an hour. They’ll not keep you in though. My guess is Diazepam and codeine and then back home. You’ll not be dancing, but you’ll be mobile’

Clive was happy with the fact that the ambulance was in no hurry and squeezed in a few more telly questions to Maude, before surprising her with a fan-like hug and kiss as he made his exit. Robert looked vaguely embarrassed and waved awkwardly.

Maude filled one of the children’s backpacks with my pyjama bottoms and a toothbrush, ‘just in case’.

My battered back felt every bump in the road, as I took in the multitude of signs on the interior of the ambulance. Most of them could be boiled down to the simple message: ‘please don’t hit the ambulance staff, they are trying to help you’.

I was, as ever, too long for the stretcher. My feet protruded over the end and it was my feet that opened the plastic trimmed doors of the Accident & Emergency department. The staff nurse’s greeting ‘We’ve got a tall one here’  set the tone for the rest of this healthcare experience.

After the inevitable wait of an hour, a doctor appeared. His eyes were bloodshot, but he seemed thorough and concerned enough. After much probing and examination, he fulfilled Clive’s prediction:

‘Diazepam. It’s a muscle relaxant – it might make you a little bit woozy. And something for the pain. You should then be able to go straight home, but not driving yourself.’

I noticed that he was eyeing my feet as they extended beyond the end of the stretcher. I was wearing rather fetching socks, but later realised that he was making a prescribing decision based on a bloodshot visual assessment of my body size.

‘I think you’re the tallest person I’ve ever met’, observed the nurse, as she squeezed past my feet and into the cubicle.

She set a small paper cup of medication beside me, along with a paper cup with just insufficient water to properly swallow all of the tablets.

I took the medication and waited. An hour or so passed. It felt safe to try and get to my feet. The pain had subsided. It felt good to be able to slowly straighten up. I tried to focus on the Angel of the North – a motif on hospital curtains in the Gateshead area. I couldn’t, I passed out.

I came to on the floor of the cubicle. I understood that I had fainted, but that my collapse had gone unheard. I stretched painfully to reach a cardboard vomit catcher from a trolley and hit the call button.

The dispensing nurse arrived and seemed unmoved. She folded a blanket and put it under my head, which was lolling on my outstretched arm.

‘Just lie there until you feel a bit better, pet.’

I lay there and squinted up. The nurse looked down and smiled a kindly smile, in much the same way that Clive and Robert had smiled kindly smiles.

Laid Low

I had been struggling under the sympathetic gazes of Clive and Robert, the paramedics, for a good fifteen minutes. Maude winced, smiled, looked away, smiled, looked at her watch.

What I was trying to do was quite simple. I was trying to stand up. My lumbago had begun to stir at the weekend:

Toddler into bath, toddler out of bath. Attention-seeking four year old up the steep stairs to bed. Bored, screaming four year old lifted off bicycle not long  after start of bike ride. Deceptively heavy child’s bike carried by Daddy for rest of bike ride route etc…

My back was an accident waiting to happen. As I failed to launch from the living room carpet, I had to admit to that the accident had, indeed, happened.

Clive was the senior paramedic or ‘nurse practitioner’, as he clarified. He had recognised Maude on his arrival at the house.

‘Well I know who you are!’

Maude’s recent reality TV debut had caused something of a stir in the area and Clive was clearly an aficionado of the show. He sat and asked me the regulation questions for his forms: age, details of medical history, how I came to be helplessly prone on my own living room floor. He sped through them while his assistant checked my blood pressure and took a blood sample. Clive’s eyes moved frequently from me to Maude. He could hold out no longer:

‘But what about that hairdresser?! How did you not just throw him out of your house?’

Maude happily filled Clive in on some of the backstage secrets of the show and joked about the menu choices of her fellow contestants. Clive reminded her of some of her funniest remarks and commented on how much Maude reminded him of his favourite sister.

I coughed weakly from the floor. It was then that Clive and Robert tried to manoeuvre me from beetle stranded on back to fully functioning stay at home Dad.

‘Well, we could give you a painkilling injection, but that’ll not necessarily get you off the floor. Go on, have another go.’

As I managed to get onto my hands and knees, I could feel a bead of sweat dripping off the end of my nose and extreme pain radiating from a source somewhere around a twenty six year old operation scar. I steeled myself for one last attempt on ‘upright’. As I crumpled back to the floor, I could hear a ringtone of unfamiliar young person’s music coming from Robert’s mobile phone. He apologised as he rifled through his bag. I could also hear Clive.

‘You’ve  got a lovely house, by the way. Looked much bigger on the telly though.’

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Rude Awakening

I could sense Maude’s presence beside me, before I officially woke up. I could feel that she was regarding me closely. Not fair, I thought, to survey ones partner first thing in the morning when they are feigning sleep to avoid getting up with the kids because it can’t possibly be their turn to do so again. I was conscious that I looked weary – the strain of childcare was undoubtedly showing.

I chanced one open eye and, indeed, there she was:

‘You look about a hundred!’ she laughed.

‘Good morning to you’ seemed the only dignified response. ‘I’ll have a rejuvenating shower and hope to pass for a sprightly octogenarian.’

As Maude gets older, she gets better in so many ways.

She also gets more like her father.

(Crawford is well into his seventies and most of his news on the telephone relates to death or serious illness. Augusta too, although significantly younger and more active than Crawford, can be similarly morbid.)

Maude’s initial amusement at my cadaverous pallour soon turned, as ever, to talk of tests at the doctors and the inconvenience that would be caused by my early death.

‘It’s good that you’re not driving so far any more, but you really need to look after yourself. Have you been taking those supplements I got for you? They were very expensive…... Do I have any clean pants?’

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Stay at Home, Dad

‘You didn’t come back this week!’ said my neighbour, Vanessa, as we queued for coffee in the church hall.

I didn’t feel the need to tell her that my confidence had been knocked a little by the frosty reception I received on my first visit to ‘Rhymetime’. Magnus the librarian was thoroughly welcoming and happily wrote a sticky name label for Jocasta to wear.

Some of the mothers, however, seemed perturbed by the presence of a stay at home Dad. They all seemed to know each other and were clearly such regular attenders that Magnus had pre-prepared badges for their children.

Three of the little girls present were all called Sophia. One mother pointed out that her child’s name was ‘Sofia with an ‘f’'.

I threw myself into proceedings, nonetheless, and sang the rhymes with gusto.

It was halfway through ‘Incey Wincey Spider’ that I thought I caught some non-verbal communication occurring between two of the mothers. Some kind of signal passed between them involving a nod towards me. Both women had younger babies – as well as their Sofia/Sophias. They began to unbutton their cheesecloth blouses and, each with a steely eye on me, started breast-feeding.

I was not put off by this nursing offensive. I carried on singing and making spider
hands. It was at this point that Magnus announced the banana break. His assistant
emerged with a platter of sliced fruit.

The nursing mothers whispered to their Sophia/Sofias that they should hurry and get some fruit as a reward for all their wonderful singing. I wasted no time whispering and shoved Jocasta in the general direction of the fruit.

‘Nana!’ cried my youngest. As she motored towards the platter, she inadvertently winged a Sophia/Sofia and sent her into a bean bag.

I heard at least one gasp from the Sophia/Sofia side of the room and smiled in the general direction of the mothers. 

Mother one reciprocated with an incey wincey smile. Mother two looked past me and switched breasts.

Friday, September 30, 2011

'I'm away now....'

I used to sell books. I sold new books in a city centre bookshop - where they made me wear a lanyard. At weekends I sold old books on a stall at Tynemouth Market. Like many regular public gatherings, Tynemouth Market had an 'eccentric'. His name was something like Cyril and he was somehere around seventy years old. Cyril was covered in badges - they were all over his frock coat, his flat cap and were glued to his walking stick.

Cyril would 'perform' his eccentricity for traders and customers: loudly telling spectacularly old jokes and singing music hall standards. He once saw me doing a crossword and informed the whole market:

'We've got one of them clever ones here!'

Tynemouth Market takes place in Tynemouth Station. Book and bric-a-brac business is punctuated by the arrival and departure of trains on the metro loop from Newcastle. Cyril would announce his own departure with some grandeur - waving his stick and shouting:

'I'm away now! I'm away!'

He was, in the main, ignored.

Cyril would tarry - even letting his train pass if necessary - until the loss of the 'life and soul' of the market was fittingly acknowledged.

'I'm away now! I'm away!'

Eventually a couple of people (possibly tourists) would wave back and that was usually enough for him.

Today was my last day at work. Morag was all smiles yesterday - looking forward to 'a face to face handover' of any oustanding tasks on my to do list.

'I'll be out all morning,' she said, 'see you at about 1.30.'

I have always wanted to walk away from a job at lunchtime and here was my chance.

It was just before noon. I left a note for Sadie and punched 'send' on a handover email to Morag. The faculty admin staff were busy speaking loud English at some newly-arrived Asian students. I squeezed into the lift with a grumpy porter and a trolley. At ground level I was swept into the youthful tide of students leaving the building and entering the quad. They massed towards the university refectory. I turned away for the car park - telling nobody in particular as I went...

'I'm away now! I'm away!'

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

'I'll be a bit like you, Dad, but with small children.’

‘So when is it you retire?’

I was glad to hear that my father hadn’t lost his sense of humour in the face of  blindness and general decrepitude.

‘It’s not retirement Dad, it’s redundancy. I’m hoping it won’t be forever. And anyway, I’ll be a 'stay at home dad'. I'll be a bit like you, Dad, but with small children.’

Up to now, I have Monday and Tuesday mornings covered at the local library – ‘storytime’ and ‘rhymetime’ respectively. ‘Gym Tots’ is restarting on Thursdays in October, apparently.

So that just leaves Wednesdays and Fridays to fill. Aurora is at school now and it’s to be hoped that Jocasta doesn’t grow out of epic midday naps before the spring.

To her credit, Maude has been trying to ease my transition from paid employment to playground fixture. She has identified another stay at home dad in the neighbourhood. She befriended him at the library and is now trying to engineer a meeting between us. His name features prominently on her clipboard to-do list and I hear that he is an unflappable natural at shepherding his two small children around our new local National Trust adventure playground..

I feel like a child being forced to play with children I don’t know.

‘I’d rather', I suggested, 'that we became acquainted in a more natural way, darling.’

Maude retrieved her clipboard. With a sigh, she scored out the name of the village's only other known stay at home dad.

‘What you mean is that you aren’t keen because he has long hair and his little boy is called Thor.’

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

'A Little Does...'

We left my in-laws’ house in the brightest sunshine. The drums of the apprentice boys could be heard in the distance as they practised for some march or other. 

Crawford had been enjoying a quiet cigarette and some sporting commentary on the radio in his jeep as we packed the car – winding down his window on occasion to offer packing tips and comment on our tyre pressure.

‘The natives are restless’ he observed, dramatically cupping his ear and wincing as he descended to the gravel.

‘Yes, we know’ replied Maude ‘that’s why we thought we’d take the children to the caravan for a few days.’

The girls love being at their grandparents’ house and their grandparents enjoy the contact, but older people also like to have their space back fairly promptly.

Crawford had begun to spend long stretches of time ensconced in his jeep. Augusta too had sought sanctuary – locking herself in the summer house. As we left she was even wearing her large headphones. This gave her the look of a 'Mr and Mrs' contestant waiting to be tested on just how well she knew her partner of 42 years.

Maude and I agreed that the time was right to take advantage of the offer of a loaned caravan on the pleasantly named ‘Juniper Hill’ site in Portstewart – just next to the field reserved for drive-in gospel sessions.

Shortly after we located the correct caravan and installed the children, the rain that was to last the entire duration of our stay began. Drizzle turned to heavy rain and it beat a steady rhythm on the roof of the caravan which insisted it was heard over the sound of children’s television.

‘Is that the drummer boys again, Daddy?’

‘No darling, unfortunately, it isn’t.’

Monday, July 11, 2011

People always need windows..

My best man Miles called today - out of the blue. Always a tonic, he told me about his all expenses paid week in Mauritius with other members of a 'Platinum Club' of salesmen. This group is comprised of the most effective members of the sales team at Albion Windows and Miles almost gave himself a sickener of champagne and lunchtime mojitos.

The platinum reward had been for Miles plus one. He had nobly offered the opportunity to me. 

Maude vetoed it:

‘You’re a lightweight – you’ll never keep up with him.’

I suspect Mrs Miles had that very quality in mind when she suggested my name.  Miles took his brother-in-law instead – still finding a way to please Mrs Miles.

It now feels, however, like a missed networking opportunity. I might have osmotically absorbed some sales nous from the platinum chaps in readiness for my impending, and as yet undefined, new direction. I ventured to Miles that my years of experience helping to take art to the undercultured had made me virtually unemployable.

‘I was in the same boat son. Just sell windows! Anyone could do it. Not everyone can do it to ‘platinum’ standard, obviously. But people are staying put in their houses and - at some point - people always need windows.’

I dictated my email address to Miles. He promised to email something guaranteed to make me soil myself with mirth.

‘I’ll just bang it straight into my i-pad 2’ .

As susceptible as the next man to the seductive appeal of new technology, I asked a few questions about the 'spec' on his new machine. Over the course of several minutes he gave me the low-down on what the machine took only several seconds to ‘rip through’. I then made the mistake of asking when he bought his i-pad – forgetting  his status as a prominent member of the Albion Platinum Club.

‘I didn’t buy it, bonny lad. I achieved it.’

Friday, July 01, 2011

Redundancy Roadshow

Why does every event that travels have to be described as a ‘roadshow’?

Where is the ‘show’ element in a room full of people being told that they are being made redundant and then being told in great detail how they will be made redundant? 

It’s more an ‘end-of-the-road’ show.

I thought that my last visit to our National Office was to be my last visit to our National Office, but a final invitation was made by Dave when we met a couple of weeks ago. He told me in his best sober tone that a ‘roadshow’ had been developed to support staff ‘at this depressing time’.  I was reminded of Dave yesterday. During a drama project evaluation some extrovert Year 6 children showed me their best ‘serious faces’.

They should have asked me to programme the roadshow content. I would have taken my lead from ‘The Producers’ and produced a bona fide 'show' : 

‘P45: The Musical’. 

The big number would be a redundant rabble rouser to the tune of ‘YMCA’ with a chorus of ‘P-forty-five’ and a dance routine spelling that out in human form. It could sweep the nation - an 'Agadoo' for our times.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Project End

I arranged a school visit today for Dave from Head Office. Morag came along too. It’s a likeable school with a likeable Headteacher and an exquisitely creative approach to teaching poor kids from a sprawling council estate on the fringes of a culturally barren city in the North East of England.

All boxes ticked.

Dave is a thoroughly decent, uncomplicated, chap. I’ve always admired his straightforwardness: family car, wedding ring, sensible haircut, Blue Harbour wardrobe. Dave, to his credit, can be relied upon to tell the truth.
Morag had rewritten the agenda for the day – so that I could talk through the creative highlights of the current programme with Dave over lunch at The National Clay Pipe Centre. She would then get strategic with Dave in camera elsewhere.

Thankfully, Dave’s straightforwardness won out and he got strategic over lunch.

‘The consultation process will begin in June and we are planning to issue redundancy notices in July.’

I had been preparing for this moment and remained unfazed. Morag went very red in the face.

I suspect that she would have preferred to have the power of the redundancy knowledge in her back pocket as leverage for several weeks. She could then maintain her approach of going out to meetings all day every day, after an early morning ‘high importance’ email to me overhauling my priorities and To-do list with an urgency that wouldn’t be out of place in a war situation.

In fact, she observed last week that what I needed was a war map with miniature schools and artists in place of tanks and warships. This was in order to plan and monitor our work. I countered that she would derive much more enjoyment from a war map. I stopped short of suggesting that it should be housed in a bunker – a considerable distance from the office.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Battle of Message Drift

I was at the final Programme Meeting for the organisation the other day. It was, as ever, at Lovely Space in St Pancras. There wasn’t much enthusiasm on show at  breakfast – most of those present knew they were earmarked for redundancy.

The theme of the day was how to best capture the evidence of all the good we have done in order to leave a legacy which makes the case that the good work continues in some new guise in some new, more sympathetic landscape at some point in the future. It is basically the premise of Christian faith and we were being asked to pray, but I was looking at the faces of unbelievers at the breakfast table.

We were asked to moderate some project evaluations and hold up small placards reading either ‘Met’ or ‘Not Met’. I was feeling more Craig Revel-Horwood than Len Goodman and waved ‘Not Met’. We had to handwrite our own ‘Not Met’ signs – as there were none available on the table top. I felt like such a maverick.

We were presented with a changed agenda for the day. The National Director had re-jigged his schedule in order to join us in the afternoon – to avert, I suspected, what I had heard described recently as ‘message drift’. He was planning to float around the tables during the ‘reflection’ session. I could imagine his presence clearly – glasses perched on head, eyes closed for deep reflection before smiled words of encouragement, agreement and marvel at the truly original expressions of programme reflection from toadies hopeful of a glowing reference to accompany their imminent P45. I could imagine it all so clearly I didn’t really see the need to wait for it.

I claimed childcare and wandered around the shops for a couple of hours. I bought a very fetching shirt in MUJI. They appeared to be exclusively playing the Smiths, so I tarried a little – enjoying my brief spell off-radar. The boy on the checkout opined that The Smiths touched people for nostalgic reasons. For true influence, he rated The Fall. He told me that the manager didn’t let him play The Fall. I was unsurprised, but commiserated nonetheless.

Friday, April 29, 2011


‘One of the ornamental trees fell on the front pews. Prince Philip is quite badly scratched and he’s blaming members of the Tongan entourage for bringing about the accident by shimmying up the tree for a better view. I did catch a glimpse of the queen’s knickers in the pell mell, but looked away like the good subject I am.’

Maude had taken Aurora up to the loo. The excitement of the vows and the struggle to get the ring on had all been too much for both of them: a toilet break was needed. I had been asked to watch Jocasta and provide commentary, but nothing of note was actually happening.

‘Oh, and Harry has just emerged from behind an arras. His hair is even more tousled than it was. Pretty sure he just winked at one of the security men. The cameraman has gone in close now and Huw Edwards is trying not to mention the vivid smear of lipstick on the lad’s cheek. Harry's examining his outfit for a working pocket. He has a small piece of paper in his hand – possibly a phone number.... 

I could hear a tap running.

‘Wash wash wash dear and don’t, whatever you do, listen to Daddy.’