Total Pageviews

Featured post

Someday My Prints Will Come

I don't know about you (well, obviously I don't, I'm not even sure who you are) but Amazon and their associates have the happy ...

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

I was a stranger and ye took me in - Second Visitation

Readers of the original post on this topic (I was a stranger and ye took me in ) will know that I have some issues with the B&B crowd.  My antipathy toward this concept came to the fore again the other night when I was watching the latest episode in “The Hotel Inspector” where Alex Polizzi was trying to persuade a charming but out of touch couple to update their stately B&B.  The wife of this couple, at one point, made the plaintive comment that “this is our private home” which had me frothing at the mouth immediately.  This couple were charging guests £200 per night for one of their luxurious bedrooms plus breakfast.  It seems to me that this is the central flaw in the B&B concept that you are somehow inviting visitors into your own home and therefore have a right to have the decoration and amenities that you want and your guests should be suitably grateful.  My message to those who think like this is as follows:

Once you ask someone to pay for their stay with you, it is no longer ‘your private home’ but becomes an hotel.  THIS IS PARTICULARLY THE CASE IF YOU’RE TAKING £200 A NIGHT FROM THEM!

I once stayed in a similar (although much cheaper) establishment on the Welsh Borders.  The place was stacked full of antiques and photos abounded of the owners meeting various members of the Royal Family, which I assume was to put the visitor in his/her place from the outset.  This was one of those places where you get the impression that the room you are occupying normally belongs to someone else, who could come back at any moment.  In this case, most of the wardrobe space was taken up with the carefully packaged clothing of their daughter (photos of whom took pride of place on every available surface).  I confidently expected her to stride through at some point, jodhpurs steaming, to effect a quick change before the Hunt Ball (which I always thought of as a competition).  My question is, why do we assume that this is a perfectly ok way to treat paying guests in a B&B when we wouldn’t accept it for a moment in a hotel?

I’ve written before about the time when I was given a camp bed in someone’s study in a B&B in Dublin and again was made to feel that I should be grateful for it (see Occasional Showers in Steady Past Your Granny’s).

If you ever watched that series called (I think) “Three in a Bed” where various couples who ran B&Bs took it in turns to stay at each other’s establishments and criticise same, then you will definitely have seen this mindset demonstrated.  I remember one hostess becoming very upset because her ‘guests’ had not even touched her fresh fruit breakfast creation.  It never occurred to her that as paying customers they should have what they wanted not what she wanted to give them (and be praised for).  We recently stayed at a B&B in Llangollen where I was astonished to be told that I would have to remove my shoes before climbing the stairs so as not to spoil the cream coloured carpet.  Why it never occurred to anybody to consider the advisability of fitting a cream coloured carpet in a heavy traffic area and to perhaps think about changing the carpet rather than training the customers, I just do not know.

Is it just me or does anyone else out there agree?I

Saturday, 28 August 2010

A Burtonian-English Phrase Book - Part 2

A few more handy phrases for those stumbling into the dark recesses of the East Midlands:
Ah toadim
I advised him
Buree wunner lissen
Nevertheless, he ignored my advice
E wunner dothat, woody?
Surely he will refrain from that course of action
E willenhall
He may well do that
Eez no good tilleez adiz beer
He only reaches peak performance when inebriated
Ahv addit upter ear
I have reached a point of no return
Ahm chocker
I am somewhat depressed

Arl goaterther futof ahr stairs!
I am quite surprised!
Eel catchiz deafof cowd
I fear for his health in this weather
Gerroff, eez nesh
Not at all, he has a heightened sensitivity to cold conditions
Gerrerway wivyer
I do not believe you
Eel do izzelfa mischief
I fear he may strain himself
Eez urtizelf
As predicted, he is injured

Dunner be mardy
Do not over dramatise the extent of the pain

You can find Part 1of this helpful primer by clicking on the link, and more from Phil Whiteland in e-book format - Steady Past Your Granny's

Friday, 27 August 2010

A Burtonian-English Phrase Book - Part 1

There has been a lot of talk in the media about the public school background of Nick and Dave and whether this means that they cannot relate to 'the ordinary man' (whoever he is). It therefore occurred to me that, in the event that they might take it upon themselves to visit the home of British Brewing (and Marmite) in Burton upon Trent, they might appreciate a useful phrase book to guide them when talking with some of the older denizens. For those who might be completely perplexed by what follows, I strongly suggest reading the Burtonian versions out loud.
Burtonian: E inner gunner do that izzy?
Translation: Surely he is not going to perform that function?

Azi brawtiz snap wivvim?
Does he have a packed lunch in his possession?

E inner rightin the yed.
(A diagnosis of mental incompetence)
E yain’t the full shillin’
(A more detailed diagnosis)
I dunner no
I have no knowledge

Ashud I no?
Why would you anticipate that I had such knowledge?
Eez binan gonan dunnit now
His actions may have some repercussions

Lux likeez losta bob anfounder tanner
He has a doleful expression

E dunner wont wirk
Employment does not appeal to him

Ah cudduv sobbed
I was nearly reduced to tears

E dunnerno witchway tuturn
He was at a loss
Eel meet izzelf cumin back
He may be overdoing things a little
Sheafinks sheez summat butsheez knot
She affects airs and graces
Ah wudner givim time of day
He is not held in high esteem

Wodger goan do thatfer?
Why did you perform that activity?

You can find Part 2  of this helpful primer by clicking on the link, and more from Phil Whiteland in e-book format - Steady Past Your Granny's

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The law of diminishing returns

f you're as addicted to the concept of 'visitor numbers' as I am, then it's somewhat disconcerting to realise that these don't actually amount to a hill of beans. For example, according to authonomy, my thread publicising this blog has attracted a total of 355 visits to date. I suppose an optimist might anticipate that at least 1 in 10 of these visits might provoke a consequent visit to the blog under discussion, and yet the visitor numbers to the blog actually declined over the same period. According to Google Analytics, a total of 13 authonomites were kind enough to visit, for which I'm very grateful. All of which, I suppose, rather demonstrates the law of diminishing returns. I guess, ultimately, the number of visitors to the blog or backings for your book on authonomy, don't really amount to anything in real terms, the only thing that will matter in the end is how many people are convinced to put their hand in their pocket (or someone else's pocket, if they're so inclined) and pay for our work. Until then, the numbers are an interesting distraction but nothing more.

Sorry, I'm in that sort of mood today ;-(

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

A Bump on the Way

From my vantage point, on the balcony of our apartment, I can see a group of lads enthusiastically playing ‘catch’ in the pool below.  At the same time, two young boys in a rubber dinghy float past.  One of the pair is diligently baling water into the craft whilst the other watches glumly, not so much I suspect because of the sinking inevitably on the horizon, as the deepening pool of lukewarm water in which he now finds himself sitting.  On the other side of the pool are my daughter, son-in-law and grandchild.  Actually, that is a slight exaggeration.  The grandchild in question is something of a ‘work in progress’ at the moment and, therefore, hereinafter referred to as The Bump.

The Pool sans infants

You may have guessed that we are on holiday.  We are on the Costa Blanca.  Just for a week.  We Brits tend to do that, don’t we?  Ask someone where they are going and they will inevitably say “We’re going to XYZ, just for a (fill in suitably brief period of time here)” as if the admission of going on holiday at all is so inherently shameful that it has to be tempered with a modest time period.

As luck would have it, the holiday has fallen just after the early sickliness and traumas of the pregnancy and before the whole ‘beached whale’ period, when the Costa Blanca sun would be intolerable.  This is just me, God knows how my daughter copes!

All being well (all sentences relating to a future that contains a released version of The Bump tend to start with “all being well...” or “God willing...” or any variation on this theme) this will be the last holiday they have where they can get away with one carry-on suitcase (now there was a film that should never have been made) between them.  I have seen the future and it contains huge bags full of infant paraphernalia and the inevitable buggy.

Buggies intimidate me.  New mothers seem to quickly gain the knack of assembling these via a vicious, one-handed jerk of the wrist that could fell Jackie Chan (necessarily one-handed because the other contains screaming child + bag of goodies that may stop the screaming by one means or another).  I cannot do this.  The best I can manage is to get the contraption out of the car and onto the floor without amputating any digits or giving myself a hernia.

Whatever happened to prams?  When I was a babe in arms, a pram was a thing of beauty and a source of pride.  They would have been hopelessly impractical for dragging on to a Ryanair flight (unless you really wanted to take out a second mortgage) but, in their day, they were a statement of intent and social standing.  The parent of the 1950s might skimp on other elements of childcare, but no self-respecting mother would be seen out and about with a naff pram.  Being a pram manufacturer in the baby-boom 1940s and 1950s must have been like having a licence to print money.

Prams had a great similarity to the early ‘horseless carriages’.  Magnificent creations consisting of springs and highly polished metal, with hopelessly impractical wheels (destined for another life mobilising ‘go-karts’ when the child was older).  When you took your baby out for the first time, you were not so much displaying the infant as the pram, and both were likely to initiate ‘cooing’ noises and wide-eyed wonderment.  The pram’s purpose was to carry the post-war infant in a determinedly prone position, severely blanketed and protected from any (unlikely) sunshine by a hood that probably owed a debt of gratitude to the makers of black-out curtains.  Entertainment for the child (at least in my case) ran to a string of plastic lambs stretched across the conveyance in the child’s line of sight. 

At some point, in the not too distant future, one of more of the children clogging up the pool below me may well be my grandchild(ren).  Whether he/she/they will be one of the adventurous spirits leaping into the water fearlessly, with ear-splitting shrieks or, like one lad after my own heart, wind up playing bat and ball six feet away from the pool but with water-wings firmly fixed in place, only time will tell.  The only sure thing is that I will almost certainly view his/her/their activities with total indulgence, as opposed to the mild irritation currently engendered by other people’s children.

I must go now, the dinghy is finally sinking and I wouldn’t miss this for the world.

The first collection of stories - "Steady Past Your Granny's" is now available in Kindle e-book format at Amazon UK and Amazon USA.  This story features in the new bumper collection now released as a Kindle edition - "Crutches for Ducks" at and at

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Enough is as good as a Feast?

The theme for this generalised moan is the topic of over-indulgence.  Or rather, I should say, the concept that seems to have taken hold that we are all, in some form or other (and my form definitely comes in the ‘or other’ category), over-indulging.

What particularly irks me (and it doesn’t take a lot these days) is the idea that things that are necessary for survival, such as food and drink, can be labelled as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’.  To my mind, there is no such thing as ‘bad’ food.  If you were starving in a desert (and it’s always a desert for some reason, isn’t it) and a hamburger van drove up, you wouldn’t stop to debate whether this dietary choice was likely to be ‘good’ for you.  You would devour all of his/her wares with gusto (it’s like tomato sauce, only spicier) probably along with the tyres from the van and the proprietor, if he/she didn’t move fast enough.  All food is ‘good’ for you, in the sense that the absence of food is most definitely bad for you.  Yet we continue to beat ourselves up over every mouthful.

I suppose I should hasten to add that I am not a fantastic advert for the beneficial effects of a well-balanced diet.  My face appears to have gone into the chin-breeding business, my belt is fighting a losing battle with my girth and my forehead is racing toward the nape of my neck and destroying everything in its wake.  At this rate I will be able to frown at people standing directly behind me.  I accept (grudgingly) that most, if not all, of these effects are the result of a lethal combination of over-indulgence and sloth, rather than some form of biblical visitation (such as Job had to put up with).  My appearance is largely (and depressingly) a direct result of choices I have made.

Nowadays, we seem to be chivvied into making the ‘right’ choices by an unholy alliance of the government (who are trying to save money on healthcare – politicians of all stripes would happily see the populace dying in the streets if they could be sure that it wouldn’t impact on the healthcare system and we could bury ourselves as we fell), the media (who spend most of their time worrying the healthy and making programmes about the grotesquely unhealthy) and society in general (which tends to work on the assumption that ‘if it feels good…then you’re probably enjoying yourself far too much’)

Things that we should avoid, which are ‘bad’ for us, join an ever-growing list on a daily basis.  It seems that every time that I switch on the morning news there, on the sofa, will be a GP (who has really hit the gravy train) telling us that if we want to see the end of next week we should avoid whatever the particular peril of the day is (probably gravy).  All of this, I suspect, accounts for the preponderance of young girls, in my office, forlornly fishing beansprouts, rice and/or assorted greenery from their plastic lunchboxes instead of tucking in to a solid sandwich or a filled baguette.  Nothing will persuade me that this is a lifestyle choice made with a glad heart.  It all looks so boring!

To be fair, I rather suspect that there is something in the British psyche that secretly rather enjoys being told what to do, and suffering for it in silence.  Take rationing for instance.  I don’t have direct experience of this, as the last items on ration were derestricted in the year I was born (I take no credit for this, I just point it out and let others draw their own conclusions).  Apparently, the diet foisted on the Great British Public at that time was extremely healthy.  No-one starved (although I would imagine that mealtimes were pretty tedious – but then, so are beansprouts in a plastic box) and many look back on those days with fond memories.  It seems that, ever since, we have been stuffing our faces presumably in fear of rationing ever returning, but with increasing pangs of guilt.

The same is true of drinking.  Generations of Brits had been raised in the belief that it was pre-ordained that the boozers shut at 10.30 in the week and 11.00 on Fridays and Saturdays, and we all drank to this strict timetable.  When our beloved leaders decided that this was ridiculous (which it was) and we should have more liberal licensing laws, I imagine they fondly believed that we would adopt the continental approach to drinking.  Perhaps a pastis before lunch and a glass of red wine with our evening meal?  Not hordes of red-faced, slightly swaying imbibers continuing to drink at the same pace as they did when the pubs closed at 10.30, but with no discernible end in sight (which can be another problem of over-indulgence).  Yet our experience of the British abroad should have warned us what to expect.  Faced with endless (a) Sun, (b) Sangria and (c) Sand (anything else beginning with ‘S’ being right out due to the cumulative effect of (a) and (b) and the combined effect of friction and (c)), the average Brit attempts to cram as much as possible of (a) and (b) into their all too brief holiday.  It is as if a sort of challenge overcomes us as soon as we arrive on foreign soil, which is why you will see lines of heavily hung-over (or still inebriated) Brits at every Spanish airport, shuffling morosely toward the check-in desk, reeking of after-sun and after-Sangria, and proudly wearing T-shirts sporting such legends as:

Born to Boogie
Burnt to B*gg*ry
Espana, 2010
We seem to need parameters.  Within our known confines we can behave relatively sensibly, because we know our (and Society’s) limitations.  Look at how readily the smoking in public places ban has been adopted.  Without these borderlines, we seem to lose all sense of self-control.  Common sense (if there is such a thing) should tell us that a diet of premium lager, fish and chips and a side order of doughnuts, may have adverse effects on our appearance and longevity, but since when was common sense any fun?  None of these elements are ‘bad’ for us, if consumed from time to time (and not time after time after time).  It is only our innate puritan streak that tells us we should feel guilty about what we consume and which causes us to kick over the traces the moment we escape from the twin barriers of legislation and peer pressure in the UK.

I’m not sure what the answer is to all of this, if indeed there is one or needs to be one.  Perhaps the beansprout-eating young ladies are an indication of a more sensible and liberated generation to come, which I would love to believe if I was not sure that, faced with a box of chocolates, they would descend on them like a ravening horde, all the while saying “I shouldn’t really be eating these you know”.

Thanks for asking, yes I’ll have a pint of lager and a packet of crisps, please.  On second thoughts, better make that a pint of low-alcohol, sugar-reduced lager and a packet of sea-salt dusted, fat-free shapes formed from organic potato pieces.  Oh, what the hell, give me a jug of Sangria and a sun-lamp and pass me that T-shirt, I’m feeling continental!

The first collection of stories - "Steady Past Your Granny's" is now available in Kindle e-book format at Amazon UK and Amazon USA.  You can find this story, along with a host of others, in the new bumper collection of stories Crutches For Ducks at or at

Sunday, 15 August 2010

The Prat in the Hat

(with apologies to Dr. Seuss)

It occurred to me, whilst watching Foyle’s War the other night, that something really fundamental must have happened in the late 1940s/early 1950s to stop the wearing of hats.  If you look at Foyle’s War* (and you really should, it’s brilliant), every male character wears a hat that signifies their social status.  How and why did this end?

I have been particularly exercised by this because, as many readers will know, I am somewhat follically challenged.  I have hair of extremely restricted growth.  Either that, or my forehead has fallen desperately in love with the back of my neck and will destroy everything in its path to form a liaison.  The problem being, if it’s successful in this endeavour, my face will probably fold in half.

Taking all of the above into account, you will understand why I’m quite keen on the idea of hats and would quite like to see their reintroduction.  I have been leading a one-man campaign to try to achieve this but, as I am hardly a fashion icon, this has been all for naught.  Plodding around Nottingham in my overcoat and fedora, I have attracted some pitying looks.   I have also had some hard stares, given that I also carry a bag containing my sat-nav, wallet, glasses and so on, all of which has the appearance of a gas mask and makes me look like someone who took the wrong turn to the Air Raid Shelter seventy years ago and has only just turned up.

Summer brings a necessity for hat wearing that never used to be a problem.  As a consequence (and because I keep forgetting to take one with me on holiday), I’m rapidly gaining a collection of baseball caps and other headgear that I would not normally wear if you paid me.  I am definitely of the opinion that no-one, apart from golfers and baseball players (who both have their own fashion problems), looks good in a baseball cap.  A recent hot day on the Isle of Wight necessitated a sullen trip to the local gift shop to cover a rapidly reddening scalp.  There was the usual collection of baseball caps and floppy sun hats, none of which particularly appealed.  I was drawn toward a range of cowboy hats but my wife wisely intervened.  The only remaining alternative, which I finished up sporting, has not really been fashionable since the Cultural Revolution in China but did, at least, save my expanding parting from incinerating.

We need a fashion revolution that will reinstate the hat for the follically challenged.  Help me to bring back hat-wearing whilst I’ve still got enough hair to make it look like a fashion statement rather than a necessity.
* By the way, only a British Detective TV programme could have the lead character (Michael Kitchen accompanied by the delightful Honeysuckle Weeks), when threatened by a trained assassin with a silenced pistol, start to walk a little more quickly.  Great stuff!

The first collection of stories - "Steady Past Your Granny's" is now available in Kindle e-book format and now read the new bumper collection of stories, Crutches For Ducks and the 5 star third collection A Kick at the Pantry Door

Friday, 13 August 2010

On Being Knackered

At one time, my writing was pretty well limited to scribbling silly verses in the birthday cards of family and friends (many of you may wish it still was).  Most of these have mercifully been long since tossed into the great recycling bin in the sky, but one surfaced in my memory the other day and I thought I would share it with you.  I rather think this would work as a musical monologue:

This seems an appropriate moment,
To tell a truth oft left unsaid,
That just when you think
That you’re in the pink,
You’ll find that you’re knackered instead.

There’s no point in trying to deny this,
If you’re knackered, you’re knackered, no doubt,
You will find this is right,
If you wake in the night
And discover that sleep’s tired you out.

If making a point makes you dizzy,
If you jump to conclusions, and fall,
If it makes you feel weak,
To go for a leak,
Or to answer a telephone call,

Then you’re knackered my friend, but be thankful,
For I’ll tell you this one thing for free,
When they come to apportion,
The scales of exhaustion,
You ain’t half as knackered as me!

The first collection of stories - "Steady Past Your Granny's" is now available in Kindle e-book format at Amazon UK and Amazon USA and now read the new bumper collection of stories, Crutches For Ducks at and

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Give Me a Commercial Break - Part 2

The really clever trick is to create a demand for a product which fills a need that no-one ever felt before. Anti-bacterial soap for example, or those sprays and wipes that eliminate germs that no sensible person would ever expect to find lurking in their house in the first instance (unless you really have reason to believe that your kitchen is crawling with MRSA). It’s a wonder that our parents and grandparents ever survived long enough to have offspring, or that we survived infancy for that matter. And don’t get me started on that group of women who are supposed to represent the Sex in the City cast. As they sit around the café table, keenly discussing bowel movements and the means to make these more comfortable (another product you never knew you needed) you begin to yearn for the solid dependability of “you’ll wonder where the yellow went, when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent”. By the way, when did the female digestive system cease to function? Was there some sort of announcement that I missed? I’m referring of course to the terrible problem of “slower digestive transit” and the range of ‘good’ bacteria with slightly unbelievable names that we are now supposed to ingest to ensure that our food shoots through (with pain-free results).
Of course, we’re told about these things by people who clearly do not inhabit our world at all. Well, certainly not our country. In evidence, I would submit that annoying child sitting on the toilet, in a bathroom large enough to hold formal dances. In an unconvincing British accent, of indeterminate origin, he witters on about the fact that the wall-mounted air freshener is exhausted and his doting mother pops in to help this, presumably foul-smelling, infant, and they both giggle and beam with pleasure. Now, it should be clear to anyone with half a functioning brain cell, that this gleaming family is American (if it was British, he would be getting claustrophobia from being trapped with the foul odour in an en-suite the shape and size of a broom cupboard) and that the British dialogue has been dubbed over the American original to try to convince us that this is an everyday picture of life in the UK. At least, in this situation, there is a reasonable chance of the words matching the lip movements. A more recent trend is for adverts to be imported (along with the products) from the far extremities of the EU. Here we are asked to believe that the women concerned (and it is usually women), who could easily be reciting a particularly challenging passage from Proust, are actually saying, in an Essex accent, “I just poured it on and the dirt was gone!” or something similar.
The raison d’etre behind any advert (television or otherwise) is to persuade the public that they are going to get something more than they could possibly expect for the price. Hence the car adverts where the particular version, complete with every whistle and bell possible, hurtles around a chicane whilst the small print across the bottom informs the wary that this particular style will cost approximately twice the price that is splashed in vibrant colour over the screen above. Anyone reading this, in detail, in the time available, would have to be a speed-reader par excellence. This sort of thing reaches its peak when the same advert appears on the radio (minus the chicane, obviously) and the small print has to be read out by someone sounding like a chipmunk on amphetamines. Another example is where some revolutionary new beauty product is on display and the large type reassuringly tells us that this has been determined to be particularly effective in a scientific study, whilst the small print tells us that they asked 6 people in the street on a wet Sunday in Scunthorpe.
I’m sure you’ve all got your own pet likes and dislikes. Those adverts that send you screaming into the kitchen to make a cup of tea (even if you don’t like tea), those that immediately engage you and actually improve your evening’s viewing and finally, those that you can’t stand but which you keep being reminded of because of the irritatingly catchy tune that you CAN’T STOP WHISTLING!
But now, its time for a commercial break…

Give Me a Commercial Break - Part 1

 think it was the talking sleeve that finally provided the straw that booked the camel into the spinal injuries unit.
My theme here, ladies and gentlemen, is advertisements on television and radio. Before I go any further, I should say that these often provide the best form of entertainment in both media and are frequently superior to the programmes that they support, but there are exceptions…
Like the talking sleeve. I know that television advertisements are not necessarily national, so this particular innovation may have passed you by. The essentials of the story are that a family, apparently crippled with a multitude of health problems, are on a car journey and find themselves lost on a road in a thickly wooded part of the countryside. The reason that they are lost, it transpires, is that the mother of the family is unable to read the map despite having lenses in her glasses that would double as the bottoms of jam jars. Whilst fretting over her optical shortcomings, she takes the opportunity to also worry about the other health problems affecting her family, such as her husband (back – which he indicates by clutching his shoulder and wincing) and her children (teeth – precious few of them left and prime candidates for dentures before puberty I shouldn’t wonder). Apparently the modern innovation of the NHS is an alien concept to this poor lady and she is reduced to taking health care advice (in the form of the initials of the health care company concerned) from the sleeve of her cardigan, which has miraculously (and rather annoyingly) gained the ability to talk. Comfortingly, another car passes by, also equipped with a talking cardigan sleeve, so she is clearly not alone in her choice of medical advice.
This advert (and if you haven’t yet seen it, I would urge you to seek it out) has only served to convince me that the makers of these 30 second wonders tend to fall into two camps. The first camp consists of those who really want to make a feature film but haven’t been ‘discovered’ yet. For them, each advertisement is an opportunity to show the world what they could achieve if only they were let loose on something they could really get their teeth into (an ambition that will forever be beyond the children with the talking sleeve). The second camp is made up of those who are convinced that the rest of the world is populated by idiots, hence such things as the talking sleeve.
The first camp design adverts of breathtaking beauty and artistic elegance which leave the average viewer wondering what it was all about. These were probably the same gang who designed those poster adverts for cigarettes back in the 1980s. Do you remember those? The only way you could tell that they were for cigarettes at all was by the Government Health Warning at the bottom. I’ll bet they were doubled up with laughter at the sheer irony, back at the advertising agency.
The second camp, like the poor, have always been with us. If memory serves me correctly, ever since we first had a television in the late 1950s, a certain brand of washing powder has been getting whites whiter than the previous version of the same powder. Surely, there has to come a point when it just can’t get things any whiter without risking the eyesight of its customers? Or will some poor, unsuspecting person open their washer one day and lurch back, hands clutching their face screaming “Oh My God, the whiteness, my eyes! My eyes!”

It Started With A Snore - Part 8

So, as I said previously, we arrived at the shiny new Foundation Hospital clinic early on the appointed Saturday morning. I must admit to approaching all of this with a degree of trepidation, as there is a limit to how many times anyone wants bits chopped off them and I seem to be pushing the ceiling of this quite hard at the moment.
Parking myself on the operating chair, I was immediately surrounded by nurses and the man himself. I decided to alert them straight away to my status as a fully paid-up Wimp and to warn them that I had no intention of watching any of the proceedings at all. They seemed pretty happy with this and we commenced a series of local anaesthetic injections into the back of my mouth. This was a bit hit and miss. Essentially, the Consultant put a series of shots in, waited a bit, poked the area with something sharp and, if I reacted (which I did) had a few more goes with the local. Eventually we both agreed that we seemed to have numbed the area sufficiently and he set to work with, what I assume was, a laser.
Now, I’m afraid that I can’t give you chapter and verse about this as I had my eyes tightly closed throughout but my sensation was one of two lines being ‘drawn’ diagonally down either side of the back of my throat (the overlong uvula presumably). There was a short break between each one, as there was only a relatively brief window of opportunity before the gagging reflex kicked in as a consequence of my tongue being held down and out of the way by a spatula. There was no pain, just a dull sensation. Then came the final bit where the ‘limiting’ of the palate presumably took place. I was aware of a much more sustained sensation travelling slowly across the area laterally and this time there was some pain. I clenched the chair and hoped this would be over soon and was assured by the Consultant that “we’re nearly there”. Seconds later, I was told that it was all over. “Do you want to see it?”, he asked. I weighed this up. On one hand, I really could do without any more gore. On the other, I had the natural human curiosity of wanting to see what had come out of me (it’s the same instinct that makes us look in a handkerchief after we’ve used it, for no apparent reason). I looked down into the kidney dish and was immediately struck by 1. How much of it there was and, 2. The fact that it was the sort of pink favoured by a certain girls’ doll. This wasn’t just pink, it was PINK. I had never really thought of my innards as being powder pink. It really didn’t seem masculine enough.
Wheeled gratefully back to the comfortable lounge area, I was given some time to recover. Before I could go home, I had to demonstrate that I could swallow a drink of something and then I was given a supply of pain-relief tablets and warned that I would have an excruciatingly sore throat for one week and a moderately painful throat for another week but should be ok after that. This seemed unlikely at the time, as I couldn’t feel a thing and was congratulating myself on how much easier it had all been than I expected. By the time I got home, I was beginning to see what they meant. They had warned me to avoid any hard foodstuffs for a couple of days and we were casting round to think of what I could eat. My wife came up with the bright idea of (amongst other things) microwaving a tomato so that it was mushy and edible. Seemed a good idea until I tried it. I had no idea that tomatoes were so acidic! It was like pouring sulphuric acid down my throat, so we gave up on that idea.
The prognosis proved to be exactly right. The first week was diabolical and pretty miserable, whereas Week 2 was just like having a very bad sore throat. After two weeks, all was normal again and (touch wood) has remained so ever since. I do still snore (they never promised that would stop) but I rarely have occasions when I awake in a blind panic, unable to breathe. My wife tells me that my snoring is nowhere near as loud as it was, although my companions from the walking weekend (see I was a stranger and ye took me in) are not convinced about this.
Would I recommend the procedure to anyone else? Well, the alternative, in my case, would have been spending every night attached to a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airways Pressure) machine. On the whole, I think I prefer to have had a couple of weeks of pain and discomfort, as opposed to a lifetime strapped to one of those, but it is clearly an individual choice and you need to consult with your Specialist to see what he/she thinks. I don’t know if my ‘limited palatoplasty’ will be a permanent solution or whether my ‘girl’s bedroom’ pink innards will grow back and set about trying to suffocate me each and every night again. All I can say is that, right now, just over a year since the operation, everything seems to be fine.
Night, night.

It Started With A Snore - Part 7

WARNING – THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS PRAISE FOR THE NHS. Readers of a nervous disposition* are advised to look away now!
* Whatever happened to ‘those of a nervous disposition’ that announcers used to warn in dark tones before programmes of particular gore or menace? Did they die out due to natural selection? Nowadays we’re just shown the gore and menace anyway, and then pointed toward an appropriate counselling service “if you’ve been affected by any of the issues in tonight’s programme”.
I had visions of my ‘limited palatoplasty’ (which, we have determined, is not some obscure antipodean marsupial) taking place around the time of the next ice age, given my previous experience of the geological timescales that the NHS used to adhere to. As I had private health insurance (don’t all throw things at once, it has proved to be the difference between life and death in the past) I decided to try to get my money’s worth and see if they would arrange the surgical procedure. My Consultant had warned me that this might be an uphill struggle, but I started the claim procedure anyway. Not unsurprisingly, they would not agree to fund my operation without further and better particulars from the Consultant, so we started a potentially lengthy game of ‘pass the buck’.
However, to my astonishment, (this is where the first praise for the NHS comes in, so you may want to look away now), the NHS appointment arrived before the private health people had even had chance to refuse me formally! I was to attend a clinic in a couple of week’s time, on a Saturday morning!!
I apologise unreservedly for the plethora of exclamation marks, but I think this warrants it. For years, it has been an unwritten rule that you could only be safely ill during normal office hours, Monday to Friday, because the NHS did not see the need for Consultants to be on hand at any other time. So, to have an operation scheduled for a Saturday morning was really ground-breaking. I think the cause of this was the introduction of a set of clinics run by a private healthcare provider, but within our local hospital, with the remit of addressing those areas where long waiting lists had previously dominated. My appointment was for this new facility but the operation would be conducted by my usual Consultant.
So, I reported to this brand new, spotless facility with its comfortable furniture in bright, primary colours on Saturday morning and was ushered into a very well appointed clinic for some pre-op checks. There was even a beautifully appointed changing room with lockers for your personal belongings. Pretty soon, dressed in my surgical gown, I was wheeled (I really don’t know why you’re not allowed to walk) into the operating room for the Great Man to do his worst, or hopefully, his best.

It Started With A Snore - Part 6

There are many ‘least favourite aspects’ of hospital attendance but I think the waiting around is in my Top 5. The NHS have, over the decades, become quite adept at giving the erstwhile patient the semblance of progress without actually delivering it. At the ENT clinic, for example, we first joined a relatively large group of people in the main waiting area. Then we were called in by the nurse acting for the consultant. The more optimistic might assume that this was the appointment, but no, this was for a few brief tests and form filling. This having achieved whatever it was intended to achieve, we return to the main melee before being called again. Is this the appointment? Is it bunny rabbits! This time we are corralled with another group of people, all of whom were called from the main waiting area some time before us and who have been fighting for the few available seats in this corridor, leading to the great one’s rooms, ever since.
All of this would be bearable if the reading matter available offered any likelihood of entertainment. Where do they get their magazines from? On my last visit, the choice consisted of “British Show Pony Monthly”, “Distribution Handling” and “Hello”. It says something about me that I was drawn to “Distribution Handling” but who in their right mind donates these magazines? At best, the first two must have a very specialised and limited audience and the third one probably should have. Why they feel the need to foist their arcane choices of reading matter on the sick and the lame is beyond me. You would think that some enterprising magazine publisher might have seen the possibilities of such a captive audience and filled the waiting rooms with their offerings, gratis.
Eventually, I reached the consulting room of my ENT specialist and he gave me the results of my second sleep monitor test (called for, apparently, because they found it difficult to believe the results of the first attempt). Yes, I have sleep apnoea. Not only do I snore stentoriously but I also stop breathing, quite frequently, for periods of up to a minute at a time. He went through a range of options, the majority of which wouldn’t work for me, and recommended a surgical intervention followed by a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airways Pressure) machine if that didn’t do the trick. The surgical intervention was a ‘limited palatoplasty’, which sounded to me like one of those weird Australian marsupials:
Oh yeah, Bruce, what you’ve got there is one of them Limited Palatoplasty’s. They’re kinda cute but they bite like buggery and they’ve got a poisonous snout. Go great on a barbie though!
His view was that, whilst this was unlikely to provide a cure, it just might do so and was therefore worth a try. I signed the requisite form and awaited my date with the laser.

It Started With A Snore - Part 5

Also titled "They Also Wait Who Only Stand..." (with apologies to John Milton - not that he could give a monkey's)
Those of you who didn’t run away screaming at the sight of the author in T-shirt and accompanying sleep monitor paraphernalia, looking like somebody of interest to Crimewatch UK, may well have gone on to read the last article in which we left our hero(?) slumbering and snoring whilst wired up to the gills? If so, now read on...
The whole tangle of wires and monitors was shovelled back into the laptop case the following morning and whisked back to the relevant clinic by 10.00 am, as requested, for downloading and delivery to the next lucky recipient. I felt as if I’d had a pretty disturbed night, being acutely aware that any sudden movement (not that I’m known for those) might detach the whole apparatus. This drew a snort of derision from my good lady the following morning who referred to me as “snoring like a stuck pig” all night (no, I don’t know what that is either, but I get the general drift).
Having returned all of the equipment, the only thing to do now was to wait for the results. It was therefore, with some surprise, that we opened a letter from the hospital inviting me to attend to be fitted with a sleep monitor. We called them. We said there must be some mistake as we had already done this bit. They rummaged through their records and eventually came back to say that, no, there was no mistake; they needed to run the tests again. Of course, a note to this effect on the letter would have saved a phone call and their time answering it, but apparently doing anything other than send the standard letter would stretch the NHS to its limits.
So, we went through the whole process again and another few weeks drifted aimlessly by. Not that I was deprived of medical attention during this hiatus as my GP called me in to discuss the results of the Well Man clinic I had inadvertently let myself in for. These proved to be exactly the opposite of what I expected (cholesterol normal, blood pressure high-ish) but he had to admit defeat and refer me to the Opthalmic Consultant, which meant yet another trip to the hospital, albeit a different clinic this time.
As I said, right at the start of these articles, “I seem to have been seeing quite a bit of the medical profession recently. Or, I suppose more accurately, the medical profession have been seeing quite a bit of me” and, for someone who’s not that keen on hospitals, and all that goes with them, I seem to have become something of a fixture and fitting without apparently having anything wrong with me!

It Started With A Snore - Part 4

I went trotting off to my local Health Centre with a song in my heart and a kind word for everybody. I came back a physical and mental wreck. Whenever you are called to see a Practice Nurse, you have to bring an offering with you. It doesn’t matter what you are being tested for, somewhere along the line it will involve a urine sample. What she (and it is usually a she) does with all of these, goodness only knows. Perhaps she operates a tannery on the side? You always have to hope that your appointment doesn’t follow a good night down the pub (for you, not her...oh, I don’t know though) – a urine sample with a head on it is not generally seen as an indicator of a healthy lifestyle.
I presented my offering, which she took without much gratitude it seemed to me. I know that, on meeting a girl for the first time, it is a slightly unusual transaction but she did ask for it and I had gone to the time and trouble to provide it (not that it involved too much of either, if truth be told). She took my blood pressure with one of those electronic sphygmomanometerS (all right, all right, blood pressure machines if you insist). Inevitably, because I was in a Doctor’s surgery and surrounded by people in white coats with sharp instruments, the reading was high. We decided to wait a little while and have another go. This was where it all went wrong. Whilst we were waiting, she decided to review my medical notes. The conversation went something like this:
Nurse: “Ah! I see you’ve been very naughty.”
Self: “Have I? In what way?”
Nurse: “You haven’t had a Well Man review for 9 years have you?”
Self: “Probably not, whatever it is. Is that a problem?”
Nurse: “Oh no, we can do it now, while you’re here.”
And before I knew it, we were rattling through a questionnaire and she was opening a hypodermic syringe. One of the reasons that I tend to avoid doctors and nurses like the plague (unless, of course, I’ve got the plague, which is an entirely different matter) is their predilection for sticking needles into you. I am not a big fan of needles. Many years ago I went for a diabetes test that involved myself and a like-minded group of people spending an entire morning in hospital having our blood sampled every half-hour to check the progress of a glucose drink consumed at the start of the test. All went well with blood samples 1 and 2, but by No. 3 I had wound myself up to such a pitch that the nurse was having to prop me up with her shoulder as she took the sample, to stop me crashing to the ground. Needless (but unfortunately not needle-less) to say, Numbers 4,5 and 6 were taken as I laid flat out on a trolley-bed, drifting in an out of consciousness. This is not an exercise that anyone has rushed to repeat.
I explained my fully qualified state of wimpishness to the Nurse and, to be fair, she was great at keeping me engaged in conversation and it really didn’t hurt much at all. Nevertheless, I was aware of a cold sweat enveloping me and my colour draining away. This was therefore not a good time to be taking my blood pressure again and, sure enough, it was now at a level whereby, with a prick of the thumb, I could have spray-painted the Sistine Chapel. Not unsurprisingly, I would be referred to the Doctor, who would also tell me the results of my blood test.
The Sleep Monitor test rather intrigued me and I was curious to see how this would be done on an out-patient basis. For years, sleep monitoring used to be done in hospital, with the patient being wired up to various machines and then encouraged to sleep as normally as possible. Of course, hospitals now are desperate to avoid anything that involves patients actually staying there (and so are most patients). The Nurse at the Hospital Clinic ran through the various aspects of the kit “This goes around your chest like so, this one around your tummy, these go into your nose and this goes down your sleeve and attaches to your finger like so”, leads were attached to a central monitor and the whole mess was shovelled into a sort-of laptop case. I was to sleep with all of this tonight and return it to the clinic by 10.00 the following day.
I think the attached pictures will tell you more than I ever can about the apparatus that I ended up wearing to bed. When my wife managed to stop laughing, she helped me sort all of this out, as best she could and I then, gingerly, edged into bed.
“You’ll never get to sleep with all of that on” was the last thing she said as the light went out.
I can’t report my answer. I was already snoring.

It Started With A Snore - Part 3

One thing that I have become aware of, through bitter experience, is that the medical profession are pathologically incapable of resisting the urge to test people for something. Doesn’t matter what – just something! I’ll bet you’ve had this conversation many times before:
A: My GP has referred me to see a Consultant
B: Oh that’s good, hopefully they’ll get you sorted out at last. When are you seeing him/her?
A: Well, I don’t know yet. They want me to have some tests done first...
It doesn’t matter if it is something that your GP has been testing you for, ever since God was a lad (or lass, dependent on your viewpoint), the Consultant will want his/her own tests done. For thy Consultant is a jealous Consultant and ye shall have no other Consultant/Medical Practitioner other than him/her (unless, of course, whatever you think you’re suffering from relates to another specialism, in which case you can clear off and stop bothering him/her).
You may recall, if you have nothing better to remember in your life, that at the end of the last article I had not only been referred to an ENT specialist for my snoring/sleep apnoea but also, in the space of a few weeks, to an Opthalmologist for possible deterioration of the retina (not that I wanted him to provide that, if you see what I mean, but to find out if I had got it and, if so, why?).
Up until then, I had felt fine. Now I was beginning to feel like the subject of that old Stanley Holloway song “My Word, You Do Look Queer!” (which used to be a regular on Children’s Choice but which I imagine has died a very un-PC death in recent years). I wondered if others were shaking their heads pityingly as I shambled past, wondering at my ability to stay upright and breathe at the same time. I took to giving people brave little smiles, and somehow managed to avoid being arrested.
So, within the space of a few days, I received a letter from the local Health Centre inviting me to join them for a jolly session of ‘Test the Blood Pressure’ with the Practice Nurse, so that the GP could rule out any obvious causes for my alleged retinal deterioration before giving in and sending me to the Consultant. Additionally, I received a letter from the ENT clinic at our local hospital, inviting me to be fitted for a sleep monitor, prior to my visit to the ENT specialist. Of these two appointments, the one with the Practice Nurse proved to be the most unexpectedly difficult.

It Started With A Snore - Part 2

The continuing story of my brush with the medical profession:
Anyway, I finally got in to see a Doctor. Not, of course, at the appointed time. The appointment is simply a work of fiction designed to keep the waiting room full and the receptionist’s PC tidy. The major improvement in the NHS, with its new focus on ‘customer care’, is that they now apologise for your wait, whereas before you were just supposed to grin and bear it. They don’t, of course, mean it. If they did, they would do something about it. No, this is the Public Sector (and it seems to be pretty widespread) equivalent of “Have a Nice Day”. At my last appointment, the Doctor opened the consultation with the immortal words, “Sorry you have been kept waiting, I’ll have to keep this short if I’m to catch up” which I thought rather missed the point!
This last appointment was the culmination of two year’s of sporadic visits to the Doctor (I was going to say “to my Doctor” but as I’ve never seen the same one twice, it is a bit tricky to know who that is supposed to be) to try to get something done about my snoring/sleep apnoea. Throughout this time, the Doctor and I have been involved in the long dance in which I seek to see a Specialist and he does everything in his power to avoid referring me. Therefore, I have been sequentially urged to; lose weight (tick), cut down on my drinking (tick), and take regular exercise designed to increase my upper body strength (tick again – I may be suffering from ticks!). All of these things, I’m sure, have been beneficial but haven’t made a blind bit of difference to my snoring/sleep apnoea (you always know an ailment is getting serious when the spelling gets weird). It is at this point that you realise that the primary function of the G.P. is to keep you as far away as possible from the rest of the NHS at any cost (which is, of course, what they are trying to avoid…any cost). On this occasion, I must have caught him in a generous mood, or he had just run out of alternative therapies, because I recounted my symptoms yet again and asked to be referred – and I was!
At the same time as all of this was going on, I attended my regular biennial appointment with the Optician. Like most people of my age, I discovered some time ago that if I was ever to read small print again, I would either have to get longer arms or glasses. As a consequence, every two years I get shut into a small, darkened room with a total stranger who crawls all over me, pointing a piercing light into my previously untroubled eye, and getting closer to me than is usually possible without going through a form of marriage. As a matter of interest, why does having one’s eyes tested mean being plunged into a dark room and having a piercing white light shone into the pupils? Intuitively, it doesn’t seem like the wisest of ideas, does it? My particular bête noir is the glaucoma test in which a puff of air is directed at each eye. Surely I can’t be the only one who jumps a mile in the air each time, no matter how many times I experience it, and fetch my head a nasty crack against the apparatus? Or am I just a complete idiot?
Unusually, this particular check-up didn’t result in yet another prescription for glasses but, instead, a recommendation that I should be referred to a Consultant for investigation of possible degeneration of the retina. So, in the space of a few days, I had gone from having no contact with Consultants at all for years on end, to suddenly having two take an interest in me. The medical profession had me in the palm of their latex-gloved hands (which is not a happy image), and it could only get worse!
If you’ll permit me, I’ll continue with this medical tale of woe in the next exciting (?) episode. Until then, keep taking the tablets.

It Started With A Snore - Part 1

In a previous post (I Was A Stranger And Ye Took Me In) I mentioned that I had been consigned to a bedroom on my own, on a different floor, by my mates whilst on a 'walking weekend' because of my snoring. I promised then that I would explain more, and here it is. This series of articles first appeared in Mature Times and were intended to be something of a diary of events. Now read on...
I seem to have been seeing quite a bit of the medical profession recently. Or, I suppose more accurately, the medical profession have been seeing quite a bit of me. Now, before you get too concerned (as if) I should say, at this juncture, that I am not, to the best of my knowledge and belief, ill (excuse me whilst I grab a large lump of wood to ward off any gestures of supreme irony by a malevolent Fate). I have, however, been checked to within an inch of my life. Let me explain.
It started with a snore. In fact, it may well end with a snore, but we’ll come to that later. For years my poor wife has endeavoured, with a great deal of fortitude, to sleep with my nocturnal ‘noises off’ bellowing in her ears. I, of course, have slept on soundly, safe in the knowledge (from previous expensive experience) that no amount of strips applied to the nose, herbal gargles or specially contoured pillows make any difference (when I referred to a malevolent Fate earlier, I think that the fact that light sleepers are invariably attracted to those with stentorian snores is a pretty good indicator of the existence of this particular force). Anyway, all this changed as soon as it became apparent that I had started to stop breathing (or stopped starting to breathe…if you see what I mean?) Hurling yourself awake in the wee small hours, seized with the absolute certainty that you’re about to snuff it, tends to put a crimp in your otherwise peaceful slumbers, and this was only on the occasions when I knew that I had stopped breathing. The upshot of all this was a trip to the Doctor’s to see about a consultation with a specialist. This was about two years ago.
Have you tried making an appointment to see your friendly, local GP recently? I only ask because I am now aware that there is a technique to this. Being ill isn’t sufficient to warrant an early appointment. The novice will ring the Surgery hopefully, perhaps mid-morning, with the expectation of getting an appointment in the next 24 hours. No chance! If you’re lucky, you might get the promise of a slot a week on Thursday. If you want to see a Doctor on the same day of telephoning, then you will need to join a determined band who will commence ringing the Surgery at precisely 8.00 a.m. in an effort to grab one of the few, jealously guarded, ‘emergency appointments’ that are held for that day. By 8.10 a.m. these will have been snapped up for the day and everyone else, regardless of condition, will have to join the grim band of telephoners tomorrow. Being at death’s door might help, but is no guarantee of medical attention. Of course, you only get to know all of this if you are a habitué of the Surgery. The occasional putative patient discovers this only by bitter experience and either gets better regardless, or clogs up the Accident & Emergency service of the local hospital.
The reason that you can’t get an appointment for love or money is because the ‘chronically ill’ have got them all sewn up (to coin a phrase) for months on end. Now, please don’t think that I’m belittling the troubles of those who have a chronic illness of any nature, I am not. My beef is with a system that does not make proper allowance for the vast majority of the population who only need to access their Doctor once in a blue moon, and then discover that it would be easier to book a place on the International Space Station. I was amazed to find (when I finally gained access to the Surgery) that it was like a miniature social club, full of little groups who meet on a weekly or monthly basis as they wait for their latest test or check-up. When they finally come out from their appointment, they do so with a prescription the size of the Dead Sea Scrolls, sufficient to bring a tear of joy to Jesse Boot’s eye. In addition, they will have a list of follow-on appointments that will take ages to arrange with the Receptionist and which will keep them happily occupied until next Michaelmas.

You can find all of Philip's stories in his three compilations:  Philip Whiteland's Author Page

I was a stranger and ye took me in

I have always wanted to have the courage to put that biblical quotation in a B&B Guest Book, with its delightful double-meaning you could have real fun with it. The closest I have ever come to putting my plan into action was this weekend.
Four of us make a point of going on a 'walking weekend' each year. We've been doing this for the last 20 years and the negative effects of sudden physical exercise and too much booze get harder to cope with each time. Last year, our venue of choice was Bath. We arrived at our pre-booked B&B, bright-eyed and bushy tailed one Friday morning. The opening conversation went something like this:
Prop: "Now your rooms have a WC with a macerator. You need to make sure that you don't put anything down the toilet other than toilet paper else it blocks it and we'll have to charge you for repair."
We nodded and affirmed that we understood the vagaries of maceration.
Prop: "Also, your room (pointing to first two group members) has a problem with the flush. So, if the macerator keeps on going, can you let us know straight away as otherwise it overflows into the dining room"
We nodded again and began to wonder what we had let ourselves in for.
Prop: "Now, I've got you in two twin rooms,ok?"
Us: "No, we booked, one twin room and two singles"
Prop: "Oh, are you sure (we were)? I don't have two singles at the moment. Can't you share?"
We said that we didn't want to share, which is why we booked two singles.
Prop: "Well, I can try to get you in to some other B&Bs but I doubt I'll get anywhere at the weekend in Bath. Are you sure you won't share? I've just come back from a camp where I had to share with 8 other girls and I had a great time" [Quite what the relevance of this was, rather escaped us]
We then found ourselves having to justify our outlandish request for single rooms (basically because I snore stentoriously, of which more some other time).
The final outcome was that my 3 friends shared a twin-bedded room with a mattress shoehorned into a spare corner whilst I slept in splendid isolation in a twin room upstairs. This was bad enough, but as I was waiting on the landing for us all to assemble for our walk, I could hear the landlady downstairs describing our mad desire for single rooms to another resident in very loud terms and explaining the rationale for this (my snoring). This was one of those times when you feel about 5 years old again.

The first collection of stories - "Steady Past Your Granny's" is now available in Kindle e-book format at Amazon UK and Amazon USA

There's more about my snoring issue at It Started With A Snore