One good thing

My doctor told me I might just possibly have a brain tumour, but not to worry. To be fair, she phrased it slightly differently, telling me if not to park that thought, which is about as effective as not thinking about elephants, then that we could think about that after the results of an MRI scan, which she far from comfortingly scheduled urgently.

While I bravely primed the people who might have some passing interest in my untimely demise on the offchance that at least some of them might rent their clothing while I could still witness this event, I did some fairly serious thinking about stuff. The best thing I did was to buy two tickets to the Django Reinhardt festival at Fontainebleu.

Assuming I don’t fall off a ladder or get run over, it seeming statistically unlikely that I have a brain tumour rather than just an irritating form of tinnitus, in July I’ll be sitting in the sun with a friend listening to how back in Nagasaki the fellows chew tobaccy while the women wiggy waggy woo, and rather hoping there might be some of that in the offing shortly thereafter despite previous assurances to the contrary. Now all I have to do is find-out how to get there without bankrupting myself on Eurostar. I’ve outlived Django already. He died of a brain heamorrage long before MRI scanners had ever been thought of. Nine seconds of searing pain and no more. There are much worse ways to go.

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Making it better

I had to go for an MRI scan some weeks ago now. I still haven’t been told the result. This is somewhat worrying given that there was a chance that I had a brain tumour, hence the scan. I still haven’t been told I haven’t got one.

What I have been told instead is that on March 2nd I have an appointment at the Ear, Nose & Throat clinic, which seems to indicate something on a different level of panic and discomfiture.

I’ve had a ringing in one ear for about a year now, after a batch of students who coughed so loud I had to actually stop a lesson gave me a massive cold. I had to have my ears syringed because I couldn’t hear anything and I didn’t think my hearing improved much afterwards, although I could hear a warning tone in the car when the soft top wasn’t latched that I’d thought had stopped working. And that, my doctor thought, could have been the problem. Not the soft top on my car, but the fact the ringing was only in one ear, not both.

Going to an ENT clinic isn’t quite in the same league as gamely battling the effects of a foreign body the size of a grapefruit inside my cranium, so hopefully no gaily-coloured headscarves to hide the baldness after the chemotherapy, no brave smiling and none of that strange unearthly beauty the dying seem so often to have. Or it could of course be that it’s just the ones with a strange unearthly beauty that get photographed.

Either way, unless the ENT clinic is just to give me better hearing in my last few weeks on earth, odds are that I don’t in fact have a brain tumour, despite the loudness of the ringing in my left ear this morning. I think it could have been done a better way though.

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Forty-three times twenty-six plus fifty-two

It isn’t a maths test, although of course it is. It’s the number of dead from the London Borough of Barking alone, in the years 1914 to 1918. Thier names were listed on plaques on thier memorial in the park. I didn’t have a pen so I needed a way to remember the numbers I’d counted.

In case your maths is rusty, it’s 1,170. A lot of the names are the same and while I can think well, obviously a lot of people are called Smith or White, when a surname is Wiffen and there are two sad inscriptions with different initials after them, they have to be related and I’d guess, closely.

Appropriately, death in the shape of a bullet or a lungful of gas or simply being atomised by an artillery shell or drowning in mud being no great respecter of rank, there are no inscriptions on the plaques on the memorial in the park to tell us now whether they were corporals or private soldiers or colonels. If you read anything about the First World War of course, you’ll know that only rarely, when a stray shell obligingly evened things-up did the most senior officers get killed or even wounded by anything more directed than gout or a heart attack.

One of Britain’s most lauded sons, Earl Haig, never bothered to visit the front line trenches at all. He was the man who condemned the ‘cowardice’ of the Pals battalions when they failed to advance to his satisfaction. In his mind they were shirkers, riddled with blue funk as a function largely of them being working class chaps; in reality they were riddled with Spandau bullets, failing to ‘do their bit’ due to the inconvenience of being dead. Prior to that he’d issued orders forbidding them to fire while they advanced; they hadn’t had much training, they couldn’t hit a grouse rising off heather and all in all it would just have wasted ammunition, he felt.

As it was, the artillery barrage supposed to stop the German machine guns only stopped them while the barrage was on. When it lifted and the whistles blew to advance in the British trenches the boys from the factories and potteries and mines rushed up their ladders and walked, as ordered, across No Mans Land. They’d had tin triangles sewn onto the back of their packs so the General Staff could see where they were from a safe distance. Through binoculars it was clear the attack bogged down early, the triangles not moving. The Pals brigades weren’t funking it. They were dead.

It can’t be unreasonable to doubt the sanity of anyone who ordered the exact same action again and again and again, year after year after year, Michael Gove.

The memorial didn’t give the dates or the locations of the sons of this forgotten borough whose glory days ended in a hail of copper-jacketed munitions. Walking around Barking you can see the ghosts of  proud buildings erected between about 1890 and 1914. There’s a fine Magistrates Court embellished with Art Nouveau curlicues and at the entrance to Barking Park itself a little Nursery with round windows sporting elongated keystones which presumably was given to the Park Keeper in the days when massively-subsidised housing wasn’t seen as akin to choice-robbing Communism. The First War killed more than just people. Go to Barking and look around.

 

 

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Playing up

It was, one thing and another, a bit of a day. I was supposed to take a school trip to Norwich but due to them speaking English a little less ably than they thought  – and darn it, I’ve told them again and again that the secret to speaking English is we usually don’t mean literally what we say, or at least, not without more) – they left without me so I had to drive there and catch-up with them, which didn’t put me in the best of moods. I had to find somewhere to park and it was sleeting a bit. By the time they left at 1615 after a bit of very strangeness on the pavement over which I shall draw a discreet veil, I’d drunk less than a pint and half of anything all day. Which isn’t enough.

Then the headlights on the car shorted on so I couldn’t dip the main beam. Fixable certainly, but not on a Saturday evening. Every other car blasted its headlamps at me (FFS, look, I’m not doing it ON PURPOSE, alright?), I took the dreaded Caistor turning by accident because I was sick of being on the ring road however much I knew that here be dragons and you don’t go on that road if you’ve any sense at all.

Because it’s seriously strange, is why.

Because it’s about 70 years ago there.

Because there aren’t any towns or signposts that mean anything and no GPS that works there and most of the time your phone doesn’t either. It took nearly two hours to do a journey that should have taken about 45 minutes. It was like Stephen King’s folds in the map story, those strange places where the map doesn’t really line up when you unfold it, the gap in the road and maybe gaps in more than that.

All of which combined to give me a staggering, ripping headache that paracetamol didn’t even touch, which worried me hugely, which made it worse. I got to my friend’s house and let myself in with no opposition from her dogs. Everyone was out. I sat in the kitchen and stroked the dogs for half an hour or so, on my own. And magically no headache by then. Not a brain tumour at all. O a very variable one if it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The runaround

Not actually a track by Dion and the Belmonts, but what happened to me this week. I spent last Saturday getting my head scanned to see if the ringing in one ear was caused by something wrong with my ear as I suspected, or by a brain tumour, which my GP thinks ought to be checked to see if it exists. In which case a ringing in one ear will be a fairly minor thing to worry about, like making sure the front door of a bombed-out house is locked.

The scan was fine if urgent so not entirely what I’d call fine, it being my head we’re talking about. What was less fine was being told the results would be with me in three weeks. A brain tumour can grow 1cm a month.

I phoned my GP for the second time on Thursday. No, they said, they hadn’t got any results. Call the hospital. After taking ten minutes to get through their incomprehensible automated options that made me think I already had a brain tumour and would definitely get one within thirty seconds if I had to listen to any more options I couldn’t then select, I got through to the MRI department. Three weeks, they repeated. I pointed out that this was an urgent scan. Three weeks again.  For a brain tumour. A bit of a silence. What was my name again?IT’s too cold to do cold sweating, but I did some anyway.

Was I a GP? Well no. Not really. The hospital refused to give me any results. MY GP would have to write to them. They didn’t specify whether a quill pen would be better than a biro but they weren’t moving on the writing thing. I phoned the GP. Who emailed instantly and then did something rather sweet.  They told me the hospital wouldn’t be arsing about like this if the scan had showed there was something majorly wrong in my head. Other than a high-pitched whining unrelated to working with children and a tension headache, obviously. It’s not a clear result yet. But it’s quite likely to be. We think.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mixed messages

When I left the hospital on Saturday they told me it would be two to three weeks before I got the results of my MRI scan. Tessa Jowell was on the news last week. She has a brain tumour. She was saying how they can grow 1 cm in a month. This is not something you want to happen inside your head. It isn’t designed with much spare space in there. If things like golf balls start growing, it isn’t long before they push other things out of the way. You’ll notice when you start screaming or your left arm stops working, or you fall over a lot or go blind. This is why an MRI scan is quite a good idea.

Given the 1cm a month thing, waiting 3 weeks to be told ‘ah ok, yes, you do actually have a brain tumour and it’s now 7.5mm bigger than it was when we did the scan’ isn’t something to comtemplate calmly. I rang the doctors on Monday.

We chatted about how no problem the MRI scan was. I did my little joke about Kraftwerk to show how I wasn’t afraid and the person at the doctors laughed politely, which is quite easy to do when nobody’s told you that you might have a brain tumour. It was 11:01 am, because the doctors’ never gets results before 11. I thought those 60 seconds were a decent interval.

The docs hadn’t got any results. They still say the scan was urgent, even though the hospital filed it under not. They thought maybe the hospital downgraded it, but how they could before they did the scan wasn’t explained. Thursday. If I don’t hear anything by Thursday call the doc and they’ll chase the results, but they thought that if the scan had showed I had something the size of a grapefruit stuck inside my cranial cavity then the results would have come pretty fast.

I don’t know. I’m getting odd popping noises in both ears now, and I’ve got a bunged-up nose. The noise in my left ear is still there, as it has been for a year, but it isn’t as loud as it was. I think this is far more to do with some inner ear infection than a brain tumour. And the tossing and turning all through last night in bed was due to the fact the moon was full. I knew it was going to be a hag-ridden night when I saw the moon white above the trees at four in the afternoon, when I went out for a walk. I’d put a courgette and lentil and aubergine stew on low. When I got back at half past five with the owls hooting the stew was perfect. I hope I don’t have a brain tumour. I probably dont. But I don’t know.

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Kling klang muzik

If you like Kraftwerk you’ll love an MRI scan.

I had mine today to see if I’ve just got tinnitus or a brain tumour. After making sure I wasn’t sneaking bits of metal into the scanner I got a calming chat to make sure I didn’t freak out in there. You get earplugs to put in your ears and headphones to put over them.

“It can be a bit noisy,” the guy said, but what else he said I don’t know, as I told him, because I’ve got these ear plugs and headphones over them, just like you told me….

There’s a bit of vibration. If you don’t like being in confined spaces then just shut your eyes and it won’t bother you. I very nearly fell asleep. I just don’t understand what the fuss is about.

Now the wait for the results. The hospital told me three weeks which makes no sense as this was an urgent scan and it’s been done. I’m phoning the surgery on Monday.

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A sharp intake of breath

I had a really bad cold last year. It seemed to go on for weeks. I got what my doctor hesitated to call full-on pneumonia but she couldn’t think of anything else to call it. I had my ears syringed for the first time ever and I had ringing in my left ear afterwards. I went to Dorset trying to impress someone lovely with my hiking abilities which was slightly marred when she practically frog-marched me up a hill. And remained resolutely unimpressed, or at least she didn’t show it in a way I’d entertained.

My left ear has kept on ringing, or more accurately making a high-pitched whining noise but I teach so I’m used to that anyway. Two weeks ago it got really loud so I went to the doctor again. I thought she’d do much the same as my friend in Dorset; recommend neck massage, decline to do it herself and just be very nice. She didn’t. Instead, she sent me for an MRI scan to see if I have a brain tumour.

On Wednesday I still hadn’t heard when I was going to have this done after ten days so I rang the doctor. Odd, they said. It’s an urgent scan. I did the sharp intake of breath then. Phone the hospital. I did. They said it wasn’t urgent. At which point I had to put them right on some minor details. Like the fact I might have a disease which now that A Cabinet Minister has it will see attention and urgent something must be doning left right and centre. Given that Tessa Jowell’s government was quite keen on privatising the NHS and she seems keener on magical thinking and untrialled wonder drugs (wasn’t there an Austrian who did that too?) don’t expect anything much to change.

I phoned the doc again. It is urgent. We’ll email them now. I phoned the hospital and said I’d stay on the line until the email came in. It duly did seconds later. Oh yes. It is urgent. How about Saturday?

No four weeks, no rationed health service bullshit an American tried to tell me is normal in the UK on Facebook this week. Just the same as I’ve always experienced with the NHS: once something is flagged and it’s a dangerous thing they act fast and effectively. It’s always been the same with doctor’s appointments too in my not overly-funded rural area: if you need an appointment urgently then you get one. If you want an appointment that fits in with your lifestyle then you can obviously wait.

So I might have a brain tumour. And I might die within the foreseeable future rather than as an inevitable indeterminate abstract. My friends’ reactions, those I’ve told, have been mixed.

An ex is devastated and can hardly speak. My Dorset friend is taking her forthright view that there are lots of other things it could be. A friend in Spain is thinking of me. One in Portugal too, and making jokes to hide her shock. The biggest surprise was a very old friend who took the opportunity to launch into an attack on unspecified waste in the NHS, in her view substantiating this by recounting how she had to sit around Out-Patients with her son once.

I think she missed the point. If you’re in Out-Patients then you self-evidently are not a medical priority. I remember sitting there once, years ago, with a painful burn all one Sunday afternoon after I soldered my wrist to a car battery by wearing a metal-strapped wristwatch, which at least taught me to never wear plebian fashion ever again.

Today is Friday. A brilliant friend is driving me to the hospital tomorrow, in case it’s not great news, in which case she says I won’t feel like driving.

I don’t know what the news will be; that’s why we’re checking. But I do know that I won’t be charged a single penny for this scan. Not one. And if you want treatment free at the point of use, or you want to be bankrupted, then you need to ask specific questions and think very carefully next time you vote. Because one thing I do know from this. One day it will happen to you. As surely as the sun rises your sun will set for the last time. It really does toll for thee, and not a toll of the kind Jeremy Hunt thinks is a brilliant idea. You are not going to get out of this alive. How much do you want to pay first?


 

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A disc brake is a lovesome thing, God wot

Oh, it just IS, alright?

Just look at it. Someone stuck this on a lathe and literally turned a lump of base metal if not into a pearl, to stretch my Shakesperean metaphors, then into something beautiful and useful that can actually save your life.

Can you see it? I think they’re lovely.

Even more so as instead of costing £50+ each (obviously you need four of them on your car) these cost less than £9 each, direct from the manufacturer Unipart, not Stan’s CutNShut as I suspected when I first saw the price.

No, I don’t know why either. It makes no sense to me. I just said YES PLEASE very quickly indeed and they arrived today.

 

 

And if you half-recognised the quote the rest of it goes like this.

A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot!
Rose plot,
Fringed pool,
Ferned grot–
The veriest school
Of peace; and yet the fool
Contends that God is not–
Not God! in gardens! when the eve is cool?
Nay, but I have a sign;
‘Tis very sure God walks in mine.

(I didn’t write it….)

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Reeling in the years

When I was a kid we periodically had no money. Oh, how times change! One of the things then that made life more inconvenient was cars. Specifically, the way they’d fall apart.

Rust was the big killer. It killed a Morris Minor we had, that a scrap man took away and put £1 through the letter box. We thought we might have to pay him. My 14 year-old infatuation with a beautiful Fiat was sensibly sidelined, as Fiats lasted about 20 minutes back then. My first VW Beetle had a hole through the door. A friend’s Peugeot had a hole in the floor you could put your feet through, although it wasn’t recommended. Household monthly budgets would have a similar sized hole driven straight through them when MoT time came and the word ‘sills’ conveyed an almost supernatural dread.

Probably the best.

It was MoT time for my lovely old Saab this week. Or in fact it wasn’t, not until 27th, but as the car’s somehow inexplicably alarmingly 18 years old this year I got the MoT done three weeks early just in case. It was just as well I did.

I replied to some email that came to me from I know not where. It promised that my MoT would be done for £20, not £35. That someone would come and pick my car up from my house and test it and bring it back.

That if anything needed doing they’d phone me before the test, in case I decided that at that age it just wasn’t worth doing. But at that age, at my age, I discovered that I don’t know anything about cars and their ages any more.

A friend’s BMW just died. Literally. It was about eight years old and I quite coveted it, but a month or so ago she switched on, drove down the lane and found that after two hundred yards there just wasn’t any engine. The cam chain had snapped, because someone clever had decided that they shouldn’t use cam chains but cam belts instead, that instead of lasting the life of the car, pretty much last just about 40,000 miles or four years, after which you’re on borrowed time. She got a couple of hundred from a garage which claimed it was doing her a favour. I don’t know if they said ‘luv,’ as well.

And it makes no sense. Cars used to have a life of about six years before they were in falling to bits zone. Rust killed them. Now that it doesn’t, engine life seems to match the useful span of an Austin Allegro. Except on cars as old as the Saab, which still have steel chains doing the business.

The internet garage as I think of them, had a surprise for me. Emissions, guv. Old, innit? Two litre turbo annat. Failed on emissions. Prolly yer catalytic converter. Could be yer fuel injectors but I reckon iss the injector. £650 guv. Plus the VAT acourse. Want us to get on and do it this afternoon?

Oddly, no, I didn’t. I didn’t really know what to do, not least as the garage told me that ‘the law’s changed’ and if a car fails its MoT now, it’s failed. My cunning plan to use the spare three weeks wouldn’t work. I was stuffed, stuck out in the middle of nowhere with a piece of scrap metal. Except it was all a lie.

After I’d calmed down and decided not to lie in the A12 on a dark night I checked online to see a way around the ‘grey area;’ I was told now surrounded the MoT. And it’s what garages used to call total bollocks. The idea that you can’t drive a faield MoT car is true enough, but the old MoT is valid until it would have expired by date, not duie to whatever else has happened. It’s on the government’s own website, clear as day.

As for the catalytic converter. £130 on Ebay, £120 to fit it and we’re back in business. Almost. The Saab failed the re-test back at my proper garage in the next village, after they’d bolted on the new catalytic converter and surprised themselves and me with a reading that implies the government ought to be paying me for cleaning the air each time I start the engine.

There was a hole in the rear wheel arch, inside. Now, I know it’s muddy and around here there’s pretty much no point cleaning your car until March, what with silage, mud, ice, suicidal pheasant and this week kamikase hares littered around the lanes. But it’s a pretty major part of the MoT test. Sills, guv. Another day, £150 cash, with no funny forms and percentages to do and the lovely walnut dashboard reflects my less-worried face again.

Next the brakes. And Ebay again, sourcing £50 discs for a ludicrous £8.33 each, proper Unipart ones, for reasons unclear to me and which astonishes the garage. But that’s the thing about living in an old-fashioned place. You can talk to people and they’re quite happy to share the work you can do with the work they can do. I’ve got a knack for finding things (not like that, officer). They’re just nice and they do that rare thing now: what they say they’re going to do, when they say they’re going to do it.

So cue up the Springsteen car songs, push the button to roll the hood down (yes of course I’ve had the hood down this year. Last weekend in fact, at the request of a friend’s young son and his mate, back from football. Yes obviously we froze. It’s January) and try not to imagine another friend’s description of an encounter she had in the back of one of these.

Try not to imagine because she’s tall and there’s no room in the back. And because it wasn’t my car. And most of all because it makes me inexplicably jealous. But that’s another story altogether and besides, the wench is nowhere near dead.

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