Friday, 31 October 2008

The Tooth And Halloween

Matty has had a wobbly front tooth for weeks now. He has already lost one of his top front teeth and now the other one has been flapping like a flag in a gusty wind. Today, as he bit into a bread roll, the tooth went from loose to hanging by a thread, and he delighted, with an 8 year old boys zeal, in twisting and displaying it in ever more grotesque ways. “You had better pull it out,” suggested Polly. Matty tentatively gave it a tug and announced that it was too painful to touch. “Well you can't leave it like that. You won't be able to eat.” We had been through all this before with the last tooth so we knew what to do. We called upon the undeniable expert in all dental extraction matters in our household, 4 year old Sam.

When Matty's last front tooth was loose and no one was allowed to touch it, it was Sam who had casually reached up and removed the tooth before Matty had time to react. Sam was more than happy to repeat his triumphant performance and so with Polly holding Matty still Sam positioned himself. “It'll hurt,” wailed Matty. “No it won't,” replied his gleeful sibling. “It won't hurt me at all.” And with that he yanked the tooth out.

Negotiations are now under way as to what percentage of the tooth fairy's 'compensation payout' is Sam entitled to.

- O -

Polly has taken the boys to a Halloween/Rainbow party leaving me here to write this. As she left she told me she had hung a 'No Trick or Treating' sign up on the door, provided by our community police officer, in on attempt to leave me undisturbed. Personally I don't mind Trick or Treating. I roll to the door and look at the children. I roll my eyes, twitch a little, and in a rasping monotone say, “I went Trick and Treating once. We called at the wrong house and look what happened to me.” I pause, and then add, “I was the lucky one.” I'm rarely disturbed again.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

It's The Wolf

3am. The bedroom door opens. Enter Sam, crying.

Sam: Mummy, Mummy, the wolf is coming to eat me!

Polly (from a deep sleep): What is it, darling?

Sam: The wolf! The big bad wolf! He's going to eat me up.

Polly: It's just a bad dream, Sam. Go back to bed, Sweetie.

Sam: I cant. The wolf will eat me.

Polly: He won't eat you. I promise.

Sam: He will.

Polly: The wolf won't eat you. Do you know how I know?

Sam: How do you know?

Polly: He's a vegetarian.

Sam: Oh. Vegetarian.

Polly: Go back to bed, love.

Sam: Okay.

[Exit Sam]

Polly: Vegetarian. God, I'm good.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

The Wrong Thing

Sometimes you just can't get things right. Case in point. It's the school half-term holiday and Polly took the boys out shopping, leaving me in blissful solitude to respond to emails and... er, play Scrabble on Facebook. So there I am, up to my eyes in vowels and a solitary K, when the door bell rang.

I say rang, but in actual fact our door bell doesn't exactly ring, it blasts a high pitched shriek at an ear-bleeding volume via an intercom speaker system in several rooms at the same time. It was installed when we first moved in, and because someone, somewhere heard that I was disabled they naturally assumed I was stone deaf and wouldn't be able to hear anything less than 110 decibels. I answered the door via the aforementioned intercom. The intercom is, of course, placed just out of reach, but never mind, I have a clever little gadget called a Possum that can communicate with the intercom which in turn communicates with the door entry system. Never use a door knob when a £1000 of electronics will do.

At the door was a cheerful Italian man carrying a length of co-axil cable and a tool box. “I hava come to connect your TV to the newa TV aerial, SeƱor.” He waved an ID badge at me and asked, “Where you wanna the socket?” I remembered Polly shouting something about him coming just as she left, children in tow. I showed him where some previous engineers had left cables running from the new communal aerial. He took out an enormous power drill, looked first at me, then the wheelchair and finally at the wall. “I willa put it here,” he said indicating to a point on the wall. “It willa be at the righta height for you to reacha.” Very thoughtful I thought and let him get on with it.

Several minutes of drilling later, a white socket has been fitted to the wall about 90cm from the floor, adjacent to the bookcase in the corner. Perfect.

Then Polly came home. One glance, and 15 years of experience told me I'd done something very wrong even before she opened her mouth. “And you thought that that was a good place for it, did you?” Italian engineer man, sensing a change of atmosphere, packs up his equipment and exits post-haste. “ You needa anything moved you phone the office.”

When we were alone Polly pointed out the obvious. The socket, standing some 5cm proud of the wall with a cable protruding a further 3cm sat squarely mid-wall. “Remember that we are in the process of moving the furniture around?” I admitted that I did remember. It would be difficult to deny it. The last week has been spent clearing space and getting rid of hundreds of books in preparation.. “Do you remember where the sideboard is going to go?” “Against that wall?” “That's right, against that wall where it fits exactly. That's exactly, not give or take a great big TV aerial socket.” “Oh. ..” Polly gave me that look wives have given husbands down through the ages. The look that expresses exasperation, love and pity, and bewilderment at how she had ended up married to someone she couldn't trust to sit the right way round on a lavatory. “ Oh well, perhaps we can move it,” she said. “The Sideboard?” “The socket, you. . . you. . .” “Wonderful man,” I supplied hopefully. “Get the tape measure, darling.”

It's her fault really. She want out and left me. And I was distracted. What words can you make with three I's, two O's, an E and a K?

Sunday, 26 October 2008

I Haven't Got A Cluedo

Playing Cluedo with your family is not necessarily relaxing. Matty has been longing to play the new version of the game since it has been advertised on children's TV seemingly on rotation. To speed the game up they've added extra elements like clock cards and special power cards. Now I don't have a problem with board games but I do become incredibly competitive. I have to win. The fact that I'm playing against an 8 year old and his 4 year old brother teamed with my wife makes no difference. Ten minutes in to explaining the rules I'm seriously considering using the weaponry supplied with the game. An axe, baseball bat, pistol. . . all very tempting. And once the game is under way I find myself engaged in a battle of wits with Matty as he tries to peek at my clue list. I deliberately employ strategies to mislead him; hinting strongly that he ought to be looking for the sink plunger in the bathroom. I take a malicious pleasure watching him surreptitiously searching the board for the non-existent crime scene, and I use the distraction to sneak past Polly and Sam and make my accusation. “It was Mr Green, in the Living Room using the Candlestick.” At this point Sam burst into tears. “That's what we were going to say!” he bawled. “Them's the breaks, kid,” I told him. You see, I'm ruthless.

Friday, 24 October 2008

The Honeymoon Story (Part Three)

At last, the final part of the honeymoon story in which we find out why I have of a fear of Lakeland Plastics.

If you haven't read parts one and two then you might like to click here and here to catch up on this tale of lakes, love and the emergency services. I'm not sure why it has taken me so long to write part three, perhaps it is because I'm still living with the consequences, or may be I just forgot. Grit your teeth (l really mean that), and let's go.

Have you ever heard of Lakeland Plastics? Nowadays it's just called Lakeland and sells kitchenware and useful type stuff for the home. 15 years ago it was primarily a catalogue based company with very few retail outlets, the biggest being the factory outlet at Windermere in the Lake District, the company's head quarters. Polly, as soon as she learned of our honeymoon destination, determined to visit this homeware Mecca. If I remember correctly she particularly wanted a muffin baking tray, but more eagerly she wanted to gaze upon the many kinds of plastic based storage solutions the company had to offer. We were, after all, just setting up home. So, after visiting the home of Wordsworth or Beatrix Potter, after cruising the lakes on steamboats, after dining on locally caught freshwater fish, visiting tarns and becks, fells and dales, taking in some of the country's most beautiful vistas and panoramas, Polly would ask, “When are we going to go to Lakeland Plastics?”

Towards the end of the fortnight, the early October weather turned more unsettled and a day taking in the shops of Bowness and Windermere seemed quite an attractive proposition. There were several bookshops I'd spotted and right at the top of the hill, next to the railway station was the afore mentioned Lakeland Plastics. Polly, with uncharacteristic patience, indulged me as I browsed shelves of local history books and biographies of Wordsworth and Arthur Ransome, and flicked through endless watercolours of the local landscapes, gently herding me up the hill towards her ultimate destination.

Finally we were inside the strip-lit outlet of all things kitchenware, polyurethane and pastel coloured. I feigned as much interest as I could in breakfast cereal storage options and plastic freezer boxes. Polly was remarkably restrained, only buying a few bits and pieces but taking note of things she would order later, so we eventually left the store relatively unburdened with carrier bags. A fine Cumbrian drizzle had started so we decided to head back to the warmth and dryness of our hotel. Polly hung the bags on the back of the heavy duty, out door powered wheelchair, the Cheetah, and we set off down the busy hill, lined with mostly inaccessible craft and gift shops.

The pavement (side walk) was much too narrow for us to walk side by side so Polly hung back a few feet. Something in one of the shop windows caught her eye and she paused briefly while I trundled on ahead. The drizzle turned to a light but coat soaking rain and my mind was fixed on getting to somewhere dry. As I approached the junction with a small side road the pavement steepened and slightly banked towards the road, the well worn, ancient, flagstones were greasy with the wet and before I knew it the wheelchair began to slide with a sickening, unstoppable inevitability towards the nine inch high curb and the busy traffic filled road. I pulled back on the joystick controller but the weight of the chair and the slickness of the ground beneath the wheels only produced a high pitched squealing sound and caused the chair to slew towards the side road. I heard Polly shout and felt her pulling on the back of the chair but gravity won out and the small leading wheels slipped over the curb, tilting the chair forward and sending me beyond the point of balance. There was a slow motion, plenty of time to see what was going to happen but nothing you can do about it moment, and I fell face forward from the chair. Polly just managed to stop the chair from following the over the edge and on top of me as I did a bone crunching three point landing, two knees and a chin, on to the rain soaked road. There was a shriek of brakes as startled drivers skidded to a halt around me and a kind of crunching, cracking sound as six of my teeth shattered. An awful lot of blood was being washed away from me and down a drain a few feet away.

Within a second Polly was kneeling beside me and crowd of curious and horrified on lookers had gathered. “Are you all right? Stephen? Say something.” “Uhggh. . .,” I replied. “Umph 'roken m' teef.” Little white pieces of enamel fell from my mouth. A local shopkeeper came rushing over carrying a small green box. “I'm trained in first aid,” he declared excitedly. “Sod that,” said someone else. “Call an ambulance.”

I don't know if you have ever lain face down in a Cumbrian towns main road, causing a massive tailback of traffic, but if you have, like me, you will probably not remember the experience fondly. It was cold and wet, shock was setting in, and the ambulance was taking forever to get there because some fool was lying in the road holding up the traffic. Polly had to stop well meaning people from 'helping to get him back on his feet' or practising their Cub Scout first aid training. My teeth began to chatter and that hurt like hell.

Later, much later, at a casualty unit in Kendal my chin was stitched up and I was given some painkillers. I asked to see a dentist but they looked at me as if I was asking for an audience with the alien leader of a small planet circling one of the stars in Orion's belt, so I was resigned to waiting until we got back to London. The inside of my mouth felt distinctly unfamiliar.

We still had a couple of days left of our honeymoon but by the following day my tongue had begun to swell and turn a fetching shade of black. Somehow the romance had gone out of it. By the time we were back at home my tongue was rubbed raw on the jagged edges of my teeth and I was slightly feverish. Miraculously I didn't lose any of my teeth. Six were cracked and broken but I didn't lose them. Even today if I run my tongue around my mouth I can feel the damage. And a shiver runs down my spine every time I see a plastic freezer box.

And so ends the saga of our honeymoon, our first holiday together. Fortunately this was not a foretaste of things to come. Over the last 15 years we have had plenty of lovely holidays, some of them without incident. (Not many, but a few.)

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Dear Rock God

Dear Rock God,

Thank you for taking the time to comment on the I'm Expensive post. I can only assume you are trying to assuage your guilt ridden conscience for not signing up as a 'Follower' of this blog. If you would care to glance at the top right of this page you will see the group of heroes enshrined in digitized glory for all the world wide web to see who are proud (or at least not ashamed) to publicly declare their interest in this minor contribution to the betterment of mankind. Further investigation would even reveal that even the semi-computer literate Bass Bin has managed to make his digital mark. (See the comments for the Dear Auntie Judith post to see why this is amazing in itself.)

Sadly you are not the only regular reader who has not joined this elite band of brothers and sisters. EuroStoryteller, SchoolMumAtTheGate and BlondeGPatPoshScottishSchool where are you all? A few clicks of the mouse and you're there. (Obviously you can choose your own user-names.)

Thank you to everyone who has joined the list, I really appreciate it. It increases the blog's 'foot print' on the Web and so makes it easier for others to find. It also greatly encourages me. Don't worry, you aren't signed up to any kind of bizarre cult. I think all that happens is that you get notified by email that I've posted something new. And I expect you can opt out of that if you want.

So, Rock God and anyone else, please click 'Follow This Blog' and help spread the word. It can't hurt.


Monday, 20 October 2008

I'm Expensive

We had a phone call from the district nurses this morning, Apparently all the confusion last week was our fault. We're not quite sure how but it certainly wasn't their fault. We didn't give them the dates or rather we didn't make sure they had written them down. And they are very busy and can't just pop round at my beck and call. And no we can't organise for my usual carers to do the job, I'm under nursing care. Oh, and my care package is very expensive as it is.

“Not as expensive as it would be if I walked out on him,” said Polly through gritted teeth. Which sort of answers a question asked of me by 'ameenab` in the comments for 'Wee`ll Meet Again`. He or she (I'm sorry 'ameenab', I really don't know) wrote -

I've been reading your blog for a while now. I have MD too and it's really helpful for me to read your stories.

One thing that gets me though - why don't you use live-in care? I have used 24 hour live-in PAs, directed by me, for ten years. I would never go back to having to go to the toilet and go to bed only when the care staff turn up. OK, so it's a bit weird having someone around all the time, but you get used to it. And the point is that you can ask them to leave you alone if you want to because you are in charge.

Your care needs are far higher than mine so I don't understand why you don't have a 24 hr package. Is this postcode lottery at work or do you just not want it?

I'm married. It is assumed by all that my beloved will meet my needs and be my live-in care. She is presumed to be my P.A., my 24 hours-a-day care package. The fact that we have two children and she works is barely taken into consideration. Polly was quite taken by the idea of live-in help but can't think where they would do the live-in part. I saw her eyeing up the shed.

I'm not sure what would happen if I insisted on a P.A. If Polly withdrew her 'care'. If. I married her because I loved her, not because I needed a carer. I still love her but I recognise I need more help than I did 15 years ago. I need a carer, yes, but l want a wife more.

Of course, there are advantages to being married to your primary carer. I have two children.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Dear Auntie Judith

Dear Auntie Judith,

I am thrilled (though mildly disconcerted) that you are reading my blog. I am sorry that you are having problems leaving a comment because I would love to hear from you. Please follow the instructions below and see if they help. Please excuse me if they are in anyway patronising.

1.Scroll down to the bottom of this post.
2.You will see some small writing in Block Capitals that starts with POSTED BY QUICK SKETCH AT. . .
3.Look between the time (eg 07:30) and a picture of a white envelope and you will see the word COMMENT.
4.Double click on the word COMMENT.
5.A new window will open with a white box on the right hand side headed Leave your comment
6.Single click inside the box.
7.Write your searingly witty, poignant or abusive comment.
8.Finished writing? Well hurry up then.
9.When you have finally finished writing your comment look beneath the box you have been writing in. You will see a section headed Choose an identity.
10.Assuming you are not already signed into Google/Blogger select Name/URL by clicking in the tiny white circle next to it.
11.Two boxes have appeared. Ignore the second one labelled URL (optional) and concentrate on the first box labelled Name.
12.Select a name. This can be anything you like. For example – Super Aunt or Silver Foxy Aunt or what ever you like. Fill in the word verification box if necessary.
13.Click on the blue Preview button to see how your comment will appear to the eagerly awaiting readers of How To Be An Inspiration. Look to the left of the screen, your comment appears in a green box.
14.Happy? Then click Publish this comment in the bottom right of the green box.
15.That's it. Have a well deserved drink.

Please feel free to leave a comment at any time. Just remember that the whole world can read it so rein in that anti-government talk and keep plans of assassination in code.

Thank you for reading my blog and for being a lovely aunt.



Thursday, 16 October 2008

Wee'll Meet Again

You may feel this blog has strayed from the disability issues theme, what with parties, sick children and elephants of late. Well never fear, the disability factor is back. You may want to cross your legs for this.

Polly, as you know, has recently been accepted to train as a Clown Doctor. This involves a training schedule that would stretch your average neurosurgeon and which started this week. From Tuesday she has had to be in Islington or at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children by nine o'clock each morning so has had to leave by 7.00am and does not get back until 7.30pm. This has involved some pretty fancy childcare arrangements and a great reliance on family and friends to get the boys to school (particular thanks to Andi, Emma and Pam) and to cubs, swimming and what have you.

I feel I should say at this point that on more than one occasion Polly has been assured that if she wants to work full-time then she most definitely can. The whole social-care system will facilitate her to fulfil her destiny and will step in to help provide care for me should the need arise. Her needs are every bit as important as mine. Thus reassured Polly and I feel that a bit of Clown Doctoring is well within the realms of feasibility and a not unreasonable ambition. Polly wants to do it and I want her to do it, too.

Kalepo and Godfrey come and get me up and can hang around until about 10.30am, so the last time I can go to the loo is at about 10.00am. Polly therefore dutifully rang my care manager and told her the situation, giving her the dates and asking if it could be arranged for Kalepo and Godfrey to pop in mid-afternoon over the course of the 4 days to give me a hand. No. Since I've been transferred from social care to medical care it would be cheaper if the district nurses came instead. Okay. Two of them came around one afternoon and Polly and I explained the procedure. All well and good.

Tuesday came and my mother-in-law Pam came over to take the boys to school. As it turned out Sam had been sick again and was off for the day so she kindly stayed here to look after him. The hours passed and there was no sign of any district nurses. Pam had been supplying me with a steady flow of coffee and so by late afternoon I was beginning to really feel the need for the loo. Eventually, I had to ask Pam to help me. She graciously and with good humour pulled legs and passed bottles and generally helped me get sorted.

You may be wondering why I didn't phone the district nurses and simply ask where they were. This would tell me you have never had dealings with district nurses. They are akin to the gold at the and of a rainbow, forever just out of reach. You can't call them directly and so have to rely on messages and answer machines. Or, just as effectively, ESP and smoke signals.

That evening Polly rang, left messages, released carrier pigeons, and so on. Wednesday would be sorted. A good thing too as there would be no Pam around today.

You can probably guess what happened. Nothing. Without Pam around I had been able to severely restrict my fluid intake, but, even so, nine and a half hours is an awfully long time. To make matters worse I had to take the boys out to tea and take Sam to his swimming lesson. Splish splash. I made it, but if there are awards for iron will and endurance I deserve one. I was relieved in so many ways when Polly finally came home.

That evening there was an extensive, frank and comprehensive phone exchange between Polly and someone at the district nurses administration. Finally, everything was sorted.

Which brings us to today. At 1.00pm two nurses arrive. I hardly need to point out that 1.00pm is not mid-afternoon. Still, only six and a half hours 'till Polly gets home. Fingers (and legs) crossed.

Sunday, 12 October 2008


Last night, as I was being hoisted from my wheelchair to the bed, my head slightly fuzzy from wine and an evening of company, I was reminded once again how much being part of a community of family and friends is how wealth should really be measured. I lost count of the number of people at the party when I got to around 90. 90 people who had come to celebrate Polly's birthday.

There was wine and food in abundance and a strange confluence of family and friends from many different aspects of my beloveds life. Friends from as long ago as primary school chatting with parents of primary school classmates of our own children. Actors talking to vicars, aunts sharing with friends from church, colleagues with carers. And so many people working together to make it all happen, generously giving the gift of time and talent, decorating the hall, running the kitchen, and building the elephant. Polly looked beautiful in a lovely sari and the boys wore matching 'Indian Prince' outfits. I was dressed.

Now, I'm sat amongst a pile of wrapping paper and presents as Polly gleefully tries on pieces of jewellery and admires cards and wonders what to do with the whole heap of naan bread we have found in a bag. Me, I'm rather glad there are some Indian sweets left over. Polly has promised not to have a 41st birthday party but I did catch her looking at me thoughtfully as she wound up and packed away lengths of bright garlands of flowers and asking what I think about a Hawaiian theme. I'm 50 in three years time.

Saturday, 11 October 2008


Today is Polly's 40th birthday, or as she puts it her 21st with 19 years experience. The day started early. Very early. At 6.30am we heard giggling and an unnerving amount of rattling and banging coming from the kitchen. Shouts of “Incoming” and (more alarmingly) “Fire in the hold!” could be discerned. Polly gripped the mattress and fought to restrain herself from going to find out what was going on. Breakfast in bed was what was going on. We have one of those 3 second kettles, which makes one mug of boiling water at a time and is relatively safe for an 8 year old to operate, so first came a cup of tea. With the tea came toast. That's toast. Not toast with butter and marmalade. Not even toast and butter. Just toast. “Hmm...” said Polly. “Lovely.”

Now we're preparing for tonight's party. Lots of people have rallied round to help with moving stuff here and there. The church hall is being dressed, food is being prepared and the phone rarely stops ringing. We've gone through the 'what if nobody comes' stage and on to the 'what if everybody who's been invited comes' stage. Too much food to not enough food. Polly's making lists. Lots of lists. She's got a list of her lists. Top of the list is – Don't forget the Elephant.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

The Elephant In The Room

There's an elephant in my living room. Not a metaphorical 'let's not talk about something' type one, but an almost life size, somewhat dominating one end of the room, type one. Polly is having a party on Saturday to celebrate her 40th birthday and has decided on an Indian theme. “We need an elephant,” she told me. “Knock yourself out,” I said.

I woke up this morning to find a fairly realistic head of Elephas maximus indicus hanging from a bookcase. Polly says that all she needs to do now is make the body. I don't think she's joking.

Sam is still off school. The poor child hasn't made it through a night without being sick since last Saturday. He's been absolutely fine during the last few days, desperate to eat and eager for entertainment. Every few minutes he asks plaintively when Matty will be coming home. The doctor says simply, “'there's a lot of it going around.” Right now Sam's sitting down to a supper of dry crackers.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

A Skeleton Walks Into A Bar

Life proceeds as normal. Last night the BiPap ventilator started bleeping again. This is the replacement BiPap remember. The previous one set off its alarm 269 times in one night. This one didn't reach those giddy heights but it was enough to ruin the night. So now I have a replacement replacement machine.

Sam is sick. Typically, after a couple of weeks of school, he has been struck down with the lurgy. The poor kid can't hold anything down and has spent the last few days moping about being miserable, alternating between queasy and starving hungry. Poor Polly has had yet more disturbed nights.

As mentioned yesterday, I have installed what we blogging geeks call a widget. If you look at the top right of this page you'll see “I Read This Blog”. Do please join in and sign up.

And finally, Matty is very keen on this joke at the moment.

A skeleton walks into a bar and asks for a drink.”Would you like anything else with that, sir?” asked the barman. “Yes please,” replies the skeleton. “A mop.”

Monday, 6 October 2008

Old Dogs

I'm not a great one for making friends; despite my natural charisma and sparkling wit I tend to stick with what (and who) I know. It's one of the few areas of my life where I'm basically conservative. This has little to do with my disability. If someone can't see past the wheelchair then a meaningful friendship is a non-starter. Building a friendship can be easy or it can be hard work, but either way it requires time and some kind of emotional investment. There are plenty of people I know and like and am more than happy to spend time with, but I know that as time passes and circumstances change we will drift apart and move on with our lives. A friend, to me, is some one with whom I'll maintain a relationship with whereever I am and whatever I'm doing. The friends I do make I tend to stick with - over decades in several cases.

On Saturday two of my oldest friends (in every sense of the word) came to visit. If you've followed this blog from the early days you'll have come across them before. I've known Paul and Darren for more than 40 years. (We all find this highly disturbing and so in public pretend to be mere acquaintances who have only recently been forced into each others company.) I first met Darren at infant school when we were both 4 ½ and were joined by Jonny come lately Paul when we were 8. They drove 130 miles from Bristol (on Saturday that is, not when they were children) to visit me and, truth be told, I was happy to see them.

We slip in to each others company like putting on comfy old slippers and pick up on conversations that have been running for years. Yesterday, in the inevitable fit of nostalgia, we logged on to Friends Reunited for a 'where are they now` session and peeked in on the lives of long ago classmates. “She married him?! Why? She could have had anyone. She could have had me!” Or “It says he's a chef, but I saw him flipping burgers in McDonalds.” “He runs a hugely successful Gay nightclub in London.” “Who?” “Him” “Never!” and so on. Fascinating though the flicking through past lives was, “He may have been the class Lothario back then, but he's clinically obese now,” we soon realised that none of us had any real interest in renewing acquaintance with these people from our shared history. Don't misunderstand, if we bumped in to them on the street (or on remand in one case), we would happily stop to chat, go for a drink, and exchange email addresses (or cell numbers). But to actively seek to renew a lasting friendship, we all agreed, seemed pointless. Why? Are we all so smug and self content that we can afford to cast adrift our past? Hardly. Frankly it all seems soooo long ago that our paths diverged, that so much water has past under the bridge, times wing-ed chariot has been grounded due to rust. Basically, we're too old.

Earlier we'd gone out for MAN food. Living with an (albeit a very tolerant) vegetarian means that steak is rarely on the menu so we made our way to the butchers and purchased MAN sized rump steak. But being men of a certain age (and conscious of weight and cholesterol) we also bought salad.

Through all the years we have known each other we have never really talked about my disability. In a way they've grown up with it along with me. It is only because I've started writing this blog, they say, that they have started to get an insight in to my situation. The subject hasn't been avoided, it's not the elephant in the room, rather it has just never been an issue. They are the only two, apart from my family, who can remember me running, playing football and jumping from the top of the school hall climbing frame. We used to walk to school together, play in a band together (me badly, but I owned the only amplifier) and as kids were cub scouts together. We shared an idyllic holiday on a farm one glorious teenage summer together, we got drunk together and we did things that if I ever caught my children doing I'd half kill them together. We established the foundation of a lifetime friendship. And now, thanks to something as simple and as technologically amazing as a blog, it's funny to think that even after all these years we can still learn about each other. Old dogs, new tricks anyone?

Talking of new tricks. . .

If you would care to glance at the top right of this page you will see a new feature. 'I Read This Blog'. Now, let's face it, you can hardly deny that you are reading this blog, can you? So please please click the 'I follow this blog' line and join in. I love writing this stuff but it would be great to know someone is reading it apart from Paul and Darren who are afraid not to because l might reveal something awful about them. Oh, and I swear on Darren's life that I will not pass on your details to anyone, spam you or laugh uncontrollably at your user-name. (Rock God? You wish.)

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Red Shift

Just to redress yesterdays rant here's something I was commissioned to write a few years ago.

In the beginning
The Universe was smaller than
a mustard seed
Every star and planet was very
squashed indeed
But then
said God
an Architect
and Physicist
a Chemist, Engineer and Fine Artist
I will not have my Universe
contained within this speck
Let there be light
And light there was
The brightest flash
The loudest crack
Of thunder ever heard
And out
and in
to nothingness
The Universe was poured

Galaxies like Frisbees thrown
Red shifted into place
While Nebulae like flowers grown
colour in the space

Alpha and Omega rang
The beginning and the end
The birth, the death
The life, the breath
The distant Lord, the friend
Our Father
who in heaven cared
E equalled M C squared

The echo of that thunder crack
(what scientists call ‘Big Bang’)
can just be heard on quiet nights
still ringing down the years
Lift up your eyes and strain your ears
listen with your soul
The faintest murmur can be heard
Of God’s creative
Thunder roll

Stephen Deal 1997

Friday, 3 October 2008

Sarah Palin And The Flintstones

I've been worrying about Sarah Palin. Now don't get me wrong, I'm sure that in her own gun-totin` way she is a lovely woman. I respect her right to name her children after a west country city with a history linked to the slave trade, a branch of mathematics, and a means of following something. These names are (by my reckoning) exotic but I recognise cultural influences in these matters. Equally I respect her right to bare arms and shoot furry things. I admire the way she has risen from a provincial mayor to governor to vice-presidential candidate and is still identified as a 'hockey mom`. All in all she appears to be a nice enough woman. So, what's my problem?

At this point I need to lay my cards on the table. When I was 13 I became a Christian. Over the years I have worked with and for numerous church organisations, writing material that has been used all over the world in Christian contexts. I have worked with most of the best known (British) evangelists, especially the late Rob Frost whom I counted among my best friends. And although, over the years, I have come to realise that the world and indeed the universe is more complex and more uncertain than perhaps my 13 year old self would have accepted, I adhere in principle to a Christian ethos.

Right, back to Sarah Palin. Mrs Palin belongs to the Wasilla Assembly of God church . . . Oh no, sorry, she left there in 2002, coincidently around the time she was trying to break in to state-wide politics. No, she goes to Wasilla Bible Church. . . Oh, hang on a second, apparently she doesn't

"I think that there's a lot of mocking of my personal faith," she said. "And my personal faith is very, very simple. I don't belong to any church. I do have a strong belief in God, and I believe that I'm a heck of a lot better off putting my life in God's hands, and saying hey, you know, guide me. What else do we have but guidance that we would seek from a Creator? That's about as simple as it gets with my faith, and I think that there is a lot of mocking of that.”
Radio interview with Hugh Hewitt

“I don't belong to any church.” Now a cynic might wonder if her apparent sudden disavowal of church has anything to do with being jettisoned into the national and indeed international political limelight. Could it possibly be that someone has whispered in her ear that she needs to tone down the religious stuff? And if so, why? Here's one possible reason.

Sarah Palin, a possible vice-president of the USA, a woman who could be a heartbeat away from running a superpower, believes that men and dinosaurs lived together. A man by the name of Philip Munger talking about an evangelical drive to take over a school board in Mat-Su Borough, Alaska said of Sarah Palin -

"She wanted to get people who believed in creationism on the board," said Munger, a music composer and teacher. "I bumped into her once after my band played at a graduation ceremony at the Assembly of God. I said, 'Sarah, how can you believe in creationism -- your father's a science teacher.' And she said, 'We don't have to agree on everything.'
"I pushed her on the earth's creation, whether it was really less than 7,000 years old and whether dinosaurs and humans walked the earth at the same time. And she said yes, she'd seen images somewhere of dinosaur fossils with human footprints in them."
Source – David Talbot (

The dinosaur fossils with human footprints in them refers to the so-called Taylor Trail on the Paluxy river in Texas, a river bed where there appears to be two types of footprint fossilised in the mud, one set dinosaur, one set apparently human. The site has been thoroughly investigated and the notion of co-existing humans and dinosaurs debunked. (

Mrs Palin is perfectly entitled to her personal beliefs. She might believe in fairies and unicorns, she may well believe the world is flat and rides on the back of a giant turtle, but what she is surely not entitled to do is give credence to her beliefs by inflicting them on children in the classroom, dressing up her fanciful notions as science. Whether she is a literal seven day, young earth creationist or a proponent of ID, Intelligent Design, she must not be allowed to hide behind the 'teach the controversy` argument where creationism is given equal time as evolutionary theory on the grounds that it's only fair children should hear both sides of the argument. There is no argument. On the me hand you have 150 years of accumulated empirical evidence and on the other you have some faith based wishful thinking.

Why am I banging on about this? Why does it matter? It matters because Sarah Palin could conceivably be in a position to influence the direction scientific education takes in the United States, not just in the classroom but across the wider society as well. And what happens in America trickles across the Atlantic to us here in the UK as we are already seeing in some of our own faith based schools. Someone with such a pitiful grasp of scientific reality could mess things up for years to come. Imagine, stem cell research or an investigation in to the healing power of prayer?

Science is not a matter of opinion or faith, it's a method of impartial investigation that can and has changed the world. Of course you can have faith and be an advocate of science but you cannot have science based on faith because faith presumes causation. Sarah Palin is certainly not unique amongst politicians who have weird or wonderful personal ideologies but she is unique in being a potential rallying point for the right-wing forces intent on dragging the world back to the dark ages. There's not much we can do about it on this side of the Atlantic but if you are reading this in America please think carefully before inflicting on us some one who thinks prehistory was somewhat akin to the Flintstones.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Is There A Clown Doctor In The House?

A few months a go we were watching one of those regional programmes that are usually about cleaning up the local canal or restoring an old theatre or such like. This one was about a group of people who go in to hospitals to visit children and help them come to terms with their conditions, or help explain the procedures they will be going through. They are known as Clown Doctors and use humour, magic and sometimes just plain silliness to to help relax and comfort the children. It turned out these Clown Doctors weren't just a bunch of annoying would be children's entertainers in wigs and red noses but were trained in all manner of things from psychology and infection control to close-up magic and balloon modelling. Personally the idea of someone coming up to my sick bed and asking me to 'pick a card, any card' would make me reach for the pain relief, but I'm not four years old and facing months of chemo.

I turned to remark to Polly something facile about rather having morphine than laughter as my preferred best medicine when I noticed a smile on her face and a far away look in her eyes. “I could do that,” she said. And truth be told I knew she could.

A few weeks later, after an exchange of phone calls and emails, an application form arrived. I say application form but I mean a demand for an autobiography combined with a dissertation on the philosophy of child care. I swear it would be easier for an ex-junkie, militant communist to join MI5 than for a experienced children's entertainer and nursery nurse to become a clown doctor. I know I'm biased but with more than 15 years experience as a story-teller, professional qualifications and real life experience as a nursery nurse both here and abroad, and years of earning a living as a jobbing actor (playing countless parts as cute woodland animals and fairytale creatures) there is no one in the whole country more qualified than Polly for a job like this. She spent hours and hours filling in the form and then dropped in the post.

As you might imagine, following the TV programme, the Clown Doctor people had been swamped with requests for application forms from would be balloon modellers and wig wearing circus wanna-bees. In the end some 375 people actually made it through the form filling and of those a handful were invited to a workshop. Polly was among them. After a morning of finding her inner clown and evolving from the primeval swamp into a dinosaur she was called back for an interview which is where we were up to today.

This morning Polly made her way back to Angel Islington for the interview. There were only six trainee places vacant so I did the “You've done really well to get this far” speech. Later, I received a phone call from her telling me how she had gone mad and been unable to stop talking. “I was surreal even by my standards,” she groaned, “At one stage I was telling them about ready rolled pastry already cut in to circles.” “Why?” I asked. “I don't know,” she wailed. “But after it was over one of the panel asked me where she could get some. Is that a good sign?”

Apparently it was. This afternoon they rang to give her the job though whether for her acting and entertainment skills than for her particular knowledge of frozen patisserie we'll probably never know. Next month she starts a process of training that will last two years. That's an awful lot balloon animals.