Beyond The Grave

For reasons which were never adequately explained to me, when we had our extension built, Building Control forced us to have a soak away dug in the back garden rather than simply cut into the existing surface water pipe. The Soak Away’s job is to collect and disperse the run off water from the house and garden.
So we did what we were told and built a Soak Away as required. This meant digging a pit about 6 feet (182cm) deep and backfilling with shingle and stones.
One of the young labourers was tasked with the job and went about it with gusto. He did not use any power tools only a spade, a shovel and a pick axe, but by the end of the afternoon he was standing in a neat 6 foot square hole. The edges were lovingly finished, crisp, and the sides plumb.
I went out to have a natter with him and to take him a cup of tea. I praised him for his speedy work and in particular his tidy finish.
‘Ah yes’ he says. ‘I was grave digger in Poland’

© Andy Daly 2017

A Bigger Splash

Black. For ceremonial duties. My other pair are oxblood: general purpose.

Black. For ceremonial duties. My other pair are oxblood: general purpose.

Now then, we all know of my love affair with Doc Marten Boots, Bouncing Soles, Air Wear and all that.

However, great though they may be, they have as I have said elsewhere, an achilles heel, so to speak. Namely the vulcanised rubber sole, which although resistant to oil, fat, petrol, acid and alkali are bloody useless when it come to heat. Once the integrity of the sole has been compromised by exposure to heat, the air cushions within the sole start to leak and the air starts being squeezed out; so as you walk along your boot gives out a ‘phut phut phut ‘noise.

Once you have a hole that is it. Worst is winter when you have a permanently wet/cold foot. I know this because I once go around for six months with a holy boot (see ) Here’s how it happened.

In 1983, briefly, a jumble of arms and legs wrapped up in a leather jacket known as Dave Kimberley moved into our cosy 3 bed semi in the West End of Newcaste. Dave’s looks were not disimilar to those of a young Sid Vicious but with better skin. Plus he didn’t do drugs unlke soppy Sid who is the biggest smack heroin head until he is sent down to Robben Island, then Alcatraz where he meets a guy called Jean Genet who can turn himself into a butterfly or Papillon and they both escape only to meet with disaster when they fly too close to the sun and plummet to their deaths in the Hudson River (N.B. Don’t take this as gospel. I may have got my prison stories a bit mixed up)

Anyway, it is summer time and we decide to go somewhere for a holday, and that somewhere is Filey. Dave drives down on his blue Honda CB 250. While I get the bus.

Dave's Honda

Dave’s Honda

Well, we get some weather and spend a glorious few days on the beach going among the rock pools, sunbathing, eating fish and chips and getting pissed as much as possible.

At the end of the week, Dave offers to take me back to Newcastle on the bike and foolishly I agree. Ever had a bad idea? The first drops of rain began to fall as we said ‘farewell’ to Filey and got underway. I was unprepared for the journey to say the least. I had Dave’s spare helmet, a cagoule over my MA1 jacket and my Docs on my feet. I was certainly not prepared for the storm of biblical proportions which followed. Nevertheless, we soldiered on. After an hour or so we came upon a flooded road junction. Dave was taking it slowly, the water lapping at the footrests of the bike just as some tosser in a Range Rover coming in the opposite direction takes the junction way too fast and creates a tidal wave that Hokusai would have been proud of. Dave sees it coming and leans into it, so the body of water hits the top of his crash helmet. Me, I am looking to the left for approaching traffic. I turn to look right at precisely the wrong moment and well … you know how cagoules have that zip at the neck, which when unfastened forms a funnel-like shape? … I take the full force of the wave. It poured straight down this convenient funnel, soaking me from the inside.



Hell’s teeth what a journey! I have never been so cold in my life… and it was July! I remember stopping on the A19 not far from Stockton for a piss and being so stiff I couldn’t even get off the bike.

We got back to our cosy semi about nine o’clock. I was so cold. We lit a fire using some old furniture in an attempt to thaw wor oot. Nothing could stop me from shivering, hot cups of tea – nothing, and it was sitting like this, with my legs up on the fire surround, that I melted my Bouncing Soles.

The perfect end to a perfect day.

Andy Daly 2015


Deep Heat. I guess you are all familiar with this family healthcare product, the UK’s No. 1 selling pain relief heat brand, marketed by The Mentholatum Company, Inc. since 1889. It is a deep vapour rub, active ingredients: 30% Methyl salicylate and 8% Menthol, and is designed to offer effective and targeted pain relief with the relaxing benefits of heat therapy. (It says here)

Suitable for Joint problems, muscle strains and rheumatic pain.

Not then to be confused with something like, say for instance toothpaste.

Enter my old mate Chawkey.

One Sunday morning after the night before, tongue like the bottom of a parrot’s cage, eyelids like flypaper, Chawkey stumbles into the bathroom to brush his teeth. To compound matters Deep Heat is sold in a tube. Not good for those of us who for a variety of reasons (chiefly the consumption of alcohol) have to perform functions in the bathroom by braille.

In his haze what does he do (and I think you may be ahead of me here ….) but only start to brush his teeth with same mix of menthol and methylwhastsit …

Hot Stuff

Hot Stuff


He says he couldn’t taste anything for 2 weeks after,

He’s only done it the once.

© Andy Daly 2015

Fluttering To Deceive

A funny thing happens the other day. My youngest and his girlfriend Sunita go out to the movies. Afterwards, she stays the night as she sometime does. Continue reading


What with all the furore over some baking programme, you may have missed this excellent series which tests the painting skills of its contestants with a series of challenges to find out who is the Master painter.

It all came to a head last week in the idyllic surroundings of the St Ives School of Painting; established by Leonard Fuller in the historic Porthmeor studios at the centre of St Ives’ artists’ quarter in 1938. Artists who have lived and worked in the town include Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Naum Gabo, Roger Hilton and Terry Frost  to name but a few. It makes a fine setting for  the grand finale.

And guess who is in the final?

That’s right. Your’s truly. Along with Peggy and Alison.

The Studio

The Studio


If you have no idea what I am babbling on about, The Great British Paint Off is the ultimate painting battle where passionate amateur painting fans compete to be crowned the UK’s Master Painter. Over the course of 10 hour-long episodes, the series follows the trials and tribulations of the competitors, young and old, from every background and every corner of Britain, as they attempt to prove their painting prowess, under the watchful eyes of our judges, ably assisted by random comedians. Each week the painters tackle a different skill, which become progressively more difficult as the competition unfolds. Their knowledge of the practical aspects of painting are thoroughly tested as is their nerve and ablity to cope with pressure.



Testing the painters’ personality, creative flair and painting ability, the main challenge here is to produce something robust and conceptually sound. It will show a mastery of technique as well as confidence with colour whether it be naturalistic, symbolic or expressive.


This challenge separates the wheat from the chaff. Take one basic genre, and with the same instructions, ask our painters to produce a finished product… sound easy? Well, any variation on the finished product will be a result of their own technical knowledge and experience – or lack of. Painters are laid bare in this task and this is where the pressure’s really on in the Paint-off.


The gloves are off in this final challenge where the painters are able to showcase their depth of skill and talent. The complexities of this task call for a professional standard in style AND substance. Are they up to it? The judges will be looking for the most impressive and creative creations.


The Chuckle Brothers. Paul and Barry Elliott found their first taste of success when they won the television talent show Opportunity Knocks in 1967 and since then have appeared in a number of TV and radio shows, the most memorable being their BAFTA nominated ‘Chucklevision’. Best known for their catchphrase ‘To Me … to You … to Me … to You … PAINT!’




Nicholas Serota and the grand old dame of British painting, David Hockney.

‘Nasty Nick’ is Director of the Tate and with it the country’s major collection of Modern/Contemporary Art at the Tate Modern and British Painting and sculpture at Tate Britain. Formerly in charge of the Whitechapel Gallery, he has also been chairperson of the Turner Prize Jury. It is widely rumoured that he doesn’t in fact like painting at all.



David Hockney is the nation’s favourite painter. After studying at the Royal College, she emerged into the London of the ‘Swinging Sixties’. It wasn’t long before LA called, and Hockney gained attention for her ‘Pop’ treatment of such subjects as portraits and swimming pools. Recently returned to live in Bridlington from where she has been producing landscape paintings with her i-pad.



So, how did I do? (If you don’t want to see the results till you’ve watched it on I Player, look away now)


Well, my initial happiness at being given the subject ‘An Andy Warhol Portrait’ for the Signature piece soon evaporates as I realise it is not as easy as it looks. I make the mistake of trying to be clever and do a modern take on the ‘Marilyn Diptych’, using Miley Cyrus as the subject. I’ve

Marilyn Diptych

Marilyn Diptych

had better ideas. Especially seeing as I didn’t check the composition of the photo emulsion you coat the silkscreen with in order to make the printed repeat heads.  It was  water-based and because I was using acrylic paint, the photo stencil started to break down after five or six prints. I managed to keep it together by plugging the holes with newsprint, but it still came out looking more like Simon Cowell than Miley.

I was dreading hearing Barry Chuckle announce ‘Painters put down your brushes, time’s up!’

Nick was particularly scathing, saying he’d never seen anything so … er I think the word was incompetent, in his life; and seemed to enjoy pointing out that where the failed stencil allowed the ink to run through and mix with the paint it left rather a soggy bottom.

David was much kinder. She thought my textures were ‘scrummy’ and that the painting as a whole had ‘lots of bite’.

However, I get the wooden spoon. Peggy wins this particlar challenge with a cunning portrait of David Cameron painted as though it was one of Warhol’s Death and Disaster series.


So on to the next test, the Technical Challenge.

Which is, explains Paul Chuckle, to produce an altar panel, that uses quatrocento icongraphy, space, colour, symbolism and media. Piece of cake. Now where’s my recipie for gesso and my Lapis Lazuli?

I decide to paint a Baptism of Christ on a poplar panel with egg tempera. Once I’m back from Poplar with the panel, I don’t have a lot of time left, but I‘m still feeling quietly confident. I am using a traditional gesso with a rabbit skin binder (phew!) chalk and some white pigment to create a suitable substrate on the poplar in order to use my egg tempera. It is a tricky business, but once all the layers are dry, I begin painting with the egg tempera; which is basically ground pigment mixed with egg yolk.

I work fast, using Piero Della Francesca as my model. I have Christ and his cousin in the foregound in naturalistic space with the landscape, more banks of the Arno than the banks of the Jordan, sweeping away into the distance. I even manage a bit of hidden geometry as I work in two circles of equal radius, centered on the Dove From Above and the water droplet as it falls onto Christ’s forehead. Adding faces to these circles to create happy and sad emoticons, in retrospect wasn’t a good idea.

Piero Della Francesca Baptism of Christ

Piero Della Francesca Baptism of Christ

The wheels begin to come off, or rather the paint begins to come off as I make my way to the judging table. Bugger! My gesso is lifting off the panel and taking the paint with it.

Nick: ‘This one is a clumsy and crass collision between the traditional and the contemporary’ (See? I knew the emoticons were a bad idea)

‘So it’s Post-Modern then?’ I suggest helpfully.

‘What we’re trying to say’ adds Hockney ‘is that when you do a pain’ing like this, (She doesn’t pronounce the ‘t’) at this level you’ve got to get everything right. I mean this pain’ing would look fine in a little gallery in Harrogate as a Renaissance pastiche, but not really here.’

‘No not really here’ echoes Nick.

I am beginning to wish he would shut his cakehole.

Alison takes the Technical with her paintings of scenes from the life of St. Peter done as pradella panels.

I am beginning to get a bad feeling about this.


And so, onto the final test, the Showstopper Challenge. Barry and Paul send the judges out of the studio and I close my eyes as they announce our final test: ‘Domestic Interior’ and ‘No slacking’. That’s all they say. Oh crikey! I wasn’t expecting this.  Alison has made a flying start and is working on a still life on a table in front of a window, showing the flowers from the cottage garden outside.

Eggs, bacon and a slice. Do you want anything else with that love?

Eggs, bacon and a slice. Do you want anything else with that love?

Peggy goes for an ambitious composition, loosely based on Velazquez’s ‘Old Woman Cooking Eggs’ – ‘Old Woman Making Sushi’ while I go for a Georges Braque/Patrick Caulfield-inspired kind of Synthetic  Cubism Still Life with collaged real objects. What could go wrong?

Patrick Caulfield

Patrick Caulfield


Well. Quite a lot as it happens.

I tackle a canvas which is way too big in the time allowed and I don’t fully resolve the rich textured surfaces of Braque with the flat minimalist colour areas lifted from Caulfield. ‘Oh dear oh dear’ says Paul as he looks from my painting to the clock and back again. I scratch some scraffito passages down the left hand side which look OK. The paint looks lovely and buttery but it is obvious I have bitten off more than I can chew, even if it is al dente (or do I mean impasto?) Anyway, the result is more ‘Dog’s Breakfast’ than idyllic interior scene.

Finally, the Chuckle Brothers put me out of my misery and we are banished from the studio as the judges deliberate.

It doesn’t take them long. They emerge from the studio and Barry makes the announcement.

‘It has been a hard-fought contest, hasn’t it Paul? But there can be only one Master Painter, so without further ado, the winner of The Great British Paint Off 2013 is …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. Alison!’

Well I could see it coming frankly. Alison gets the trophy and I get to clean the brushes.

I’m done with painting. I reckon I’m going to dust of my Mum’s old cookery books and have a go at some baking.

©Andy Daly 2013..

Unfortunately it has not been possible to show any of the paintings produced in the competition due to copyright issues (Phew!) Thanks to all the Veroccio Gang Summer 2013, The St. Ives Gang Autumn 2013, Maggie, Rob, Pat, Gary, Alice and Marion.

200 Posts! A landmark in Blog and Web Publishing


Yes indeed. Today marks my 200th post.

I know.

Who would have thought it? AND I have still got plenty of crap up my sleeve – if you will pardon the expression.

Now I have thought long and hard (as if) about how to mark this auspicious occasion, and come to the conclusion that of late, I have been guilty of a ‘lowest common denominator’ approach to posts. Too Low Brow. And not enough references to Parkinson’s.

So, Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls here is your 200 special: A double header; comprising ‘Thought For The Day’ plus a dip into the ‘Sitting Comfortably’ archive for a personal favourite; a glimpse at an often overlooked contemporary issue ‘The Post Modern Male’ and Body Image’.


Warning! Contains male nudity of a graphic nature and Sheffield accents. May be unsuitable for those of a nervous disposition.

This is the tale of Jinks’ anus. I will never forget him telling me this story and the helpless laughter it left me with, and for which I only have to recall the story’s dénouement to have it re-kindled.

Jinks, despite being from ‘Sheff’ (Sheffield) was a smashing bloke. Bit of a nuisance when he was drunk; but then so are a lot of people. He had a tendency to square up to, or a wish to discuss the finer points of issues with Lads (and sometimes Ladies) of considerably bigger build, and who seemed to have an air of greater ‘combat experience’ behind them. He was never a great-looker, bless him (Use these words to form a sentence of your own: Pot, Black, Call, Kettle)  the last time I saw him, he wore baggy army surplus trousers, a Sex Pistols T-shirt and a denim jacket. His head was shaved, revealing an angry lunar landscape of spots, blackheads and acne scars. A long spike of hair, bleached, sprouted from a point to the front of his crown, and for the most part dangled down over his eyes and face.

“Did I ever tell y’t’ story of when I saw me oan arsehole?” He asked one day in the pub, apropos of nothing.

“Well, I were on’t’ bus comin’ oam fr-fr- fr-fr- frum college one dinner time…” (he stammered too)

I was immediately hooked and listened intently.

“Aye, I were on this bus, when I thowat: Y’ knurr, twenteh too yeayurs on th-th-th-th-this planet and I’ve n-n-n-n-n-never seen me oan arsehole.”

Then and there, Jinks resolved to do something about it. He hatched a plan. What sort of bizarre meanderings and tortured thought processes lead a human mind to close focus of such an issue is beyond me. However, unimpeded by such concerns, the intrepid Jinks prepared to alight.

At his stop, he scuttled down the stairs and off the bus. He quickly covered the quarter of a mile or so to his house.

“Twelve-thirty: brilliant, me Mum won’t be ‘oam till at least wun. Should be perfect!” he thought to himself as he glanced at his Tintin watch

He described reaching home, hurridly unlocking the front door, and racing straight up the stairs into the bathroom.

Once in, he threw off his jacket. The bathroom, though clean and tidy, was small and poky. The only mirror was that on the front of the vanity unit placed high on the wall, adjacent to the sink. Now this was going to be tricky, it would require nerve, balance and more than a little agilty. Not to worry! Our Hero had done his planning and, after feverishly unbuttoning, dropping and stepping out of his pants, naked from the waist down, he began his ascent. Careful!… one foot on the basket that housed spare toilet rolls, old newspapers, and inexplicably, a can of WD 40. Good! … it did’t give. A step up with the other foot onto the window ledge. Easy! The fan light was open causing the net curtain to play in the fluttery wind. This was the big one … Ready? One, two, three … Hup! Other foot into the ‘soap space’ corner of the sink, behind the tap … Will it hold my weight? …. Yyyyeeessss! Done it!

I recall the expession on his face as he reached this pivotal point in his recounting of the whole tale: a mixture of triumph and relief.

“At last! The Holy Grail!” (His words!) “I could see me oan arsehole!”

He should have taken more notice of the open window, for no sooner had his face of triumph clouded with revulsion at what he beheld in the mirror than the bathroom door (which in his haste he had forgotten to lock) swung open, and his Mum walked in.

“Jeremy!” She screeched “What on EARTH are you doing….?”

“I’m br-br-br-br-brushin’ me teeth Mum!”


I got to thinking (as you do) what would have happened had James Parkinson and Thomas Crapper been swapped at birth?

Parkinson would have invented the Water Closet and people would still giggle and make jokes about ‘going for a Parkie’, but I would still have a crappy disease.

The Baron Biddulph of Barking Bares All

Warning. Contains nudity. May not be suitable for minors or those of a nervous disposition

My mate the Baron was, and I hope still is a smashing bloke. He lived with me and the rest of the gang in the old LCC tenement blocks hard-to-let flats, alongside the Bow Bridge flyover. He worked in the Crown Suppliers dodge uptown and like all of us, he enjoyed a drink or seven. He was quite partial to having a few scoops of the old falling down water on a Friday night. If not saturday, sunday, monday, tuesday, wednesday and thursday come to that. In fact, all the years I know the Baron, he never refuses a drink.

Well what happens one friday night is typical of the kind of thing the Baron gets up to when he has been squeezing the hops since early doors. He is drinking since lunchtime with his work pals and has unfortunately forgotten to eat anything, so as you can imagine all that grog on an empty stomach naturally leaves him feeling a little tired and emotional.

Now being the sensible sort, the Baron figures the best thing to do is to go home and sleep it off; it being only five o’ clock in the afternoon. So this he does.

It seems he has a pretty good snooze, because before he knows it he is awake and it is already ten to nine. Late for work! The Baron hot foots it out of the door, down the stairs, across the courtyard and out of the estate onto the Mile End Road. He is headed in the direction of Bow Road Underground station, when he becomes aware that cars driving past him are tooting their horns and flashing their lights. The Baron also becomes aware how dusky the sky is looking for such an early hour.

Slowly it dawns on him that it is not nine a of m, but nine p of m. Nightime in other words. And not only that, but he has sleepwalked the whole way, and moreover has done so wearing only his Y-fronts.

Sheepishly the Baron retraces his steps, gingerly now on bare feet across the courtyard, enduring the cat calls of the kids who hang around there and for whom he has provided much merriment minutes earlier, up the stairwell to the flat door. Now here’s a problem. Of course the flat door is locked now, it having closed on the yale lock earlier when he “leaves for work”. This is where the story gets interesting on two counts. One: unbeknown to the Baron while he was in bed reading the insides of his eyelids, flatmate Peadar had arrived home in a similar state, as our hero , having forgotten to eat his lunch too. Two: the Baron decides in his wisdom to knock on the flat next door and borrow some kind of implement which will allow him to gain access. (His preferred route being through the toilet window – see “Look on the brightside, its Norman Whiteside“) Now, just put youself in the position of the neighbour for a minute. There you are, minding your own buisness on a friday night in your flat on a grubby East End estate. There is a knock at the door which you go and answer to be greeted by the sight of a deranged skinny white nobleman dressed only in Y fronts and apparently talking in tongues. “Hammer!” He pleads – and they give him one!

But the lunacy doesn’t end there. Oh no. As the Baron makes a bit too good job of demolishing the toilet window, he wakes up Peadar, still sleeping up to that point inside. Peadar thinks he is being burgled and begins to shout, taking a variety of voices in an attempt to trick his would-be assaillant that there is more than one person inside.

Finally, the two realise who each other are and as the Baron returns the hammer, Peadar opens the door.

“Jesus what a shock” says Peadar “I need a drink” says the Baron “Fancy a pint?”

And the moral of this little tale? Well if neither of them had forgotten their lunch, none of this would have happened.

Bow Bridge Estate

© Andy Daly 2012

Steve, in the unlikely event you should ever read this, I know you’re not from Barking, but Basildon didn’t scan as well.

In loco parentis

I wonder what the founding fathers of Cheadle Hulme School,  Manchester, England, would have made of this. They adopted in loco parentis as the school’s motto in 1855. Latin for “in the place of a parent”, it refers to the legal responsibility of a person or organization to take on some of the functions and responsibilities of a parent. Originally derived from English common law, it allows institutions such as colleges and schools to act in the best interests of the students as they see fit.

I don’t wish to to labour the point, and I promise not to reinforce it with yet another clip from the film ‘Kes’ but here is another example of the kind of every day lunacy which was typical of my secondary schooldays.

First day at our new secondary school, St. Wilfrid’s. New stiff uniforms, new classes with lots of new faces. Eagerness, trepidation. All our eyes are fixed on our new form teacher Mr. Bradley as he takes the register for the first time.

“William …. William Walsh?”

“I like to be called Billy, Sir.”

Bradley stares at him and begins to froth at the mouth.

“Do you now? Well, I’d like to be called George Best and have all the money and birds he has, but I can’t can I, lad?”

As the Spanish say “Loco comó una moto” which roughly translates as “Mad as a box of frogs”

© Andy Daly 2012

Thanks to Mark for reminding me of this

Rake’s Progress

What time is it?

“What time is it?” asks one of the patients of his next door neighbour.

“Quarter to three”  He announces  firmly, without looking either his wristwatch, or the clock on the wall.

(It is in fact 11:30 am)

“So,” continues Patient  One, “What’s your name then?”



That’s right, I’m back in hospital again.

Back in the parallel universe, whose space/time contiuum is so warped, that days can last as long as weeks just as surely as hours may fly by in seconds.Where the most improbable things are commonplace, and are treated as nothing out of the ordinary, Like in Flann O’ Brien’s absurd and perplexing “The Third Policeman”, you reach a point, eventually where nothing is a surprise, such that one begins to wonder whether ‘The Real World’ actually exists out there at all. Or whether ‘the ward’ consistutes its own reality and all that goes on outside its confines is actually nothing but a figment of your own imagination.

Weird shit

And of course, on a Neuro ward you get more than your fair share of weird shit happening.

Take Malcolm. A bit of a music fan, one of the many symptoms of his condition is short term memory loss. So he uses a Dictaphone to record the names of CDs or tracks by artists he wants to download or buy …. and his lottery numbers, so he doesn’t forget. Every night, after his sleeping tablets have taken effect, but before he has turned the damned thing off, the rest of the ward is treated to a seemingly endless loop of the day’s messages to himself:

“‘Theme from S Express’… Hot Chip… David Bowie… ‘Kinky Afro’ by Happy Mondays… Seventeen!”

Also suffering memory loss and poor eyesight, there’s Ned. So called because his alarming resemblance to Simpsons’ Ned Flanders (inc. yellow skin)

He constantly pesters the nurses in the most nauseating way,

“So where do you live then?”

“And is that a house or flat?”

“And what do you prefer? Indian or Italian food?”

Minutes later, the long-suffering nurse is bombarded with exactly same barrage of questions.

I overheard him one morning. He was being attended to by two nurses, one male, one female. She was doing all the talking. At one point, without warning, she went off to get a blanket, leaving the male nurse to continue with the bed. I don’t think Ned realised, firstly there had been two nurses by his side, and that now he was left with only one – the male nurse.

Off he went:

“So where do you live then?”

“Edgeware” (My goodness! She has a sexy, throaty voice)

“Edgeware? I know Edgeware. Whereabouts?”

“Richardson Road”

“Richardson Road? Eh?…. Er, have I just asked you that?”

“Yeah about ten  minutes ago”

“Richardson Road, Edgeware. I’ll make sure I don’t forget that in future”

The nurse looked up momentarily and, meeting my eyes, ever so slightly raised his to heaven and muttered:

“I wouldn’t fucking bother mate, you’re still going ask me again in ten minutes”

Andy the Autonomic and his snoring! Bloody Hell! I mean I’ve known people whose snoring has annoyed or irritated me (no names) but never frightened me! After a night on the ward with him, the nurses would have to spend 20 minutes the following morning moving all the furniture back into place and retrieving small objects from his nostrils. The noise, and more than anything, the sheer power of his massive inhalations of air scared the shit out of me.

And then of course there is Yours Truly, who on the night after my op was convinced my bed was a 750cc Honda Fireblade, I just couldn’t work out how to get the blanket over the petrol tank. I tried numerous configurations – some at high speed – until exhausted by my efforts I went back to sleep.

Mount Vernon

In fact, I am in Mount Vernon Hospital which from its vantage point on the Middlesex/Hertfordshire border looks out across North West London. The hospital and its surrounding land was the gift of Charles Dunnell Rudd at the turn of the last century. Rudd was a partner of Cecil Rhodes in the De Beers Mining Company. During the First World War, as well as its British patients, it played host to French and Belgian soldiers suffering from tuberculosis. The patients were expected to work or exercise for an hour and a half in the morning and two hours in the afternoon to prevent them becoming ‘self-centred and lazy’. Those who could work outside did gardening, maintaining the grounds and pathways. Just what you’d want I suspect after two years digging trenches at the front. It even treated German prisoners of war between 1939 – 45.

The old chapel

It consists of a whole range of buildings in a bewildering collection of styles from the bizarre York Sandstone and flint gloomy Art Nouveau chapel, which was never consecrated and is now The Cancer Research Campaign’s Gray’s Library, to timber-clad Swiss-style chalets to utlitarian ‘boxy’ system-built things (like this one) to constructions which appear to have come straight out of a De Stijl book of architectural templates from the ’20s.

My room, third big red window on right, top floor. Four Star

And then there’s the ‘Main Building’ A cruciform shape which houses the cafe with its high-beamed ceiling, a dark building replete with green tiles (like the Paris Metro, it says here) and ornately carved staircases. Here hang the plaques in memory of Rudd and Benjamin Abbott Lyon, the hospital’s chairman 1884 -1909: a bygone age of practical philanthropy. The foundation stone was laid by the Princess Christian in 1902: she must have been a strapping lass as it is set into the wall about four feet up. It must have taken a bit of lifting! I guess they had stronger backs in those days. From the outside  you follow the path round to the front (it is only at this point you realise that till now you have only been looking at the back and the side of the main building) and are rewarded  by the sight of a beautiful south-facing two storey curved  facade behind which are light and airy wards. A balcony with white balustrade stretches its whole length, and in the centre, a clock tower with bright green copper roof and flashing. All of which look out over a lawn which ever so gently falls away to the shrubs and trees at the bottom. Back in the day these would have been pruned to allow uninterrupted views as far as Windsor and beyond. I close my eyes. I half expect that when I open them again, the lawn to be peopled with nurses in starched white uniforms and caps, wheeling young men, smoking pipes, tartan blankets covering their legs whose brilliantined hair glints as they enjoy the late evening sunshine.

Facade and clock tower from lawn

Oddly enough not more than a few yards away from this grand but delapidated nod to an era so far back it may as well be ancient Egypt, is the consulting room in which I was given my diagnosis. Twelve years ago. My wife was with me.

Well, it seems your GP was correct

“Well, it seems your GP was correct, you have Parkinson’s Disease” I remember distinctly the tall beech trees that I could see behind Consultant Neurologist Richard Crawford, through his window. I was transfixed by them as they swayed in the stiff breeze. His words seemed to echo around the room, while briefly, still captivated by the trees I left my body and looked down on the scene in the room from somewhere above the window but which still allowed me a view of the trees as well. The gentle squeeze of my left hand brought be back down to earth, and back to the body, destined to be a battleground for the rest of my life. Crawford leaned back in his chair and began to chew on his spectacles. He had taken off his jacket earlier when he got me to do the gait tests (to my humiliation, out in the corridor in front of a packed clinic waiting room) and sat there in blue striped shirt and tie with red braces. He began to speak. His eyelids closed and fluttered as he did so. There was the tiniest hint of a stammer in his voice. God knows why, but I imagined him as a schoolboy. Public school of course: taunted, teased and bullied because of his blessed stammer and, I suspected, a complete lack of co-ordination and interest when it came to sport. I found myself feeling sorry for him. Strange, really in the light of the news he had just given me. I first saw him a little under a year ago, with the same symptoms. Stress and Writer’s Cramp he concluded. I think he knew then, his diagnosis possibly intended to ‘buy’ me a few more worry-free months, maybe more. In the event, it did the exact opposite: the intervening year being one blighted by increasing concerns as to whether there was something wrong with me or whether it was all in my head. By rights, I should be on his desk now slamming his head in the drawer.

“I think it would be wise to start with medication straight away. How do you feel about that?” “Mr. Daly? … How do you feel about that?” Another gentle squeeze of my left hand, and I was back in the room again. “Yeah. OK I suppose”

Parkinson’s Disease? What was it? I had no real idea. I knew that it was incurable and that it manifested itself as a tremor or shaking; none of which I had. Was it killer? How long had I got? How was I going to tell my Mum and Dad … the Kids? That’s all I could think of.

As we left the clinic I wondered how many other recipients of bad news there were still sitting unawares in the waiting area.

My senses sharpened and heightened, I remember the rest of the afternoon clearly. After walking down past the plaques, green tiles and staircases to the pharmacy to collect the medication, I drove us home. And you know what? In what is probably the kindest thing anyone has ever done for me, and something I’ll never forget, my Wife popped a tape cassette into the machine in the kitchen and pressed Play.

It was an interview with Saxophonist Barbara Thompson, who I was a big fan of, during which she talked about her own diagnosis with Parkinson ‘s and how it shouldn’t be thought of as a death sentence. My Wife had heard it on ‘Womens’ Hour’ and recognised that she was describing exactly the same symptoms as mine.

She aleady knew what was coming earlier that day in Crawford’s office.

She had collected a variety of information: leaflets and advice from the Parkinson’s Disease Society.

And I began to read.

I’ve really fallen on my feet this time! I am in the Northwood and Pinner Community Unit housed at Mount Vernon. Basically a rehab unit for elderly patients which aims to stabilise them prior to their discharge back into the community. And lucky old me has blagged himself a single side room with a spotless en suite bathroom, bigger than that at home. I wonder whether my threats to kill the ‘all night talker’ who kept me awake during my first night on the ward had something to do with it.

I am waiting for a transfer to The National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery. Some six months ago I had the surgical placement of the hardware necessary to enable Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) Namely bilateral implatantation of titanium leads, both of which carry four contacts, in the Subthalamic Nucleus of the brain and a constant-voltage Implanted Pulse Generator   under my collarbone during a seven hour operation.

A Beginner’s Guide To Deep Brain Stimulation Surgery: A Practical Approach

You will need: one coconut, one cauliflower, 4 kebab skewers, copper wiring,  AM Radio,  power drill and a new potato.

For those of you struggling to visualise the brain anatomy here: take your  cauliflower, it’s kind of that bit just above the stalk. We can replicate it by using a small new potato. Use some cocktail sticks to secure it. Your coconut is the skull. You’ll have to split it (Carefully retain cranial fluid and place in suitable receptacle. Add vodka and sugar later for home made Malibu) and then shave it first of course. Drill two holes (a 20mm bit should do it) with a Black and Decker or similar about 5 cm apart. It is through these that the skewers (leads containing electrodes) will access the cauliflower. (brain) Carefully stick two kebab skewers through the holes we have made into the top of the cauliflower, push them down at  angles until they enter the new potato, almost meeting at this point And there you have it. Wire the skewers up to an AM radio. If you can pick up Radio Luxembourg, you’re in business.

Actually, I don’t for a minute want you to think I am belittling the work of the surgical team who frankly leave me in awe with the kind of exqisitely accurate micro surgery they perform on a daily  basis) Programming the DBS system to optimise its therapeutic efficacy in my case has proved melon-twistingly difficult. The last configuration of contacts has caused increasing dystonia (turning in of my feet) result of which I had three falls (unlike me) I was deemed ‘at risk’ and so was admitted here to the unit at Mount Vernon as a temporary measure, while the Functional Neurosurgery team at Queen Square decide what to do next.

Caution. Walter Mitty

I am idly considering this when I am reminded of another meeting some six months after that pivotal twenty minutes in Crawford’s office. A meeting I have called to inform my employer, the Chair of Governors, Kingsmead School, via its Headteacher Neville O’ Laughlin about my illness.

I remember O’Laughlin’s first day. I was singularly unimpressed with the way he ambled to the tatty stage to take his first assembly in his Marks and Spencer suit one size too big, the backs of the trousers hanging down over his shoes in a big ‘V’ and dragging on the floor.

From Essex.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against Essex or the good people who live therein. But as I think we all accept, there are a small number of its citizens who frankly let the side down on a regular basis. Such as O’ Laughlin. I had him sussed out from day one. His loathesome ‘Estuary English’ and his ‘Wide Boy’ demeanour were a giveway. What took me a little longer to figure out was whether his machinations, lies and duplicity were all part of a master plan or whether they were the knee-jerk reactions of a Walter Mitty, living in a fantasy world in which he had forgotten what lies he had told to whom in ‘off the record’ conversations in toilets and corridors.

It was the latter.

Confirmed as he became an increasingly reclusive figure surrounding himself with a phalanx of ‘Assistant Headteachers’, so desparate to hang on to their positions, and so afraid that they were prepared to do his bidding even if it meant rubbishing or harrassing colleagues and former friends.

The meeting comprised myself, O’Laughlin and Dan Morton, my union representative. Ostensibly there in the capacity of friend: to make sure I didn’t forget anything. Of course Dan’s role was much more significant than that. He was there to make accurate minutes of the meeting should it be necessary at any time to refer back to them. In a cruel irony, Dan himself was to exhibit Parkinsonian symptoms a few years later. We sat round the table. I had an agenda, which I’d given to O’ Laughlin in advance. He was flustered. I wonder whether he thought I was going to spring something on him. Evidence for instance that money from Special Needs budgets had been diverted elsewhere – allegedly.

So, it was with an expression of relief that he took my news.

“It’s Parkinson’s Disease” I said.

He fidgeted in his chair

“Well, all I can say, Andy is I’m glad it’s you and not me.”

I almost burst out laughing. Proof, if more were needed, that Neville O’Laughlin was a grade A, top of the range, gold-plated knob.

The rest of the meeting was taken up with conjecture over ‘how long I would last’, puncutated by entreaties to let him know if there was anything I needed – to ask and it would be done. I did. It wasn’t. He would even try to sort out ‘a little deal’ for me when the time came to give up. The governors (in other words He) had it within their gift to enhance final salary under certain circumstances (eg. retirement through ill health) but in my case, although having taught there for over fifteen years, it was not deemed appropriate. (I was never told why) Although this was still to come, I got a sinking feeling as the meeting went on that told me I was on my own. Negotiating the tricky path toward early retirement was to be my journey alone. They took over six months to respond to recommendations made by the borough’s Occupational Health adviser for example. But again, I’m getting ahead of  myself.

I left his office pausing only to comment to his secretary about the tiny balls of white polystyrene which lay all over her office: packing from some delivery.

“Chrys, you’ve really got to do something about your dandruff”

Me and Dan had a de-brief in the pub after work.

“What did you think of that then, Matey?”

I shrugged.

“Par for the course I suppose”

Dan took a good slug of his pint and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“I’ve just fucking seen him now”

“What? …. What do you mean?”

“O’Laughlin. I’ve just seen him now. I was on gate duty, he came over to me. He says “Dan, how do you think I handled the meeting with Andy?” So I said “Okay, considering you were on the  backfoot: you didn’t know what was coming” “Yeah, he says …. But don’t they shake?””

This time I did start laughing … fit to burst. Dan began to chuckle as well.

“What a wanker! ….”

It was six years later that I called it day, most of my best freinds on the staff had moved on  by then, although that was not a factor in my decision. By then I was purely and simply knackered. If the truth be told I worked on probably two years longer than I should have done. A secondary comprehensive school is not the sort of place to work if you are not 100% fit – especially one in which the concept of a caring environment was as alien as a genuine crop circle.

Kingsmead School. Excellence through teaching (it says here) I would have though that was a basic aim of every school, but then what would I know

The truth is, my relationship with the school had always been a bit ambivalent. I recall the day of my interview. I simply couldn’t make up my mind about the place. I was already Head of Department in a successful school in Berkshire. I had just taken 105 students through their GCSE Art and Design, my prospective Lower Sixth A Level group for the new academic year numbered 15, all of whom showed great promise. Why would I give all that up to come and work in a school which had more bins than students, didn’t run A Level Art and apparently held an all-week jumble sale in its foyer? In the end I decided to leave it up to Mick Godden, Greg Hill (the then Head and first Deputy) and fate to make up my mind for me. I resolved to give the most assertive interview I could muster. If they wanted me after that then fine! I remember saying some controvertsial things about the National Curriculum and Assessment, what I felt about the way the school presented itself, and finished off with a series of demands which included (among others) my wish to be a Sixth Form tutor and for the management team to match any funding that the department raised which would enable us to work with practising artists on projects in school.

“We don’t normally de-brief successful candidates, but there are one or two points we think we should make about your interview technique” Greg Hill said as he called me back to the Head’s office. I had been offered the job and my requests granted!

An unhealthy interest in hospital architecture and decor.

And so here we are, The National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, having transferred from Mount Vernon. As I stand in the ornate black and white marble atrium, waiting for a porter to take me up to the ward, I am reading the big stone plaques which record the story of the origin of the hospital and its benefactors. Here she is again: Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein. She certainly got around her London hospitals. Mind you, I’m not doing so bad myself. In fact, I realise I am starting to develop a rather unhealthy interest in hospital architecture and decor.

The National. Notice the decorative lintels and the exquisite brickwork ….

Up we go and after a brief wait while the bed is prepared, I am taken in and introduced to it as well as my fellow wardmates with whom I am destined to be as close if not closer than their partners and immediate families over the next few days.

They consist of the charming Winston, unfortunately plastered, collared and braced seemingly over every inch of his body. Looking comically like some cartoon image victim, before he is reconstituted to pick up his chase again of Roadrunner or somesuch.

Michael, who is in a lot of pain and discomfort, but seems an interesting bloke, someone I would like to chat to more.

Raymond, a parole officer, whose only complaint seems to be verbal diarrhoea,

and Colin.

I don’t know Colin’s story. I don’t want to know Colin’s story. I know his hands are bandaged like boxing gloves to prevent him pulling out his own tubes and hitting the nurses.

No, Colin makes himself my mortal enemy by calling out day and night the name of his brother Neville (with an irony that is not lost on me as you will remember if you were paying attention, for that was the name of my former employer) Then, when Neville (who I never see because on visits he is always hidden by the curtain, but whose voice is the exact double of writer and presenter Danny Baker) is here, all Colin does is slag him off. I know that brain injuries are capable of changing a person’s personality in wierd and wonderful ways, but that said, I think even before his surgery Colin had ‘shit’ written through him like a stick of rock.

Matters came to a head one morning after laying in bed, listening to him abusing the nurses who were trying to clean him up after he had ripped open his colostomy bag and … well I’ll leave it at that. After the nurses had finished with him, I walked up to his bed and in my best ‘Angry Teacher’ wagged my finger at him and shouted that he ought to be ashamed of himself and how he didn’t deserve the care being bestowed on him. (Feel free to incorporate your own suitable expletives here – I did!) Then I stormed off to the bathroom to the sound of faint applause from the other end of the ward.


From  Essex.


© Andy Daly 2012

Going Over The High Side (Again)

Key words:

Idiot, Reckless, Speed, Thrill, Gradient, Air, High Side, Thump!, River, Brakes, Service, Repair, Hip, Bruising, Shit for brains.

(See also ‘Going Over The High Side’)

© Andy Daly 2011