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?”

“Derek”

“Frank?”

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.

Colin.

From  Essex.

TBC

© Andy Daly 2012

Scruckshelishelcquerlup

It is morning, and whilst lying in bed, awake waiting for my tablets to kick in, I hear my youngest son in the bathroom (next door) going through his daily gargling routine, This lasts for about 4 minutes:

“scruckshelishelcquerlupwaschushashushscruckshelishelcquerlupwaschushas hushscruckshelishelcquerlupwaschushashushscruckshelishelcquerlupwas chushashushscruckshelishelcquerlupwaschushashushscruckshelishelcquer

lupwaschushas hushscruckshelishelcquerlupwaschushashushscruckshelishe

lcquerlupwaschushashush  …..aaaahhhhgglllleee aaaahhhhgglllleee

aaaahhhhgglllleee  (this is the back of the throat bit)

Wuwwulllmmnllleeeaaaahhhhggwuwwulllmmnlllleeeaaaahhhhgglwuwwulllmmnlll

Aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!…………..pwryyyrrtt! (this is the spit)

……………….Heeeeeeeuuuugh! …. pwryyyrrtt!” (another spit)

I am thinking, I’ve got a drum and bass line that would go perfectly with that.

He’s got a routine for everything: a brushing teeth routine, the mouthwash routine (as you now know) the anti-perspirant spray routine (not one to be caught in the middle of )  The ‘don’t care hair’ routine. You know, I never knew it took so long to perfect that ‘Just dragged through a hedge’ look. Still, …. He is worth it.

Meanwhile, back in bed, I practise my rigorous exercise routine. I open and close my right eye five times, then repeat with the left. As they say: No pain, no gain. That done, I cast one of the aforesaid eyes (the left – as it happens) to the other side of the room and it alights on my walking frame. Okay, it’s a zimmer frame, but it has got ‘Go Faster’ stripes, metallic paint and polished chrome.  I try not to use it much; as you can see by all the washing hanging off it.

I can just imagine it:  The Harrow and Hillingdon Area Health Authority enquiry:

“Mr Daly, would you care to explain to us once again, exactly how you came to break your hip. On the day in question you didn’t use the walking frame that The Health Authority provide you with, because it was (He refers to his notes) ‘Full of washing’”

“Yes Sir, that is correct, Sir, I …………”

The truth is of course that I wouldn’t be without it. A Swiss Army Knife of mobility aids, the frame is a masterpiece of design, which as well as an aid to walking, and an excellent dryer is also my mobile multi-gym. For with a bit of creative manipulation and some imagination, and I can use it to perform a whole variety of exercises. Almost all of them safe!

A real photographic challenge: making a walking frame look cool

© Andy Daly  2011

The Twits

… which just goes to show that you should never put all your eggs in one basket until the chickens have come home to roost in the same bush twice.

Now, where was I? Oh yes. Parents’ Evenings. I have written elsewhere about my experiences as a teacher; and a little bit as a parent at these cosy annual soirés. However, I don’t believe I’ve told you the story of ‘The Twits’.

The Twits

A truly magical, special time.  

‘The Twits’ entered my life at what was, a truly magical, special time.

It was pre-Parkinson’s. Thankfully I had the wit to realise then that were I not to make the most of every single moment, I would regret it forever. I am talking of course about when our two children were little. I taught full-time, my better half, part-time and that was the plan until our youngest, James was ready to start school as a ‘rising five’. At which point, we hoped part-time would become full-time. Which it did. In the fullness of time.

A big decision

I meanwhile, had reached the dizzy heights of Head of Department; for two years at a school in Berkshire and, by the time of the birth of our first son, a further two years at a school in West London, nearer to where we lived. Both were secondary comprehensives. It was not long after that I decided as far as a new job or promotion was concerned, it was on the backburner from now on. Unless a ‘peach’ (of a job) were to more or less fall into my lap, I wasn’t going to involve myself in chasing a ‘career’.

Okay, I know that in the British State Education system a ‘career’ is an almost laughable concept, but the point is that I wasn’t prepared to do all the ‘extras’ and saddle myself  with the  impossible amounts of work that this would require. As it was already I was finding too much of my time being greedily gulped  by a ‘holier than thou’ Whitehall-based administration, heads up their own backsides; from where they were quick to shout about what great deeds some teachers can do, but even quicker to foist unworkable structures and strategies onto them and their beleaguered profession, one which was steadily sinking in the mire of a fundamentally flawed data – hungry beaurocracy and as a result choking the very innovation and inspiration it sought. No sir. When work was done, (and sometimes even when it wasn’t) it was family time. And I went home.

The wood for the trees

And I am so glad I did. Had I not done so, and attended all the meetings, all the working parties, all the committees, gone on all the courses, done the networking and the gladhanding, fired in all the application forms, prepared for all the interviews …. I would be kicking myself to purgatory and back again by now. I know it is a cliché, but they do grow up so fast. Time plays such maddening games that it is very easy to miss how fleeting it all is. One day you are carrying them on your shoulders on a walk through the woods.

Then the next thing you know you’re being told ‘I’m off tomorrow I’ve got tickets to see the Prodigy and Gorrillaz at the Benicassim Festival (in Spain.) I’m going to fly out and hook up with some of the lads who are already out there’ Self- financed too, fruit of his labours as Front of House plus a bit of Bouncing and Roadying  for a local Comedy promoter. You see, when it’s gone, it’s gone. There’s no getting it back again.

Didn’t want to miss anything

As I look back on these precious nuggets of time I am reminded of the underlying sense of exhaustion we both felt. So much, in fact that it began to seem almost normal. In the first instance, this was courtesy of Ian. Born prematurely and insomniac, he did his level best to avoid sleep for the first two years of his life which came about, he explains, along with his early arrival, because he

‘Didn’t want to miss anything’

Of course nowadays we can’t get him out of bed until well after the sun has passed its shadow over the yardarm, and besides, as he says, our experience with him was just what we needed to cope with his brother, James.  For just as his elder sibling, aged two, had  begun to become a bit more reasonable in his approach to the concept of  4 or 5 hour’s shut-eye every night, along came James. He, poor soul  after merely two weeks on this mortal coil, then broke out with the insidious ezcema that is the plague of this family, and for him the principal causal factor decisive in his refusal to sleep for a further four years. Give or take a day or so.

So, yes, If you were one of those people (and there were many) who told us during those seemingly never-ending eons of sleeplessness:

‘Oh but Michael/Christopher/Joshua/Jessica/Ashley/Emily… has slept through since we got him/her/it back from the hospital …’

Little did you know our carefully composed plastic smiles, glazed eyes and well–rehearsed expressions of joy and wonder at your good fortune hid a real, tangible urge to put a premature end to your threescore and ten with anything remotely resembling a sharp or blunt instrument … or indeed anything.

You think I’m joking don’t you?

That said, it was a kind of ‘satisfying’ exhaustion. You felt like you had got it for a good reason, that there was a purpose to it: admittedly a difficult concept to wrestle with at 2:30 in the morning for the third time. When all you can think about is what the f**k you are going to do with your Year Nine period one tomorrow, I mean today.

‘Satisfying’ I think that’s quite a good description. It’s certainly not the brain-sapping, leaden, formless, shapeless exhaustion that dogs me these days.

I’d do it all again, all of it,

But it was damned hard.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I’d do it all again, all of it, like a shot. But it was so hard. We had no family in the area. My parents, aunts and uncle lived in the North, as did my brothers when they settled to start their own families, while my wife’s family live in Spain. So we never had anyone to ‘take the baby a minute’, never had anyone who could ‘look after the kids for the weekend’ while we nip to Paris, Barcelona, Warrington … wherever. Of course people did what they could but basically we were ‘On duty’ 24/7.  We had a nice little house. But it was little. (I didn’t realise quite how little until one of the removal men – and not a particularly tall example of the species either – cracked his head on the top of the door frame when he entered the toilet.  The door, in order to save space (somewhere!) was about 2 inches shorter than all the others.

The ‘nice’ was on closer inspection, merely a veneer which hid a multitude of unpleasant and expensive-looking surprises. But money was too tight to mention and there certainly was no extra cash for upgrade of veneer, or things like new cars or expensive holidays for example.

The time that everything took! Sterilising all those bottles: every night! I’ve no idea how we managed it and were able to do a day’s work on such little sleep or rest.  Another example: one which tells you a lot about my better half; a tenacious, resourceful, fiercely intelligent woman. In terms of the boys’ nutrition, complicated in James’ case by his acute allergy to egg (and by extension all products – not just food, containing egg) they were given the best of starts in life one could imagine. They had home-cooked food, every day: Ian until he started school, and in James’ case until he was given the ‘All Clear’ aged seven after his ‘Egg Challenge’ at hospital showed he had at last outgrown his allergy.  There was only one exception to this that I can recall, and that was for some reason, I forget which, we had to give them processed food on a flight back from Spain. Closing my eyes, as I write, I can see the freezer stacked with carefully labelled tupperwares.

Love and books

And there was Love. There was so much Love. You could count it and cut it. And fun. One of the things the boys enjoyed, especially James – although sadly, he says he remembers little of it now was the ‘Story before bedtime’. It was difficult, at the end of a long day, but there was always time for a story… or five.

Many is the time, shattered in mind and body, exhausted, we fell asleep.  Far away in the distance we would be able to hear, as we blissfully lost consciousness, one, other or both of them calling ‘Again, again!’ or ‘Another One!’  On one famous occasion, it was our wedding anniversary. Everything was set. Kids in bed early, nice meal and some quality time together. Lovely! Over an hour later, I am mouth wide open, deep in a dribbly sleep on James’ bed; both boys asleep too. Meanwhile my wife was downstairs, sitting looking at two plates of food which were getting less and less appetising by the minute, too afraid to come upstairs and check on us, lest her footfall, waken James up and send us right back to square one again.

It was on one of these occasions that James, his bother asleep and his Dad almost there as well, asked his celebrated and enigmatic ‘Fivehead’ question.

‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ ‘Winnie the Witch’ ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ ‘Don’t put Mustard in the Custard’ The ‘Percy the Park-Keeper’ stories….. were among the favourites. In fact, thanks to the Reverend W. Awdry, so obssessed were the boys with trains and Thomas the Tank engine in particular, that I came perilously close to getting sucked into the murky twighlight world that is trainspotting. Sadly, I had begun to distinguish my ‘Pacifics’ from my ‘Deltics’ … a scary place to be, let me tell you.

So many stories; so many books! Courtesy of grandparents, aunts, uncles and in particular, the lads’ Great Aunt – my Mum’s sister, Eileen, who wouldn’t just buy them a book, she would buy the collected works! For them, Birthdays and Christmas will always be associated with piles of books. Which is pretty cool, I reckon.

Roald Dahl

Then of course as they got older, it was ‘Harry Potter’ and briefly Tolkein. However, what sticks in my mind more than any other is the fun we had, over what I guess was a two or three month period, when we read almost everything by Roald Dahl.

Roald Dahl

I had read ‘James and the Giant Peach’ and ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ as a kid, but, I don’t know, although I enjoyed them, I found that I quickly tired. Which, as it happens turns out to have been just perfect, because it meant that we were able to discover the delights of ‘Danny Champion of the World’, ‘The Fantastic Mr. Fox’, ‘Matilda’, ‘George’s Marvellous Medicine’, ‘The Witches’, ‘Esio Trot’ and my favourite, ‘The Twits’ together with the boys: which I reckon is just as it should be. The icing on the cake was poring over the exquisite illustrations to these tales by the great Quentin Blake.

Quentin Blake

The Twits pay a call

Now as coincidence would have it, it was around this time, that ‘The Twits’ came to call. At a Parents’ Evening no less.

I was in the School hall. In those days we sat at old ‘exam- style’ desks with two chairs placed opposite for the parents. (This was before the days when students were required to attend Parents’ Evenings too)

So there I was, idly reading the jokes and filthy comments scrawled and in some cases carved onto the desk as I waited for my next appointment to appear. There ought to be a GCSE exam for this I thought to myself : Paper One: Analysis of Desktop, use of language, imagery, ability to succesfully combine the two, style, use of narrative. Hmmm, let’s see …

The largest piece of descriptive writing on this particular desk was lacking more than somewhat in its narrative content. It was altogether more urgent. Indeed it was more of a statement of fact. It simply read:  ‘Harris is a TWAT’. (Mr. Harris being the third deputy.) Not generally well-liked it would be fair to say. A little too fond of ‘The Laydees’ (young, impressionable female members of staff, Trainee Teachers, Sixth Form girls with looks beyond their years. You know the type – him I mean) In fact it was he who, at the climax of a long and dirty war of attrition with one particular Year 11 student, found himself caught out by a board rubber, a tube of Super Glue plus the deft hand and co-ordination of his sixteen year old nemesis. My goodness, there was a weeping, wailing and a gnashing of teeth that day.

I looked up from my desk and my mark book – a mine of intricate assessment data on each of my students only decipherable and sometimes not even then, by me.  I used to use it as a ‘prop’. Something to fiddle with and attempt to calm my nerves. I rarely talked from it.

Suddenly there they were.

The level of noise was incredible.There was a general hub-bub coming in at about 85 decibels, above which I could hear some increasingly strident snatches of conversation from tables nearby:  ‘If he doesn’t start to knuckle down this year, he is going to underachive …’ ‘She didn’t tell me this. When was it set? Ooooh Wait till I get home: the little Madam …’ ‘Well, what can you do? They’re so independent at this age. Sometimes she’ll listen to her Dad…’ ‘Ya know the problem? Ya too sof’ whiddem. Ya kyan hexpec them to listen an’ respec’  if ya too sof’. Lard I’m going to axe some questions when I get home’

And suddenly there they were. Sitting opposite me. The Twits!

 Mr and Mrs Twit

Mr and Mrs, just as described in Dahl’s words and Blake’s images. Mr Twit with the whole of his face except for his forehead, eyes and nose covered with thick hair, which indeed grew in spikes that pointed straight like the bristles of a nailbrush. I had to resist the urge to lean in a little closer to see if that speck at the corner of his mouth really was a cornflake. Meanwhile, Mrs Twit had a face which looked like nothing good had shone out of it for a very long time. She didn’t appear to have a glass eye, but one of them did seem to be always looking away.

Of course they weren’t called Twit.

‘Good evening, and it’s Mr and Mrs ….?’ I welcomed them.

‘O’Reilly’

‘Oh really?’ I said absent-mindedly, as I looked down my list of appointments for their name and time.

‘No! O’Reilly’

They were late, by half an hour. No apology, no explanantion and on top of which they had (judging by the commotion going on behind them) nicked someone else’s slot.

Mr and Mrs O’Reilly!  Parents of Harry and Dean, both of whom I taught, and both of whom were Twits too.

64 channels of cable TV

I won’t go into detail about the discussion we had over the progress of younger son, Dean except to say that they genuinely looked surprised when I suggested that there might be a link between Dean’s inability to attempt any sort of task set for homework and the fact that his bedroom (as I found out during the course of our conversation) boasted a wide screen Television and 64 channels of cable TV or that his performance and behaviour in class, which was poor, might also have something to do with this and the fact that he rarely went to bed till after 2:am.

Why the Twits are twits

‘It’s terrible’ said Mrs Twit/O’ Reilly ‘He keeps us awake! He’s so noisy’

‘Well why don’t you do something about it?’

‘Like what?’

‘Take the cable out for a start.’

‘Oh no, we couldn’t do that. We promised he could have it for his birthday … and a promise is a promise.’

‘He’s 12 years old!’ I said in desperation, but the meeting was suddenly starting to get very fractious and I could see I was getting nowhere, so despite an irresistable urge to ask them whether they had seen Muggle-Wump lately and if so, how he was, I avoided the temptation and brought the conversation to a conclusion as quickly as possible. For my part I couldn’t wait to get home and tell the kids I’d actually met the Twits!

The writing on the wall

Time flew by, as it does and my uninvited guest pushed their way into my life. The writing was on the wall from day one:

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

was the Headteacher’s response to the disclosure of my diagnosis of ‘The Shaking Palsy’. I was lucky to belong to an establishment with such a caring and supportive ethos.

In fact, I found the period immediately after diagnosis strangely liberating. I felt I could see things, and their importance and value much more clearly. Given the circumstances I found myself in, I reasoned that before symptoms started to show themselves outwardly,  a move to a better school, one perhaps in which I didn’t have to fight so hard day after day might mean I could sustain full time work for longer than was looking the case at my current school.

So, some twelve years or so after my Big Decision, I went back out on the job-hunting trail. Cut a long story short: irony of ironies. I had done such a good job of pushing the notion of ‘career’ to the backburner, that that is where it stayed – permanently. But I know I’ll never regret my Big Decision. And if I ever start to miss being in school and pine longingly for my overcrowded classroom, my insufficient resources, the half-baked curriculum, an equivocal and intransigent management, I just think of the Twits and my world suddenly seems a much richer place.

As far as I know

And as far as I know Dean O’Reilly still has a widecreen TV and access to 64 cable channels in his bedroom.

Excerpts from ‘The  Twits’

Text © 1980 Felicity Dahl and the other Executives of the Estate of Roald Dahl

Illustrations © 1980 Quentin Blake

Dedicated to Emma Louise Hickey and Cheryl Fitzgerald.

© Andy Daly 2011

The Twits. A postscript

If you happen to be wondering what are these forces so powerful that they will make a man go against his basic intinct not only to work, to provide for his depenants, but to constantly strive to better himself, to show his mettle in that bear pit we call the Jobs section of The Times Educational Supplement. Indeed to confound him so completely that he chooses to leave work as early as is decent, to make his way home as fast as his legs, bike, car will allow him. Let me show you:

 

 

My Mate Bill

Bill gladdens me, as he has almost every week for the last 18 months. Each Wednesday lunchtime, we shoot a few games of Pool and chew the fat a nearby pub. I cycle and meet him there. He is always early. I am always late. Sometimes he comes to collect me from home in the car. Even then, I am still late. (Another unexpected Bonus Parkinson’s Free Giveaway: The complete inability to organise oneself and work to anything resembling a ‘time frame’.) Formerly punctilious to the point of obsession. I am now late for everything. A trait I abhor.

In the pub, one which after my first visit I swore I would never set foot in again, we chat about this ‘n’  that. His beloved QPR, my beloved Valencia CF, and always about music, while we share some ‘Pub Grub’ which I swear is pieces of Saloon bar carpet served on a bed of the most anaemic, jaundiced-looking lettuce, accompanied by a portion of ‘fries’ which taste like they have been cooked in linseed oil. Bill usually has a pint of Guinness. Either that, or a bottle of bright blue pear cider! If it’s a Guinness day, I usually spend a sizeable chunk of the afternoon wistfully gazing at it. Maddeningly, the blackstuff, one of my favourite thirst-quenchers back in the day, now, like most other alcohols, after two or three swallows tastes like cheap diesel. Again thanks to Parkinson’s. I’ll have a soft drink or occasionally, if I feel like pushing the boat out, a pint of lager shandy.

‘Which lager do you want?’ The bar staff kindly ask. I think, though I never say it ‘It’s a fucking  shandy, it doesn’t matter what lager you put in it, it’s still going to taste shite’ I invariably find myself asking for ‘Cooking Lager then please’ but no-one gets the joke anymore.

Then it is to battle. At the pool table. What follows is a Pool Masterclass. Usually one in which I play like a complete novice, moreover one who is suffering from vertigo and has no thumbs. I  usually finish three, often all four games down.  Bill has the killer instinct, the eye for a ‘snooker’ and an ability to read the game, which sees me cornered, teased and then dispatched. Game over. Nevertheless, I continue to train hard and work at my game. I think it is paying off: I haven’t potted the white from  the Break  for weeks, now (‘The Break’ is the shot which disperses the pool balls from their triangular configuration and which marks the commencement of the game – I’m not sure how familiar you are with Snooker, Billiards, Pool and suchlike)

I on the other hand can read the game, but just can’t be bothered, and go for all the ludicrously ridiculous trick shots, which when they come off (flukes) have Old Bill staggering around in amazement. When I miss, which is more likely,  he moves in like a Hit Man and I am severely punished for my sloppy play.

Bill cheers me up no end, especially when he either:

  • Tells me the tales of his ‘Home Improvement’ capers. I am indebted to him for making me realise that there is someone worse, much, much worse than me at practising the Dark Art of DIY . Whenever I find myself struggling with a reluctant screw, troublesome nail or somesuch. I just think of Bill. For example, there was the time when he tried to plane the bottom of a door which had stopped closing smoothly, because a new carpet had been fitted. He took the door off, and gingerly at first, began to plane wood from the base. Put the door back on: check. No, still catching on the carpet. Off with the door again … and so on, for about twenty minutes, at which point he stopped, panting and sweating in order to inspect the door once more only to find he had been planing the wrong end. In other words the top. So now he had a door which still rubbed on the carpet, but which boasted a handsome four-inch gap, up above, between door and frame!
  • Has a ‘Grumpy Old Man’ rant. Usually about some spectacularly bad customer service he has received, or rather, not. A man of principle, unequivocal about what he believes is right and what is wrong, but also possibly verging on the Tourette’s spectrum, from where, he is a fine sight (and sound) as he effs and blinds about Call Centres, Helplines and some of the hapless halfwits who work therein.

And that’s my mate, Bill. God bless him.

And that’s my Wednesday afternoon.

See also Chuck Berry and CSE, TVEI, NVQ, GCSE: I talk to B and E over a BLT

 

© Andy Daly 2011

   

 

 

The Way Of The Hand, Foot And Walking Stick: Taekwondo And Parkinson’s Disease

Tae Kwon Do (The way of the hand and foot)

‘Daly rewarded with Taekwondo Bronze medal’ ‘Third spot for battling Ruislip favourite’ ‘Against all odds, Daly steals TKD bronze’ clamoured the back pages of the morning papers.

Next week, iron your uniform

You don’t recall it? Tsk! Well I’ll just have to refresh your memories then. But first, a bit of etiquette:

“Kyungnet!” At this command, you bow purposefully but deferentially, not too low; from about the height of your solar plexus. Once you have raised your head again, relaxed, but with the limbs firmly under control, you, without shifting your position, step your left foot out 90 degrees to the left: a distance broadly equivalent to one shoulder width, at the same time bending your arms at the elbows (always a good place to do this in my experience) raise your fists to a point just below your chin, outer edges touching, palms facing in. By now your left foot should have completed its shift – if it hasn’t, may I politely suggest that you may be better off with the flower arrangers in the room next door. Thrust your fists (once again, firmly, with strength – but under control, not wildly) out in front of you so that they are just in front of your belt knot. Hold the position, fists about a fist apart, Eyes dead ahead; standing firm yet relaxed.

Good! This is ‘Joon Bi’ or the ‘Ready Stance’

“Charyut!” You are called to attention. Snap to it! Straight and tall, hands and arms following the seams of your trousers. “Kyungnet!” You bow again out of respect for your instructor: who will be your better – if not your elder.

‘Okay, sit down’ The instructor addresses his class, which consists of about 30 WTF (World Taekwondo Federation) students, ages roughly 7 to 13, of which nearly half are girls. The class members are each kitted out in uniforms which go  through a whole spectrum of dirtiness and dishevellment from grubby grey to the crisp, smartest, whitest of whites. I notice that the majority wear a white, white and yellow or yellow belt, while alongside the instructor, standing to attention at the front of the class are a young man wearing a black belt and four older teenagers all of whom wear striped belts: two girls in green and blue and two boys in black and red.

The instructor fixes his gaze on a couple of fidgety lads as the class sit in lines before him:

‘Now, for next week, iron your uniform, so it doesn’t look like you and your mates have slept in it all week. Just don’t answer the phone if it rings while you’re doing it: and…’ he signals another pair: ‘I want to see you two tie your belts yourselves. No! Not together. Each of you, ’round your own waist. Legs crossed if you please … Oi! Legs crossed … Why? Dunno? Anybody want to tell ’em? Well just imagine what one of these big fellers here … C’mon Rob, let’s have you over here a minute’

With the young black belt, he ad libs a short, but impressive fight sequence which finishes with Rob feigning the effects of receiving a powerful kick to the head and fighting to retain his balance .

‘Now just imagine what one of these Black Belts would do to your skinny little legs, sticking out in front of you as he goes trampling all over them, when  he’s sparring. He’d snap ’em like they were bits of sphagetti’

It is a scene repeated, I am sure, in Do Jangs (Training Halls) up and down the country, every Saturday morning; where classes in this increasingly popular Korean martial art are held, and has been so since the sport began to get a foothold in Great Britain in the 1970s, thanks to a small, but dedicated group of enthusiasts. Some of whom, as it happens, had the night before been training in this very room.

But I am totally unaware of any of this.

The Martial Arts

It was a lovely, sunny Saturday morning as I drew into the car park of the community centre which was home to The Brotherhood Taekwondo Foundation all those years ago. In fact, it was so long ago that  David Cameron was no more than an irritating itch on the backside of the Conservative Party, while  Anthony Charles Lynton Blair had yet to be wooed by wannabe-cowboy, George W Bush Jnr, and in so doing cuckold the British electorate over Iraq and Afghanistan. Little did I know it, but I was about to enter a building which for some five years or so was to prove  almost as important to me as my home or place of work, and in so doing, make one of the best decisions of my life.

But, one thing at a time. I am here, instead of  Sainsbury’s because I’ve come with my eldest to take a look at a martial arts class. We felt that at the ripe old age of 12, it was about time he learned how to look after himself. To this end we’d asked around and this club: ‘The Brotherhood’ and one of its instructors in particular, Neil Patterson had come highly recommended

I knew nothing about the Martial Arts, or ‘Marital Arts’ as a student I once taught referred to it on his University application Personal Statement.

No. All I knew was what I’d gleaned from watching ‘Kung Fu’ with David Carradine on TV. Now, that made no sense at all. Even in the most innocuous school playground fight, I reasoned, Carradine would get nothing less than a sound arse – kicking if he were to spend as much time gazing, glassy-eyed into the middle distance, and then fight so painfully slowly.

No. The closest I had come to experiencing the Martial Arts was watching the late, 10th Dan Dai Hanshi Phil Milner and team training  for, and executing  a world record ‘Breaking’ attempt. Demolishing a piano by hand. Literally smashing it to pieces, all of which had to pass through a 9 inch diameter hole. Against the clock. Foolishly, I didn’t regard the spectacle to be of any real significance at the time, and although I always had a secret fascination with the Martial Arts, dismissed them as something which were not for me.

A Black Belt is only a White Belt who never gave up

‘Wassup?’

I am brought back into the training hall with a bump.

‘You’re knackered?  Whaddaya mean you’re knackered?’  The instructor good-naturedly teases his charges.

You ain’t done anything yet …! Who wants a drink?’

‘Me!’ they sing out in unison.

‘Tough! You can have one in 5 minutes. Patterns first – in the groups you were in earlier. Remember you’ve got a grading coming up in 2 week’s time. I want them perfect by then. Practise and practise till you can do them in your sleep. Practise makes …?

‘Perfect’ Almost all of them chime back

‘No, it doesn’t. Practice makes permanent. So make sure you are getting your stances right. Ask if there’s anything you’re not sure about.  Charyut!  Kyungnet! Sijak!’

And off they go, into their groups to work  with the senior belts.  A few minutes later, a couple of them are put through their paces on the floor demonstrating their particular patterns in front of the class. They are reminded, as some despair at ever being good enough to move up the belts:

‘Listen. A Black Belt is only a White Belt who never gave up’

Finally, they get their drink

The instructor takes the opportunity to come over and introduce himself.

Taekwondo in two minutes

The Patterns or Taegeuk, I discovered later are based on a fight scenario and consist of planned sequences of attack and defence against multiple opponents, designed to perfect stances and the techniques of kicking, blocking, punching, turning and so on. Each Taegeuk, has its own attributes. Number One (or ‘Il – Jang’) for example, represents ‘Heaven and Light’ and symbolises creation or the beginning. The floor pattern of steps and stances belonging to each conform to the shapes of the four trigrams on the Korean flag, the Taegeuk, representing the origin of all things is in red and blue, holding the two principles of yin and yang. The whole denotes a universal unity. Amongst other things, advancement to the next belt colour demands mastery of the pattern  for that level; and to reach Black Belt there are eight.

The philosophy of Taekwondo is taught as well.  It has to be if students are to progress, but it is done so in an unobtrusive way such that it is presented as a series of maxims and principles by which students might abide and thus lead  honest and decent lives. The most immediate manifestation of this is in its five tenets: Etiquette, Modesty, Perseverance, Self-Control, Indomitable Spirit. It is mandatory that all students know what these are and what they mean.

Training

My son and I stay to watch the remainder of the class and he is keen to give it a go, so I bring him down and he starts to train the following week. I accompany him to each lesson for the first few weeks; I guess to make sure that he is training safely and happily. I soon realise that this is not an issue at all as the instructors: Master Con and Fatima Halpin, Robin Bell,  Alec Bryan as well as Neil give a high standard of tuition, which allows individual students to learn and progress in what can, sometimes be a busy class. However, I continue to accompany him long after I am satisfied he is settled, because I begin to be fascinated by the whole concept.

One thing that struck me immediately was that the progress students made (If they were prepared to put in the time, and most were) was impressive. In fact, the whole concern was imbued with a ‘culture of success and achievement’. Higher grade students were making the transitions from the coloured belts to the coveted black, and from there, instructing  the lower grades. Meanwhile the junior students were encouraged to accomplish at the regular gradings and prove themselves worthy of the next belt up. In addition, the club was constantly pushing for honours. Competition, in the form of Kireugi (fighting)  Poomsae ( collective term for the Patterns) and challenges against other clubs was a strong element of the club’s work. Students were encouraged to compete and as a result the Brotherhood had a justifiably highly regarded reputation in British WTF Taekwondo circles. Success was expected and celebrated when it came, with award ceremonies built into lessons so that everyone participated.

With this in mind, I recall that at the end of each saturday morning class, Neil presented a trophy every week to the student he thought had worked the hardest and had made most progress. Anyone good enough to be presented with it three times, he said would win it for keeps. On getting changed one morning my lad said:

‘Dad, I’m going to win that’ And he did.

An overwhelming air of inevitability

For my part, as with so many parents (and there were many in whose footsteps I followed and yet more who subsequently followed in mine) with an overwhelming air of inevitability, I soon found myself being inexorably sucked into joining my offspring in the Do Jang. I began to think: Hmmmmm I reckon I could do this, and what a good way of keeping fit!  Suddenly, I had a Do Bok (uniform) ‘Oh there’s no going back now!’ remarked a fellow, but more experienced late starter at seeing this; and with the addition of a Te (My painfully white belt)  I was, before I knew it, training three nights a week.

Bloody hard work, with the result that …

And I loved it! It was bloody hard work, don’t get me wrong.  Due to advancing age (I was in my 40s when I took the plunge) and the associated failure of vital body parts (and of course in my case, the onset of Parkinson’s although at the start of my ‘Martial Career’ it remained undiagnosed) I had to work  twice as hard as the young ones. And he was right, my equally creaky colleague:  There was no going back. The drill work and Poomsae, the repetition of moves again and again in the Do Jang till you were doing them in your sleep (basically, the development of  ‘Muscle Memory’) could be tedious at times but is something for which I am eternally grateful, because as a result I now have a stock of warm-ups, exercises, stretches and movements I can call on to help me deal with the ways in which the Parkinson’s affects my body. In the same way that Conductive Education, developed at The Peto Institute in Hungary can sometimes enable people with disablilties to initiate movement by ‘cues’ and ‘prompts’, I employ the principle of  the ‘action/reaction’ force to make reluctant limbs groan into life. Of course none of this works without the drugs too, unfortunately. I am still able  to remember most of the patterns and from time to time, when I’m feeling brave enough, I try a couple.

I really enjoyed the sparring. This was when you used the skills and techniques for what they were intended: fighting. Full contact was always very safely managed. That is not to say that anything less than 100% commitment was expected, but adequate protection and an awareness of the well-being of others were insisted upon whilst any sign of recklessness not tolerated and stamped on straight away. Breaking was great fun, and almost always left me with a sense of achievement and surprisingly, rarely any lasting harm. I was possessed of only modest skills, as I was always aware: especially compared to the awesome physical and mental prowess of some of my instructors and fellow clubmembers. For example, the skill, accuracy and control in the performance of flawless patterns as demonstrated to a hushed hall by Master Con Halpin, Robin Bell’s fluidity of movement, Andrew Yick’s phenomenal breaking power, Wayne Gates’ absolute concentration and economy of style.

Bloody Parkinson’s, with the result that …

For me, it is the general feeling of fitness, strength, well-being and confidence in one’s own physical ability, the friendship and the cameraderie that existed within the club that are the highlights of my time training with The Brotherhood. All things I miss terribly.

My pride and joy, and Yes! They are genuine.

I got my diagnosis three days before taking my Blue Belt grading. The consultant recommended starting drug treatment immediately. However, after realising that starting on Anti-Parkinson medication (though microscopic amounts compared to the industrial quantities I have to take now) would involve sickness and nausea, I held off (although physically I was nowhere near my best) till after the test.

I passed. I’m not sure how.  As far as moving up the belts was concerned, my son and I went neck and neck (although of course no martial art should be just about belts) Most of our training was done together. It’s a great comfort to know that at least for a couple of years he, and to a certain extent his brother, younger by two years and who trained with us for about the last 6 months or so, will have some memories of me as fit and able, going through my paces, equally happy to face up to an experienced Black Belt or a white belt novice.

The First Southern Area Poomsae Championships, Gatwick

And so, masterfully succinct – as you’ve come to expect  from me, that’s the quickly-sketched background, as to why I am here, in my Do bock and (2ndKup) red belt, freezing my nuts off, far too early for it to be respectable; on a Saturday morning  in a sports hall near Gatwick.

I am here as a competitor in the First Southern Area Poomsae Championships, hosted by The Livingwell Club, near Gatwick. And it is busy, with entrants from all areas of the country.

Although I have spectated at both pattern and fighting events, this is my first competition. My day is made virtually complete when, with dismay I realise that my competition category is that of  ‘Veteran’.

And I’m still freezing cold.  Together with Big John, my long-suffering, even-tempered sometime sparring partner, who is also competing in the same category, I mooch around  bit to find out at what time we are expected on the floor, so to speak. Apparently our ‘slot’ is about midday. I do some warming up and begin to run through my patterns. My eldest has a busy day. As a first Kup (Red/Black belt – one away from black) his is one of the most competitive  groups. Unusually I begin to feel quietly confident. This rare state of affairs is thrown into turmoil more than somewhat by the news that they are bringing our category foward. So far forward in fact, that we’re on now!

frantically trying to remember 

While I am frantically trying to remember the drill for entering the competition area, the first competitor, a red belt from Liverpool takes the floor. He knows his stuff. He’s obviously competed a few times before and already looks like a potential winner. My confidence in a podium finish, however is undiminished. Today feels like the day. Then it’s Big John’s turn. John has been training a little longer and more regularly than me. And it shows. Then it’s my turn. Thankfully, I am still in an ‘on’ state (In other words my L – Dopa medication is still working)

Normally, there are three rounds. The first requires performance  of one Poomsae from the first compulsory section. I think I did Koryo, the  first Black Belt pattern. You are marked on Accuracy (Correctness of Poomsae: techniques and basic movements) and Presentation (Skill, speed, strength and power)  The highest 50% in the category go through to round two. Here, contestants choose from the second, more advanced compulsory section. I must have done Keumgang, the second Black Belt pattern, which would have left me, for the third and final round, pattern 8 and one other. Which? I don’t recall. Anyway, it doesn’t matter, it didn’t go to a third round. I remember nothing about performing, except at the end, trying to make sure I finished on the right spot, which in most patterns is the same as your starting point. I also remember the feeling of relief that it was over. It is quite a tall order to perform physical tasks/movements of such complexity and under such intense scrutiny.

It’s true, Dear Reader

A short wait for the scores and Lo and behold! I get into the medals! That’s right! Third place. Joy unbounded! … or Joy  unfounded, I’ not sure which. My son on the other hand has had  a tough and unproductive afternoon. His category went the whole three rounds and started with about 20 competitors. He has cooled down after his last pattern, and is feeling shivery, achy, hungry and generally pissed off. It’s now 5:00pm and we still have to battle the traffic home; so my, some might say, rather unwarranted celebrations are cut short and we head off. On the drive back, my eldest is not in the mood for ‘move by move’ breakdowns of my killer patterns … and promptly falls asleep, only waking up as we pass the White Bear pub in Ruislip. He doesn’t realise it as his ‘cartoon’ sleepy face: two crosses for eyes and an upside down mouth with its tongue hanging out, slowly dissolves and he returns to normal, but all journey long I’ve nevertheless been regaling him with the tale of my day’s  success.

‘One thing’s a bit wierd though Dad, Howcome you only had to do two rounds?’

Perhaps he has been listening after all …

The eagle-eyed among you, I suspect, may have spotted same:

‘Why no third round? Ah. I didn’t explain that did I?’ Of course the reason we weren’t called to do a third round is the same reason I was so confident of a ‘podium place’: ‘There weren’t enough entrants to warrant a third round.’

‘How many, Dad?’

‘Oh, enough to make it a close and exciting competiton’ I offered, unconvincingly.

‘How many?’

‘Three’

‘What!? So all you had to do was turn up, living and breathing to get into the medals? He was livid. ‘And even if you weren’t I suppose you still would have got it posthumously! …’

It’s true, Dear Reader. Three contestants: me, Big John and the Scouser who, as we suspected he would, won it.

The trophy – Life size!

And so ended my competitive Taekwondo career.

And that was it.

I continued training for about a year, but eventually circumstances prevailed. I remember my last training session. I was with my two lads.  Mindful of pacing myself for the whole lesson, I had taken it easy. It was no good. The ‘Offs’ had started to come more regularly and powerfully by then. So much so, that I had to sit out the bulk of the lesson, frozen, unable to move. We left at the end, some degree of movement having returned: sufficient I thought for me to get us home in the car, but it wasn’t to be. About half a mile from the club I had to pull in as I felt that the rigidity which persisted made it unsafe for me to drive. We had to sit ignominiously in the car till a taxi arrived and got us home. I cycled back the following day to collect the car.

And that was it.

I have to say, in all honesty and without wishing to descend at all into sloppy sentimentalism that it was a significant loss. A loss of, as I have indicated so many things: the fitness side of it, the skills, techniques and the learning all the time, the piecing together of one bit of knowledge with another, the way in which certain elements of the training, and in particular events such as gradings hauled you out of your comfort zone, and the shared nature of the experience of all that. The banter, the fun and the friendship. And I think here is where we get to the nitty gritty, for ultimately, the strength I draw from my memories of my time spent training with the Brotherhood as, let’s face it, a decidedly average – if that – Martial Artist, is a result of the warmth and kindness extended to yours truly and my family, by almost everyone involved in the club at whatever level. Now is that the friendship of a particular group of people, bound together by a common interest, or is that the friendship of Taekwondo? I’m still working on that, but I think I know the answer.

At about the same time I stopped training, though thankfully I don’t think the two events are related, the club went through some changes in personnel and training facilities. Neil Patterson, in my humble view, a gifted and resourceful teacher meanwhile had moved to the South Coast, where, knees permitting or – more often than not –  knees not permitting, he continues to instruct. I only mention this in order to point out, without being presumptious that I consider all Brotherhood club members, be they current or former with whom I had contact over the years, friends.

Thank you and goodnight

I would like to end this long-winded epic by, as well wishing the Brotherhood a Happy 30th birthday, saying a big ‘Thank You’ to those people (far too many to mention individually, and if I did I’d be bound to forget someone,) who had the misfortune to have to spar with me, do one step, self defence or watch as I stumbled my way through pattern after pattern or who were generally responsible for giving me a ‘prod’ along the way. Special Thanks go to the following, who I will name  for their willingness to give of their time and expertise, their patience, help, encouragement and inspiration: Neil Patterson, Master Con Halpin, Fatima Halpin, Robin Bell, Brian Robinson, Alec Bryan, Donette Gates-Day, Tracey and Rob Sleight, Rosie Biddlecombe, Kyle Patterson, The Long-Suffering Big John Moran and family and last but by no means least, Master Usman Dildar (I finally wrote it! I may have gone off track from time to time, but I did finally do it!)

To all of you,

당신을 감사하십시오

Links

The Brotherhood Taekwondo Foundation

Titan Taekwondo

Premier Ki Taekwondo

Ickenham Taekwondo

London Taekwondo Academy 

The British Taekwondo Control Board 

World Taekwondo Federation

Postscript

Of course, it has occurred to me since publication of the above, that certain points may have been left open to potential misinterpretation. What you have read, skimmed, through or totally ignored to come straight here is My Own Story. I am not advocating the practice of Taekwondo as a ‘cure’ for Parkinson’s Disease. There is no cure. Nor am I suggesting it allieviates symptoms, or likwise encouraging people with Parkinson’s to take up the sport. In my case, I was lucky enough to ‘get in’ my all-important two formative years before the arrival of my uninvited guest. The point is that I was, and still am able to use some of the skills and techniques I have learned and put them to use or adapt them in such a way as they enable me to keep fairly supple and fit: which is half the battle with Parkinson’s. They may play their part in my ‘Bag of Tricks’, which might for instance, mean steps or moves which allow me to navigate a particularly tricky bit of the house when my walking is not too good.

Parkinson’s has been dubbed ‘The Designer Disease’ for a reason. No two people’s symptoms are alike. What ‘works’ for one person may not for another, as I have painfully found out over the years, while Taekwondo is a Martial Art; It is not meant to be easy.

Should anyone with Parkinson’s, despite all that has been said, wish to take up the sport, I would urge you strongly to discuss it with your GP or Neurologist in the first instance and then with the club you intend to train with. As for choosing a club (and this goes for anyone: able-bodied, young or old) shop around. Visit a few. Sit and watch lessons (If the club is reluctant to, or doesn’t allow this – Strike it from your list.

End of sermon.

© Andy Daly 2011

Love And Other Drugs

As you may know, I try to avoid focusing on my Parkinson’s as a subject for posts, but this has been gnawing away for a little while, so here we go.

Know It All

Now if anybody tells you that these days, Parkinson’s is not so terrible and that it can be easily managed with drugs, you can say nothing.

 

But just punch them as hard as you like on the Philtrum (It is the vertical groove or ‘channel’ we all have which runs from the nose to the top lip) There are lots of nerve endings here which make it extremely painful when bopped.

With any luck, fragments of bone will be shattered away and lodge themselves in the Know It All’s brain too.

Joy of Movement

In order to experience  the joy of movement every morning I enter into a kind of ‘Faustian’ deal.  However in my case it is not out of choice, nor some idle desire for worldly pleasures, knowledge or power.  Neither is it made with the Devil (although sometimes I do wonder.) No, my pact is with pharmaceuticals and my Mephistopheles, the drug companies, Merck and Boehringer Ingelheim. For the joy of movement I have to take regular doses of two drugs in particular: Levodopa which basically turns into Dopamine in the brain in an attempt to replace the missing ‘chemical messenger’ whose depletion is essentially the cause of my Parkinsonian symptoms. However, Dopamine is very quickly broken down by the body, so it requires plenty of help to ensure it reaches its target. (Think of ‘The Dambusters’ or the aerial bombing sequence at the end of ‘Star Wars’ that Lucas lifted from the same 1955 classic.) My Neurologist once said it was a bit like  putting rocket fuel in a car. The second, Pramipexole, is a Dopamine Agonist, designed to stimulate receptor sites such that they make the most efficient use of the available Dopamine. Both are in my case, very effective when taken at the appropriate times, sometimes in conjunction with other drugs. They permit me a range of  movement from one end of the scale: stumbling and creaking about, to the other equally debilitating hyper-active and dyskenetic (uncontrollable) movement and everything in between. These phases manifest themselves as I go through the day and the efficacy of the drugs is tempered by stress, tiredness, the ‘blocking’ action of proteins, the wearing ‘on’ or ‘off’ of doses, dose failure and so on)

Payback

And what is the price I have to pay? Well, well, this is where it gets interesting. As drugs of true dependence, over time your body requires more to do the same job; and of course Parkinson’s is degenerative as we know. So over even more time it means even, even more. Even more drugs which are known to cause secondary effects (did you know this?) such as hallucinations, paranoia, compulsive behaviour, psychosis and all sorts of other unpleasant things you really don’t want to know about. Out and about, people assume that you are drunk – or just a nutcase, and laugh at your increasingly eccentric behavioural mannerisms: which of course become worse once you realise you are being observed. Friends and family watch as your personality becomes hideously distorted and, just like drug addicts out on the street, you turn inwards and obsess about your next dose, and the next and eventually it starts to run your life. And the worst thing is you know it happening, but feel powerless to do anything about it.

Love

And what of Love?

You love. You love as deeply as you ever did, perhaps even more so, but as deep as you feel it you also want hide it.  You want to hide yourself away too. I guess it becomes part of your defence mechanism. You feel the need to protect those around you and immunise them to your suffering. You get so objective about it that you start to become hard-hearted. You can’t bear to think about it sometimes as you feel it reveals chinks in your armour which would very easily be exploited by the unprincipled, steely spectres that haunt you. You can’t bear to think about the enormity of what is happening. If you did, you reason, the tears would almost certainly fall. And if they started, they would never never stop. Ever. But you still feel the love, often expressed in the simplest of ways, as in the feats of endurance performed on my behalf by those nearest to me every day.

And what if?

And what if I just don’t take them? The drugs I mean. Well, within a matter of a few hours I am reduced to a kind of jelly, Unable to walk, talk clearly, chew, manipulate with my fingers or hands. I wouldn’t last long in the wild … or in the front room for that matter. But my cognition and awareness remain intact.

Nasty bastard isn’t it?

“Parkinson’s causes slowness of movement, tremor, rigidity and is commonly diagnosed in people over 60.” How many times have I read that and wondered as now, age 50 with 10 years of the ‘Shaking Palsy’ under my belt ‘Yes? and the rest?

Good News?

However, there is a glimmer of hope. I have had preliminary tests at The National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery here in London to assess my suitability for surgery. Specifically, Deep Brain Stimulation. I won’t go into detail, but if accepted it would mean an operation to implant electrodes deep into the brain, which would be set to send out electronic impulses stimulating various brain target areas. These  in turn, are controlled by a unit (similar to a pacemaker) implanted into the top of  the chest cavity. The results of this particular operation have for some time been the source for encouragement. It is not a cure. However  patients for whom it has been a success have been able to substantially reduce the medication they take, while quality of movement, balance, gait and tremor among other things have improved. In some cases dramatically.

My mate Reg who has had it done says he feels like a ‘New Man’ and since the op he’s re-applied for and been granted his Driving Licence – A target for me if ever there was one.

The film? I haven’t seen it. Review? Oh dear. You mean you’ve sat through all of the above waiting for a review of the film? Oh well, never mind. At least you may have learned something.

LINKS

Parkinson’s UK  (Formerly The Parkinson’s Disease Society)

The Parkinson’s Appeal for Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS)

Patients’ Stories

© Andy Daly  2011 (‘Know It All’ first published in  Feb 22nd  2010)

East Ward #4

We think he’s Armenian. That’s Capain Birdseye. I’m not sure. I’m convinced he was speaking in Spanish when he lunged towards me, hand going for my throat. This was when I was still on E-Bay before Jock the Junkie got swept off  into his very own room and I was billeted in the big bay at the end with (finally) some normal company.

I wasn’t frightened as this attempted assault on my person took place. In fact I was fairly sure I knew what it was all about. I was terribly dyskinetic: Lots of uncontrollable movement – almost a ‘fit’. You see the Doctors had been around earlier in the day and had me started on titrating doses of a new medication: Pramipexole a Dopamine Agonist, instead of the Rotigotine. It was only when the dyskinesias started to get really severe, that I figured out what was going wrong. Nobody in the team treating/observing me had thought about the need to readjust my doses of L-Dopa to allow for the more potent replacement.

It was a relief to have been able to rationalise what was going on, so I tailored my doses accordingly, made a note on my Observation sheet and began to brace myself for what seemed was going to be a rocky ride. I was begining to present a danger to shipping.

Enter the Captain. So named because he resembled Captain Birdseye. He was easy to spot. Apart from the grubby silvery, nicotine-stained beard, he had been fitted with a flourescent pink tabbard. The Captain had a tendency to ‘wander’. He’d only been there a day and they’d had to haul him back down off the High Street twice. His ‘high visibility’ tabbard was intended to curtail his meanderings; as was the six foot Nigerian nurse, who he seemed to be permanently fixed to.  I never did get a good look at what sort of device held her right and his left arm clamped together for the whole day. Could have been a chain I suppose. All I know is that at the moment he is dragging the nurse with him as he flies (well, not exactly … it’s more clumsy than that, and I’ve used ‘lunge/d’ once already. He lurches?)

Okay … he lurches at me. I had seen him getting more and more distressed by my violent flailing and so had prepared myself for ‘something’. I calmly avoided his lunge. He seemed to say in Spanish (though not as a native tongue)  ‘Va a morderse  la lengua’ (‘He’s going to bite his tongue’) I think he thought I was having an Epileptic fit, and in the received wisdom of days gone by, was attempting to stop me biting/swallowing my tongue. I Told him ‘No pasa nada, no te preocupes’ (‘It’s OK, don’t worry’)

‘I’m going to get out of the way’ I said to the Nurses: ‘I’m off to the day room’ and that is indeed where I went.

The dyskinesias lasted about another hour or so during which, nobody came to check on my condition. When I emerged, exhausted from the day room (10th floor with open window to boot) All seemed quiet.

Partly because Captain Birdseye had absconded again.

I need a drink. I wonder if Stig’s about?

© Andy Daly  2010

East Ward #1

Chapter One

It is 1:15 am. The sublime sound of Phyllis Hyman’s ‘You know how to love me’  fills my head as I lose myself to its pumping beat and intoxicating rhythm. Through my half open eyes I can see a myriad lights sway and swim. Feeling the cool floor beneath my feet, I dance like there will be no tomorrow. Where? The Gardening Club, Covent Garden? Deep Funk at madame JoJo’s? The Wag? I stop and take a swig from a bottle of water. The lights in question are those of West London. I can see them all the way out to Heathrow, for I am high up on the tenth floor.

Welcome to East Ward, the Neurology/Surgical Assessment Unit, at a well-known (No, I’m not going to name it!) London Hospital. My ‘dance floor’ is otherwise known as the ‘Day Room’. I am the only patient who seems to use it during the day, largely because I cannot bear the company of my fellow inmates, ‘Jock the Junkie’ and ‘Captain Birdseye’ who arrived during my first night and second morning here, respectively. As a consequence of a painful hour spent here with the pair of them earlier in the week, I now blag the Day Room for my own exclusive use in the evenings by removing the batteries from its TV remote control after first selecting channel 5. Jock and the Captain soon tire and this leaves me a good three hours to watch TV and try to ‘shake off’ the maddening diskynesias; the uncontrollable, jerky movements characteristic of long-term Leva-Dopa use by those with Parkinson’s. Leva-Dopa (or L-Dopa as it is sometimes known) is prescribed to replace the missing Dopamine: the Brain’s chemical ‘messenger’. A very effective drug, it is unfortunately notoriously difficult to get  to reach its target, as the body, in addition to any protein at loose in the system, will quickly break it down. My Neurologist once compared it to putting rocket fuel in a car. Diskynesias happen when there is a surplus, which ends up sloshing around the central nervous system, causing the body and limbs to go here and there. Somehow I  found that dancing (in an embarrassing ‘all-action’ wedding-Dad style) to Disco, Soul, Funk and Punk helps a bit to soak it up.

And so here I am. 1:30am. I’d better get a move-on and clear off. The nurses have first shout on the room from 1:30 am onwards. As from then, each night, there is a certain amount of furniture-moving goes on – It seems, to prevent entry as they bed down inside to sleep or otherwise – I’m not sure; I don’t really wish to know; waking me as they leave at about 4 am.

Of course by then, I am safely tucked up in bed in my room with Jock, the Captain and his ‘minder’. The ward is organised into a series of small rooms or bays, some are general purpose, like this one; others high dependency. The bays are identified by letter.

It goes without saying that I am on E-Bay.

© Andy Daly  2010

Wonders will never cease.

I once taught a boy called Roque (Pron. ‘Rrro – keh’) He insisted, as did his mother too, that it was to be pronounced ‘Rocky’ (as in ‘Balboa’  – Stallone, you remember?  The film about the boxer … the one with the music) Well this lad Roque was a real shit. Very bright, but extremely disruptive.  He was skilled at orchestrating chaos. I had loads of bust ups with him over the years and had to withdraw him from numerous lessons in the department. He was always in trouble, and it was always something unpleasant: like bullying, or swearing at a member of staff. He was no Artful Dodger, no ‘loveable’ villain. He was a nasty piece of work; and from the ‘knowing glances’ he would now and again shoot you, he knew it and revelled in it

He wasn’t my favourite character, I have to say. I didn’t like teaching him or as a result, sadly, the class he was in. I just grit my teeth before every lesson and went into battle, trying never to lose my sense of humour. The Parkinson’s was begining to ‘bite’ by then, so it was difficult. I wasn’t what I once was. However, I do remember on his last day at school, he insisted on having a picture taken with me – much to his friends’ astonishment (and mine!)

When they sneeringly asked why, he just said ‘Oh he’s alright he is …’

Anyway, it comes up just before Christmas time that I am at the local petrol station. I’ve just put my twenty quids worth in (They don’t bother with the pumps nowadays – they just leave a thimble next to the tank and let you get on with it ) when I noticed said Roque (pron ‘Rocky’) inside the shop. He had just paid and was about to leave. I was very self-conscious because I was a bit ‘Dyskinetic’ (fidgety uncontrolled movements; a Parkinson’s drug, Leva-Dopa side effect,) nevertheless I plough on.

“How’re you doing?” He says, genuinely pleased to see me “You’ll never guess what I’m doing” He was right. I couldn’t. “I’m at uni” He said proudly. “Good for you” I said, genuinely pleased, which I was.

“Yeah” He says, “It’s really hard, I don’t know if I’ll be able to stick it out, but I’m going to try” (I’m not altogether sure to what he was referring here – the work, the drinking, the late nights …) He asked about me, so I told him about the Parkinson’s, the early retirement, the battles with drug side effects People only ever ask me  once. He listens intently.

“That’s bad news, I’m really sorry. You know, you were alright, you. I’m really sorry”

Then suddenly out of the blue, he hugs me! … Not a limp, insipid hug – like a wet raincoat, but a robust, manly, thumping on the back to signal It’s ‘Time To Release’ sort of hug.

And with that he was gone! The cashier had to come out from behind the till, slap my fallen jaw back up into place and take my twenty quid. It was a good five minutes before I could move. Amazing!

Wonders will never cease.

© Andy Daly  2010

Scruckshelishelcquerlup

It is morning, and whilst lying in bed, awake waiting for my tablets to kick in, I hear my youngest son in the bathroom (next door) going through his daily gargling routine, This lasts for about 4 minutes:

“scruckshelishelcquerlupwaschushashushscruckshelishelcquerlupwaschushas hushscruckshelishelcquerlupwaschushashushscruckshelishelcquerlupwas chushashushscruckshelishelcquerlupwaschushashushscruckshelishelcquer

lupwaschushas hushscruckshelishelcquerlupwaschushashushscruckshelishe

lcquerlupwaschushashush  …..aaaahhhhgglllleee aaaahhhhgglllleee

aaaahhhhgglllleee  (this is the back of the throat bit)

Wuwwulllmmnllleeeaaaahhhhggwuwwulllmmnlllleeeaaaahhhhgglwuwwulllmmnlll

Aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!…………..pwryyyrrtt! (this is the spit)

……………….Heeeeeeeuuuugh! …. pwryyyrrtt!” (another spit)

I am thinking, I’ve got a drum and bass line that would go perfectly with that!

He’s got a routine for everything: a brushing teeth routine, the mouthwash routine (as you now know) the anti-perspirant spray routine (not one to be caught in the middle of !)  The ‘don’t care hair’ routine. You know, I never knew it took so long to perfect that ‘Just dragged through a hedge’ look. Still, …. He is worth it!

Meanwhile, back in bed, I practise my rigorous exercise routine. I open and close my right eye five times, then repeat with the left. As they say: No pain, no gain. That done, I cast one of the aforesaid eyes (the left – as it happens) to the other side of the room and it alights on my walking frame. Okay, it’s a zimmer frame, but it has got ‘Go Faster’ stripes, metallic paint and polished chrome.  I don’t use it much; as you can see by all the washing hanging off it.

I can just imagine it:  The Harrow and Hillingdon Area Health Authority enquiry:

“Mr Daly, would you care to explain to us once again, exactly how you came to break your hip. On the day in question you didn’t use the walking frame that The Health Authority provide you with, because it was (He refers to his notes) ‘Full of washing’ “

“Yes Sir, that is correct, Sir, I …………”

 © Andy Daly  2010