Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Footnotes






I was attacked in bed at 3am. It was unexpected, vicious and there were no witnesses.

The previous evening a friend had related an anecdote in which a colleague displayed a cool head in testing circumstances. When my friend said, “You stay very calm”, he responded “I do.....but I have a big fucking mortgage. And the other guy's a bell-end”

I have been described as having a “relaxed attitude to life.” That fact is, I don't. I'm just aware that there is a time and place to call someone a “bell-end”. Moreover, as I recently learned in a dog-grooming parlour, some self-censorship is necessary: banging on about arthritis does not make the listener want to shag you.

However, in the aftermath of my recent attack I felt like spewing out “bell-end” at everyone and saw the social value in describing pain. I felt like I had earned the right to bore the shit out of people. The pain made me feel like taking a coping saw to my big toe and working until I was blinded with bone dust. I was attacked by gout and I have discovered that it is “one of the best Antidotes against Stoical Opinions.”

There are those who argue that pain is the route to self-improvement. In 1777, after being hit by a runaway horse, the philanthropist John Brown wrote: "Do me good, oh God! By this painful affliction may I see the great uncertainty of health ease and comfort that all my Springs are in Thee."

There may be something in that. I certainly think that finding yourself in extreme pain can award you profound insight into the state of your relationship. I can also add that gout was literally my wake up call to take a long hard look in the mirrored door of the bathroom medical cabinet and ask myself “WHERE THE FUCKING HELL ARE THE PAINKILLERS?”

It took me half an hour to discover the house was a pill-free zone. The attack rendered me incapable of walking. I was reduced to crawling around my bedroom like an inchworm. I had carpet burns on my chin. The stairs? Fuck you, no: I'm not sharing that experience. Perhaps when we get to know each other better. Or you get gout.

I've yet to see a non-sufferer look sympathetic when you tell him that you have attacks of gout. I, too, was guilty of mockery. I would have delighted at the idea of a TV-show called “Bouts of Gout”,in which two sufferers are put in a pebbled arena and zombie-shuffle towards each other before going toe-to-toe.

The winner? Treat him to a soothing swing in a hammock and cover him with Labrador puppies. The loser? Send out a nicotine-starved stage-chimpanzee armed with a rubber dildo. Have him knuckle-dash towards the terror-stricken contestant. Watch, awe-struck, as he pounds the loser's toe with simian zest. Listen to the pan-hoot drown out the howls of pain. Applaud the naked ape. Buy the branded dildo. Accessorise it with sweetcorn.

The misfortunes of others are often borne with equanimity. Larkin put it brilliantly:

“Yours is the harder course I see; on the other hand, mine is happing to me.”

In the case of gout, the depth of the amusement is, partly, the legacy of class anxiety. If we delve back in history, to a time when the medical profession was still performing trepanning and other surgeries without anaesthetic, we find plenty of petite-bourgeoisie that were ecstatic when they could proclaim “I have gout”.

Folklore deemed gout a disease of the “better sort, a superiority tax, a celebrity complaint “fit for a man of quality.” Gout was the “distemper of a gentleman” whereas the rheumatism was the distemper of a hackney coachman.”

To say you had gout was to imply that you could afford an extravagant lifestyle and you hobbled through the corridors of power. It gained such an association with the indulgence of alcohol and rich rood that, now, if you tell someone you suffer from gout, they are likely to assume that you are a person of congenital idleness, rancid morals and general worthlessness.

It is true that you are more likely to have an attack if you are over forty, male, a heavy-drinker, overweight and idle. I'm two of those things, the ones that I can't address. (Technically, I could change one of the two but I don't fancy that assignment.) I don't have a six-pack but I'm not overweight. I drink, but not that heavily. I idle, but it's not, to my knowledge, a sobriquet.

Gout can just hit you if you have a build up of uric acid and it causes the kind of pain that, if I were of a certain age, might make me consider assisted death. (Given attitudes to gout, I would probably end up using “Indignitas” and find myself gently trundling down a cliff on a wheeled commode whilst watching my lover perform a “Look Ma, no hands!” sex act on her lover, all to the tune of “My Way.” )

Eighteen hours after the start of the attack, I had to call 111. The surges of pain made me my think my foot was going to explode and I was enfeebled to an extent that I couldn't perform my inchworm manoeuvre. I was prescribed painkillers and colchicine, a drug that gets rid of the uric acid but dumps you with diarrhoea before you have regained the ability to haul-ass at a functional rate. Yes, fuck you again, that is another anecdote involving stairs I'm not sharing.

Seven days later, I could stand. It made me want to dance. I couldn't, of course, but after a week in which I had sacrificed a social trip to London, a chance to meet friends whom I had not seen for many months and everyone's casual mobility provoked a desire to shout insults, unassisted standing nearly made me want to kiss “bell-ends.”

Saturday, September 14, 2013

And Bring Someone With You





A year ago today, my dad died.
At approximately 5am, he said “That’s ok, you’re just doing your job” to a hospital nurse who had apologised in case her duties had woken him. 

He was eighty-four, an active maths tutor, a keen swimmer, a husband and father of five. He had been referred to the hospital by the chiropodist because he had no feeling in the fourth toe of his right foot, a concern as he had type two diabetes. After investigation, the doctors had concluded the toe would have to be amputated. Not pleasant, but not life threatening. 

At approximately 6am, my mum received a call from the hospital: Your husband is very poorly. Come right away. And bring someone with you.

Confused, she called my sister, who drove her to the hospital. There, they met the duty sister. She fluffed her delivery, mangling the message that my sister had decoded but my mum had yet to comprehend.
“You mean he’s dead?”

He died of a myocardial infarction at a time between 5am and 6am. 

At 8am, I received a phone call from my eldest brother: “Are you sitting down?”

Approximately two hours later I was in a taxi, my eye caught by the driver’s mirror as it had an air freshener that stated “World’s Best Dad.”

When I arrived at the hospital, my mum’s first words to me were “We didn’t expect this, David, did we?”
I’d just seen what we didn’t expect. 

The last time I saw him alive he was waiting to be X-rayed.  My mum and I had just said goodbye to him but as we walked out I glanced over my shoulder. He grinned and gave me a high thumbs up. Everything was going to be ok.
    
Eighteen hours later, directed by my eldest brother, I joined my mum, my sister and aunt, in a tiny room, just outside the ward, the bad news room, the room of shattered lives. I went from an unexpected end to the start of the unimaginable. As Iris Murdoch put it, “Bereavement is a darkness impenetrable to the imagination of the unbereaved.”  

As we sat, sipping tea and breaking down, my other brother and sister were making the journey from London. They arrived at about 2.30 and we went to Bluebell House, the hospital’s mortuary. We walked in and my mum let out a cry, her face contorted by anguish, “I don’t think I can do this.” 

I do not know how she has done what she has done this last year: the person most gravely affected by the bereavement has been the one who has displayed the greatest mental health. Bereavement tests everybody’s maturity: on many occasions this year I have failed; she has not faltered at all.  

She, wisely, I think, spends time at home, keeping herself busy, maintaining the rooms they inhabited, the places in which she can, if she chooses, populate with my father. Grief has not made her a hermit: her weekly routine is structured around, as it was before, lunches out with her friends; but annual or seasonal rituals that she would have attended with my dad seem now to provoke uncertainty. 

They are occasions in which she has to sit, in company, conscious of her massive amputation. Gone are the in-jokes and the shared facial expressions at moments of social intrigue that have been a near lifelong staple of her experience of the communal dining table. No longer can she offer her goodbyes, return home and digest the event with my dad. No more combining memories to validate the other’s experience and cement each other’s identity.   

She, we, didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. He didn’t hear “you have months to live”, he didn’t glimpse his coat being held by the eternal footman, he just died. Apparently, he’d expressed a wish “to go on the dance floor” and years ago, his doctor, had told my dad, while clicking his fingers “You’ll go out like a light.”
He had multiple health issues that were masked by his energy and his charisma. We, the offspring, know now that he would have been on kidney dialysis from early this year, facing death by dimmer switch. 

I knew his preference but, in the dark days of bereavement, I wondered, pointlessly, if it is preferable, in the context of the ultimate double bind, to have the chance to spend time with him, knowing the sand is trickling away, or to be surprised by the smashed hourglass. 

There were plenty of times during the six months following his death that I really, really, felt the pain of the broken glass. On such occasions, my mind was a snake pit.  Grief contaminated my thoughts, sometimes causing poisoned outbursts at undeserving people, sometimes leading to feelings of intense self loathing.
It was during one of the latter bouts that I served a brunch for four people that included cold mushrooms and insipid scrambled eggs.   My head screamed:
”You can’t even do that David, can you?”,

to which another internal voice rejoined, 

“What’s this? Thinking about your own inadequacies, when your father died just a few days ago? Who the fuck do you think you are?”

In the evening, a plastic bag I was carrying split and four cans of lager tumbled onto the street. There has not been a time in my when I have hated myself more.  

A feeling of lacking control percolated in such a manner that caused damaging examinations of past behaviour, in which my actions now appeared to be inexcusable, incompetent and insensitive. It was also the start of the “What If?” narratives, of which there were to be many, but they all shared the same need to punish, to blame, berate - myself, institutions, the world.   

Scared by the intensity of these feelings, I tried to maintain a poker face, thus depriving loved ones of the chance to offer me consolation and, at times, appearing dispassionate. An anguished person sometimes needs to see a genuine reflection of feeling in the face of a family member. Sometimes, looking at me, my family didn’t see it and that can lead to intense anger, as the other seems to be an emotional tourist, not a true member of the tribe.

Consequently, I suspect that there were times when I damaged, temporarily, relationships with my siblings. My poker face was a misguided attempt to have a sense of control when everything seemed chaotic. I was so desperate to clutch at something I could control that I offered to be acting executor of my father’s will.
The experience of going through his paperwork was the opposite of that staple of fiction, the discovery of a proverbial hatbox containing a cache of letters: he had been self controlled, responsible and authentic. Everything I was not. My respect for him grew. 

Through clipping his passport, sending back his driver’s licence, seeing almost thirty-five years of his medical history I, over time, accepted the extinguishing of his light.  By contemplating the darkness, I was forced to stop my psychological shadow boxing and began to fully grieve.

Just over three months later, all of the post death tasks were complete. The estate had been released and my dad’s ashes were buried, in a rose garden, by the roots of a Joie De Vivre.  It is then that my sense of time started to be become less muddled. During the immediate aftermath, when I was trying to come to terms with the disappearance of one of the greatest sources of consistency in my life, my sense of past, present and future were all over the place.  I developed a firsthand understanding of how a middle aged person could develop obsessive compulsive disorder: Amidst chaos, small routines can bring comfort and a sense of control.

Existing rituals have a permanently altered texture, as I discovered on my birthday. I visited the Joie De Vivre with my mum and brother. It was a warm, beautiful day. I felt a sadness that I would not wish away, the sadness that is part of being bereaved.    

Bereavement creates many new anniversaries, the biggest of which occurs today. I hope we can create a ritual of remembrance. I hope it will draw a straight line from the past to present to the future and celebrates his life.   

It was a life that was full of warmth, engagement and fun.  One of the last things I heard him say, on the thirteenth of September, as he was getting in a chair, wearing a towelled robe and about to be wheeled to the orthopaedic X-ray department, was, as he rolled his shoulders, “We’ll take him in the fifth, Rocky.”

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Baggage

Packing bags should be classified as an emotionally high risk activity by [the] Department of Psychology.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

A Battle for the Soul


I am a recovering nerd.




I am trying my best to make progress but the road to rehabilitation is long and beset on all sides by the inequities of the elfish and the tyrannies of evil students.




I have tried many methods to erase my nerdiness:




I have listened to gangsta-rap, developed a minor interest in gridiron and have seriously contemplated purchasing a Stadium Pal;



but still I feel stained by my adolescence.




Recovering nerds constantly have to police their thoughts in order to stifle any sign of regression. It is the self monitoring equivalent of kettling - i.e. it batters down any sense of deviancy - but sometimes the ideas cannot be bludgeoned and one's inner nerd temporarily takes over.




Recently I was watching the adaptation of The Da Vinci Code.*




After about seventy minutes I could not shake the notion that I was watching a particularly well-plotted game of Dungeon & Dragons.




Everything seemed to be in place:




the leading characters were dragged along by the plot and their actions made no difference to the outcome;


when seemingly at a loss, they would -


a) discover a hitherto overlooked clue


b) be assisted by a timely intervention from a badly drawn supporting character or,


c) appear to make a "saving throw" against certain death.




The dialogue was worse than the improvised efforts that we shouted when my friends and I wasted far too many weekends sitting around a pool table - Sorry! - anxiously standing guard outside The Crag of Xianworth - wondering how to slay The Crimson Legion (how's that for a Freudian nightmare?) without squashing the Chewits.




If you think that is a bold claim, here is a random selection of lines from the screenplay:




"Yes, and the more penises you have, the higher your rank."




"It is information from a man only known as.........the teacher."




"You, cripple. Put the keystone on the table."




"I've got to get to a library.....Fast."




I know the feeling, Tom.




The more I was exposed to this drivel, the more I felt myself being pulled back to the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide. My only chance was to seek out knowledge borne of more rational minds,** so I paused the DVD and spent ten minutes reading a newspaper.




By the time I restarted the film I felt sufficiently grounded that I could listen to - "You will not succeed. Only the worthy can unlock the stone." - without suffering an existential spasm.


By the time the DVD finished, I was in a state of inner peace. I had realised it could not have been a Dungeons & Dragons game as the film had a lower sense of character development.




Maybe screenwriter Akiva Goldsman should buy the latest update for the D&D Character Builder.




In bad news for my recovery, it is now number 2 on my wish list.




It has supplanted "shag."






*The post could have ended here and the point would still have been made.




** Note that the nature of this action dooms the recovery to failure. When presented with a challenge to his world view, a nerd takes solace from fact.***





***How many nerds does it take to change a light bulb? Any number, but the change has to be logged in a notebook.****



****Presumably when the effin' light is back on.










Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Lowered Eyebrows

The reason that there has not been as many posts in Feb is because the gaming site that I write for has asked me not to post the poker articles here, as they want search engines to find their site.

Fair enough.

If you are still interested in reading the poker articles, and can access gaming sites from work, you will find them here: http://www.eurolinx.com/en/Poker/DavidCorner.aspx

I'll also add a link in the margins in the next few days.

There might still be the occasional poker piece that is not submitted to Eurolinx that makes its way onto these pages but the posts will probably be non-gaming for the foreseeable future.

In the next few days, I'll start a new Scripting and Drifting column (for a new screenplay - sadly, I made a dog's dinner of the other one) and there will be plenty of other bits and pieces to keep the site active.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

This Just In...

(News from other sources)

Scientists have announced that they have now discovered there is a gene responsible for shyness.

They would have found it sooner but it was hiding behind another gene.

Poker on TV


Unfortunately, it is going to be a while until I notice any poker improvements through meditation, although I’m already aware of a heightened sense of self when I strike my hand-beaten Tibetan singing bowl with my dong. However, just because I’m still in the departure lounge of my journey to inner peace does not mean that I can’t find a topic to blog about.

You may have noticed that the site has had a funky new makeover and now allows readers to comment on my ramblings. Therefore, to mark this epoch defining moment, I will attempt to start a discussion about poker on TV.

This morning, I read the following comment in the sports section of my national newspaper:

‘[Poker is] a televised’ sport’ about as diverting as The Deer Hunter after the Russian roulette has been edited out. If I wanted to look at scrawny men with cadaverous complexions wearing sunglasses to compensate for the fact they are called Keith, I would have a day out in Filey.’

He has a point, particularly as one of the unique attractions listed for Filey, a small town in North Yorkshire, England, is ‘walking’. How can poker on TV compete with that?

Last night I watched a UK broadcast that featured twelve top players. It is presented in a league format: each competitor plays in six heats and their finishing position awards them points. After all players have competed, the top four automatically progress to the final table and those in fifth to eighth play two heads up knockout matches for the remaining two seats. It is about as good as televised poker gets and yet it is still pretty poor. Although it features some of the celebrities of poker, most of them will never inspire admiration in the neutral. Consider this:

The show featured Phil Hellmuth, a man who appears to have almost as many personality disorders as he does WSOP bracelets, heads up against Roland De Wolfe. I admire both players – they are talented and have massive quantities of inner belief – but is any non-poker player capable of enjoying the head to head?

In the final hand, PH (I think the initials on his baseball cap indicate ‘Personal Hell’) uncharacteristically called RDW’s pre-flop all in bet when the former held KT. De Wolfe had AQ, the flop helped neither player. The turn was also a blank. Just before the dealer flipped the river card Hellmuth said, ‘I apologise in advance’. The last card was, of course, a king.

Hellmuth looked unbearably smug. To compound the situation, the co-commentator and gifted pro, JC Tran, remarked, ‘That’s what you call instinct right there. He felt it coming.’

No, Tran, it isn’t: it is just luck coupled with arrogance. I suspect any rational non-poker player will conclude the same, turn off and try to erase the image of Hellmuth’s grin.

The example is, I think, the key part of the problem that poker faces: to applaud heroes, the spectators have to believe that the triumph is deserved and reached through hard work. Television, in most cases, will struggle to present such an image of poker. Moreover, it doesn’t help that a lot of players reach the top because they are crocodile-skinned and unemotional. They don’t make good TV.

What is the answer? Is there one? I welcome any conjurers out there in the blogosphere to try to pull a rabbit out of a hat and suggest some ideas. I’ll be right here, listening to chakra music and chanting ‘Om’.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Joining the Dots


It would not be a huge exaggeration to say I have had one of the weirdest seventy-two hours of my life. I’d love to tell you about it. However, this is a family site with a cuddly image so unfortunately I will have to restrict myself to writing about the latest experiment in stress reduction.

Just to recap, we have already deduced:

1. A bit of stress is beneficial as it can make you play in the optimum zone, as long as your heartbeat stays within acceptable limits.
2. Howard Lederer uses teachings from Zen Buddhism to keep himself calm at the table and is moderately successful. (It is mostly in the breathing.)

All this and more has been covered in a ‘few must read’ posts from last week. I suggest you take a second to glance at them as there is a chance that they will change your life in ways that, just three days ago, I didn’t think were possible.

Are you back?

Good.

Welcome to the meditation tent.

Pull up a bean bag and spark up an oil burner. It is now time for some teachings from Managing Stress, written by Terry Looker & Olga Gregson, members of the International Stress Management Association and genuine good eggs.

Their book comes with five ‘Biodots’ and a ‘colour interpretation chart’. It was with these particular toys that I had the most bloggable fun during the weekend.

The Biodots are ‘small self adhesive, temperature sensitive discs that are placed to measure skin temperature.’ Basically, when your body is experiencing stress, your skin temperature dips due to a decreased amount of blood flow. By measuring this, the dots change colour depending on your stress level (and other factors): when you are lying on a sun-kissed beach listening to Mozart, the dot will be a reassuring dark blue but if, a few hours later, you find yourself in a long queue at a self service restaurant that is running out of cooked food, the dot will be a murky brown. The two poles are either ‘very relaxed’ or ‘very tense’. I decided to give the Biodots a trial.

I set out a plan: wear the dot for two hours before a poker session, play for four hours, and then keep it on for a further three hours. That way I would acquire some knowledge of my normal levels, how I was affected during the game and how long it took it me to relax.

When I first placed the Biodot on my wrist, I was annoyed that it registered ‘unsettled.’

I muttered ‘Oh sh*t.’

It then registered ‘tense.’

Time to go for a walk.

By the time I was ready for poker, it had changed to ‘calm’, the third most relaxed state of the seven on the card. I had still not achieved ‘very relaxed’ and had noticed that when I stopped at a coffee shop, I became ‘involved.’ Maybe my body was more wired than I had thought. Regardless, it was time to go to work.

After the first two hours of my day job, I was moderately ahead and had played few big hands. I felt fairly calm and was gently reassured that my sensitive friend still thought I was ‘involved.’ If only they worked in relationships: had an ex-girlfriend used a dot that informed me she was ‘unsettled’, my home might still feature fresh flowers.

It was during the third hour that my bankroll suffered its first major wilting of the session. I was dealt AA under the gun and raised to four times the big blind. The player to my left flat called. I always hate that as it makes it far more likely that other call stations will want to peek at the flop. They did. In total, four players called and I was first to act after a rasping flop of A-6-8, two hearts. My dot told me I was ‘tense’; my head told me that I was about to stack.

The dot had it.

Another player flopped a set of eights and two others had the flush draw. Only one jester who saw the flop did not put all of his or her cash into the middle. When the third heart landed on the river, I saw a huge pot go to a comedian who had called my raise with K-5 of hearts. I didn’t really need the dot to inform me I was now ‘very tense’ – my fingers were practically embedded in the table and my laptop was covered with spit.

Needless to say, I had a drier screen before my Biodot registered a change. I was gradually able to retrieve my departed Euros but, at the end of the session, I was still ‘tense’. I found that interesting.

I was not aware of any symptoms of stress and yet, according to the dot, I still had not fully recovered from the big pot. The Biodot was an outward manifestation of tilt. I have always known that every player suffers from tilt, but I had always thought I had developed reasonable coping strategies. The Biodot disagreed. I have work to do.

One of the techniques mentioned in ‘Managing Stress’ is meditation. In the name of relaxation, better poker, and writing that tries desperately hard to be original and funny, I intend to give it a whirl.

I don’t I think I need to meditate but I will see what happens.

Is that you on my effin’ beanbag?