Sunday, 2 August 2009

Babies everywhere

A good friend has just had a girl. It is wonderful. The baby is gorgeous (rather than being crumpled up and looking like E.T as (if we were to be honest) most babies do), mother is well, father is reportedly taking to fatherhood as Aussies take to cricket, and this is all very, very lovely. Even more so, as my friend was told a number of years ago that it was unlikely she would be able to have children.

So this is a very special baby, indeed.

My friends (the ones who go back a long way) have hit sprogging age. The first to reproduce was perhaps the one we thought most unlikely to be straight, and also the most unlikely to get married, have a responsible job, settle down and have a family. That was a couple of years ago. In the last twelve months, two more close school friends, my bro's wife, some orchestra friends, a lass I was in Tanzania with and a couple of colleagues have all sprogged.

I have noticed a few things in this time:

  1. Most babies have their photos posted on Facebook within 48 hour of birth;
  2. Not all babies are amazingly ugly (and some actually look quite sweet);
  3. Some babies cry more than others;
  4. All new mothers love having friends around so they can hand the sprog over for a while.

A few months back I called in to see my nephew and sister-in-law for an hour or so on the way back from Swindon. I'd actually called in to pick up some Easter eggs my folks had left for us, but the opportunity to see the little fella was welcome. I'd also taken some plastic construction vehicles for him to play with. They were a big hit - he just about had the co-ordination to bang the things together and make a lot of noise, and then he discovered the nipple-shaped magnet on each end, which evidently made a fantastic focus for suckage, and kept him quiet for a couple of months.

I rather like my nephew. He's a happy chappie (and is easily pleased), and I can't wait until he's a bit older and we can take him to exciting places, feed him full of sugar and e-numbers, and hand him back to his parents in a hyperactive state.

But seriously, I'm a little worried that I might be beginning to like babies. I'm no longer terrified of making them cry and instead find myself making silly noises, pulling faces, and swinging them around by any extraneous limbs until they put their energy into wondering where the ground went and forget to cry.

I think this is a sign of getting old.

I turned thirty last month. I was in Prague with N. (I had a notion that if I had a birthday and wasn't in the UK for it, people would forget and perhaps I wouldn't have to really be thirty. This notion turned out to be false.) I do feel rather old. Maybe it's something to do with living somewhere relatively conventional, having what appears to be a 'safe' job with a growing company,

Maybe it's something to do with having the bone mineral density of an average grandmother.

Really. I have. The t-score from my recent dexa scan showed -1.6 for my hips and -2 for my lumbar spine. Or perhaps it was the other way round. No matter, they're the sort of scores you expect when you're in your sixties with a sedentary lifestyle. Fortunately I'm on the sort of medication which is suited to (and only licenced for use by) post-menopausal women of the age of average grandmotherhood. Coupled with being thirty, this would be more than enough to make me feel old.

Luckily, this is balanced out by having the bowel control of a new-born baby. This is particularly the case when I'm running. At the moment, I'm lucky to get a few kilometers down the road without an urgent need to find any sort of premises in which I might be able to use a loo. Bear in mind that this puts me in either deepest, darkest Brentford (home to a number of spit and sawdust pubs) or into well-heeled and ever-so-slightly-up-its-own-bottom Richmond. Neither of these locations take particularly kindly to lycra-ed up runners making a desperate dash to the loo and leaving shortly after without swelling the coffers of the licensee. I've been made to feel pretty uncomfortable on the way out, but nothing compared to the level of discomfort I was feeling on the way in. Either way, when my nephew starts crying because he's filled his nappy, I do feel a certain level of empathy with his plight.

It's empathy tinged with a bit of jealousy, though - my nephew's likely to grow out of it.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

On the move

I'm moving west.

Having got a month's notice from my landlord a couple of weeks ago, I've been flat-hunting with my lovely fella, N. We think we've found a place a bit further west along the river.

I rather like the process of moving. I like the bit where you are forced to consider every possession and answer the question: Do I need this? Is it worth hauling to the next home and storing there on the off-chance I might need it? Should I stick it on eBay, or send it to the local charity shop? Should it go in the bin?

I've not found a lot of stuff to chuck. This is either a sign that I'm particularly rubbish at getting rid of stuff, or a sign that after so many moves, I've now got rid of so much stuff that I have very little unnecessary stuff. I suspect it's not the latter.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Things I didn't expect

I didn't expect the lasagna to arrive with chips, but the chips were superb and I got over the surprise rather quickly and with as far as I can tell, without sustaining long-term psychological damage.


My current hotel room is opposite a church. It's a rather pretty scene, an old, green graveyard with higgledy-piggledy, lichen-covered stones, a fine tower and an old and rather imposing yew tree obscuring the entrance.

I didn't expect campanologists to strike up at 7:30, but initially, I thought this might be charming - with the window closed, I would still be able to hear the bells, yet listen to the snooker commentary whilst finishing off my emails for the day and the pint of Beck's I picked up in the bar.

After the opening peals, I realised this would not be charming. These must the least coordinated and unrythmical bell ringers in the universe. The simple sequence of six descending notes, repeated time and again was never right. Bells rang simultaneously. Bell four would be rung before bell three. It was dire, and rather painful to have to hear.

I have no idea how difficult bell ringing is. I'm sure it's not easy, but these people are showing no signs of learning from experience. I suppose it's not possible for campanologists to get a bit of private practice, but this bunch are in grave need of a soundproofed room to practice in.

They've just struck up again. Another session of aural pain looms large. I've never previously felt a sense of dread on hearing church bells, but when that first bell pierced the peaceful evening soundscape of birdsong, snooker commentary and the clicking of my keyboard as I typed away, I felt a sense of dread and panic like none I've experienced previously.

I suppose I've never really appreciated just how good most bell ringers are. Church bells ring out all over the place and don't sound this bad. They sound pleasant. Quaint. Charming. Unobtrusive. I'm beginning to think I should thank the bunch of hapless ringers who've just ensured I'll never take semi-competent bell-ringing for granted again. I'd never have expected that half an hour ago.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Leisure time

It’s 8pm. I am having leisure time after having got up at 6:20am to get to Swindon for 9. After a frustrating day at work, I knocked off around five-ish and got to my hotel about half-past. I was in the gym by six, out of the gym by half seven, and with a meal arriving in my room for quarter to eight, I was well on track to be fed and working my way through a pint by 8pm.

It’s 8pm. I’ve finished the mushroom soup and pasta and am working my way through a pint. Flowers best bitter. Very nice, too. It’s the earliest I’ve managed to eat on a work night since I finished working in London a couple of months ago.

I don’t normally go for room service, but this particular hotel requires dressing for dinner. I find that sort of thing all rather unnecessary for a mid-week business stopover, so I’ve opted for the rather less complicated bar menu and the joys of eating dinner whilst wearing jeans and a t-shirt. I’ve chosen the option which more closely resembles what I’d be doing through choice. I stay at this hotel because it has a decent gym with various bits of cardio and weights kit.

I frightened off a teenage lad by shifting rather more weight than him. I didn’t mean to have this effect on the kid, but it’s not the first time something like this has happened. My line manager stopped working out at the work gym after he realised I was outlifting him. Fragile ego syndrome?

Ah, fragility, yes. That reminds me - one of the reasons I’m keen to get back to doing weights regularly is that a recent bone scan revealed that my bones are a bit on the crumbly side of normal, and the remedial action consists of weights, running and extra bonus medication and supplements. Along with doubling the dose of the stuff I was taking anyway, this means I’ve now passed the stage of medication consumption at which it makes good economic sense to pre-pay for my prescriptions. This makes me feel rather old. I’m not even thirty, and I’m taking the same stuff for my bones that my question-marked-shaped osteoporotic grandmother did when she was in her nineties.

I’m also keen to feel well again. I briefly felt well whilst on holiday in the Highlands recently, but the return to work (and to commuting) scuppered that. I’ve been doing about 18 hrs commuting a week recently, which is a fair whack on top of the working week. Worse, it’s all by car, so I don’t even get a ten-minute walk to a tube station and a snooze on the train. Driving’s not really compatible with a half hour catch up on kip on the way to work. I get home late, and tired and not inclined to train. I don’t sleep well if I don’t get a reasonable amount of exercise. It’s a vicious bugger of a circle, this.

I’m staying up in Swindon for most of this week. This does mean that I’m not seeing much (anything) of my boyfriend, but I’m hoping it’ll mean I get some exercise, a few early nights and some decent kip, and may just be able to stay awake past 9pm at the weekend. I don’t hold out much hope of making it past 9pm tonight. Half a pint of Flowers has done for that. I may have leisure time, but I'm going to bed...

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Solving Problems

I firmly believe that there are very few problems in life which remain troublesome following a decent run, a large bowl of pasta and a glass of wine. The problem currently bothering me most definitely falls into this category.

My current problem is that with commuting to Swindon and staying in hotels, I don't often get the opportunity to go for a run and follow it up with a large bowl of pasta and a glass of red wine, and thus very many small problems have neither been solved nor downgraded in severity from 'major disaster' to 'less annoying than the mild pains in my legs'.

I've tried to maintain the run, pasta and wine approach to problem solving whilst staying up in Swindon. I can pretty much go for a run anywhere, provided I've packed some kit. Going for a run from a hotel is usually quite pleasant – I stay a few miles out of town and it's easy to find pleasant routes to run whilst mulling through some of the day's issues before returning for a shower and a meal. The going for a run part is fine. Getting the bowl of pasta causes problems. I don't want rich, creamy food following a run. Bolognaise would be fine. Carbonara is pushing the limits of what my guts will withstand. Prawns and tomatoes tossed in garlic and olive oil would be lovely. Sadly, no hotel seems to put anything this simple on the menu, and the few that respond to my requests for something other than their standard fayre don't seem to understand the portion size requirement, leaving me with three prawns and four cherry tomatoes sitting daintily atop a smattering of fusili, and also leaving me a tad hungry.

I've also tried to use the run/pasta/wine method after getting back from Swindon. This doesn't work particularly well, either. Having got up early to get to Swindon, I'm usually hovering between between the hungry and famished border by lunchtime. By the time I make it back to London, it's about 7:30, I'm hungry and tired and probably in need of some kip. Going for a run means eating late (which doesn't work well with the need to get up the next morning and drive to Swindon), and seeing very little of my lovely boyfriend (or anyone else, for that matter), which makes the four hour commuting penalty (home to London and back to Swindon the next day) a rather high price to pay for a poor night's sleep and a correctly-sized bowl of pasta.

Today, this is not a problem. It is a Sunday. I have been for a run, I have had a large bowl of pasta and a glass of wine, and life is good.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009


I've acquired a corporate laptop from my new customer. I was a little bit concerned that the laptop came with a random piece of velcro stuck to the case, but then worked out what this was for when I examined the antenna for the 3G/GPRS card which came with it and which had an almost corresponding piece of velcro stuck to it.

I say 'almost corresponding' because, in my experience, velcro comes with a hook-like piece (which I shall refer to as 'male') and a furry piece (which I shall refer to as 'female'). Both my laptop and antenna velcro pieces were of the male variety. I wondered whether this would be a problem, but upon experimentation, it transpired that the two male pieces bonded reasonably.

One of my colleagues, who was around whilst I was verbally working through the ramifications of the velcro combination I had received, gleefully remarked that I had been supplied with gay velcro. My thoughts immediately turned to the unfortunate person who had received my gay velcro's lesbian counterparts. There was little chance of them ever getting their two furry velcro pieces to successfully bond. This was rather sad, as it also meant they would be inconvenienced by an unbound antenna.

I wondered how a cock-up such as this could have occurred, and wandered round the office examining unattended laptops and antennae only to discover that all velcro combinations were male-male.

The customer organisation is full of macho types. I find it pleasingly amusing that gay velcro is standard issue...

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Working for a living has a lot to answer for...

I woke up this morning vaguely aware that the Huguenot kings were kicking off again and that somehow this was because I'd failed to do my job properly and convince them to take my sage advice.

I'm not a diplomat. It's neither my job title nor my general disposition. Nor is this the late sixteenth/early seventeenth century. As such, I'm a little surprised to find my subconscious suggesting that I've failed to keep the French Catholics safe following the Wars of Religion. (Something to do with recriminations following Henry IV's assassination.) It's probably one issue that I can safely put on the back burner (or in the "issues carpark") for the next couple of weeks.

I have a few more pressing issues.

I'm work-hunting.

I don't need a job. I already have one, and I'm glad of it, and particularly glad to be working for a company which is still recruiting in spite of the downturn. However, I am coming to the end of my current contract with the customer who're a handy 20 minute walk down the road, and following a failure between my employers and my clients to agree a rate for my services, I'm being promised to a client in Swindon for the rest of eternity (or 9 months in the first instance).

Swindon is a rather longer commute.

I had previously been of the mind to relocate to within a short, and preferably cyclable/walkable, commuting distance of wherever I ended up working, and thus not waste so much life sitting in my car. However, five days a week in Swindon leaves me the option of seven nights a week at home being tired and grumpy, or three nights a week at home being less tired and grumpy. I currently have seven nights a week at home being fairly chipper (Crohn's aside), and am a little peeved at the hit my work/life balance will take if I'm sold to Swindon for any length of time.

My lovely boyfriend doesn't seem too chuffed at the prospect of my being sold to Swindon. I can't possibly imagine why...

That was a lie. I can imagine why. My guess is that it's something to do with the reason why most of my colleagues who've been sold to the wrong end of the M4 find themselves single/breaking off engagements/getting divorced. It would seem that rarely seeing your partner, working long hours on big, stressful projects and thinking/worrying about work in what should be free time is not the best thing for a healthy relationship.

Swindon also screws up rowing. This was fairly well screwed up by the Crohn's anyway, so I've quit for immediate future.

The Swindon job would be good work. As far as my CV goes, I'm not going to be offered anything better. This would be great if my career was important to me. My career? As far as I'm concerned, I have a job. I turn up at work. I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up, but as far as I'm concerned, I'm currently paid nicely to do work which is alright, morally defensible, interesting and challenging, but which I'd rather didn't interfere with my leisure time.

So, unless I can find some work to do which keeps me closer to London instead of being away all week in Swindon, I'll probably be looking for a new employer instead of just looking for a new client.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Good news...

...and bad news.

The good news is that I have news. Another good bit of news is that my small intestine appears to be absolutely beautiful.

The bad news is that the rest of the news is that I've probably got Crohn's disease. This is a bit of a bugger.

I had an endoscopy and colonoscopy last Monday. As I was explaining to the trainee endoscopist [not a good start - the last thing you want to know about about the person who's going to stick a camera up your jacksie is that they're not yet qualified to pilot the damned thing through your intestines], I was really rather keen not to have Crohn's.

See, my father has Crohn's. He also has rather less intestine than he used to have, rather less of both femurs than he used to have, far less content of his right thigh than he used to have and, not to put too fine a point on it, has been pretty much crippled for large portions of the last thirty years. As far as I can make out, most of the afore-mentioned troubles were precipitated by his Crohn's or the treatment he received for it.

Having a colonoscopy is a pain in the arse and rather inconvenient at the best of times. On Monday morning it seemed even more so as I was reasonably confident this was an academic exercise aimed at finding nothing whatsoever and of value only to support the conclusions that the healthcare professionals I've encountered have reached, which are that a) I have crap guts and b) running around and jumping up and down in pursuit of something called 'training' probably isn't helping them function. Regardless, I duly ate a low residue diet on Saturday, then starved myself on Sunday, took the prescribed laxatives (£14.20 has never been so badly spent) and endured a night on the loo, followed up with doing the 'nil by mouth' thing on Monday. So, I was sufficiently low on energy, dehydrated, pissed off and emotionally fragile when I got a call from work at 11 am on Monday morning requesting the impossible by mid Wednesday. I put in a fleeting appearance in the office and then sped off to outpatients.

I'd done a double outing on Sunday morning without breakfast and with no food to look forward to for the rest of the day. I felt cold and just a little bit sorry for myself. Even without feeling fragile, the temperature on Monday was a bit far south for my liking. As I discovered, the endoscopy recovery room (which doubles as a waiting room) was a bit parky, too. Still, I showed up on time for my appointment, changed into a gown and shorts and got increasingly cold and thirsty as I waited another couple of hours before I could have the endoscopy and colonoscopy, shivering under my jacket in the small, dingy cubicle. It was getting on for eight hours after I'd last had a drink, and about 40 since I'd had food. A sense of humour failure really did not seem far away. With the benefit of hindsight, this may not have been the best time to settle down to reading a badly-written 100+ page document which is currently causing much work stress. It wasn't easy to read. I wasn't sure whether this was because I was having difficulty concentrating, or because I the document was poorly written. It was probably both.

I finally got seen at around 4pm. The endoscopy was pretty quick, I was nicely sedated and pain-free. The colonoscopy... well...

I suppose other than being a bit pissed off at the regular discussion between the trainee and the fully fledged endoscopist about 'inflammation', 'ulceration' and 'probably Crohn's', and other than having to negotiate with the dude with the camera to stop causing me so much pain trying to get around a particularly inflamed corner of my colon (not fancying having to go through all the prep again, I eventually settled for having more painkillers so they could continue), it wasn't that bad. I did find the reassurance that they'd 'nearly finished' to be a tad inaccurate (on a number of occasions), and was a bit alarmed at the sheer number of biopsies taken, but by the time they actually nearly finished, I was just bored of the whole thing, rather keen to get the oxygen tube out of my nose, the cannula out of my elbow, stop having my blood pressure taken every five minutes, clean myself up and get out of the hospital. Oh, and I was thoroughly unimpressed with their language and the evident likelihood that I had Crohn's.

When they did eventually finish, about an hour and a half after they'd started, I was properly alert and rather alarmed at the images of my inflamed, diseased and ulcerated bowel. I asked for a drink. I didn't get one.

I was wheeled back on the trolley to the recovery room, and hooked up to more monitoring gubbins. I asked for a drink and for the cannula to be taken out. I got a small plastic cup of water, which I gulped down rapidly. The nurse who had handed it to me seemed surprised to note that I appeared thirsty. The phrase “No shit, Sherlock” ran through my head - I'd had any liquid in me drawn out by the sodding citramag and then been denied the opportunity to drink anything for six hours before my appointment time. It was now three hours after my appointment time. Surely it wasn't that surprising that I should feel thirsty...

My 'responsible adult' (in the guise of my boyfriend) turned up just in time to be around when the trainee endoscopist came bearing the 'news' that it looked like I've probably got Crohn's disease.

Despite already being aware of this, I wasn't a happy bunny. I make a crap patient at the best of times, and generally don't hold up well to being starved and dehydrated. Being a starved, dehydrated patient receiving news which isn't exactly great, the only sensible course of action seemed to be to burst into tears, which I duly did. Handily for me, my responsible adult has a superb bedside manner.

A nurse showed up shortly afterwards to remove the various bits of gubbins I was still attached to, and to ask whether I'd like some tea and biscuits. She really didn't need to ask. Apparently I was now also fit enough to clothe myself. I rapidly changed out of the gown and shorts and relieved the endoscopy unit of their biscuit supplies, and by the time I'd worked my way through a couple of packs of jam dodgers and a small stack of bourbon creams, I was feeling significantly more human. Another couple of beakers of water didn't go amiss, either. By the time I'd been escorted home, I was almost feeling like my normal self. Then again, as my normal self at the moment has a colon of which half is ulcerated to buggery and back, doesn't get enough sleep, and is generally fairly ratty, it didn't take that much improvement to restore the status quo.

Despite the sorry news, I'm better off than I was a couple of weeks ago, as I've at least got some idea of what to expect and what I might be able to do to control and alleviate the symptoms. This won't necessarily stop me from feeling a tad sorry for myself if I have to live with Crohn's, but hey – at least it looks like I've got something that I can live with. That's a damned sight better than coming away with a diagnosis of, for example, bowel cancer.