Day One of wearing glasses

I recently had an eye test as my employer has an agreement with a chain of opticians resulting in free eye tests and money off the cost of spectacles. I have never worn glasses for reasons of poor eyesight but at the age of 48 it would seem my vision has deteriorated and I require them for ‘VDU’ work. Being 48 I know what a ‘VDU’ is; for younger readers it stands for Visual Display Unit.

It took a week for artisan craftsmen to sculpt my lenses and today I collected two new pairs. I tried them on in the shop and after some adjustment to the frames (they squeezed my head and prevented blood flow) I was asked to read a chart. I read it perfectly. I also read it perfectly without the glasses when the man in the shop disappeared to get a receipt.

When I got back I tried them on again. I was amazed to find that I could read the number plate of the car across the road very clearly, without them it was a bit blurry. I’ve written down the number plate just in case I need to know it in a hurry and don’t have my glasses to hand.

I fired up my laptop and popped on my new specs hoping that I’d be amazed at the improvement in my vision when tippy tapping emails. I have to say that provided the laptop is just beyond arm’s reach everything is in perfect focus; in fact it’s almost as clear as when I don’t wear glasses and have it at the normal distance in front of me.

One benefit I’ve found to wearing them is the ability to very quickly generate a headache, that’s an amazing feature which is greatly overlooked by the spectacle marketing people.

Anyway, I have to go now as I’m watching a VDU in the Antiques and Collectables section on eBay and it ends in a minute.

FYI, I’m typing this without the use of glasses.

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I was born quite some years ago in the back of beyond, a place that you won’t have heard of so didn’t even ask. My arrival into this world occurred at home, it was a Saturday afternoon and the wrestling was on the telly. Given that I weighed 10 pounds 12 ounces it was probably quite apt that Kent Walton was commentating from Doncaster Town Hall at the exact moment of my birth.

I did the all usual things a young boy does; killing insects, shooting mates with plastic guns, playing with matches, smashing up toy cars. All the normal stuff and despite repeated warnings from concerned adults I never lost an eye. I wanted to join the army when I grew up but my Dad who’d served for a number of years talked me out of it, “You don’t like being told what to do and they tell you what to do. All the time”.

Life was pretty uneventful and idyllic until I was ten years old. It was then, quite out of the blue, that we moved. Not just down the road or round the corner but hundreds of miles away where people spoke with a different accent and played different games in the playground. It was all a bit of a shock; being taken away from your mates, having to start a new school, live in a new house. It was a nice place though, a small village in the south not too far from London. Once I got over the trauma of not being able to shoot my old friends with a plastic gun I found some new friends I could shout “Rat-a-tat-a-tat!” at and they too would clutch their chest and fall over. I experienced about six months of my classmates asking me what was wrong just so they could hear me reply “nowt” for their own amusement which served to remind me I was different from them.

It took about a year for me to settle in and just as I was feeling part of the gang and I started using the word ‘nothing’ without having to think about it, it was time for more upheaval. This time it was serious and I wasn’t looking forward to this one at all. I knew it was going to be a matter of life or death, a struggle to survive in a world where young people like me were easy pickings for the evil predators who ruled the hell that I was going to be thrown in to. I was going to Big School and I’d seen Grange Hill.

I knew it was true to life because my big sister told me so. Gripper Stebson was in his prime on BBC 1 and I just knew he went to my school. Mr Baxter, the PE teacher, struck fear into our hearts and I knew he’d be taking me for rugby. The only faint glimmer of hope lay with Miss Lexington, or Sexy Lexy, the Aphrodite of a Computer Studies teacher. I really hoped shed be there for me; to guide me, to save me. We had such a promising future together; she was blonde and gorgeous and I had a Vic 20, the cutting edge of home computing if you disregard the Sinclair Spectrum and Commodore 64.

But in my heart I knew she wouldn’t be there. She was just too bloody good to be true.

Having somehow passed the 12 Plus off I went to the Grammar School for Boys. I remember the first day well, a beautiful September day, very sunny but not too warm with a clear blue sky. I’d managed to catch the coach without any challenges and sat at the front with the only other two boys from junior school who passed the 12 Plus. We were turfed off the seat directly behind the driver by a fifth year girl who flirted with Ian, the bus driver, and talked about her experience of being in the audience on Top of The Pops. She was so grown up to us.

I was dressed in my new uniform and carrying a huge Adidas sports bag containing my PE kit just in case they made us do PE on the first day. My uniform was immaculate; the blazer with the school badge on the breast pocket, white shirt with school tie knotted precisely in a Windsor knot (by Dad that morning) and the shiniest of shiny black shoes. As I’d left the house that morning I was my parent’s pride and joy, as I walked through the school gates I transformed into something else; an easy target.

It was tradional to give the new boys hell and not wishing to upset tradition we took it. I got off quite easily, just a few sneers of “new boy!” and the odd push and shove. Others weren’t so lucky and still bare the mental scars of being caught alone in the toilets by a marauding group of fourth years. I remember seeing one child walk through the gates wearing the school cap that my mother had spotted in the uniform shop over the summer but I’d had a paddy and told her that if she bought it I’d run away from home. Obviously this boy was actually quite proud of his cap as he entered the large expanse of playground that first morning but this feeling soon turned to blind terror as the entire school stopped and turned to look at him. What happened to him we shall never know as I never saw him again after the baying crowd descended on him.

I learnt quickly and realised I had to blend in. On my second day I adopted the ‘been here years but you’ve never noticed me’ look. Shirt no tucked into trousers, shoes scuffed beyond the help of Kiwi polish, blazer collar turned up and the crowning glory; school tie knotted with the thin end at the front. I was chuffed, my mum was distraught. In a matter of twenty four hours mummy’s little soldier had become Satan’s urban terrorist.

It took me a while to realise that I didn’t have to take every textbook they’d given me to school every day so for a while my Adidas bag bulged to bursting point as I dragged it around with me. I was deeply suspicious of the lesson timetable and was sure they might have sprung a surprise history lesson on us when we weren’t expecting it and I, for one, wasn’t about to get caught out.

After a few months I was into the swing of things and I’d met new friends but by this time I knew it wouldn’t be right taking a plastic gun to school to shoot them. I’d matured. I was now into other things, grown up things. Scalextric, Smash Hits, football, girls and smoking.

It wasn’t that we smoked in the truest sense of the word. Sure we’d have a pack of ten fags each but it was more a case of spark up, big suck, keep it in your mouth for five seconds before a huge blow out. We were the epitome of cool and if a young lady might chance upon us enjoying a relaxing cigarette then how could she resist our grown up charms? Unfortunately the chances of a young lady actually seeing us were less than nil as we only smoked hidden away in the shrubbery of the local park just in case anybody who didn’t share our understanding of ‘cool’ should catch us. Namely a parent, teacher, policeman, elder sibling, traffic warden, in fact anyone who could give us a bollocking or grass us up. We looked like a bunch of hypertensive asthmatics on a day trip to the Chelsea Flower Show as our eyes watered, our faces burned purple and we hacked our lungs up in the rhododendrons. But we knew we were the hip young things and that’s all that mattered.

The strange thing about girls was that you only fancies the older ones. Girls of the same age just didn’t appeal for some reason. Not that it would have mattered anyway because the female teenager had a rule which they all adhered to without exception. ‘Thou shalt not take any interest in any male of the same age or younger’. Girls were completely unfathomable and unless you sported a bum fluff moustache and had a provisional driving license you stood absolutely no chance of a ‘finger’. The mystical ‘finger’, every young boy’s Holy Grail. We were all chasing the dream of ‘having a finger’. We all knew older boys who’d done it and they’d sit down and regale us with their conquests as we looked at them in awe. Strangely thought he details were always very sparse.

“Took Julie to the pictures. Sat in the back row. Had a finger.”

That was it. No more information. That was deemed enough. Anyway, it wasn’t the done thing to enquire about the ins and outs of the romantic interlude. You just didn’t question it. Also, nobody ever considered tracking Julie down and asking how it was for her, funny that.

As a young teenager a chap could have had sex with a group of Swedish nymphomaniacs taking them all shapes but if he didn’t report back that he’d ‘had a finger’ it would have meant absolutely nothing, a completely pointless exercise that wouldn’t have impressed us at all.

It wasn’t uncommon for boys who’d done the deed to retain the prized trophy of the ‘smelly finger’. They wouldn’t wash their hands for weeks in order to prove they’d done it. Any doubters would have the triumphant digit rammed against their nostrils as proof of a job well done.

We were growing up. Some faster than others. The prime examples of this could be found in the changing rooms after a PE lesson. It would be a lie to say that any of us wanted to be in a communal changing room after an hour of rugby. We were all shy about our bodies and nobody, no matter how dirty, wanted to get in the showers. It was only the fact that Mr Jones, the particularly brutal Welsh games teacher, herded us like sheep into the boiling jets of water that we didn’t go home caked in mud. With hindsight it can be appreciated that was only concerned with our personal hygiene but at the time it was all too easy to think that he wanted to see thirty young boys with their willies out.

PE was a minefield of potential embarrassment to a young boy. I vividly remember a classmate called Adrian, a small skinny youth, dying of shame when getting changed for a lesson. As he removed his trousers to get into his shorts a cry went up, “Adrian’s got Incredible Hulk pants on!”. The poor lad didn’t know what to do, there was nothing he could do except suffer the cruel taunts from his classmates. We all joined in to a man and a chant of “Hulk pants! Hulk pants!” rose through the air. It was only the intervention of Mr Jones that stopped the baiting. After picking on someone to explain the racket and seeing the situation for himself I’m damn sure that he wanted to start the chanting again himself. All the time Adrian stood there trying to cover up the cartoon image of the Hulk with the legend ‘Don’t make me angry’ emblazoned on the material across his under-developed primary sex organs. As for me, well I was just thankful that I’d left my Dr Who Y-fronts in my underpants drawer at home.

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Something that’s been playing on my mind for some reason.

In the late 1980s I began training to work in the operating theatre at a well known hospital in the south of England. I was 18 years old and the youngest person in the department at the time. The training was very much hands on and based around the principle of ‘see one, do one, teach one’. The vast majority of my time was spent in the theatre with weekly Study Days at a major London teaching hospital.

The 1980s was a time when mankind was threatened with a new plague that had the potential to destroy Western civilisation. Originating in Africa it appeared to target clearly identifiable sections of society, gays & drug addicts. So a disease that affected the poor of one continent, a minority group & the dregs of society in another? The media had a field day. It was just too easy for Middle England to see it as a punishment. People who caught it probably deserved it after all. But then ‘normal’ people started to die from it, those were the ones you felt really sorry for, it was so unjust. How could THEY have caught it? It must have been a blood transfusion or something innocent like that. The government produced information that was sent to every household in Britain to warn them of the dangers of AIDS. Paranoia set in.

As an 18 year old I met people with HIV through work and witnessed the way they were treated in hospitals, I saw some treated with real compassion but sadly most were treated with fear or contempt.

In an operating theatre you have a list & it is exactly that, a list of the patients who are having surgery in that theatre with their name, date of birth, operation to be carried out and any additional information relevant to the case. Typically these were printed on A4 sheets of paper and stuck to walls in various areas around the theatre department. It was common practice in those days for anyone with any form of infection to be placed at the end of the list (operated on last) & added to the paper list in red pen would be the word ‘INFECTED’. With the arrival of the new disease we started to see ‘HIV POSITIVE’ written. Think about that. Pieces of paper stuck on walls for anyone who’s passing to see emblazoned with red capital letters ‘HIV POSITIVE’ next to a patients name.
To be honest if you had a patient who was just ‘INFECTED’ you didn’t worry too much, it was the ‘HIV POSITIVE’ that created the excitement.
I use the word excitement because that is exactly what happened. Where I worked it was rare to encounter these people. Irrespective of the surgery they were having these patients created a buzz throughout the department. On the wards they were nursed in isolation, away from other patients. Segregated. Porters who collected them to bring down to theatre wore gloves and gowns. Nobody interacted with these people unless they were protected from them. To see a person with HIV was to see a very scared person surrounded by more scared people.

The interest generated by patients with HIV would always centre around one question; this was the question you could never ask directly and in most cases could only speculate. The question everyone wanted to know the answer to was “how did they catch it?”. Sometimes you could guess, you’d know they were drug abusers so obviously that’s how they caught it. Obviously.

The reason the infected patients were placed at the end of the list was simple, it prevented the previous patients being at risk from cross infection. The fact that any of the previous patients may had had some form of undiagnosed infection was never taken into account. I have to say we did thoroughly clean everything between every patient anyway. HIV POSITIVE patients were treated differently; everything that could be removed from the theatre was removed, only the absolute minimum of equipment was left in theatre. The absolute minimum of staff were allowed inside the theatre and these people had to gown up in such a way that left them looking like scientists in a Hollywood film looking to find a cure for a zombie apocalypse. Once inside theatre, you were not allowed out. Staff had to stay outside the theatre doors to prevent anyone from accidentally walking in and to pass equipment to those inside such as swabs and sutures. Rooms that were routinely used for other patients such as anaesthetic and recovery rooms were out of bounds, everything was done in one room to prevent the risk of contamination.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that, in my experience of that time, no patient with HIV ever interacted with anyone who wasn’t wearing a mask, gown and gloves.
This procedure for ‘Infected’ patients was a local policy but a broadly similar approach would have been taken in hospitals all over the country. This was a time when single use items weren’t as commonplace as they are today and the vast majority of equipment that could be incinerated was sent for destruction rather than sterilisation and further re-use.

Everyone was scared of HIV.

I remember a procedure being carried out in an X-ray department and I received a major bollocking for walking down a corridor to the sluice with used equipment. I had put the lives of other members of staff at risk by walking down a corridor for 5 metres. If anyone caught AIDS it would be my fault. A senior nurse told me this.

Everyone was scared of HIV.

As time went on something called ‘Universal Precautions’ were introduced. This meant that every patient, irrespective of diagnosis &/or known infection, would receive the same high standard of care. Precautions would be applied to everyone entering an operating theatre and not just those known to be carrying an infection. Common sense had prevailed, treat everyone the same, no more prejudice based on medical diagnosis. Everyone from now on was treated as potentially infected with something so there’d be no more need to write on operating lists ‘INFECTED’ or ‘HIV POSITIVE’.

But common sense is a funny thing and sometimes in short supply. I worked in another department were ‘Universal Precautions’ were only applied to those who had a known infection. Therefore we had to continue to write in bold red letters on the operating list. The ‘Universal’ bit seemed to be an option.

I qualified and moved to a much smaller hospital hundreds of miles away, in many ways it was like stepping back in time. When the Matron of the hospital welcomed the first ever known HIV positive patient to the hospital she laid on afternoon tea in her office. Her finest bone china was used and afterwards the patient’s cup and saucer were placed in a sharps bin and destroyed.

But in the theatre department the approach was, if anything, quite forward thinking, we did apply Universal Precautions and people were starting to wear gloves when coming into contact with every patient.

I remember one occasion when I was alone in the anaesthetic room with a patient who was known to have HIV. We stood chatting while they prepared the theatre next door, it was obvious he was very scared and I did my best to try and reassure him that we would look after him. As we talked I leant against his trolley and for some reason I became very aware of the fact I was wearing gloves, other than that I had the usual theatre blues and hat on, no mask. You could call this my lightbulb moment, my ray of light but I took my gloves off and held his hand. That’s all I did. You’ll have to excuse me but I’m afraid I’m going to say that looking back I’m fucking proud of my 20 year old self for doing that. I didn’t cure him, I didn’t solve world hunger, I didn’t win a medal, all I did was hold his hand. I wasn’t the first person to have held the hand of someone with HIV, the fact is I did it.

I don’t do that job anymore and I would like to think that my early experiences don’t happen anymore. Sadly I suspect the fear & prejudice is still there.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

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The story of the beard

As a result of what is really quite threatening demands made by the general public I have compiled a photographic history of my beard. Essentially this is a few pictures of me with varying length facial hair; it’s sure to be compelling viewing.

So let’s make a start. In the first image I have stubble. The Chinese say that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single footstep. The Chinese have no sayings for beard growth though.

In this second image I am in Marks & Spencer. I am trying on the hat which I subsequently purchased (we’ll see more of it later). The stubble had got to the ‘annoying’ stage. The mechanics of the ‘annoying’ stage are that it annoyed everyone except me, I really couldn’t have cared less about it. 

In the following image the beard is now noticeable at 10 yards. I am sporting the Das Boot look, always popular on Hoseason Holidays & boating lakes.  

Once again we see the flat cap, this time incorporated with a grey marl onesie & Birkenstocks. The beard is still in the developmental stages but I don’t think it detracts from the over all look. 

Spending a lot of time away from home gives me plenty of time to try out new things, here I’m accessorising with what I have to hand. Don’t be afraid to be different in the privacy of your own hotel room. 

Hotels give you plenty of chances to experiment and the more expensive the hotel the more opportunities will present themselves, as demonstrated here. 

In this photograph we see that beards are not only for hippies and vagrants but also for the suited man about town.  

This was a defining moment for me, the first use of wax on my moustache. This image was taken immediately post haircut and I walked through the town thinking I was the cock of the walk. On arrival at home I was informed the words ‘of the walk’ were superfluous.  

Never afraid to push the boundaries, here I am looking quite regal in a stylish hat and salmon pink leisure suit. Quite the dandy! 

The flat cap starts to become a significant part of my attire as the beard expands and here you see me in my “Whacko!” period.  

Building in this strong foundation I again accessorised with things I had to hand, a cravat & a pair of 1940s spectacles. Sadly I was never to wear this outside as the glasses rendered me effectively blind. 

In this photograph the beard has blossomed and the permanently raised eyebrow gives off an air of authority not seen in this country since the war. 

The beard has now taken over the vast majority of my face and eating became an issue resulting in me having to cough up a fur ball after most mealtimes. 

The grey marl onesie makes a reappearance but sans flat cap. It’s also worth noting my hair is considerably darker and this is due to lighting issues rather than Just For Men. 

As we come towards the end of our journey we find ourselves back in Marks & Spencer. I’m achieving the Russian Tsar in the Ladies Shoe Department look quite nicely here. 

That’s really it, the story of one man’s beard in photographs. Who knows what stories have yet to written in terms of my beard? Please don’t have nightmares.

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Readers Veg.




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It’s been a year

Apologies for the delay in updating the blog, I know you’ve all been waiting with baited breath for the next installment. You may have noticed I was overlooked for the Man Booker prize (again) but I’m won’t hold it against them.

So, it’s been nearly a year since we got the allotment and there’s been lots going on. You may have thought my silence was due to the fact that I’d thrown in the towel in the battle of the Couch Grass, oh no! 30 gallons of army surplus Agent Orange says I won the war!

I can’t remember where we left off and I’m not going to read my own blog to find out as that’s ten minutes of my life I’ll never get back. Let’s start with criticism.

You may remember I was told my numerous retired gentlemen that I’d planted everything far too early, the carrots, the leeks, the parsnips, the onions and the garlic. Well have a little guess who didn’t plant all these things far too early. Me, that’s who. The garlic was the first to show. I’ll have to admit the sight of the shoots of greenery showing through the mud did take me by surprise. These were followed a few weeks later by the onions making an appearance.

To be honest I didn’t really hold out much hope for the carrots, parsnips and leeks as I was convinced they had frozen to death in the soil. Undeterred by being told at every visit to the allotment that “they went in far too early”, I left the earth undisturbed. This wasn’t because I thought they would actually grow, it was more out of respect for the dead seeds.

I prepared more soil for planting potatoes. I did this because I’d asked the old chaps what they were planting next and the answer from all of them was potatoes. They were actually very helpful and gave advice freely, sometimes the advice consisted of how best to hate the council but I was already qualified to do that. I dug a huge amount of the allotment in preparation as spuds are a staple food stuff in our house. Off I went to the garden centre and found myself presented with a variety of potatoes to plant. Some were labelled as main crop and some as early. Having no idea what this meant I bought a selection of both.

As it happens we had been watching Monty Don planting his spuds the night before on TV so we knew exactly what we had to do the next day. When we got to the allotment we began digging the trench (just like Monty had) ready to put the spuds in. It was back breaking work digging the long row of earth. Monty made it look easy but I guess that’s clever editing by the BBC. Brian watched for a while before walking over and asking what we were doing. We told him the spuds were going in and he made quite a helpful suggestion. Rather than dig the whole length of the allotment why not just dig one small hole for each individual potato. It sounds rather obvious now but it was an absolute revelation, not only in terms of saving time but also in realising Monty Don is in fact an idiot.

As we spent a couple of sessions planting we noticed green shoots appearing in the ‘graveyard’. First it was the carrots, then the parsnips, then the leeks. I almost dragged the old boys over to see the miracle of life that had beaten the odds and was now breaking through the earth. I stood, looked up to the sky and shouted “Too early my arse!” silently.

With the glorious summer, we spent most of our visits watering and weeding. The constant weeding. Relentless weeding.

It was when the spuds started to grow that we first started to get complements about the allotment from the others on the site. The highest praise came from the retired crew. It really was praise indeed to hear that the allotment hadn’t looked this good in years. Sadly my stock response was “we’re getting there”, which was usually accompanied by a sigh and a wistful gaze across the allotment.

Everything was looking quite promising but we’d still only used about two thirds of the allotment. I’ll just point out at this juncture that the two allotments to the right of ours had been taken on at the same time but no-one had been on them so they were overgrown with weeds.

It was around this time that we received a letter from the council informing us that the allotment wasn’t up to their expectations and they would be evicting us in two weeks unless we addressed the situation. Luckily my wife opened the letter and only let me see it once she had spoken to the council. She informed them that we had to wait weeks to actually get on the site as they hadn’t let us know where to get the key and actually we had many crops planted and it was in good order. We received that letter in June and four months later the two overgrown allotments next to us still haven’t been sorted out. I love the council, the bunch of incompetent fools that they are.

I’d watched as slowly, one by one, cane structures appeared across the site. It was time to plant runner beans. Once again I set off to the garden centre and purchased a car load of bamboo and cable ties. I’ll admit it was a struggle trying to create a structure that wasn’t going to collapse under the slightest gust of wind. By the time I got to plant the runner beans the others I could see in the site were growing well up the supports. I was told that in this instance I had planted far too late. Never one to play by the rules I put all the beans in and stood back to admire my handy work.

Radishes were next as I’d learnt that they grow quickly and in good numbers. The sad thing was that the slugs were also aware of this and despite producing vast quantities of radish they all had to go in the compost bin. Beetroot replaced them and they grew beautifully adding a bit of colour to the allotment.

Over the weeks the runner beans climbed up the poles and started to produce a healthy crop, so healthy that our freezer is now full of them and we had to give many away. The potatoes grew well and we have eaten home grown spuds all summer and we have a few sacks in the garage to keep us going. Cabbages went in next and they are growing nicely, we’ve got three rows in despite the fact that none of us really like them but that’s not the point.

Looking back over the year, we’ve eaten our own carrots, onions, leeks, potatoes, beetroot, runner beans and rhubarb. We have a garage full of potatoes, onions, garlic and runner beans. It’s been hard work but it was worth it; the family has enjoyed the whole experience and we’ve eaten fresh food. We’ve had fun but above all we’ve learnt a valuable lesson; the council are idiots.

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Behold the beauty


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