Third series, episode 6
All 98 episodes are available here on the HebWeb.
In episode 6, there's spring flowers, a multi-tasking man, news you might have missed, a dark silent chamber, comments from tourists, the big C in mental health, an Android hospital, Crooked books and a werewolf.
The most striking plants in our garden right now are the umbellifers. Once we had a Japanese maple with beetroot coloured leaves the size of dinner plates, but it was damaged in the 2012 midsummer flood, and carried away in the 2015 midwinter version. The floods seem to have deposited the roots of dozens of meadow buttercups and every year I uproot them and transplant them onto the verge across the way. We also have swathes of Spanish bluebells, which perhaps lay dormant for years in the deep shade beneath the maple. I don't replant them in the wild in case they crowd out our native variety.
The first hawthorn blossoms have appeared on the verge, backed by slender Rowan trees. Both varieties were planted by the Canal and River Trust after their river dredging work following the floods. Hawthorn blossom gives off a wonderful almond and warm rubber smell. Whilst Rowan blossom stinks like wet nappies.
A blackbird has set up his pitch high in a dying ash tree across the way and has been singing from dawn till dusk since April. Until recently, a female has been answering his call from a safe distance, but then she moved into the hidden depths of the next tree along. All seemed to be going along quite promisingly, till another male bird joined in the carousing. Now our local bird is singing solo.
There don't seem to be as many swifts overhead this year, and so far I haven't seen any swallows.
One lovely spring morning, PW was going off to Tesco's, but just as I was taking the porridge bowls off to the dishwasher, in a hurry to get out on my walk, she announced a list of chores that needed doing before she got back. Women say men never listen to them, but I was all ears. In fact, I concentrated so much that my navigation system went haywire and I turned into the coat cupboard with the porridge bowls.
Later, back from a short walk, a cappuccino and a long read at one of our pavement cafes, I realised I couldn't for the life of me remember PW's orders. Admittedly, the sun was shining in a distracting manner and football was about to happen on the telly. Fortunately, I remembered a wise old saw: 'When in doubt, do nowt.'
So I had a brew.
No more than thirty minutes and an extra cuppa later, PW's instructions came back to me clear as day: "When the washer stops, run the spin cycle, then hang the washing up on the airer outside." I checked the time, thought, 'bugger the spin cycle,' grabbed the saturated items from the machine and pelted upstairs. I'd just spread them out in the required manner when I looked down and noticed PW was emerging from our car down below.
I was back in situ on the decking, trying to get my breath back behind an advertising supplement on Saga Singles Cruises, as PW clumped up the steps, carrying two loaded bags of shopping. She looked around with a defeated look on her face, before enquiring, "Where's the wet washing?"
I effected a nonchalant manner, and calmly answered, "Hung up on the balcony, Katy. I find they dry much faster up there - if you make the effort to take them up. Fancy a brew?"
Boiling the kettle as PW unloaded the shopping, I thought how Steer Calmer's job wouldn't be on the line if instead of a beer he'd had a cup of tea. Durham detectives wouldn't be wasting their man hours if the Mail's headline had been CUPPAGATE.
News you might have missed
In The Times, I read that women involved in traumatic traffic accidents are 50% less likely than men to receive pain reducing anaesthetics. The Guardian revealed that once in hospital, women are half as likely to be given a life saving drug (TXA) that helps the blood to clot and cuts the risk of bleeding to death by 30%.
The dark, silent chamber
While we're on health matters, someone I know suffers from tinnitus and hearing loss, a bad combo, which can lead to stress and social isolation. In The Brain, (2015) neuroscientist David Eagleman writes '…the brain has no access to the world outside. Sealed within the dark, silent chamber of your skull, your brain has never experienced the external world, and it never will.' I thought, but what about the sound receptacles on either side of your bonce, professor!? Then I watched a TED lecture in which Eagleman brought on stage a deaf guy wearing a wired up vest whilst receiving spoken word messages. The pattern of signals on his vest allowed him to accurately decipher what was said to him. Eagleman argues that we shouldn't be constrained by the limitations of the human body, especially our dodgy ears.
Nevertheless, it's easier if you're born with fully functioning lugs. Beethoven began to lose his hearing in his twenties but continued to create great music until his death 30 years later. Veronica O'Keane, in The Rag and Bone Shop (2021), explains that his was an auditory hearing loss, but his auditory cortex, developed during his rigorous musical training in childhood, was intact, 'His creative genius derived from some sort of staggeringly complex cortical representation of musical notes and their configuration into beautiful sound patterns.'
There was a deaf colleague at my last job who decided against getting her hearing impaired daughter a cochlear implant, claiming it was demeaning to the wider deaf community. I used to think, "What about her human right to hear birdsong, baby's laughter, babbling brooks, Beethoven, the Beatles, Bach!"
Mind you, I suppose the upside would be cutting out amplified buskers, Boris Johnson and dogs barking. Bit of a toss up, really.
To see ourselves as others see us
At The Old Gate (the 'buzzing' Old Gate, as the Observer recently observed), an elderly couple from the East Riding introduced themselves. They'd loved their weekend break, "the scenery is beautiful." They are fans of Gentleman Jack and they'd especially enjoyed their visit to Shibden Hall. They stayed at Croft Mill and I mentioned some of the luminaries who'd also stayed there, not least Sally Wainwright. How unlikely it is that this relaxed conversation about the trials and tribulations of a gay couple would have occurred forty years ago.
A few days later, a teenage footballer became the first professional player since Justin Fashanu to come out. In the early 90s, I watched Fashanu play for Norwich City at The Shay in Halifax. He got barracked throughout the game by a sizeable minority in the crowd. I was so exasperated by a homophobic guy near me that I bravely muted his mockery with a well timed dirty look. As it happens, Fashanu was the star of the game, getting an assist for the winning goal. A few years later he hanged himself.
The big C in mental health
While we're hitting on a health theme, in Henry's Demons, a father and son's story, veteran war correspondent Patrick Cockburn quotes a leading authority on mental health saying, "Schizophrenia is to mental illness what cancer is to physical sickness." Few therapies help until a person with this severe and intractable condition is 'stable on medication.' Cockburn discovered, as we have done, that good quality support for people suffering schizophrenia is hard to find. For a few years, the journalist gave up work, feeling that his self sacrifice would help Henry to recover, before realising that being unemployed was a useless gesture.
Schizophrenia kicked in when our son was in his teens. We soon realised that the usual career options and life choices were closed off to him. Shortly after he became an adult, his psychiatrist said, "I've never seen a worse case of parents having to shoulder the whole burden of caring for a patient with such severe needs." Which did the trick in terms of funding. Suddenly, we felt a weight of responsibility taken from us; although, it took the local health service another decade to find him suitable supported living accommodation.
During a light lunch at the packed Persian inspired Leila's Kitchen, I mentioned to my friend Chris (keeper of these virtual tomes) that Patrick Cockroft, Max Hastings and others think Zelensky should allow Putin to keep hold of his land grab, to prevent further suffering. We both disputed this defeatist, cut your losses approach.
I said, "When you are invaded all bets are off about playing fair."
Chris replied, "It would be like us giving away Kent."
This made us both pause for a few moments … but don't think for one moment readers that we were calculating how many seats in parliament the Tories would lose!
I've started to feel more pessimistic about the war. Not that Ukraine will let the Russians settle down to a calm life on their newly acquired land, but once the invaders are embedded in the south and East, the Ukrainians will be reticent about firing rockets into the populated areas under Russian rule. The resultant stalemate could drag on for months.
Sci Fi guy
My friend Dave, who has always been in the vanguard for obtaining the latest technology (but don't mention Betamax to him) wrote in recently and suggested I should include some sci-fi in these episodes. I think Sci Fi gains its impact if it is based on fact, if it accentuates existing trends in our present lives. When I started writing this piece, little did I realise that before the end of the week, North Korea would launch a cyber attack on hospital computers and the computer systems of universities and other institutions around the world.
Some o t' lads went to t' Android Hospital,
It wor set in t' near future, not far.
There wor Maurice, our John, and young Jamie,
And they went in a driverless car.
Now Maurice had an ingrowing toenail
And young Jamie had signed up for t' snip,
Whilst John wor after a bionic foot
To go with his bionic hip.
These treatment wor proper expensive,
But they've managed to claim t' money back,
Cos' that night they went down to t' theatre
Wor t' night of a cyber attack!
When Maurice came out of sedation,
His foot wor quite pain free, although,
When he took his surgical sock off,
He found he wor minus a toe…
And our John, who wor one for his dancing,
A dapper old gent, right sweet.
Has had to give up on his hobby -
Now he's literally got two left feet.
But I won't hear a word against androids,
It's humans as wants to attack us -
An'd t' surgeons in t' Android Hospital
Had their programs hacked into by hackers!
But spare a thought for young Jamie,
His treatment's quite scrambled his head.
He went in for a vasectomy,
But he got a vagina instead!
(I performed this at a Trades Club open mic a few years back, after receiving a request to promote a forthcoming performance of The Vagina Monologues).
A new book shop is to open on Crown Street and judging from the window display it §will focus on folk lore and paganism. Such genres are of course based on ancient tales and practices. However, in ancient Rome, Petronius wrote Satyricon,* which includes a tale by Niceros that seems like something from a modern horror film.
Niceros invited a soldier to walk with him. "When we got to some tombstones my buddy went off to do his business. I keep going just counting the stars and when I looked for him again, I saw that he'd stripped himself bare and was peeing in a circle round his clothes and then, just like that, he turned into a wolf. He started howling and then ran off into the woods.
When I went to collect his clothes I found they had turned into stone. Was I scared or what? I picked up my sword and stabbed at shadows all the way to my girlfriend's house. Melissa was surprised I was so late. "If you'd come earlier you could have helped us. A wolf got into the farm and attacked our flocks; he bled them like a butcher. He may have got away, but he didn't have the last laugh. One of our slaves speared him through the neck."
When I got home next morning, my friend the soldier, was lying in bed like an ox, and a doctor was treating his neck. I realised of course that he was a werewolf. After that I couldn't bear to eat with him, not on my life! Now I don't care if you buy this or not, but I'll be damned if I'm lying."
* from a translation by Branham and Kinney
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