Monday, 31 May 2010

As the bishop said to the actress

15st 8lb, zero units. It’s been too long, as the bishop said to the actress. That, at any rate, was the verdict of the one person who has bothered to e-mail me to say that they are missing this blog. To be honest, I’ve missed it, too. But then I’ve been physically ill more or less continuously since Christmas, mentally ill ditto since about 1973, distracted by external events like the General Election (about which I did at least manage to write something on my other blog), and occasionally trying to keep an 11-month-old baby entertained and, more importantly, to prevent him from accidentally committing suicide. On top of which, every now and then I have felt obliged to do just a little bit of work to generate the income we seem to require to pay for boring things like housing, heating and food. The only alternative financial strategy we have managed to devise up to now is winning the lottery and, well, the odds seem stacked against us. Though not as badly as they were before we started buying the tickets.

On the health front, a barrage of tests from a chest X-ray to multiple blood extractions has established that my cough is the result of … having a cough. Fantastic. Two courses of antibiotics have restrained but not eliminated it, and presumably ensured that I will have a remarkably high degree of immunity to those drugs when they are next prescribed to deal with something more imminently life-threatening.

One particularly unpleasant test established that the stomach upsets I have also been suffering since late February were the result of a campylobacter infection. It was not thought worth prescribing any treatment for this, but my doctor seemed very excited about tracking down the cause and tells me that I can soon expect to find an Environmental Health Officer (no doubt wearing suitable protective clothing) minutely analysing the untreated spring water supply at my house in Northumberland. Which will be a complete waste of his or her time, given that the aforementioned stomach upsets have occurred all over the country at times completely incompatible with the theory that drinking tap water in Northumberland had anything to do with them.

The pièce de resistance came last week, when I woke in my London club after an admittedly heavy day on the booze to find myself suddenly over-endowed in the testicular department (referring to the size of the existing pair, rather than the acquisition of any more of them). I decided to be a man, for once, and to grit my teeth and ignore the swelling and tenderness, while thanking my lucky stars that I was wearing a suit with a reasonably loose-fitting pair of trousers.

Then, on the way back to my room after breakfast, I was suddenly doubled up with as intense an abdominal pain as I have ever experienced, and I felt that the time had come to seek medical advice. First I rang a former colleague and asked if there was any chance of seeing his company doctor. Yes, said the woman who answered the phone, we could fit you in at 4.30. Better than nothing, I thought, so proceeded to answer a long series of questions about my name, address, age and medical history, which I felt confident she was taking down with an average of at least one mistake per word. At the end of which she turned back to her computer and said “Oh, I’m sorry, while I’ve been talking to you that slot has been taken by someone else. Would 5.30 be all right?”

“No it bloody wouldn’t, I’ve got a train to catch.”

Still, the former colleague then came up trumps with a visiting doctor service which also allowed patients to visit them, and I duly took a taxi to Harley Street for a half hour consultation which established beyond reasonable doubt that I was suffering from a kidney stone, and prescribed some anti-inflammatory drugs to deal with the side-effects. Sadly I did not have time for an expensive ultrasound scan of my kidneys to confirm this diagnosis, but the doctor’s PA kindly supplied me with a letter of referral (containing a mistake in every other word) to present to my own GP to arrange this.

I duly did this two days later, and my own GP took only ten minutes to pronounce that the diagnosis of the Flash Harry from London was clearly total bollocks. How could I be suffering residual pain from a kidney stone in my testes, when that was the pain I experienced first? A good point, and one that had actually occurred to me when I was sitting uncomfortably in Harley Street, but which I felt too frail to make. My GP preferred the theory that I was suffering from some –itis or other, the name of which I have already forgotten, and prescribed yet another antibiotic to knock it on the head. It is early days, but I feel that it may well be inflicting fatal collateral damage on my cough, too. Fingers crossed.

As a result of being ill all the time, I have also been thoroughly depressed. Everything seems to take ages, if it gets done at all. I rarely have the energy even to read a newspaper in the course of the day and, given my temperament, this means that said paper is then put aside and added to the huge pile of papers I am definitely going to read one day before I die. There are at least five boxes full of the bloody things in my Northumberland study alone. I keep praying for a localized fire.

I went up to the North East ten days ago, to attend a business conference that provided one of the best networking opportunities of the year for a PR man anxious to rebuild his client base. Only I was so bloody miserable that I sneaked off at lunchtime and went to drink Pimms in my conservatory instead. I intended to pull myself out of the pit of despair by devoting the following day to a long walk in the hills, but predictably someone rang up wanting me to do some work, which took far longer than it would have done if I had not been so thoroughly depressed. Then I ended up drinking Pimms in the conservatory again.

All I had to do on the next day was to get up early and drive to Cheshire in time for a wedding, but I failed even in that after I was woken in the early hours by a particularly unsettling nightmare involving The Baby, and felt obliged to have a lie-in to recover from it. I finally got back to Cheshire in the evening, some hours before Mrs H returned from the wedding reception, looking particularly stunning. It was only now that she explained the reasons – and they were good reasons – why she had especially wanted me to accompany her to this particular wedding. Then she forgave me. Truly, although she spoils it slightly by continually pointing it, I am a very lucky man.

Still, time to turn over a new leaf now for June. A determined effort to lose enough weight to enable me to fit into at least some of my clothes is definitely required. It is my birthday later this week, but with any luck it will pass unnoticed. Then, two weeks later, The Baby (or The Prisoner, as we increasingly think of him) will celebrate his own first birthday.

 Why do we call him The Prisoner?

 Oh, no particular reason.
But apparently he is a Moose, not a Number.

I was for ignoring this, too, on the grounds that he is blissfully unaware of the concept of birthdays, but was overruled by higher authority. Apparently the done thing is to invite all his baby friends around for a knees-up (or, more likely, bums-up) which naturally means inviting all their parents, too. Mrs H decreed that the ideal solution was a hog roast accompanied by lashings off booze, which seemed slightly odd to me on two grounds:

1. One-year-old babies can’t actually eat roast pork or drink alcohol.
2. Mrs H is supposed to be a Muslim.

Still, it is clearly not for me to reason why, but to go out and buy the balloons and banners with which we will need to festoon the house, and the swing for the garden which The Baby has apparently been promised as his main birthday present (note the word “main”.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to head for the shops. Bank Holiday Monday when the weather is too cool to draw people to the beaches or the countryside. Should be nice and quiet, then. I’ll try not to leave it another month before my next report.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Thank Ali for critics

15st 7lb, 4.1 units. So we duly made it to London this morning, over my own dead body and despite the best efforts of Network Rail and their traditional “bank holiday weekend engineering works”, one casualty of which was the usual direct services between Chester and Euston. Still, we enjoyed a good laugh at Crewe station, as a heavily luggage-laden crowd of lazy sods and geriatrics endured a long wait for the one and only lift to ease their transfer between platforms; and then, when it finally arrived, an extremely technophobic, middle-aged mental defective had to be coaxed out through the doors by his elderly mother. A process that took so long that, with absolutely perfect comic timing, he managed to exit the lift a nanosecond before the doors shut behind him and it was whisked off into the ether before any of us had had even the whiff of a chance to step inside. Well I laughed, anyway. The assorted Zimmer frame dependents who were about to miss their connections seemed to find it less amusing, on the whole.

At Euston we grabbed a taxi to take us to the Old-Fashioned Club, only to find that it could not go there because most of St James’s had been cordoned off for the start of something called the Gumball Rally. Dumb-ball Rally might have been more appropriate. A load of f***wits, some with towels wrapped around their heads, stood alongside the sort of overpowered cars that would probably cause Jeremy Clarkson to come in his pants but just made me think that there might be something to be said for the “saving the planet” merchants after all. If I were looking for an unnecessary waste of energy to ban, I’d probably start here. I console myself with the thought that we must have wheeled our suitcase across several sets of toes as we fought our way across Pall Mall through hordes of idiots with cameras.

Having checked in at the OFC, we fought our way back through the crowds to have lunch at the Very Fashionable Club (hereinafter VFC) above a well-known restaurant on the fringes of Covent Garden and Soho. Of course, no-one who is anyone would be seen dead in a VFC in London at lunchtime on Saturday, so we were their only customers. They were very nice about it, without any hint of the simmering resentment that one might expect if one disturbed the slumber of a quiet Northumbrian pub under similar circumstances. We knew how it would be, because we had been before. Last time we were in town on a Saturday lunchtime I decreed that we should go somewhere livelier, so we went to the well-regarded Green’s restaurant in St James’s. We were its only customers. But, let’s face it, for most of my life I have been eating in empty restaurants completely on my own, so having Mrs H in tow to make impolite conversation is an infinite improvement.

I thought an afternoon nap would be a refreshing way to limber up for the evening’s entertainment, but unfortunately the bloke in the bedroom above ours at the OFC thought that it presented an ideal opportunity to train for the distance walking event at the 2012 Olympics by endlessly pacing the creaking floorboards above our heads.

Mrs H spent a while smartening herself up, while I took a quick glance in the mirror and pronounced “You’ll do”. Then we set off to walk to the Royal Opera House, with my spirits further lowered by the realization that the high-powered opera glasses I had carefully dug out in anticipation of the evening’s bare-breasted maidens were still sitting on top of the dressing table at home. And it proved to be absolutely chucking it down, though at least a conveniently timed drop-off at a neighbouring OFC disproved my long-held theory that you can never, ever find a London taxi when it is raining.

And how was Aida? Well, certainly nothing like as bad as I had been led to expect by the critics, who seemed to be at one in saying that the director could not direct, the singers could not sing and the conductor could not conduct, along with some more telling adverse comments. There is much to be said for having your expectations so comprehensively lowered that you would feel you had had an absolutely cracking evening if you simply escaped from the theatre without being smacked across the face with a length of lead piping.

Having established that director David McVicar’s Big Idea was to set it somewhere other than predictable old ancient Egypt, I devoted much of the evening to trying to work out where the hell it was supposed to be. Striving not to be distracted, in my pathetically literal way, by the libretto’s insistent references to Egypt and Ethopia. Dressing-up boxes that had been raided to clothe the cast of hundreds seemed to range from The Seven Samurai (for the Egyptian army) to The Canterbury Tales (for the Ethiopian captives). The shrunken heads on the priests’ canes looked like they might have come from Borneo, their headdresses seemed faintly redolent of Roman centurions, but surely the whole grisly human sacrifice thing was more Central American? The bare-breasted dancers, in so far as they were wearing anything at all, looked as though they were in costume for a Middle Eastern harem. The lighting and lack of opera glasses conspired against lechery, but Mrs H, who considers herself a bit of an expert in these matters, assured me that I would have found the breasts something of a disappointment if I had secured a proper view of them.

The management cast caution to the winds and did not kick the evening off with the usual Tannoy warnings against mobile phones and photography. Perhaps it was the absence of this that led the elderly couple in one of the boxes to fail to realize that the performance had actually started, and continue talking loudly throughout the overture, while someone in the stalls circle kept taking cheeky flash photographs during the first act. If I had been conducting, I would have laid down my baton for as long as it took to track the perpetrator down and punch him in the face, but milder counsels prevailed and the production lurched on. The singing did not strike me as at all bad, though I felt that the bloke who kept shouting “Brava!” from a box at the end of every well-known aria must have been a close relative or the agent of the divas concerned. The playing seemed positively good, and what if the trumpets positioned in the upper circle did strike the odd bum note during the Triumphal March? At least it meant that the most flawless performance of the piece Mrs H has ever heard was the solo by my old college chum Geoff as we walked down the aisle of Bunbury church together at the conclusion of our wedding. Mrs H and me, that is. Geoff did not walk down the aisle with us as he was fully occupied standing next to the organ and playing his trumpet.

Why Radames and Aida should have been entombed in a landscape inspired by an abandoned trolleybus terminus in contemporary Afghanistan (I am not making this up; it’s in the programme) is miles beyond me. And I think even I could have visualized somewhere more claustrophobically atmospheric for their death throes than a half-raised barn out of Witness, always assuming that the Amish had bought a cut-price barn kit from B&Q that had at least half the parts missing, and that they had read the instructions upside down while they were completely pissed.

But, having said all that, the prolonged applause at the end was not that of a full house which had just endured a bloody awful evening, and we left thanking the Great God Ali Bongo for his wonderful gift of critics, whose dire warnings left us feeling pleasantly surprised.

It was still pissing down when we left. I repeated my mantra about never being able to find a London taxi when it is raining, and Mrs H again proved me a liar by flagging one down. Though at least on this occasion London proved true to form and a rude woman raced her to the cab door and barged her aside. I’d like to conclude by reporting what Mrs H said about her, but it really isn’t suitable for inclusion in a non-X-rated blog.