Friday, 31 December 2010

Reach out - animateddog sings... 4C/P

A wonderful song, reflecting on the past, but facing the future. Perfect for New Year's Eve. Best wishes to all my blogging pals.

Nathaniel sings "reach out, push up, speak clear, bring love".

Put everything else down, crank up the volume, and listen to this three and a half minutes of inspiration. It has been my pleasure to get to know Nathan (from the Dead Rat Orchestra) a little in 2010.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

100th post GIVEAWAY!!!!!!

This is not really my 100th post, it's my 101st! And I join in the international blogging tradition of offering a giveaway in a draw between anyone who comments on this posting. And what's it all about? The picture shows me in my Christmas Apron, made for me by the talented Mrs Muffin Moon. And the apron's not for freemasonry, it's for cooking. Its first works outing was on 27 December when I made 15 jars of cider apple butter, to Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's recipe from his River Cottage "Preserves" book. I made it from free windfall apples from a secret location, and it has cinnamon and all-spice added to the boiled-up cider, apples and sugar.

And that's the giveaway prize. I will post a jar of it anywhere in the world, probably against all the regulations, but I'll take a chance. And you've got to take a chance if you eat it - however, it has never done me any harm.

I look forward to your comments. Based on this blog's history Alistair will win, but a free offer might bring lots of my silent readers out of the woodwork.........

Are his numbers OK?

Our friends and family sometimes ask us "How are Frank's numbers?". I guardedly say "Well they're alright I suppose", and they say "Good, so you're managing it OK", and we move onto some other topic. But what I really want them to know, goes something like this:

Frank's blood sugar numbers are only numbers. They are not good or bad; they are just a guide for what we will do next. There are not necessarily any useful trends, just a stack of fluctuating data. Usually there is no particular discernible reason for the ups and downs, and for the large number of readings outside the preferred zone for blood sugar. The numbers are just what they are, a series of snapshots through the day, and there is no mystery to be solved so we can manage diabetes better. We're doing just about alright, and that's about as good as it gets.

For those of us with a fully working pancreas, our blood sugars should be in the 4 to 7 range, maybe up to 10. Going below 4 is hypoglycaemic, and to be avoided. Going much below 4 is a bigger problem, with potentially serious short and/or long term consequences. Going above 10 is hyperglycaemic, also to be avoided, and with serious consequences for long-term health if maintained too high, and serious immediate consequences if very high. In a typical day Frank will have four or five blood tests, and maybe two will be in the ideal range.

Results out of range seem to come from nowhere, which was frustrating for the first couple of years, but is no longer surprising. We have to work with how things are, rather than how we would have liked them to be. Diabetes doesn't play by the rules; it's so much more subtle than anything that can be expressed as a formula or law. We know what signs to look for, and what to do, if Frank's blood sugar is too high or too low, and needs immediate attention.

We know how to calculate carbohydrate content of food. We know how to calculate the amount on insulin to be injected (it's different ratios for the morning compared with later in the day). We know how much insulin to add/subtract if the "before meal" blood sugar reading is out of the ideal range. We make adjustments to timing, having consideration to the type of foods in combination - how quick release are the (naturally occurring) sugars? Will the fat content slow down the whole process, so will his blood sugar get too low, even after a meal? We know how to apply a fudge factor for the amount of exercise taken over the last few hours, and with an eye to what's happening next on the activity front. We know to accept that growth hormones are randomly kicking in, and that Frank's system will be off kilter due to a cold, or a hundred variations on "whatever". We look at nervousness and excitement, and the weather.

And nobody knows all this better than us, his parents. Nobody can look after him as well as us, and no one amongst our (non-diabetic) family and friends has the slightest understanding of the knowledge and skills to manage a Type 1 diabetic, even if they've visited many times or even lived with us. There is no substitute for 24/7 immersion in the topic, and we've had that for over two years now.

So, when I say "it's OK", what I would really like you to know is:

  • Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. IT WASN'T CAUSED BY EATING TOO MUCH SUGAR; indeed Frank was a model of healthy eating before he became diabetic. There is no cure. Frank won't grow out of it.
  • There is no "GOOD" (type 2?) or "BAD" (type 1?) kind of diabetes. Some Type 2 diabetics are insulin dependent, some can manage it with better diet and exercise.
  • Type 1 diabetes is not a disease where you take your medicine and forget about it. We have to think about diabetes all the time. Yes. ALL THE TIME. We are always thinking about his activity, and what his current blood sugar level is, or what he's eating, or what he's going to eat, or wondering if he's rising or falling (slipping into a coma if too high or too low), or what's going to happen next.
  • Diabetes is unpredictable and always changing. Calculating insulin doses is a complicated judgement - and it's NEVER a+b=c. EDUCATED GUESSES are Frank's lifeblood, it's not about number crunching, and scoring "good" numbers.
  • Diabetes is deadly NOW. Not in 50 years. Not if we don't take care of him. No matter what we do or how hard we try. If we call our local hospital or have a night in the ward, it does not mean that Frank's diabetes is "bad". Calling experts for help is a normal part of life for us. The more we learn from the diabetes community, the more capable we are to make changes on our own.
  • With diabetes, there are no small illnesses. Diabetes makes a simple cold anything but simple. The vague rules we follow go OUT OF THE WINDOW, and we're in the realms of guess work, barely above the level of hocus pocus. Which we've become quite good at, out of necessity.
  • We have "BLUE LIGHT" priority at the local hospital, so we can go there any time day or night and get a bed straight in the children's ward. It's good that we don't have to go through the Accident and Emergency bit, queueing up with people who have cut off their own arms with chainsaws, or drinkers who have had the pavement leap up at them. It's bad that we need the blue light system in the first place, but very many thanks anyway to the DGH.
  • Wearing an insulin pump does not mean that you're cured, or that life is easy. Frank hopes to get one in 2011. The pump site where a tube goes into the body, is inserted with a needle every 2 or 3 days. We will continue with the many-times-daily finger-prick blood-tests, indeed they will probably be MORE frequent than now.
  • We are up EVERY night, routinely checking him over, sometimes changing the bed linen three or more times. That's the way it is, and it is not going to change anytime soon.
  • EVERYTHING affects blood sugar - exercise, illness, excitement, nerves, the weather, growth hormones, Colchester United's results...
  • Frank CAN eat ANYTHING he wants. However, we'd all be better off with a healthy eating regime. Sugar-free is not always better, if it has disgusting artificial sweeteners. Frank has no need of special food products for diabetics.
  • He MUST have his blood test BEFORE eating. Not after a few bites. Not later. BEFORE. So that's why we sometimes appear as Mr and Mrs Nasty before mealtime. At its best it's all an inexact science, and we cannot allow further inaccuracies into our data.
  • We go to the hospital every 3 months for a checkup. We know how to handle our child's day-to-day diabetes management better than any nurse or doctor - not that we don't need their expert specialist help and advice. We know his body and disease, and that that being a substitute for a healthy pancreas is pretty much impossible.
  • We don't want your pity. We don't want you to feel sorry for us, or for Frank. We enjoy a good, nay fantastic, life. But we want you to FEEL for us... and then take that empathy and put it into action to help us find a CURE (and there's another post coming up on this in a few days).
  • People who don't care to learn about diabetes because they tell us it's "no big deal" make us so angry that steam comes out of our ears. On the plus side, this disease has made me less bothered by people who whinge about the slightest inconvenience; they keep their distance from a bristling D-dad.
  • It costs a LOT of money, for hormones, supplies, and hospital appointments. Hurrah for the NHS as an institution. And hurrah for the wonderful people at our corner of the NHS, at Colchester and Addenbrookes.
  • We can never leave home without our supplies - it's life and death. Nothing is as easy as before... SPONTANEITY of actions and eating IS IN THE PAST. When we leave the house we are fully loaded, with Frank's medical supplies and spares, plus his snacks, and juice, plus lots of water as he has a huge thirst. Plus emergency supplies in case of transport breakdown or unplanned delays; what would be inconvenient for you would be a big deal for us, unless we had planned ahead. When we go away, we check out where the local hospitals are, and the route from where we are staying. Save your money by coming shopping with us, we're fully loaded before we start!
  • When we come to you for a meal, we will have an emergency meal for Frank in our bag which we will crack open at his meal time, if you are not serving up. Experience has shown we cannot depend on YOU to provide what you say you will, at the time you say you will. Diabetes stalks us 24/7/365 and doesn't wait around benignly. It has no holidays or rest. NOTHING.
  • Diabetes changes EVERYTHING, you can't - for a minute - let your guard down or get "lax" in your care or attention to detail. We do need to know if you have given him some food when we weren't looking. Just because it came from the health food shop, and has "natural sugars", a sesame brittle is still very high carbs, which may be better avoided, or at least allowed for, insulin wise.
  • We are TIRED, and we often look like hell, can't think straight, sport dark circles under our eyes, don't hear what you're saying... because we live in a parallel world where diabetes hijacks our brains from time to time... and our energy.
  • If I seem extra VAGUE at work, sometimes my mind's elsewhere. My main job is looking after Frank. My main part-time paid job is a couple of days a week, but I have to work at home some evenings to make up the lost time when I can't focus at my paid job.
  • We are very FORTUNATE indeed that the two of us have the capacity to devote our efforts to our son. However, we have no family or friends support - no one outside the D-community has stepped up to learn about T1D, or how to test and inject, or learn how to manage it. WE CANNOT LEAVE FRANK WITH ANYONE FOR AN HOUR.
  • My wife and I rarely have time together... alone. Date nights are non-existent as we have to be back for the 10pm blood test. So, while I will be genuinely happy for you that you get to go away for your anniversary, or that you got to go out together for dinner and the theatre - I'll also be very jealous! (The play was rubbish anyway.)
  • I really REALLY REALLY like to answer your questions, as it shows you're taking an interest.... BUT I really don't want to hear about your 93 year-old Great Aunt Mabel who lost lost both of her legs and went blind, especially you telling the story in front of our Frank.
  • I do NOT want to hear about a cinnamon enema, a bed of nails with a kryptonite pressure prong onto the pancreas, or some amazonian tree moss that you think is going to cure him. I really don't want to hear you suggest that we just stop giving Frank carbs and everything will be alright. If it was that simple do you really think I wouldn't know?
  • No, I'm really not glad Frank "got it so young" and that "he'll never remember life before". No, that's sad. And his exposure to a health threatening condition is longer than those diagnosed later.
  • Do you need an ANIMAL put down? Our medical supplies are all around our home - in the fridge, in his green bag kit, in the van, juices stashed in convenient places, sharps bins, spare supplies, boxes of kit, paperwork for his treatment, all to help us have a normal life while living with Frank's Type 1 diabetes. We have enough insulin to knock out a small herd of horses.
  • It is incredibly painful to hold your child down to give him shots or blood tests. This should always be done with the agreement of the child, and it can take a stressful hour on some occasions.
  • We've already cried enough tears to fill an ocean, it does get better with time, it will always hurt, and we are always UP FOR THE FIGHT for our child and his health.
  • We will never let diabetes stop him or hold him back. Dealing with diabetes makes you stronger. Our boy is so brave, even when we feel weak.
While I long for you to "get it" and to understand this crazy life we live.... I also hope that you are ALWAYS an outsider and that you NEVER experience this first hand.

Thanks to Hallie at for inspiring us to tell our day-to-day story.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Captain Beefheart - Flavor Bud Living

"pappy with the khaki sweatband, bowed goat potbellied barnyard that only he noticed, the old fart was smart...the old gold cloth madonna dancing to the fiddle and saw, ...he ran down behind the knoll 'n slipped on his wooden fishhead...." (opening of "old fart at play" from Captain Beefheart's "trout mask replica").

The strapline to the Big Swifty blog is "a flavour of budd living", an ap
propriate pun on Captain Beefheart's composition "flavor bud living", my little joke probably going over the "sam with the showing scalp flat top" heads of most of my readers.

Don Van Vliet (the Captain's "real" name) died yesterday, leaving a legacy of about twenty albums of quirky music and entertaining wordplay, and a stack of paintings for his other career as a painter. It always amused Don that his writings were taken by some as zen wisdom. In my head I can hear Don reciting/singing, and also my pal Rod who could cover it very well. Indeed, Rod read Don's "Orange Claw Hammer" at our wedding reception, in his best Beefheart snarly drawl.

"thirty years away can make a seaman's eyes, uh round house man's eyes, flow out water, salt water" Well over thirty years
of listening pleasure, and our own special celebration seven years ago.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

A year in eleven (shortish) paragraphs

That's us. Christmas 2009 in Brittany, just the three of us. And here's our contribution to the wretched world of the round-robin annual newsletter; yes it's the Prettygate Postings for Christmas 2010. Read and cringe. (Why is it a round-robin? It's insulting to Robins.)

"We’re just back from our summer holiday – a few days in Birmingham at the end of November. We never were the “sun and sand” types, so it was perfect. We travelled by bargain-ticket train, and hired an apartment in central Birmingham’s Chinatown. A highlight of the trip was the Frankfurt Christmas market in Birmingham (yes, really!) which set us in the mood for Christmas at home this year. Frank’s best bit was catching the tram to Wolverhampton, the little wanderer.

We apologise for spoiling your 2010 by not producing a Prettygate Postings for Christmas 2009, but we were not in Prettygate last Christmas. We decamped from Colchester to Brittany for a long December break, getting back in the last week of December. We stayed near Quimper, and enjoyed a quiet holiday, away from the over-the-top commercialisation of Christmas in the UK. Bah, humbug.

2010 has been a bit of a stay-at-home year, as we had neglected the house a bit from 2008, when we first had to concentrate our efforts on doing our best to manage Frank’s diabetes. The house now has nearly all the windows replaced, and we have extended the patio and roofed it with a sun-shaded pergola - imagine a cross between Tuscany and Accrington. And the garden has been cleared in readiness of our moves towards hard-core radical homemaking and backyard homesteading – insert your own “The Good Life” joke here. We had a bumper crop from our one vine vineyard with about ninety bunches of grapes, and the best ever quince yield, and collection of wild apples.

Frank’s learning is going well, with his natural inquisitiveness. We had been looking at the possibility of home schooling, even before Frank’s diabetes diagnosis, and he would have started at the local school in January 2011 if we had chosen that route. We decided on balance to go for home schooling, so we can enjoy that together, and also better manage his diabetes. Frank’s circumstances are very much out of the ordinary, and a young child with diabetes is in a vulnerable position at school. If he went to school he would have a lower level of skilled observation and care for his condition, and we would still need to be on standby, and have the task of visiting him at school at lunchtime to test and inject.

Besides, our Big Swifty homeschool is a great option. We belong to national and local networks, and there are lots of activities out there. For those that are interested, we are following Un-Schooling principles, as set out by John Holt. Our education projects are sometimes mentioned in our blogs.

Much of our capacity is taken up with our family life, with Frank needing a lot of care 24/7, but it is very rewarding to be making a good job of it. For those that don’t know, there are only guidelines on how to manage diabetes; even with good management and control there is a large random element there to trip you up. We are both involved in all the work, and it makes it much better for us all to have second opinions on the judgements we make, about food and insulin timings and dosages. There is much more about what it really means to manage a child with type 1 diabetes on our blogs, especially at Muffin Moon. Next year we hope Frank gets an insulin pump, which he will always wear, and we will plumb into his body every other day – and we will still have to continue with the 4-5 blood tests a day. It should mean less injections and better care, but it ain’t a patch on a healthy pancreas.

Our work is going well, with our main income from Andrew’s work for the Travel Plan Club, linked with Colchester2020, a local organisation that survived the government’s bonfire of the quangos. Other jobs include working for Colchester Borough Council pounding the beat for the Elections Service, and his latest creation, the poetry stand-up “Fred Slattern, Colchester’s Slum Poet”. Jules is full-time mama, wife, homemaker and inspiration. Our voluntary/ self-employed work includes setting up and running a local support group for parents of children with Type 1 Diabetes “Colchester Circle-D”. Jules runs a Knit and Natter group, and has been very busy crafting under her Muffin Moon brand. We did our bit for Colchester Free Festival in September, specifically for the Kidstival and at a Busk Stop. Big Swifty Associates were also involved in walking promotion as part of “Walk Colchester” took off in 2010/11.

We’ve been to a fair few arts events, but in the evenings it’s always only one of us, as we don’t have a trained babysitter to enable us to go out as a couple - maybe when Frank’s older! On the other hand, we have a lot of daytime together as a family, with visits to local sea and countryside, and maybe the odd cafĂ©/ fish and chip shop.

Andrew had a few days in Scotland in mid-May, backpacking from Glenelg to Invergarry, with Rod Ross and Alan Hardy. At the end of May we went camping in Yorkshire at the Gaia Tribe which was loads of fun and lovely food, but rather cold and windy for us southern softies. Henley-on-Thames is more our scene; balmy days by the river with Severine. We tried a bit of house sitting at a friend’s house in Norwich, but got rained off during a non-stop raining September. Turnips underwater, in the Norfolk paddy-fields.

We have enjoyed the build-up to this Christmas, after a year away from it all last December. We have had a Martinmas party round our house for the local nightshelter, and next week will be hosting a solstice event for the immediate family. We have Severine and her friend Louise staying with us over Christmas week, so we will have to pretend to be ultra-English. Then we also have the older family visiting for Christmas Day. We are looking forward to a peaceful time, and a quiet night in on New Year’s Eve – our life is exciting and dramatic enough, 365, thank you.

And next year? Frank’s having music lessons, Andrew’s making cheese, and Jules is opening an Etsy shop. With love to all our family and friends for 2011, from Andrew, Jules and Frank.
at Facebook “andrew stanley budd” “julie budd” “andrew budd” “fred slattern” “colchester circle d”

Thursday, 9 December 2010

To love, and be loved. Difficult enough to be there for many of us. Put Gay and Disabled into the mix and it's even trickier. But the yearning is, of course, still there.

I've seen plenty of plays, films (yes Moulin Rouge), books and poems on the theme of searching for love, but none had prepared me for the show at Colchester Arts Centre last night. I should have known it would be something out of the usual, when the flyer said "FAT is the journey of a gay, disabled man in search of his heart's desire. Pete Edwards uses distinctive movement, projected imagery, and spoken text to create a surreal narrative along the banks of the River Thames. Follow his quest to find the fat man, eat some spaghetti and live happily ever after."

The scene is set with an empty performance space, a screen at the back with video images, and a sign language interpreter stage left. The lights go down, there's a pause, and from the shadows appears Pete Edwards, a bald man of about 50, wearing only some very shiny, very short shorts, and a pair of Converse. (I immediately thought of my friend Severine, who wears those shoes.) Oh, and Edwards is in a wheelchair, and he's shuffling himself along, his limbs writhing.

So, what's coming up next I wonder? Will it be some in-your-face diatribe about how he can't use the Tube or get on a bus, because of the step? Oh no, it wasn't disabled specific. It was about isolation, and dreaming, and desire. Themes that touch us all.

As Edwards spoke, his script appeared as sur-text on the screen, above the images of the Thames. The programme explains that Edwards is a drama "workshop facilitator ... for people with differing speech". For the audience the sur-text was essential, as strangers to Edwards' speech could only pick up the odd word. (The sign language person seemed a little superfluous, but maybe I missed the point?)

The play unfolds, as we meet the fat man (only on screen), and they go back to his flat, for spaghetti bolognese and "afters". Now Edwards is completely naked, as we read quotes on screen, from Shakespeare, that are specially relevant to the play character's predicament. Rich fare indeed.

Now I may consider myself a right-on guy, with interest and some personal experience of disability, caring and access issues, and as a follower of gay culture (indeed, some of my friends are heterosexual and able-bodied), but there was much to learn about the HUMAN experience from Edwards' play. A remarkable show.

And for me the most moving images were Pete in front of a projection of a dance club scene, Pete's writhing linked perfectly with the mass of dancing bodies on the dancefloor. Just for a moment we can escape from ourselves.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

great beard, shame about the poems

Fred Slattern, possibly the second best poet in Colchester? There were forty entrants to the Poetry Slam, but only nine jumped the twin hurdles of snow and stage fright. Five got through to final round and just one won, with no other placings given. Fred was in the final.................. but didn't win.

Fred put on a good show, at the Arts Centre's Poetry Slam, finding the microphone rather empowering. Certainly compared with his usual spoken rants at nobody in particular, reading his shopping list or grumbling about bus-drivers, from his imaginary pulpit on street corners. And he had a crowd of fifty, rather then the usual none.

In the first round he covered the snappily titled "If James Dean had lived, would he have shopped in Waitrose?" followed by the mercifully short political piece "Council House and Van", and ending with "When?" - his take on the contemporary First Site gallery, and the storm over the cost and delays when the Town Hall was completed in 1902.

The judges, David J and Martin Newell, ooooooh, proper poets, were sufficiently impressed to give Fred another (metaphorical) soap box for Fred's little stories from the "I saw this, and I heard that" school of poetry. In the final round Fred covered his "Electricity" - linking country parks, local Elizabethan celebs and a big secondary school. Then it was "Colchester High Street", speaking in support of the grand old dame that the doom-mongers say is on its last legs. The final piece was "sandwich deal" commenting on our attitudes to Big Issue sellers.

Fred probably got more (intentional) laughs than any of the other entrants to the Poetry Slam, with his bumbling introductions and terrible poetry puns. His last ditch attempt to charm the audience and judges was to promise them his "Hilly Fields" poem as the winner's encore, but sadly it was not to be. All the competitors were beaten by Steve Lawton, who pulled off an astonishing hip-hop dj rap performance, a very worthy winner.

But Fred had the last laugh, with a group of punters in the audience approaching Fred after the show, asking to hear "Hilly Fields". Ever the showbiz star, and ignoring the standard advice to leave them wanting more, Fred addressed the back rows with his Hilly Fields yarn, to more applause! Fred's sitting in his lonely garret now, waiting for the bookings to come in....

And you know how good your poems really are, when people come up to you and say "I love your beard".

Monday, 29 November 2010

Public humiliation on TV and live in person?

We're just back from our summer holidays. No, it hasn't been a long break, we have been busy at home this summer. We have had a few November days in Birmingham - we don't care for hot beach holidays anyway. Travelling by train and renting an apartment in the city centre, we enjoyed relaxing evenings in, looking after little Frank. The website promised lots of Sky entertainment, but the reality was that TV choice was rather limited, so we watched "I'm a celebrity, get me out of here".

I'm such a pompous snob that I have never bothered to watch this show before, but my common-as-muck friends love it. Plus everybody's heard about it through all the unavoidable news headlines. And I've got to admit I'm hooked, and am watching it now. It's quite troubling to see people voluntarily submit themselves to public humiliation, and I'm not comfortable with the way insects and reptiles are mistreated so that we can be served up with squeamish entertainment. But Ant and Dec provide some quality links. And I want Stacey to win!

Talking about public humiliation I have offered myself up for some. I am appearing as my creation "Fred Slattern - Colchester's Slum Poet" with extracts from Fred's latest collection "Fanfare for the Common Van".

It will be at "The Poetry Slam" at Colchester Arts Centre on 2 December. As audience reaction helps decide the winner, I'm hoping Fred's people will turn out for him. Or will it be the current day equivalent of bear-baiting, with the audience wanting to rip me to shreds? Give me no sympathy; I am, after all, a voluntary patient.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

A calculated look at "dead in bed syndrome".

Ask the parent of a diabetic child about what is their greatest fear, they may well spout the charmingly named "dead in bed syndrome", which is exactly what it says on the tin. There was a death from this in the USA recently, triggering lots from the D-community to display remembrance candles. Of course, I have the utmost sympathy for the family of this child, but I found some of the D-community's response, (dare I say it?) a little mawkish.

Lots of D-parents, and let's be frank, it's mainly D-moms rather than dads, that blog or use facebook, were describing how they live in fear of DIB syndrome, how they watch their kids overnight, and are unable to sleep themselves. Maybe I'm a (part of the way along the autistic spectrum) cold fish, but I like to play the odds game, when assessing any situation, and determining my reaction on how to handle it. Maybe what I say will give some people some reassurance, others may just consider me analytical and heartless.

Looking at (and taking what they say at face value - maybe a big assumption?) it says that for every 10,000 patient years, between 2 and 6 people die from DIB syndrome. Taking the average figure of 4 deaths, that is of course 4 too many. But it means that one dies for every 2,500 patient years. (That could be expressed as "out of a sample of 2,500 people with diabetes, one of them will die from this syndrome per year".) Very unlikely for any single individual, but nevertheless distinctly possible.

So how does this compare with our risk from lots of other diseases and dangers? In the UK about 2,500 of us a year, get up in the morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed, and don't ever return home, as we get killed in car crashes. What about meningitis? Here today, but maybe gone the day after tomorrow. Heart failure and instant death from undetected problems may be out there stalking us. And there's hundreds of other diseases to fear, where maybe we have a day, a week, a month, or a year to live?

How do any of us (not just D-people) sleep at night knowing our loved ones could be taken from us at any time? The answer of course is that most of us just get on with life, and don't think too much about that aspect. But with chronic conditions like diabetes we are constantly reminded of our mortality by the nature of the condition, and the complex management that it needs.

So let us look at the risk that our beloved will die this evening from DIB syndrome. Starting from that 1 in 2,500 chance of it happening in a year, the odds for tonight are 1 in 912,000. A risk I could do without, but is it one we should habitually lose sleep over? I'm so tired I think I'll sleep tight, even though it's my turn tonight and I'll be up for the nightime duties with our little boy.

I hope Frank's picture above isn't too scary, and that this blog has given at least some of my readers some solace over something we would rather not have to think about. Best wishes to us all. And deepest sympathies to anyone who loses someone tonight.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The Cure is a tempting mistress, but we're not waiting around for you.

When running a marathon, or backpacking, you don't set off with a sprint. You find a pace you can sustain for the length of the event. And when the event lasts sixteen years, a calm steady approach looks best to me. With Frank's diabetes, we're now over two years in, with fourteen to go until it's his responsibility at the age of eighteen. Frank's condition has taught us much about diabetes, and much more about ourselves and our wider community.

Our National Health Service has come up trumps as far as we are concerned, and the Benefits system means that we can tick over without having to sell-up to fund the time we need to put in, to look after Frank especially during his younger years. So thanks to the UK taxpayers for helping us - and I'm one of them too!

So how do we deal with the condition, and how do we feel about a cure? I've covered managing diabetes in other blogs, so I won't go over the old ground of finger prick testing, multiple daily injections, observations every ten minutes during the day, and procedures during the night. We just have to get on with it all, we have no choice.

And "The Cure"? Well we're not holding our breath or counting down the days. Even before we had personal involvement with diabetes, we knew that a cure was many years away, so when we had the diagnosis, this lack of a fix on the horizon didn't come as a surprise to us.

We can't wait for a cure, in two senses. A cure would alter Frank's and our family's life, enabling us to jetison all the mental, physical and emotional effort in managing the disease, and avoiding all the personal discomfort for the boy with the fingertips of steel and the pin-cushion bottom. And we can't wait for a cure, as we've got to live our lives in the here and now; not some fantasy dream life at some unspecified time in the future.

The day-to-day management of Type 1 Diabetes takes all our capacity, and we don't think very much about The Cure. Sure, we support the efforts of the JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund, an international organisation), and Diabetes UK who give lots of support. But we can't put our lives on hold until a miracle cure eventually turns up.

Frank's just an ordinary little kid, in almost every way. Apart from the time he's having medical attention, he's just charging about as four-year olds should. The picture shows him zooming off into the distance, on his scooter bike on the Wivenhoe Trail with his cousin.

We have benefited massively from the diabetes community. Thanks to the internet we have access to all the information we could ever want. But, even better, we have made contact with scores of people in similar positions, sharing experiences, looking at how best we can look after ourselves, and live a regular life. We have played our small part by forming Colchester Circle D, to support local families with Type 1 Diabetes.

There are super blogs out there (including "click of the light", "muffin moon", "instructions not included", "shoot up, or put up"), with lots of practical information, emotion and humour. I love these blogs, some written by people who have had diabetes many years. The way they pace their lives, and their approach to "bad days" are an inspiration. (For the information of non diabetics - even the most careful experienced diabetics have bad days - the condition certainly does not obey the rules that we follow when we do our best to manage the beast.) And little is said about a cure. They're all busy just getting on with their lives.

The Cure is a tempting mistress, and some type 1 diabetics are in hot pursuit. They expend lots of their energy pushing for extra funding, and posting on the internet to raise awareness of diabetes. Maybe it's our make-up, but we simply don't have the stomach for such a fight. Our energies are so focussed on getting by, that we simply don't have the capacity to be angry about the condition, or to lobby for its place in the public's and the authorities' perception of the ranking of Type 1 diabetes, compared with dozens of other rubbishy diseases.

It's Diabetes Awareness Month, and this blog is part of my contribution to this. So, if you were expecting me to beg you to donate to JDRF, or to rail on about our terrible lives, I'm sorry to disappoint. Actually, we enjoy a very good life and we're doing our best to get the most out of every day, inspired by our own brave little hero who just lives for the moment. The Cure may be a tempting mistress, but I don't think she's coming our way any time soon. But it would be nice, and hand over your money.....

Monday, 11 October 2010

Working Class Hero from Weybridge

John Lennon would have been seventy this weekend, and I'm getting to like him more and more. Alistair at "Crivens, jings and help ma bob" blog, observed that he too wasn't that keen on Lennon during his lifetime. As a kid, I followed pop music, and was sucked into the media's battle of the bands between The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. I was only young and loved the Beatles songs, but wasn't that keen on their image. Firstly they had those Italian suits and I've always been averse to dressing up smart. Secondly, the Beatles were promoted as wholesome, whereas the Stones were ruffians. Even at a young age I responded to pop music as something rebellious and an antidote to the bland "family entertainment" that was served up by the BBC for our enjoyment - that black and white minstrel show could have damaged me permanently, and sent me off in various directions.

And I had something else against the Beatles. All we ever heard about was that they were working class lads from Liverpool, yet as soon as they made loads of money they moved to my home town, but didn't sing any songs about it. Lennon and Starr lived at St George's Hill estate in Weybridge, and McCartney and Harrison were also living in Surrey. The Rolling Stones came from my neck of the woods too. But I can't pretend I had ever seen, let alone be on nodding terms with Bill, Keith, Charlie, Mick or Brian, despite them being based in nearby towns familiar to me from maps and traffic signs.

Lennon's solo career seemed patchy, and it was so easy to sneer when the multi millionaire sang "imagine no possessions". Yoko's influence and Fluxus art ideas took John in other directions, to the dismay of those who wanted more Beatles stuff. Yet now and then he would produce something that moved me, and "working class hero" knocked me out the first (and subsequent) times I heard it. At the time his sleep-ins for peace seemed ridiculous to the unworldly me, but of course he and Yoko knew what they were doing to raise awareness of the issues.

As time went on I met many overseas visitors, students, lodgers, colleagues and friends, and so many seemed to be fans of the Beatles. And having revisited the Beatles' and Lennon's songbook, I have come to appreciate them so much more. Maybe, after all this time, I'll have to visit the zebra crossing at Abbey Road. But please don't force me to listen to any more of Yoko's singing, I'll stick with the Beatles "in my life" and a hundred others first.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Fred Slattern vaulted into top 100 live poets

From next year's Guardian "Fred Slattern made his debut public performance at Colchester Free Festival on 18 September 2010. With there being uncertainty about the exact time and place of Fred's performance, he couldn't depend on his loyal crowd of misfit friends to support him, and instead had to live or die on stage by his wits. Standing at a busk stop just inside the Castle Park gates, Fred had good footfall, and not all of it kept walking by. Witnessing an inspired performance from Colchester's wordsmith equivalent of Seasick Steve, some innocent members of the public has their ears assaulted by Colchester's self-styled slum poet.

Opening with a tale of sub-standard housing in suburbia "condemned" he led into "fear and loathing in Prettygate" a story of aging, isolation and fear. Slattern introduced each of the (mercifully short) pieces, his staccato delivery giving the impression of an accountant on EPO. He recited a piece about procrastination entitled "when I get my tattoo", a mordant ditty that he claimed he wrote at a "creative writing for no-hopers" course a few years ago. Upping the performance by several gears, he did a political piece about chavs, more specifically about those who revile them, with the cryptic title of "Council House and Van". Fred clearly fancies himself as the people's poet Rick from "The Young Ones".

Moving on to the whimsical "had James Dean lived, would he have shopped in Waitrose?", Slattern was into his stride, as he delivered some appalling wordplay involving car crashes and the cheese counter. Clearly Slattern had problems concentrating at school, or indeed at any other station in life. Then a topical piece written with an eye on the art gallery under construction and the vitriol in the local papers "when's it going to be finished?". But Slattern's session wasn't all about lampooning of the authorities and the media, it was about celebrating Colchester,with two pieces about the history lingering in our open spaces at "Hilly Fields" and "electricity" about High Woods.

Fred's finale consisted of pieces about the ever changing High Street "the High Street's full of cafes and charity shops" and "thanks for the sandwich" celebrating our Big Issue sales people. Twenty five people witnessed this tour-de-farce performance, vaulting him into the top 100 poets performing live today.

His banter between pieces was well received, and the sole poetry themed joke he could invent - about the iambic pentameter - was appreciated by at least two or three in the audience of mainly rural folk. A warm ripple of applause greeted the end of the show, maybe from a sense of relief, but mainly because these ordinary folks had, at last, found someone to blather on their behalf - a fanfare for the common man, with no side salad thank you very much. Fred Slattern, this modest man from suburbia, who has much to be modest about, has now been approached for other gigs."

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

harvest time at Big Swifty's vineyard

Hello Fans and Followers. From looking on here you might think it's all gone quiet at Big Swifty Towers, but the opposite is true, with blogs slipping down the prioritised list of tasks in hand. We've got news from all fronts, with diabetes stories, lots of paid work, home and garden, Colchester Free festival, and a holiday all taking our attention. So that's five blogs lined up for the near future, confirming the adage about a long wait then several buses come along at once.

We've been making a special effort to change our approach to life, looking at how we can best care for our little family. Following "Radical Homemaking" principles, our priorities have been to go even more natural with food. We have been active on the free food front, which is educational for Frank as part of his Unschooling, and also appeals to me as I'm so cheap. With a couple of pals, Frank and I have been picking wild apples (no, I won't tell you where the trees are) and we've all been busy making apple butter and puree. We have a bumper crop of quinces on the tree in our garden, and yesterday we stripped our vineyard. When I say vineyard, I mean one gnarly twig that looks dead in the spring, but this twisted bit of deadwood has produced about sixty bunches of grapes this summer. Amazing.As we render the grapes down, the house and patio smells sweet. But we'll soon put a stop to that pleasantness. Next year we want to grow more veg, and I've found several sources of free horse poo. I won't tell you where the apple trees are, but I can tell you the source of the horse poo - a horse's a***. Come back soon for more tails of horses, diabetes and slum poetry word play from our own Fred Slattern .............

Friday, 27 August 2010

Pump and circumstance

It's a big week ahead at Big Swifty Towers. Frank's diabetes management is incessant, 24/7 attention, but we're all doing pretty well (and hopefully pride doesn't come before a fall). At his most recent quarterly check-up Frank's HbA1c test gave as good a result as one could possibly expect for a four year old with Type 1 diabetes.

Poor test results with persistent elevations in blood sugar would indicate it's more likely that the person would have increased risk for the long-term vascular complications of diabetes such as coronary disease, heart attack, stroke, heart failure, kidney failure, blindness, erectile dysfunction, neuropathy (loss of sensation, especially in the feet), gangrene, and gastroparesis (slowed emptying of the stomach). On the plus side you get to wear a medic alert bracelet.

At present Frank has about eight pin pricks a day in his fingers, and four insulin injections. This keeps him in good health but does little for the flesh on his fingers and bottom. Some people with diabetes wear "fingertips of steel" T-shirts. If he takes up the guitar he will have ready made callouses on his fretboard fingers.

So what happens next week? We're off to Addenbrookes Hospital at Cambridge to open discussions about the possibility of Frank wearing an insulin pump. This should help us better match his carb intake with his insulin needs, being able to put smaller doses of insulin into his body, as and when required, without the injections.

And, yes, he can eat meals like the one in the picture, which he enjoyed at a cafe in Ipswich when we saw the mammoth. Type1 diabetes is nothing to do with the current obesity epidemic, and he does not have to avoid carbs in his food. Indeed, a mixture of carbs, protein and fats is pretty good, as he avoids the blood-sugar spikes that we would all have if we had high sugar fast release foods. Don't you wish you had a "full English breakfast" diet like Frank's?!?!

And finally, the usual disclaimer, I am not a doctor, and don't take anything I say as proper medical advice. After all, I'm the guy that thought that, if he shared an active lifestyle, and fed his young son a healthy diet of mixed foods, some wholefood and organic, he would avoid getting any of these chronic conditions everyone's getting these days. Pah.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Unhappy Meal at McDonald's

The beef is safe. I have a confession. I have been responsible for the destruction of the rain forest, I have destoyed the sustainable lifestyles of tribes of indigenous people, and I have punched a big hole in the ozone layer.

I have been a McDonald's customer since 1975 when I visited their Woolwich restaurant, their first in the UK. I know it's wrong in so many ways, but I love McDonald's.

But, from now on I'm not going to their restaurants ever again. On 2 August I dropped off some friends at Stansted airport, and at 05:45 I dropped in at McD's for a breakfast. I had a relaxed breakfast, with extra drinks, did some stuff on my laptop, and left at 07:56. And on 10 August I was issued with a parking charge notice, demanding £50 for exceeding the sixty minute free parking limit.

I'm sure there were signs up, but I didn't see them. I fully accept I'm responsible for where I park, but it never occurred to me that I should be looking. So my happy meal breakfast, has become a very Unhappy Meal.

I've got a message for McDonald's. The Campbells are coming. But Big Swifty's not, anymore. Unable to get a clan together to massacre my hosts, I can only resort to the internet. I've complained on their website, and expect to hear nothing, except maybe a bland computer generated reply (much like their food). A plague on all their houses.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Fred Slattern, Colchester's slum poet

FRED SLATTERN - Colchester's SLUM POET is expected to appear on the busk-stop stage at the Colchester Free Festival on 18 September. He will present his show “love, hate and prettygate”.

Fred is Colchester’s “x for no publicity” slum poet, and has been talked into appearing in public for the first time. His short pithy poems reflect Colchester life from the vantage point of anonymous suburbia. Listen to his tales, and spot yourself in his writing. He’s been watching you.

I have written some fairly upbeat pieces, mostly mercifully short, celebrating Colchester. I would suggest the material's more in the "amusing observations" bracket rather than proper poetry. Every now and then I like to challenge myself to do something different. This could all be a terrible mistake.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Statler and Waldorf Unschool now open

How would you like to be herded into a room, and kept against your will for six hours, and told by your guards that you've got to come back 170 times a year, for the next 14 years? And all you have in common with your fellow inmates is that you were born in the same year, and live in a similar area?

I don't know about you reader, but my friends and colleagues are a wide range of ages, and live all over the place. That's what makes them so interesting. If I could only spend time with my neighbours of my age, what would we talk about after we'd discussed favourite albums of the mid 70s?

We were wavering about sending our Frank to school as we're not in love with the state education system. Stir in diabetes management to the mix, and our decision's made. We're going for homeschooling, specifically "Unschooling". And we're not the only ones. Steiner and Waldorf are on everybody's lips - not Statler and Waldorf the grumpy guys on the balcony from The Muppets Show. Steiner and Waldorf are educationalists, and alternative schools applying their methods are in every posh town in the UK (not yet in Colchester).

What with the www, and local networks of homeschoolers, we've already got hundreds of ideas about how we can make a go of alternative education, and dozens of new friends. Many people assume one has to send their child to school, but this isn't the case. Indeed the new government are encouraging alternatives as part of the Big Society debate. Apparently, we need to find thirty others, and we can call ourselves a school and get state help.

Cameron's not got the monopoly on the Big Society debate. We've had our household Big Swifty debate, and have decided we'll take more control of how we run our lives. No good expecting the system to do everything for us. Meanwhile, we wonder how much of the pension I paid into for over thirty years will actually be available for when I reach retirement age. I don't think Frank concerns himself too much about this, he's busy at Big Swifty Unschool building wooden trainsets. Not that a career in Transport Planning beckons for another Big Swifty generation...........

Friday, 6 August 2010

Joel "mystery man" Thomas - Col U legend

Mystery man, Joel Thomas, has last year been seen at Colchester United's stadium, but has never played a whole game. Joel was signed from Hamilton Academicals for £125,000 in July 2009, by Colchester manager Paul Lambert. His record at the Accies was ten games started, nineteen sub appearances, and one goal. Obviously the guy had hidden talents. (And no jokes about Scottish goalkeepers on here.)

In the first game of the season Colchester beat Norwich 7-1, a result so impressive that Norwich sacked their manger, and appointed ours soon after. Striker Thomas never played a whole game for Lambert, despite him having paid a fortune by Col U standards.

The next manager Aidy Boothroyd also never selected Joel, althoug he kept the bench warm for some matches, and actually made seven substitute appearances for the U's during 2009/10.

Boothroyd left Colchester this summer, so Thomas's third manager in one year, John Ward might have given him a run, especially as we're low on strikers? No, Thomas doesn't want to play for Colchester any more, and he's been released for a free transfer, not that anyone's signed him yet.

Well, for Thomas's year's salary (of say £30,000?) he made seven brief appearances, totalling maybe an hour in a Colchester shirt? He scored no goals, but the soccernet website suggests he had three shots, one of which was on target. He made no assists, got fouled six times, fouled others eight times and got a yellow card for his efforts. I was fortunate to catch a couple of his substitute performances and can confirm that he ran about a bit, possibly as he was cold sitting on the bench for the previous eighty minutes.

Frenchman Thomas (23) has played for several clubs in France, Germany and Scotland, but never much, or for long. So why did Lambert sign him last summer, and make Colchester United £155,000 lighter, one year on?

Meanwhile, a new season starts tomorrow, as the U's travel to Exeter for their first game. As always I'm optimistic, but know that by the end of August we'll be out of the League Cup, and it will mathematically almost impossible for the U's to be League 1 Champions, and that a play-off place might be the best hope. There's always the possibility of a decent cup run, before being knocked out by some team from the North Circular Road Relegation League, to a hat trick from their star striker, Joel Thomas. Being a football fan is such fun, and being mainly an armchair fan, I'm not funding this folly.

Monday, 2 August 2010

The Mind is out of the window

The home clear out continues as we try to carve out more space. And with the internet, do we need all the old reference books? We have "The Oxford Companion to The Mind", published in 1987. Flicking through, I check out "autism" and am told "Autism is a very rare condition... and occurs in four out of every 10,000 live births...."

My, how thinking has changed since the 80s, about the autism spectrum. Nowadays there's a person with autism in almost any classroom, despite the Oxford's advice that "such children are unlikely to attend a normal school". One thing that I would agree with is their view that there are four times as many boys compared with girls with autism.

Sorry OCTM, you've got to go. And that's another 30mm space on the bookshelf.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Silver Apples

I don't know much about music, but I love the noise it makes, paraphrasing an original quotation from Thomas Beecham, talking about the English. And on Thursday night I heard some wonderful noise.

First up was Dan Merrill, with "avant garde electronics from the King Dead Rat", playing a looped piece he wrote ten years ago. I've seen Dan a few times, and always enjoy his ideas and his violin playing. Next were Eat Lights Become Lights "celestial krautrock drone", a three-piece in the vein of Can, Faust, Amon Duul and Kraftwerk.

And the headliners were Silver Apples, or maybe it should be "was", as hereby hangs a tale. Silver Apples "legendary 60s psychedelic synth project from New York", Simeon and Danny Taylor were active in New York around 1967-69, and reformed in the 1990s. In 1999 their tour van was forced off the road, seriously injuring the band. Simeon broke his neck, had to learn to walk again, is unable to play his instruments as before, and is still partly paralysed. Danny died in 2005, of complications linked with the crash.

So there's just Simeon on the road, but he uses samples of Danny's drumming, so he's kind of still there. And what do we see? A kitchen table with a heap of old electronic equipment (called The Simeone), oscillators, valves, and tones of wire spaghetti out of the back, and a big brass handle making classic Doctor Who sounds - who needs a lead guitarist when you've got one of these? The instruments and the music would have brought a smile to Harry Partch's face.

And here comes Simeon himself, a dapper old guy with a foppish leather hat, and a charming smile. Little bits of chat, but mainly getting on with the music. I won't attempt to describe it; I'll just say he was doing his thing. Uplifting and accessible, repetitive vocal lines, a steady beat, and smoke and lights. I could almost have been in a New York club in 1968, except that I had just become a teenager at the time, didn't have a passport, and thought Chelmsford was a fair distance. Simeone looked like a mad scientist in a 50s horror movie lab, wrestling with his array of instruments.

Our evening's entertainment was at Colchester Arts Centre, and a great time was had by all. A good mix in the crowd, not just the weird beard and sandals brigade that are my contemporaries, but also lots of much younger people who had a super night out. How satisfying it must be for 70-year old (?) Simeon to be on the road, with his trunks full of gadgets, playing at small venues and having loads of young people dancing and grooving to his psychedlic tunes. It's all very well being a landmark in the history of electronic music, but can you still get out there and do it for a crowd, and communicate with people fifty years younger? For Simeon we can say an emphatic "yes". A magical night out for all who were there.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Shaun Sexton

It's been busy around here, and I've been neglecting the blogging, to the disappointment of my many followers and friends. There's always plenty to write about, what with the endlessly funny side of family life, a new part-time dream job, diabetes progress, summer fun and frolics, Tour de France cheats and liars, radical homemaking and urban homesteading, Frank's Unschooling, and the build-up to a possible Big Swifty performance at Colchester Free Festival on Saturday 18 September. All of which, more later.

But for today it was relaxation, and a late trip to town. Strolling down North Hill we saw the lights on in St Peter's Church, the garrison's adopted town centre church. We popped in, and it's always a cool, dark, peaceful haven, especially when there's a hot, brilliant sun, and loads of snarled-up traffic outside.

Glancing at some papers splayed on the desk we found out about a service earlier that day for Shaun Sexton. He had been in the town's 3rd Batallion Parachute Regiment, but had been working in Afghanistan as a private security guard, at the office of aid contractor Development Alternatives. He had died on 2 July during a Taliban raid. The Thanksgiving Service programme had its formal sections, but it was interspersed with music, presumably liked by Shaun. He had Luther Vandross, Snow Patrol and Robbie Williams. I didn't know Shaun, but I made a little silent prayer for him.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Another feast for the ears - Nat and the Doomed

Though a non believer, I love going to church. Especially if it's a rarely open historic church, with live music, and it's hot outside. The food and drink festival in Castle Park (the largest in the UK) was calling, but the sun was roasting hot, and do I really need to eat even more pork pies, however tasty they are? (Rhetorical question, I don't need an answer.)

But the menu at the church was a smorgasbord of musical ideas and traditions that looked promising on the event's facebook page, and was served up to my delectation. First off was Nathaniel Mann, "animateddog sings... songs that will stamp, spit and sweetly weave their way into your body" mainly solo singing, sometimes with a zither (?) accompaniment. His powerful voice filled and reverbated within the ancient stone church. (And they don't get much older - re-used Roman tiles and stonework, possibly a Saxon building, mostly Norman, with lots of 14th century work to replace many of the Norman openings.) His musical themes went way back and deep, his expression pulling at the audience's feelings.

Later in his split set he bowed his instrument, accompanied by a source of white noise, and narrating a text that couldn't be followed but held one's attention with snatches that could be comprehended. It took me back to the Velvet Underground's "Black Angel's Death Song" by Lou Reed and John Cale. And Nathaniel did this all on his own. Marvellous.

The Doomed Bird of Providence were described as "Anglo-Australian folk tales of death, doom and destruction". The band's Aussie leader on vocals and accordian rasped out an array of folk style songs and shanties from the antipodes, and much closer to home (one about the Red Barn murder up the road at Polstead), accompanied by a more local fourpiece. A very engaging set of bloodthirsty tales, with an authenticity that reminded me of the earnest side of The Waterboys, but running on Foster's rather than Guiness.

The final act was Hypnotique, promising "Satire, storytelling and world-class theremin playing - as seen on James May's 20th Century and The Paul O' Grady Show". Given that the spirit of the programme was principally acoustic, it was a challenge for an electronica performer to serve up their dish in a less wired format. A slight looking woman filled the space with massive sound as she built up layers of sonics. A commitment at home meant that I missed much of her set, but I enjoyed what I saw and heard.

Having recently watched the depressing spectacle on BBC4 tv, of Stevie Winwood and Eric Clapton pouring out the same old stuff, it was so refreshing to attend live music played by people looking to challenge themselves and the audience, people who are prepared to explore in different directions rather than settle for the easier paths of popular music. I would love to see any of these artists again. Many thanks to all who put on the show, and performed at St Martins, literally the coolest venue in town. (And to Nat, if you ever read this "Crikey Weekly")

Monday, 28 June 2010

"Anyone but England" - the rich, famous and useless

For anyone wearing an "Anyone but England", in answer to the question "who will win the World Cup", you've been proven right - no surprises there. As a realistic football fan, for me, it's not the winning, it's the taking part. And taking part in playing a football match assumes knowing what to do with the ball. And there was scant evidence of that from England's four "performances". Customs at Heathrow should charge these players with "impersonating footballers", and their passports confiscated so they can't do it again.

I first went to a football match in 1962. It was Portsmouth v Cardiff, I was 7, and I've been stuck with Pompey ever since. Suffering since 1962, I've followed the ups and downs of local, league, national and international football. But I can't remember ever feeling so let down by any team as much as by the current pathetic England team. And by "current", I mean the players who represented our country in the four games in the World Cup finals. If I was running England football they would no longer be the current team, I would tell the old guard right now that they are the past, and bring in completely new players, planning for 2012 and 2014.

I would much rather see keen, talented, fit, young players given a chance, than suffer more from the rich, famous and useless familiar faces. England's FIFA ranking hovers around the top 20, and we shouldn't expect them to win the trophy. I've been round the block enough times to have modest expectations, and settle for "valiant losers". But this current England team couldn't beat an average USA team, or soccer giants Algeria, but we were expected to rejoice when we managed to thrash modest Slovenia (pop 2M) by 1-0. Thank goodness the Germans were not on top form, and we escaped with a mild 4-1 beating. Our "world class" players seemed unable to perform, and our less talented players were cruelly exposed on a world stage.

I feel sorry for the England supporters who invested thousands of their money (a third of their annual income?), all their annual leave, and a heart full of emotion, in their beloved England team. Being a football supporter is always a risky business, with so few winners and so many losers. But to fall so far short of adequate is an insult to the travelling fans, especially when the players are paid £50k and more a week. As for Rooney complaining about the supporters voicing their opinions........

I don't know what is wrong with these guys, but then I'm merely a fan. Brian Clough said he only did man management. He didn't bother with team tactics. He considered that football is a simple game, and that his players were professional footballers who didn't need to be told how to play the game. Don't sack Fabio, he knows what he's doing and has won lots, just sack the players.

Today's "The Times" had an obituary for England's football stars, quoting Auden:
"The stars are not wanted now: put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods,
For nothing now can ever come to any good."

Bury the yesterday men, and start again.

(photo of Church Walk, Colchester, on St George's Day) (and yes, I know people wear "Anyone but England" shirts for other reasons.....)

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Everybody wants to be happy

"The planet can't afford a growing world economy, and the world economy can't afford a recession, so how should we live?", says me, paraphrasing Professor Jules Pretty of University of Essex, who gave a keynote speech at Colchester2020's Business Breakfast yesterday. He talked about consumerism round the world, comparing Europeans and north Americans, with people from Asia and Africa, and how many more planets we will need if they catch up with our levels of consumption.

So, as I tucked into my plentiful breakfast, he said (me paraphrasing again - his language was a little more learned) that "we seek growth so we can have more stuff, and we want more stuff as we believe it will make us more happy". Many of us in the west aspire to much more (often pointless) stuff, and the consequent happiness it will bring us, but we overlook basic human psychology.

Pretty then decribed a study of two very different groups of people. One group consisted of people who had won a fortune on the lottery, and the second were individuals who had become paraplegic following car accidents. For both groups, at least a year had passed since the traumatic/ecstatic event of their crash/win, and they were asked about their happiness "after" compared with "before".

And both groups reported that they had settled down after the initial change in feelings, and had reverted to how they were before, and were no more or less happy despite the big change in personal circumstances.

So, if you're unhappy, and dream of winning the lottery and subsequent happiness; first you almost certainly ain't going to win, and secondly, if you do win, you ain't gonna be happier. For myself, it has been rather traumatic to have a two-year old become type-1 diabetic, making me angry and ranting, and turning our lives in a different direction, but I can't say I'm any less happy twenty months on from his D-day compared with "before".

(Picture - tightrope walker, Colchester High St, Colchester2020 festival, evening of 25 June 2010)

Monday, 21 June 2010

News just in - Christians save Ys and cure diabetes

"Christians save drowning city from the sea". Read all about it. News just in, that the city of Ys was not drowned after all, despite reports yesterday on Big Swifty. The world's fairest finest city, has not, repeat NOT, drowned by the weight of its sin.

Today I received this CD through the post, telling the Ys story in yet another way. This time it's an opera, composed by Edouard Lalo in 1875. As with many fables, they take on new forms to reflect the tellers' different times, attitudes and ideas.
Right now, there's something that's really annoying some of the Diabetes-community, and that's religious groups trying to persuade people that their serious illnesses and conditions can be cured by their god. Even life threatening diseases can be overcome if you just have enough faith. There are churches out there preaching that you should give up on scientific medicine, and let their Lord take over your casebook. Now, if you're an adult of sound mind, and you want to stop your treatment because you've had enough suffering, or you have adopted a new belief system, I respect your choice. But if you're imposing this on children, or people who are unable to make their own judgement between science and faith treatments, be very careful.
There are individuals in the USA who are now being prosecuted by the state, for neglect of care of their children, after abandoning medical treatment for their children with Type 1 Diabetes, and trusting the Lord to save them. Unfortunately He didn't or couldn't, but He isn't the one in the dock. Of course there are churches out there who can tell tales of diabetes cures, and we're probably talking about people who have had improvements to their type 2 diabetes. To some extent in some cases, an individual may benefit from lifestyle changes. But to proclaim to people with Type 1 (and for many with type 2 Diabetes), "throw away your insulin crutches and walk", it will make them fall over, probably with a very hard crash to the floor, maybe never to get up again.
So the appearance of "The Bible Cure for Diabetes" by Don Colbert has wound up many a person with diabetes. It's widely available at places like Amazon, airport kiosks, and many bookshops in between. I personally have not read this book, and won't be buying a copy, as it would just make me angry, as well as supporting this man's business. Apparently Colbert gives no weight to the fundamental differences between types 1 and 2 diabetes, and offers false hope to those with T1D without giving any evidence of anyone with Type 1 being cured using Colbert's/god's method.

Now I don't necessarily believe everything that the scientific community puts out, and I have some understanding of the limitations of much of their work and the effectiveness of what they can offer. But I wouldn't trade it in for religion. Scientists have been on the case for around a hundred years, and good progress has been made in diabetes management. God has had a few thousand years since the Garden of Eden, and hasn't yet shown any signs of progress with the faith and prayers method. For those with medical conditions out there, that want to "double their chances", maybe try both, if that floats your boat.

And, talking of boats, on Faye has commented with "a story about a guy who's trapped on the roof of his house after a flood. He prays to God to help him out and save him. A neighbor with a boat comes over, but the trapped guy refuses the help, saying that God will save him. The water rises and rises, and a few different people come by with boats to offer their help. Each time, the guy turns them away, saying God will save him.The guy finally ends up drowning, and when he meets God, he asks why he wasn't saved. God replied, "I sent multiple boats, but you refused their help."

  • To the religious, thanks for your best wishes and support for people with diabetes, but please don't expect me to choose between a faith-only approach, and our hard-core analytical techie (but very imperfect) method.
  • Don Colbert, take your book back to the dark ages where it belongs.
  • Glen Hoddle and the like, I don't think our Frank should be punished for sins in an earlier life.
  • And if the Christians saved Ys, where is it now?

Reports are coming in that the Christian Saint Corentin saved the city in the last act, following Dahut's self-sacrificial drowning. (Or was she pushed by her self-serving father? - See "News of the Underworld" this Sunday.)
Yes, we can renounce our Druidical beliefs, embrace the Christian dogma, and the kind and loving Christian god will save the sinning citizens.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Ys - a timeless fable

Lyonesse, Ker-Ys (or Ys/Is), and Cantre'r Gwaelod are names of mythical cities from Celtic legends in Cornwall/Scilly, Brittany and Wales. The legends overlap, and recall a city that is now under the sea. Ys was said to be the most beautiful and impressive city in the world, but quickly became a city of sin under the influence of Dahut. She organized orgies and had the habit of killing her lovers when morning broke.

There are many variations of era and detail, but a common theme is that "good" King Gradion trusted his "feckless" daughter Dahut with the key to the gate of the dyke that kept the sea out of the city at high tide. But she was tempted to handover the key by men, or the devil, causing the city to flood, the people to drown and just the king to escape. He had to sacrifice his daughter to the waves and she became a mermaid. Yes, women are to blame for the downfall of civilisation.

The Brittany picture shows The Bay of Trespasses in the Bay of Douarnenez, one of the possible locations for the drowned city. We visited this bay last December; it's near Finisterre, and it is a most unsettling feeling watching the sea from this beach. There's something about the topography of the headlands or seabed that makes it look like the waves out at sea, only fifty metres away, are much higher than the beach, and that a big wave will rear up and swamp us tiny creatures on the beach. Maybe it's an echo of a folk memory, maybe it's a romantic thought from an overly suggestible mind, but it was very creepy. We watched the waves for half an hour, listening for the echo of the tolling of the city's bells, and thinking back to the Druid culture that is still hanging in there at the north west corner of Europe. And by a chance encounter with a wonderful Celtic harpist from Norfolk playing in Colchester I have discovered Joanna Newsom's take on the Ys legend. It has pushed itself so deep into my psyche, I can't stop singing it (only in my head!), as I marvel first at Joanna's wonderful storytelling, then the melodies and composition, her harp playing and her beautiful and quirky singing. On top of all that there's the wonderful orchestration by Van Dyke Parks. A quick look at the web confirms that it has stirred many listeners, and it appears in many lists of favourite albums of the year, decade and ever.

Of course, it's a more modern take on the legend, as the narration richly and earthily explores the themes. And don't get too judgemental of the people of Ys. King Gradion set up inland at nearby Quimper, and Paris took over as the new city of sin. But when Paris ("Par-is" means "simliar to Ys" in Breton) falls under the weight of its moral turpitude, Ys will rise from the sea. I hope I'm back there to see it......


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