Nursery

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A stellar nursery is the wrong bloomin’ image you eejit! -Ed

When I was a tiddler, my mother took me on a long walk to a strange place. It was a large building sat atop a small hill. Below it to the west was a pond with some swans cruising around it with their usual casual grace. They entranced me and I ran over to make my closer acquaintance. Mama caught up with me and dragged me away with scolding aplenty.  We went up the hill to a doorway in the side of the keep-like edifice, and I was brought into a strange large room full of other children all my age who stared at me with large blinking eyes. The decor was very bright and interesting, at least in comparison to my dingy playroom at home.

An old woman in black, like grandma somewhat, came over to greet us, and my mother seemed very pleased to see her, and so I was too. She patted my curly top and led me away while mater exited stage-left, with tears in her eyes for some reason.

Thus began my first day at nursery school. This was my first experience of the unalloyed company of strangers. I suddenly was made aware of a new concept. It was called “rules”. It didn’t take long for me to throw a tantrum, as I felt these new-fangled  rules enveloping and suffocating me. The rule in question was that within the nursery, only slippers were to be worn upon one’s feet, not outdoor shoes. At that age, I was very attached to my little shoes because I liked their look, comfort, and familiar odour.

My tantrum was expertly addressed by the lady in charge. She dragged me away alone to the little boy’s room, where in a one to one she made it most clear that I would don the proffered slippers, or I would spend the rest of the day away from the fun and games everyone else would enjoy while I sat in the blue-grey gloom afforded by the high little window there. It didn’t take long for me to break. With my tears still drying on my face, I donned those accursed slippers and joined the gang of my peers with a slight whiff of shame and wounded pride.

I quickly made friends, and enemies. The kids I didn’t like were the sullen and the bossy ones. I just couldn’t connect with them. That left the vast majority with whom I played a lot, and quickly learned to enjoy my new world.

[I’d better stop here. More to follow, as always…]

 

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Navigation

Navigation is all about knowing where one is, and also knowing about which direction one is going. The great navigators from history such as Columbus, Drake and Cook would attest to this, as would those slightly lesser brave souls who went to the Moon and back.

There’s an old story about a British family on a driving tour of Ireland. They get lost among the vast maze of country lanes and boreens amidst which one could confuse and lose many many armies, but eventually they come across a native walking towards them along the road. They hail him over. He is a shaggy mussed up individual with a face like a potato, and hair like a bird’s nest, dawdling along.

“I say old chap, can you tell us how to get to Fallon’s Falls?” the driver asks him through his down drawn window. The stranger comes over, beaming with happiness for his newfound company in life. “Fallon’s Falls?” he asks and scratches his head. After a short passage of mentation he replies:

“Ahh to be sure now if I was going to Fallon’s Falls, I wouldn’t start from here!” were his first gnomic words.

The driver and his entourage are extremely bemused by his reply. The stranger continued:

“Stay on this road until you get to Ballymacow” he said, “but a mile before then, take a left and then a right and a right again. Fallon’s Falls is right up there!”

The tourists followed these cryptic instructions to the letter and thus beheld the beautifully cascading waters from over the high cliff, and were thence transported to the higher realm by nature’s pulchritude.

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One of my favourite few possessions is a geologist’s compass which I bought online. Although it is a cheap knock-off of the Brunton design, it is brutally accurate. One of its greatest features is that you can adjust it for “magnetic declination”. The difference between magnetic north and true north vary depending on your position on the earth’s surface, and also over time. Here’s a website to give you the necessary correction:

http://www.magnetic-declination.com/

Here’s the point of this article: To navigate well to your destination, you need hard and fast positional and directional information (map and compass), but you also need some local’s knowledge, no matter how confusing that comes over.

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The black appendage is pointing at 233 degrees from true north.

 

Pro-Semitism

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For peat’s sake….

Let me first declare that I am neither a Muslim nor a Jew. I am a Celt, a bog-hopper. The hugely evolved largeness of my feet testify to this fact: In order to survive, my distant ancestors had to get by by not sinking into the bogs so prevalent in dear old Blarney.

My dear paternal grandparents both lived well into their nineties as subsistence crofters in the windswept wilds of County Mayo. Their lifestyle was very simple. It was fuelled by water from a distant well, homegrown potatoes and cabbage, and bacon from Porker the continuously renewed pig, butter and milk from Daisy the cow, and plenty of beer and whiskey for the long evenings and nights.

For entertainment and variety, apart from conversation with their near neighbours, they only possessed an old radio which was valve powered. It would take a while to warm up but would eventually bring in the news and sports commentary from Athlone and Dublin. They were unwittingly living the dream of modern people: complicity with simplicity.

Poor old Grand-dad lost his eyesight some twenty years before he died due to under-treated glaucoma. This didn’t depress him. It only inspired further his latent talent as an oral historian. He could recite with alacrity conversations he had had 60 years before, or such trivia as tram rides he had ridden in London. He would give anecdotes about many of many people he had met along the way. He had earned his lucre as a travelling builder’s labourer, the better to support his burgeoning family, you see.

As usual, I have digressed from the subject at hand. Sorry about that.Look, before I proceed I must digress a little further.

[This article is beginning to read like a Ronnie Corbett anecdote – Ed].

My grandfather’s hard labour was very welcome, but his person was not. He wandered around countless streets looking for accommodation where most of the the boarding houses exhibited signs in their windows saying things like “No Dogs, No Darkies, No Irish”! British multiculturalism was hard at work there, some might say. Despite these difficulties, he charmed his way through work until he could retire back to home.

My father was born and raised there in cold and windy Mayo, where the only warmth came from a turf-fuelled hearth. One of the activities of daily living was to go out to the bog and cut some fresh peat from the bog and then stack it up to dry out. The local greeting “How’s she cutting?” comes from that. The dense brown loaves of fermented organic matter produce a great slow and steady heat in the fireplace, and release a uniquely fragrant incense, not unfamiliar to drinkers of Laphroaig whisky. The big open fireplace in that cottage provided all the central heating needed for survival, and meals were cooked over it too. All family life focused around that glowing pyre. Even the ash proved useful as a fertiliser for the vegetable garden.

When most of one’s life is consumed with mere survival, religious practise comes as an uplifting relief, and so it was there. The nearest church was only a mile away and the whole family would walk there and back without complaint every Sunday and Holy-day. The parents gained strength from these devotions, and their children witnessed this strengthening and learned to desire it for themselves, even if their poor education provided poor means for the understanding of it.

From that fireside my father eventually matured and adventured forth into the wider world. In those days, Ireland was what would be termed at this time a third world nation: no running water, no electricity, material poverty in abundance. It was the unwritten duty of every youngster, male or female, to go out into the wider world and earn enough money to both survive themselves and also send some home for their parents’ comfort. This is how the world worked before the welfare state messed everything up……

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That’s enough for now. Part two is coming.  In the meantime, I am sure all of you are asking: Why is this article titled “Pro-semitism”?

The simple explanation is that throughout my life I have met many “semites”: people from the Middle-East (Muslims, Jews and Christians). They have all impressed me by their passionate devotion to home and family and righteousness in the affairs of life. I believe it is a natural and good thing to want to associate and bond with those who share your values.

[Here’s the punchline:]

Family values are scant here where I live and breath, in the UK. Divorce and illegitimacy are rampant. Society is bordering on collapse as a result.

God help us!

 

Second Childhood

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This is me ironically asking that innocent children are no longer enrolled into “Rainbow/LGBT agitprop” -Thanks guyz and galz, you know it makes sense.

Every rational critter (human being) in this universe gets second helpings, by the Management’s Graceful and Generous decree. In case you are not following me, then let me explain.

Can I or any of you explain wherefrom our own very existence arose? Some might answer “our parents”, or even “evolution”. The simple rebuff to these is to ask wherefrom their existence arose. And so on ad infinitum….

Some other philosophers pose the question:

“Why is there ANY-THING rather than NO-THING?”.

(They usually ask this with a knowing smile, as they know they will dine out and get drinks bought for them all evening long purely on the strength of this unanswerable challenge. That’s human nature at work!)

[Let’s get back to the topic please – Ed]

Every rational critter, if they’re lucky, gets birth, infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood as part of the free deal that is life. Included as a package with this is the society of their parents, siblings, and everyone else. This may be where the rot of unhappiness begins. Some existentialist philosopher (Sartre) once said “Hell is other people”. I disagree with him: “Heaven is other people” is what I say! Without other people, I would have to live a hermit’s existence and possibly die of loneliness and purposelessness, like Robinson Crusoe without his Friday.

While my heart still beats, and my brain still thrums, then let me shout this from the housetops: I love being a human being! I love being a part of a family and wider society, no matter how dysfunctional it is! Having passed my 55th birthday I am currently enjoying my second childhood! Yay for that!

[Dementia cannot be far behind, eh? – Ed 😉 ]

Although the news headlines are filled with grimness, and the faces of many around me are glum, I cannot help but think that Goodness is just about to triumph, even if the way forward is not immediately imminent nor obvious.

I am much more than a mere optimist. I have a soul full of inextinguishable light. In fact I am an old-fashioned Roman candle, and very much out of season!

May your soul and many others catch fire from mine! Better a goodly conflagration than a chilly burnout!

 

 

 

 

3.28 x 10^80

Please watch this video if only to see a brilliant, yet seemingly very workaday young professor of physics masterfully but lightly explain how many elementary particles there are in the observable universe. I must confess my own mind hit the ceiling for mathematics at A level, and I therefore have to accept his exposition on trust. He does seem like an honest fellow though.

He takes this figure to then calculate how long it will take the human race to expand and use up all those elementary particles just to make human beings, let alone anything else. The answer is a surprisingly low 8604 years!

Of course, predicting the date of the end of the world is only a fool’s business. The Lord reminded us of this very plainly. Check scripture if you don’t believe me.

The headline number is one that even my school calculator back in 1977 could work with, though only to eight significant digits. Significance is everything. In 2018 we are about to enter the age of quantum computers, which will change everything forever, I think. These information processing machines have the capacity to solve any mathematical problem, or run any simulation that can be programmed into it, and the result will be instantaneously returned. Quantum computers can provide to mankind God-like powers over all the universe, given that they can deliver all answers and knowledge, and as we all know, knowledge is power.

3.28 x 10^80 is a decimal number. Quantum computers work in binary. That translates approximately to 2^268. As soon as someone is rich enough to make a 268 qubit computer, they will be able to model our entire universe, at least to the level of elementary particles. Additional qubits will provide deeper detail/knowledge and power, always approaching but never fully reaching the omniscience and omnipotence of God.

Recently, some very famous scientific leaders (eg Prof. Stephen Hawking) have warned about a near future apocalypse coming from the field of artificial intelligence. Mankind may create a “being” or “point of presence” which is beyond its control, and which may bring about our extinction.

Power and intelligence are wonderful things, no doubt, but without LOVING GOOD WILL, they belong to the devil too…..

“From ghoulies and ghosties / And long-leggedy beasties / And things that go bump in the night, / Good Lord, deliver us!

-Traditional Scottish Poem.

 

 

Eternal Life – Part One

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How I see myself

As a simple doctor I am a minister of sorts to the temporary lives of my patients. My own life. and yours, here is temporary too. A long while ago, I was told by an older and wiser Australian colleague that motorcyclists in his country are referred to colloquially as “temporary citizens”. He smiled world-wearily as he said it.

Every religious narrative that has ever existed refers to some higher kingdom, higher realm, or higher level of existence. It is only atheism that celebrates us all having an ambition for a totally certain thermal death in some kind of cosmic compost heap whose fate shortly predates the freezing over of hell.

In all honesty, I have to vociferously disagree with those atheists. I have experienced (a long, long time ago) a very brief but very real encounter with Eternal Life. The encounter changed me at my root, and this article is my witnessing to that event. That’s all. If you aren’t interested, then please stop reading now.

My parents delivered their payload, to this universe, of six human bomblets. I arrived as the penultimate munition. Our parents had arrived in the UK from Eire just after WW2, as welcome economic migrants: There was a high demand just then for builders and housekeepers, you see, and they were both perfectly qualified, willing, and able.

Skipping ahead, our parents raised us all in their own (simple) Catholic Faith, though they lacked the education to impart it to us with any intellectual seriousness. They sent us all to schools staffed by either nun or priest teachers. At the parish level, we were all afforded the Catholic Sacraments with unknown and unknowable Graces resulting therefrom.  Out of the six of us, only one or two still practise the Faith. From what I understand now, our family’s experience is little different from many other’s. Most children from our generation failed to become practising Catholics. The prevailing social milieu was just too enticing and enthralling, and it still is.

So yeah, I succumbed to the spirit of the times and tried badly to become a child of the age. I was doubly blind: both to my own spiritual needs, and also to the value of what was on offer from mere worldliness. If such a thing is possible, I was in a far worse condition than a common fool: I lost out both ways….

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As Christian soldiers go, I am more gorilla than guerrilla: I am short, stout, and stupid, with a menacing misunderstanding of the world I live in. Sometimes, my frustrations burst out, but my cowardice and desires to protect my family prevent them from taking on lasting flesh. Quiet desperation is the fruit of all this suppression. Thus so, people often find me wondering and wandering about their world with a confused and conflicted look on my face.

[To be continued]

 

The Invisible Baby

I was scheduled to anaesthetise a bunch of children for minor surgery. Even before having children of my own,  I enjoyed the innocent and guileless company of little ones. At the very least, they reminded me of my own childhood long since past.

I was wearing a white coat over my surgical scrubs, and this clearly marked me out as a doctor. A ward nurse asked of me my business and I explained it. She took me to the first patient on my list.

As I entered the 6-bedder, I saw them: There on the left was the mother surrounded by a myriad of children, who were clambering all over her as they do. She noticed my exterior and I waved and said Hiya! with a smile.

Her son, the patient, was already in a theatre gown, and sitting cross-legged on the pristine linen and blankets of bed 1.

I approached and launched into my usual “accelerated rapport” spiel. I sat down on the bed, which seemed awfully lumpy if I recall correctly. The Mother and I dialogued. She was a very happy mother and full of common sense, which marked her out as an exception to my eyes and experience. With my data-set complete, I tarried to converse with this remarkable woman for the sheer pleasure of it. Her brood all continued to turn the universe upside-down in her vicinity. All except one.

This pre-schooler, of the several, stood by my right knee and fixed me with his seriously focused eyes. This didn’t get my attention, so he messaged me further by persistently poking my thigh painfully with his forefinger. Eventually, I noticed the wee laddie’s overture, and turned from his mother’s face, to face him.

“STOP SITTING ON MY SISTER!” he commanded me.

I must confess, I did not at first understand at all this cherub’s message. I stared blinkingly into his face, and moved not a muscle. After a brief pause

“STOP SITTING ON MY SISTER!!!!” he commanded me, again.

Then he indicated his sister to me. The little mite-girl was lying right next to me on the bed on which I sat, face-down in her white hooded baby-grow camouflaged perfectly against the white hospital blanket that lay on that bed. I was sitting partially on her little feet without realising.

In the hurry of realisation, I turned to the Mum and began to internally rehearse my apologies, but she beat me to it.

“Don’t worry Doc, it happens all the time!”

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That mother’s son had his minor op uneventfully. Neither the invisible baby, nor her mother have ever sued me.

Here is an everyday invisible baby:

 

Christmas 2017

This was a watershed year. For the first time, our offspring are all no longer dependants, and we all celebrated Christmas together as adults. The pile of presents beneath the tree was really very modest, for a change, and they were opened in one go rather than throughout the day as when the children were small.

As I helped the Missus decorate the Christmas tree this year, I couldn’t help but feel that it was only a fortnight ago that I was doing exactly the same thing last year. 2017 has been the fastest year of my life yet. I find the acceleration of the perceived passage of time as worrying as a parachutist does who is observing the rapidly approaching terra firma with ever firmer terror.

A recent news article advised readers to use the festive family time together to watch out for signs of dementia in our elders. One example cited was to check that the uncooked turkey was not put into a cold oven and then left there: a common sign, apparently. My own mother failed this test the Christmas before she died  from cerebrovascular disease 😦

As an addict of baccy and vino, I often venture forth for supplies from my “pushers”. On late Christmas Eve, I found myself waiting a long time in the queue for the checkout. A minuscule, very dishevelled, very old dear was enjoying her seasonal interaction with the girl behind the till, who, to her credit, was engaging the poor lonely soul with the patience and kindness of a Saint. The frail babushka eventually became aware of the delay she was causing, and moved away, but I noticed she had left her handbag at the foot of the till and I called out and carried her sac of pennies over to her. She smiled with enormous seemingly uncomprehending gratitude, as if I was the man from the lottery come down. I must confess my eyes moistened up a bit just then.

On Christmas Day itself, I headed out for more supplies. The streets were quiet of traffic, but I saw a mobility scooter going pell-mell into town along a pavement, its weather gear fending off the heavy wind and rain. At the Spar, there was a young family of three buying junk food and pop, and lottery tickets as if this was the true reason for the season.

As I left the store, some lean, hungry and cold gents sitting in a doorway wished me well, but I had not a penny on me to give them: my purchases had been by contact-less payment. Awkward shame followed me home to my warm house and plentiful food.

There has always been two types of Christmases: The jolly kidzfest we are all familiar with, is the first, and long may it continue. Children need to appreciate the joy of the Christmas feast and message in language they can understand: celebration, magic, and fun. They can “grok” all of that in spades!

The second type is for the grown-ups: We are all brothers and sisters, and to honour our human Family, we must all act in a loving family way, always: forgiveness, kindness and generosity, to everyone we meet, without exception. Amen

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OK, I used the word “babushka” above. Thereby, I justify posting this video by Kate Bush, who is nothing like that poor woman at all. Call it irony if you are feeling generous.

Half-Pint Alf*

I alluded to Alf, one of my all time heroes, previously here.

Alf Gunning was born in 1918, so when I first observed him in action, he was approaching retirement from the NHS. Although he looked his age, he didn’t act it. He was a short wiry bristling fellow who was omnipresent at the John Radcliffe and Churchill hospitals in Oxford. He was a bit of demon at playing squash, apparently. You could spot him a mile off as he always wore a white coat with short sleeves, as if ever-ready to dive into some surgical maelstrom.

Here is an excerpt from his obituary (2011). Please read it! :

He was a remarkably unassuming surgeon who nevertheless inspired dedication in those who worked with him. On one occasion he entered the ward late at night and was mistaken by the nurse for the plumber, and was asked to repair a leaking tap. He fixed the tap and then asked the nurse if he could now do his ward round!

He was a member of Pete’s Club, a travelling surgical club where the only rule was that ‘no case that is presented shall throw credit on the presenter’. Only errors of judgement were discussed, and members consequently learnt a tremendous amount, much more than at other national surgical meetings.

I can confirm as an eye-witness that Alf was gifted with the precious gift of un-self-consciousness. There was no pride or guile in him. He possessed pure unalloyed surgical genius, and he wielded it very well. He saved and improved many lives through his works. I wish I could show a picture of him, but the internet has not been helpful this time.

*Not only was he short in stature, but the only time I saw him, in his blazer and tie, purchasing a drink at the Green College bar, it was a half-pint of shandy.

Epidoodles*

This is not boasting but merely a statement of fact: I have sited more epidural catheters than some of you have had hot dinners. Most of these have been for ladies despairing of their life amidst the onslaught of pain during childbirth. The pain relief thus delivered is almost miraculously effective. Within minutes, a screaming suicidal mother-to-be is transformed into a snoozing kitten, and her labour continues safely onwards. In the event that delivery needs assistance by forceps or caesarean, the epidural just gets topped up and away we go.

I had a great teacher: Jane, an immaculate English rose with perfect diction, was one of my first bosses. Her voice rather resembled Lady Penelope’s from Thunderbirds. I like to think I was her Parker (Yeshh, milady!). She was a graduate cum laude of the famous Oxford Pain Clinic and was a mistress of her art. She taught me the then rarely used paramedian approach to the epidural space, which I still use to this day. I have since passed on this invaluable skill to innumerable pupils over the years.

Epidurals are actually potentially very dangerous. A whoppingly huge needle gets advanced through the skin, subcutaneous fat and ligaments of the spine until its tip lies within a millimetre of the dural sac containing the spinal cord or the nerve roots arising from it. Then either drugs are injected directly, or a fine plastic catheter is fed through the needle so that several centimetres of it lie in the epidural space. The needle gets removed over the catheter and a sterile filter hub gets affixed to the free end of the tubing thus sealing it off from germs. Via this route, all manner of medications can be delivered directly to the near vicinity of the central nervous system: local anaesthetics, opiates, clonidine, depot-steroids, and others have all been tried and found useful.

One of my finest moments happened when I was confronted by a woman who was riddled with advanced and widely metastasised breast cancer. She was in unbearable pain. Her heavy oral morphine dosage was insufficiently effective and was giving her unbearable side effects, nausea and constipation mainly. I provided her with an epidural catheter and injected a very modest 5mg of diamorphine through it. Within minutes, her pains were negligible, and she heartily sighed with relief. She did not have long to live, but her oral meds were stopped and the side effects from them melted away. Her pain relief was provided purely via the epidural instead. She died unharassed by physical agony.

Another of my talents, not mentioned on my CV, is songwriting. I composed this little ditty for one of the hospital Christmas shows I participated in:

Labour,
Everybody is in labour!
With a little epidural
-You could have a baby everyday!
Labour is now consumer-friendly
Thanks to your gasman, and Oh-Dee-Ay**.

(this should be sung to the tune of “Neighbours”)

 

*My 4 year old daughter asked me why I had to leave the dinner table in such a hurry. I explained that I had to do an epidural. The next day at school, she was telling everyone that her daddy did “epidoodles”, apparently.

** An ODA is every anaesthetist’s assistant/saviour/mentor/bloody-great-mate. They are the great unsung heroes of the NHS, to whom I am perpetually indebted: Operating Department Assistant. (Apparently they are now called “Practitioners”).