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MY DIABETES STORY

I found out I had Type 1 Diabetes on the 15th of January 2009. This is my story.

I am a Type 1 Diabetic. This is my story:

For a long time I had this odd sensation inside: I didn’t feel at one with myself, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. There were many possible contributing factors: private, personal, mental, physical, and professional. 

I guess it all came to a head in October 2008. We (the family) lost someone very special that month; it was a loss that cut me very deeply, more than I was prepared to acknowledge at the time.

The months after the funeral – leading up to Christmas – was a numb procession, and I attributed my dark, unpremeditated mood swings and the feeling of cold resentment and disdain towards the world to the unremitting grief that I was enduring. I had not been eating well; I connected the drastic weight loss to grief.

I was learning to drive and would have been taking my test in January. I was blaming the shifts for my lapses in concentration when driving, and the driving for my indolence during shifts – feelings of lethargy are habitual for any shift worker. My bouts of insomnia were, I believed, answerable to the relentless shift patterns as well. 

I was aware that my eyesight had gotten blurry and I was getting frequent headaches – I stare at over 200 CCTV screens for a living, who wouldn’t get a sore head and square eyes from doing that?

The air in workplace can be quite dry; it is common to get thirsty. It was only until I was drowning myself with pint after pint of water, thirst un-quenched, that I realised something was wrong. My voice had lowered over the space of weeks; gruff growls and phlegmatic rumbles, as if gargling wall tacs. 

My throat was inflaming and I was experiencing persistent pains, like barbed wire had encumbered my tonsils. Again, there was a probable explanation: several of my colleagues had succumbed to a lingering flu bug and had simply spread the love to me.

It was during the 2008 Christmas period that I rapidly deteriorated. I was feeling tired, incensed, and confused. My family (of nurses) thought that I had, ‘come down with something’ (weren’t they right). I had no interest in Christmas at all – or anything else in life. During the dull festive period I was happiest when retreating to work or having driving lessons; where I could find focus on the job at hand. I was clearly not myself.

For weeks I had been snapping at my girlfriend and arguing with colleagues for no reason; generally behaving like a prepubescent teenager, realising my actions through the punishment of hindsight. I can be a miserable bastard anyway, but these moods were darker; out-of-the-blue. I had also been enduring the same headache for over a month. Something wasn’t right.

My 30th birthday celebration consisted of me, my girlfriend, and a mutual friend meeting up for a meal and drinks in Cardiff – I didn’t crave for much else in the way if social interaction. By 7 o’clock I had abandoned tequila and was drinking tea. By 8 o’clock I was ready for pipe and slippers. Anyone who knows me with testify that I am always among the last revellers to fall. And I still had that damn headache.

It took two weeks to get an appointment with the doctor. I was getting worse by the day. Finally, after enduring an eight hour night shift, I arrived at the local surgery. Following an examination I was abruptly admitted to hospital.

My keytone levels were dangerously high and I had registered one mother-and-father of a blood glucose reading: 30 mmol – A nurse shouting ‘Bloody hell!’ is always the first hint that something is amiss.

Tired and confused, I contacted the relevant family members for a lift to hospital and started to pack my overnight bag. I didn’t have a clue what diabetes was; I was hoping that they could have it sorted in a few weeks. 

Ignorance would not be bliss. The wait at the hospital was over 3 hours. By this point I had been awake for over 24 hours, and was feeling it in every part of my forlorn, fragile body.

Finally, I was allocated a bed to not sleep in. Various pricks, prods, pokes, and consultations; pretty student doctors telling me to piss in ugly jars. It was getting too much. I started getting quite worried when they attached some sort of heart monitor. All that talk of kidney and liver functions was quite unsettling, too. 

Hospital curtains are not soundproof, but medical staff must be genetically altered to believe they are. I was trying very hard not to get salty with the staff; they helped me achieve that by simply ignoring me. I just wanted to go home, close my eyes, and sleep.

Men are funny creatures: On the bed of reckoning; tired, panicked, fatigued, and sedated; connected to drips, and whatever else was sticking in and out me, and I still had time to eye-up the nurses. Pepé Le Pew lives in my libido! Eventually, some smartly dressed doctors approached me. My initial thoughts at the time were ‘Don’t look at me all fucking jolly and smiling!’ But they did. 

While looking at me all fucking jolly and smiling they told me that I have Type 1 Diabetes. I would have to inject insulin for the rest of my finite existence. A new full time job; without pay or leave entitlements. No promotion prospects and the daily potential threat of termination – of the terminal kind.

It’s surreal to think back to that life-defining moment. While the specialists were telling me the most important, life-changing news, I was formulating a cheesy James Bond sketch in my head: 

A rather attractive nurse approaches me and says, ‘please lift up your t-shirt so I can examine you.’ Mere seconds later, I’m sat up in bed wearing nothing but a dazzling white towel robe, pouring two glasses of champagne. A single red rose peers over the deck of a silver ice bucket. ‘Would you care for some caviar?’ I ask, lifting a seductive eyebrow, ‘An hors d’œuvre, perhaps?’

The sleep deprivation and denial had settled in; sheer disbelief and refusal to face the reality: that diabetes is for life. Always. For ever. Longer than a little while. No cure. A bit of a pickle to say the least, old chum.  

I was discharged the same night and was instructed to return the following morning to learn to inject myself and test my levels. This was followed by a consultation with the dietitian who would convert me to fruit, veg and other alien foods. 

I strongly recollect having best night’s sleep that I can ever remember having. I woke up feeling new, sharp and focused; no longer high. Had I not been myself for so long that I had forgotten what ‘being myself’ felt like?

Answers were coming ten-to-the-dozen: I had been suffering with high sugars for a long time. Whenever I consumed a hearty lunch my eyes would feel like they wanted to spin around like the slots in a fruit machine. I would feel especially tired after eating rice, pasta, and potatoes.

During the weeks leading up to my diagnosis I was quenching my thirst with orange juice and tea with the usual two sugars – sugars! I was eating healthy: rice, pasta, and potatoes – carbohydrates! I was beginning to think that I was lactose intolerant because I always felt sleepy after eating cereals and things with cheese, like pizza – pizza and cereal are high in carbohydrate! 

I took to injecting quite quickly; my survival instinct had kicked in at this point – subconsciously absorbing this new information. The lecture from the dietitian didn’t sink in, however. Irony is me contracting a disease that involves maths: I’m one of the 5-in-4 people who has problems with fractions! 

I was given a semesters worth of books to study; addressing cheerful subjects like blindness, neuropathy, ketoacidosis, heart-kidney-liver failure, amputation, hypers and hypos. “Erectile dysfunction? What the bloody fuck?” 

The specialist had written down how much I was to inject myself with, but I didn’t have a clue how much to eat – and I was too dumbfounded to ask. I was still drifting in a haze of denial; yet to be blindsided by the brutal realisation. But it wouldn’t be long before that freight train rolled in.

Later that evening I was sobbing over a lonely breast of chicken and a heap of steamed broccoli. It was as if every bereavement and breakup I had endured in my life had reunited and was dragging my guts across a bed of hot coals; littered with shards of glass, ghost chilies, and Lego. 

I felt like I had been betrayed by myself. And I failed my fucking driving test. After reading the study notes of my condition, silly things started running through my mind – the desperation phase: 

I began looking for miracle cures on the internet; kidney and pancreas transplants. I didn’t ask for diabetes to enter my life; this disease that would always there when I woke up and the last thing on my mind before Morpheus lured me to outlandish realms.

By design I am a fighter; I take the blows that life hits me with and bounce back stronger. I am a control freak; living my life the way I want to. Over the years I have come back stronger and found positives: I passed by driving test and I worked out my carbohydrate-to-insulin ratio.  

I attended a diabetes course where I proved to myself that I was doing everything right; I have become friends with other diabetics and learned from their experiences.

I am at a point where I no longer feel restricted by my diabetes; I just have to think about things a little more; plan ahead. I make more time to observe and learn about the world around me; to live the dream and enjoy the smaller, more pleasant things on this pale blue dot!

‘Would you care for some caviar..?’

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THE SIMPLE ACT OF CARING

Caring is one of the most magnificent things you will ever do. Live it, own it; cherish it.

Caring is one of the most magnificent things you will ever do, whether in public or in private; briefly or indefinitely. Live it, own it; cherish it. It is a privilege to care and a reward to be cared for, it costs nothing and is worth everything. Caring is a personal adventure that will shape you…

There is nothing greater than when souls connect in inexplicable ways, sharing the good times and the bad – the laughter and the tears. Your life will be enriched with good memories of the friends and loved ones who have played a part in your journey through life; people have, and will, mould and shape you with their influences. They will inspire you to shine.

There’s more than enough room, so don’t come in to conflict with yourself when you find yourself caring for more than one person at a time – emotions have no rules or restrictions; they are yours to do with as you please. Do with them as you please! There are billions of human souls on this world, and each has the potential to stir you and improve your life in different ways. Welcome and celebrate each and every one.

You can’t measure love with a spirit-level and you won’t always be sure how the other person feels – not until we can all read each other’s thoughts, anyway. You were taught to disguise your true feelings from the time when you were a child; when told, ‘don’t give me that look’ or ‘don’t look so miserable’ – right up to the civility that you have to display in certain awkward situations; to people that you can’t stand the sight of. Think about how well you can pull it off – there are better actors than you in the world. But risk is part of the game of life.

Everybody walks to a different beat and it is natural that peoples’ feelings will be different to yours. You will be disliked by someone, someday – yes, even someone as adorable as you! Don’t resent that person if they don’t feel the same way about you as you do about them – there is, was, and always will be a 50/50 chance of someone liking or hating you; it is that clear-cut – it is the natural order of things. It’s none of your business what someone thinks about you, hard as it is to accept. You may one day be put in the position of someone claiming to care for you when you feel nothing for them. Be gentle with them, but remember that you didn’t choose for them to care – it is theirs to endure, just as it will be yours when the time comes.

Find no place for jealousy in your life, but if you have to be jealous, hide it well! Direct envy in a positive way towards the ones you hold dear. Never stop learning about them, earning their trust, and gaining their respect. Be proud of their achievements and celebrate their success; you are witnessing landmarks in a persons life, be grateful for that gift. Never rest on your own laurels; you are only as good as your last encounter, so don’t ever assume that you can pick things up where they left off – sometimes you may even have to start all over again.

The hardest thing to do is to say goodbye; whether in person, or apart. You will not always understand why it has to be goodbye. A time will come when you are the one who chooses to walk away; there will be times when you can’t face to walk away. There will be times when it is too late to say goodbye. Every goodbye will be different and scripted scenarios will always play out in your head – confused and clouded thoughts of how things might have been so different; what you didn’t do – what you never said. The hardest word you will ever have to say is ‘goodbye’; the hardest word you will ever hear is ‘goodbye’.

You will get hurt! It will happen without warning; and it’s called ‘hurt’ for a reason. It has to be felt and cannot be explained – you will certainly know it when it hits you. Let it take you when it comes; flood your lap with tears, rock yourself to sleep, play melancholic tunes, or drown yourself with booze; endure it and understand it because it will stay with you for a long time – and life will always ensure that there is more where that came from. Keep hold of the good memories, even if it makes you angry or hurt; they were a part of the days of your life; you are something because of them.

In my life I have been charmed and disarmed, deflated and dejected, accepted and rejected. I have won some and I have lost some; I have pulled some in and I have pushed some away. I have had to say goodbye and I have not had the chance to say goodbye. I have a life full of fond memories and stories to tell; encounters that have taken me to heaven and hell. I tell you all of this because I have cared. I tell you all of this because I have been there. I tell you all of this because I have nothing to regret. I would tell you more, but I haven’t finished learning, yet…

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MY PETS LESS ORDINARY

During my youth in Guyana, I became acquainted with some unusual wildlife. This is their story.

Everywhere in Guyana were creatures great and small; it was quite common to have small frogs torpedoing out of the water taps, not to mention lizards crawling up the walls, bats appearing at the windows and cockroaches scuttling across the floor. Once we even had a large snake curl up in a washing basket in the middle of our basement floor.

At night, bathing under the light of the driveway, would sit a vast collective of bloated, repulsive toads – called ‘Crapo‘ in the Creole tongue – that would puff up to twice their size; looking twice as ugly as I approached them. I would often get stung by Marabunta wasps (that bloody hurt like hell), attacked by troops of red ants, and bitten by mosquitoes on a white meat diet.

To my unpleasant surprise, even the caterpillars stung me when I accidentally trod on them. At least the birds liked me and would sing my name; the bird-song of the Kiskadee sounded like they were saying ‘Christopher’, so that’s what we called them – Christophers.

I was six years old and would earn eggs, milk, and meat for us by mucking out at the farm next door; herding and milking the cows and goats, along with feeding the chickens and ducks. At the farm I was considered a moving target for a bullish bull and a source of great amusement for a particularly sadistic turkey that would chase me up the nearest tree.

We acquired an unusual collection of pets of our own during our lives in Guyana: from a nameless tortoise that managed to escape, a temperamental macaw with a spoon fetish named Miguel – that also briefly escaped – an adopted sibling in the form of a howler monkey named Floyd, and an injured fox – that also escaped and ate next door’s chickens – and even – though not quite pets in the literal sense, a baby alligator and two manatees. Let’s get the latter two cleared up first:

The adult manatee had strayed from the sea and found its way far up the Abari River where she gave birth to a calf. My father – a student in zoology and marine biology – and his team were alerted by some local fishermen who had built an enclosure for them, providing protection from the piranhas and alligators.

The mother had a large scar on her back from where she had been attacked by something hungry, or cut by an out-board engine propeller – how the manatee got this far up the river was an incredible feat in itself. I was fortunate enough to paddle with the manatees and have since developed a great affection for this enigmatic and docile endangered species. The manatees were given a safe home at the Guyana Zoo in the capital city of Georgetown where we would visit them from time to time.

The new-born alligator was my father’s office pet and lived in a large water tank next to his desk. I’ll never forget the day that he turned up with it at the Dutch club; carrying the creature in his arms, its jaw taped up and my father looking sheepishly at my mother as if about to say “Can we keep him, pleeeese?”

Equally memorable is the sharp and assertive ‘NO!’ that thundered from my mother, shooting him down with her trademark stare. “But it’ll only be for a few weeks.” My mother’s reply was not fit for a young lad, a sheepish husband, or the infant ears of an unwanted alligator – and definitely not suitable for reading today. Only two alligators ever entered our house: one was a stuffed one, the other was ran over by a neighbor and cooked in a curry.

I thought that the fox was a dog at first (Well, it is in a way but you know what I mean). I remember being at a house across the road with two locals who had just cut the head off a duck (as you do); the beak of its detached head was still yapping on the ground while the mallard was running around the yard like a headless, erm, chicken, until it ran out of blood. In the distance I could see some natives approaching the front veranda of our house, presenting what looked like a small dog.

“Cool, we’ve got a dog!” I thought, and sprinted over to greet our new pet. What I came face to face with was not a cute dog with a waggly tail, more like a snarling beast. And my… what big teeth it had. My mother still tells of the way in which I approached the back door and, as cool as a cucumber, said, “I thought I’d come in the back way because there’s and angry looking fox lying in the way of the front door, what’s for tea?.”

The fox had been caught in a trap and had an injured paw; it had also been tied in a barbed wire collar that was still sunk deeply into its neck. The natives who found the battered fox had heard stories that my father was some sort of Doctor Doolittle and they left the fox for him to nurse back to health. It lived in a cage in the basement for several weeks until it escaped – eating my chicks and ducklings as a parting gift, also taking most of next door’s chickens while en route to god knows where. That’s gratitude for you.

My father returned home from the jungle with a surprise pet one day, in the form of a blue and gold macaw that he and some conservationists had rescued from poachers. We named him Miguel; he would eventually return back to Wales with us. The reason for the tropical rainforest being in such dire straits is down to the amount of perches Miguel went through.

Every day there would be a dissatisfied squawk and Miguel would be found clinging on to the side of the cage, feathers sticking up in protest. He was a little ‘temperamental’; the only way to get near him was by wearing my Sootyglove-puppet that he had grown quite an attachment to – more so than humans. Miguel’s few pleasures in life were bananas, sugar cane, my flesh, and being stroked on the head with a teaspoon – but only by the hand of Sooty, of course.

Miguel managed to get himself stuck up a tree one day (seriously!). His wings had been clipped but, as we found out, he was still able to make a break for it; he glided over to the nearest tree across the road. There he remained – standing out like a giraffe on a glacier, and probably feeling a little silly – as my father – probably feeling equally silly because he was wearing a Sooty glove-puppet and holding a spoon.

He climbed the tree – assisted by Paul the farmer – and got Miguel down safely before he glided away into the waiting mouth of something big. A little more wing clipping would make certain that Miguel would remain within the confines of the house.

Our reason for me and my parents being in Guyana in the first place was because my father was studying a Masters Degree in Zoology and Marine Biology; in the 80’s work experience was real work experience. My father would often venture deep into the jungle – sometimes I would go with him – as part of a team of local conservationists.

On one particular outing the team had heard gunshots nearby. Some poachers had fired upon, and hit a female howler monkey; she was left for dead and her new-born baby exposed and alone. The new-born was adopted by my father – who named him Floyd – and would become a valuable member of the King family.

Floyd was amazingly childlike and would play, sunbathe, and throw tantrums that upstaged even me. He would sit on my mother’s shoulder while she was out and about at the Sunday food markets; during the evenings he would sit on my father’s shoulder when he was playing dominoes, his long prehensile tail cuddling his neck.

He liked Pringles, peach juice, sugar cane and Edam cheese – and the little git was always running off with my Star Wars figures. When he needed feeding, attention, or comforting he would latch on to my mother, and when he got told off by my mother he approached my father; when he fancied amusement he would piss and shit in my bed. Miguel the macaw didn’t like Floyd and would make him dance every time he climbed on top of the bird cage.

Howler monkeys are the only South American monkey not to be kept as pets, due to their surly disposition. We would eventually have had to part with Floyd as he grew into a one meter tall adult. Sadly, he didn’t get the chance to grow into adulthood at all.

I was at a lesson with my private tutor when my father appeared in the doorway; his shoulders were slouched and he didn’t speak. He stood there for several minutes, just gazing into space before walking away. I wouldn’t find out until I got home from tuition that Floyd had broken free of his leash and had chased my father down the driveway.

My father always slipped through the back door before Floyd would notice he had gone, but Floyd had wised up to that. While giving chase to the Land Rover Floyd he latched on to the wheel and was crushed to death it as it rolled over him. He would be the last family pet that we would adopt in Guyana.

My only pet was a tortoise. I can’t recollect its name but I do recall that it was old, scratched and only had one eye. I would carry it everywhere I went; when it wasn’t under my arm it would follow me on foot. One day it mysteriously disappeared (yes, my tortoise ran away) and I especially recall the day that I got reunited with it – I will never forget that.

It was the very last day of my life in Guyana. I was saying goodbye to friends when something caught my eye; something walking down the driveway very slowly – it was old, scratched, and only had one eye. I swear to this day  that it was my old pet tortoise who had come to say farewell.

Whenever I tell this story I can’t help laughing to myself at how absurd it all sounds. It doesn’t surprise me when people think that I’m taking the piss and are inclined to ask “How much of that was true?” – I know that I would if someone was telling me something equally far-fetched.

This is actually my life that I’m writing about. The life of a valleys boy who was lifted from the snow covered hills of South Wales to the lush, green tropics of Guyana. For a six year old boy, it was a magical life far from ordinary. For a thirty year old adult, it is a privileged past that grows ever more distant, surreal, and unbelievable.

Here is a short clip from Guyana 1987, featuring me, my mother, Floyd the Howler Monkey, and Miguel the Macaw:

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HOW CRASS IS MY VALLEY

A satirical cross between Hemingway and Norman Malir with a Valleys twist, so I've been told.

This is the first piece I ever wrote, back in 2009; ‘a satirical cross between Hemingway and Norman Malir with a Valleys twist’, I’ve been told. With the airing of that piece of shit reality TV show that flies wouldn’t even land on, ‘MTV: The Valleys’, I thought it would be appropriate to repost.

I’m not trying to box or stereotype this particular breed of Valleys person in any way. They do a good enough job of that by themselves…

It is the weekend and the relentless rain has called a temporary ceasefire on its recent bombardment. The bejewelled, parading hoards gather for a wild night on the town. Soon metrosexuals and overdressed circus clowns marinated in fake tan and slap – dresses hanging like cheap curtains in a greasy spoon – plague the high street.

There is no substance or depth to this sub-species of chocolate boys and ladettes; looking like females but behaving like men to the extent of pissing in doorways while standing up. I kid you not; I have seen it countless times. There is nothing ladylike about most valleys girls.

As I type this, I am being subjected to the usual Saturday night freak show. Nearby is a hen party, one of the more tasteful. A pink t-shirt handily adorned with their names to forgo any small talk later on identifies each piece. In attendance tonight is Licky Lucy, Randy Mandy and Sucking Sarah.

The proud mother of the bride Saucy Sasha– never one to be up-staged – is straddling a large inflatable penis. My mind strays for a moment and I wonder how much money I could make from patenting a Fucking Bronco; a standard bucking bronco with a strap-on… never mind.

The blushing bride, complete with L-plate and halo is rolling around on the drink-soaked cobbles, riding her equally well-rounded relative in the missionary position. They are still fully dressed, but it is only seven O’clock. The pre-watershed hasn’t hampered these town bicycles ability to make ‘fuck’ the only audible word of each illiterate sentence, their thick slurring Lambert & Butler voices curdling the fresh milk at a nearby Spar.

A fire engine is trying to negotiate its way through the self-absorbed crows, blues and twos all in vain. Some class impaired gutter-slut stands in its path, flashing her udders of which gravity has long since rejected. This pair of deflated Zeppelins looks like they’ve clocked more light years than the combined age of the fire engines compliment. The fire engine soon escapes the melee to get pelted by the drunken ASBO Warriors who ignited the now rapidly advancing grass fire in the first place.

Back on the high street egging the ‘ladies’ on is a gathering of charred, tattooed, knuckle-dragging Neanderthals; primeval chavs with blond highlights, pink Henley’s t-shirts, ‘it’s not pink, it’s salmon, like!’, diamond earrings and fucking flip-flops. The girls are putting on a good show for them tonight. They acknowledge this with choruses of wolf whistling and copping of their shrivelled nuts.

Overcome by testosterone, the roiders remove their matching tops and wrestle in celebration. They seem to be enjoying their Broke Back Mountain moments a little too much – keeping it in the family I suppose. Each grapple is concluded with a firm manly handshake and a gentle peck on the cheek.

The street theater comes to a premature end, courtesy of a relentless bombardment of rain. The women remove their impractical footwear and put on shopping bags, complete with eye-holes to cover their hair and face. Only their hair will be dry by the end of the night. To the men’s delight, the opacity of the women’s dresses is rapidly reducing as the rain intensifies. The valley natives retreat to the many dive-bars for a cocktail of drink, powder, party-pills, and later on, each other.

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OF FRIENDS AND BASEMENTS

A short story dedicated to my good friends; in memory still bright.

OF FRIENDS AND BASEMENTS

Written as requested by my old friend Steve, and in shared memory of our dearly departed friend Andrew -“Good friendships are hard to find, hard to lose, and impossible to forget…”

It is the end of the school week and King has that Friday Feeling. This week he passed a Kung-Fu grading and is now just three belts away from black. He has been aching all over all week and is looking forward to letting off some steam. He meets is best friend Lurch after their History class – Mrs Smith had separated them for laughing too much during a ‘Hitler’s Germany’ lecture.

Finding Prewecki between lessons they briefly discus their plans for the evening – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. King hands Lurch his bank card for him to draw money out during the lunch break. Lurch obliges and drifts away to class, his near seven foot frame trying its best to fade into the crowd.

After a long day learning very little; consisting of a Religious Studies class teaching the importance of contraception – where King had to read out the part of a male whose condom had ‘slipped off’ during a particularly messy encounter- and this time getting separated from Ty ‘Dickey Bow Winters‘ Summers for laughing too much, followed by a mind-numbing Geography lesson on Fjords – where Mr ‘TerminatorThomas had clocked up a new record for the number of times he says ‘right’ in a single lesson, a woodwork lesson spent shaping wooden plectrums with an industrial sander, concluding in the afternoon with an English lesson taught by the lovely Miss Prosser – who had recently admitted to crying while reading one of his poems, and not because it was bunk – They have finished reading ‘Of Mice and Men’ and are watching the movie as a treat, after which King heads straight to Lurch’s house.

Upon his arrival Lurch’s mother – Elaine – gives King a polite lecture about leaving his half finished cigarettes on the upstairs windowsill – he apologises; taking the blame on behalf of Lurch once again. Lurch is cooking tea as an apology for accidentally closing a door in King’s face today, and lending him a pair of shorts that turned completely transparent when coming into contact with the smallest molecule of water, a flaw that King discovered when he was preparing to dive from a great height at the local swimming pool.

They scoff their food while watching Byker Grove– Nicola has fallen pregnant, Geoff keeps saying ‘you’re not coming in, now go away’, and there’s this odd spiritual cult thingy going on. After the grove they admire the delectable Katy Hill on Blue Peter, who is learning to ride a show horse and looks particularly fetching in the riding boots that she made earlier.

Elaine bids farewell to the boys. She is reluctantly attending a school reunion tonight, is not planning on drinking, and shouldn’t be too late. After Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the duo collects and carries the hi-fi equipment from the bedroom – where someone has left half a cigarette on the windowsill – to the basement where they will be staying for the rest of the night.

The neighbors, Vera and Marina, are enjoying the last few rays of the sun in their garden; the boys sit and chat with them for a while, until the gnats develop a taste for teenagers. Playing on the nearby field are three inseparable dogs that the boys call The Friendly’s’. Each dog represents one of them (King, Lurch and Prewecki). Their canine attitude appears no different from the boys at all; never worried that time would come to an end.

As the older, shorter, and more dashing of the two – but mainly because the local shop keepers know how old Lurch is – King heads to the off license. The licensee is convinced that King is a London businessman who only comes home for weekends; his startlingly convincing cockney accent adds to the authenticity of his cover.

After purchasing 12 bottles of ‘K‘ cider and a bottle of Kiwi & Lemon ‘MD 20/20‘ he heads back to base where Prewecki has just arrived on his 50cc bike – that conked out and had to push most of the way. He is stood with his usual messy hair, stocky build, and wide open smile, dressed in full green combat gear having just come from Territorial Army – though that never made a difference to his dress code.

He has a flagon of Stone Housecider in one hand, and is smoking something large and round with the other. He thrusts a ten pound note at Lurch and demands to purchase some chocolate puddings to feed his healthy addiction (Lurch’s mother works in catering and hospitality).

Inside the basement the boys knock back a few drinks and play some games of pool; ‘winner stays on’. King and Prewecki each get a break while Lurch demonstrates how to ruthlessly humiliate opponents. Therapy?’s ‘Troublegum‘ album is blasting through the speakers.

After Therapy? they put on a Rock Anthems compilation to which King and Lurch execute a well choreographed rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody– complete with pool cue guitars and Prewecki playing air drums – followed by an equally well crafted performance of Black Betty.

Too tipsy to hit the ball in a straight line anymore – and with King fed up of being beaten by Lurch for the 8th game in a row – the boys take their positions around the pool table for a game of cards; beginning, as always, with ‘Switch’ and then – after King loses that game for the 8th time because of the other two conspiring – a game of ‘Bluff’ where the trio make futile and fruitless efforts stare each other out with poker faces.

Far too drunk to keep straight faces any longer they abandon the card games and sing badly. Prewecki is particularly entertaining company – the joker in the pack – always with a twinkle in his eye and a spring in his step. He is on top form tonight and making the others pay. Lurch is sat at the head of the table, doubling over and begging his own breath-sapping laughter to stop; beating his chest and rocking back and forth like a hyperventilating Tyrannosaurus.

King is sat at the right of the table with tears streaming down his eyes and shoulders bobbing up and down like a pneumatic drill. Prewecki won’t be staying over tonight because he has obstacle course training in the morning. No-one will be receiving a surprise attack with a pillow, and the improvised bed time story – that the boys take turns at telling a chapter – will not involve blowing each other up, becoming immortal, taking over the universe, or contain a never-ending string of epilogues. Prewecki wants to listen to Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon‘ before he makes his excuses and leaves. It is already past midnight; he is quite soused, and has to push his motorbike home.

A ‘thud’ sounds from above, someone is shuffling about. King and Lurch rush upstairs – Lurch grabbing ‘Slugger’ the baseball bat. They find Elaine – uncharacteristically tipsy from the school reunion, but still as dignified as ever. Lurch helps his mum to bed and removes her contact lenses – which would have been easy had she not started to fall asleep.

With Elaine sound asleep the duo looks inside the drinks cabinet at potential ingredients for the ‘end of night cocktail’. Normally they have to carefully negotiate their way across the room, avoiding the creaky floorboards – thank goodness for school reunions.

They pour a dozen shots from random and unidentifiable bottles into a half pint glass – adding a chocolate orange liquor for flavour which turns the murky contents an even blacker shade of noir. They have managed to stain the pool table with a permanent white ring on this occasion, agreeing that they may have gone a little overboard this time.

Strolling over to the nearby park illuminated by the prominent lunar landscape they sip their poison with a brave teaspoon and engage in conversations about life, the universe, their hopes, fears, dreams, and aspirations, moving on to music, movies, Star Trek, and breasts. After flailing a white flag of defeat they pour away the remaining ‘alco-stupid’ cocktail – rendering a considerable patch of earth uninhabitable for any future plant life.

Lurch has found an audio tape recording of a camping trip with friends from when he was an infant. Back at the basement he plays the tape and reminisces about his youth in Germany and the military bases that his father was stationed at. King complements the storytelling by adding his own tales of life in far away South America.

The hours pass un-noticed and as the dawn sun starts to rear its fiery head between two hills King finds the side that the room doesn’t spin on and absorbs the dreamy music of Enigma; “close your eyes, take a deep breath, and relax”.

Saturday nights are always a more crowded affair; teenage parties at far away flats with old and new faces. As wild as these parties are it is always the Friday nights that King, Lurch, and Prewecki will recall most fondly. For this inseparable trio who by chance had unexpectedly clicked in an inexplicable way, it is the quality not the quantity that matters the most; being able to sit together, never saying a word and walking away feeling that they’ve had the best conversation.

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WHAT DOUGLAS DID FOR ME

My tribute to a wholly remarkable man, and the remarkably remarkable works he left behind.

When Douglas Adams’ The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy was broadcast on the radio it was 1978. At 2PM on Thursday, January 4th 1979 I arrived in the world, disrupting a rather nice family meal in the process (I could never get the hang of Thursdays). From very early on in my youth The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy always seemed to attract my attention in some form or another.

I remember the early 1980’s: a betamax recording of the BBC TV series that my Grandparents had taped, I would watch it almost every day. My father had recorded the radio plays on cassette tapes and played them often. I also remember playing the interactive game on the Amstrad computer.

Most of the narrative content of the radio series was too much for a young boy to understand, but I remember being captivated by the characters voices: the rotund and consultative tenor of The Book, the frustrated and hapless Arthur Dent, and the forlorn and dejected tones of the pessimistically depressed android, Marvin; – “Life, don’t talk to me about life”.

Into my teens and the 1990’s – Sarcasm and irony became my close companions. During reading sessions in English classes I would stick to the four Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy novels along with Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, and sequel novel The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. The more I read them, the more I grew to understand Douglas Adams’ social commentaries on the world.

I began to encounter things in life that could have easily been knitted into the ridiculously overblown and random scenarios from his works: local authorities, money, politics, salesmen, science, bureaucracy, evolution, relationships, religion and creation. There were, are, things in life that should be logical and straight forward but have been tainted and confused by some rule, regulation, or procedure.

Douglas Adams’ ability to scale-down the big issues was paralleled by his ability to take insignificant objects and give them greater meaning than the sum of their parts: Towels, bypasses, bulldozers, fish, tea and a bowl of petunias; some of a few things given a higher design. The unique context in which these things are placed has taught me that there is nothing wrong with not having a sense of proportion; given the right context a cup of morning coffee can be far more significant than the history of creation.

In addition to radio and writing novels, Adams worked as a script editor during Tom Baker’s stint as Doctor Who. His unique and bizarre sense of observation was the perfect match for Baker’s cosmic clown. I was a fan of the Tom Baker era long before I discovered that Adams was it’s script editor.

Douglas Adams also collaborated with John Lloyd on The Meaning of Liff: a dictionary of meanings that there aren’t any words for yet. After realising how arbitrary the real English Dictionary is – it misses huge wodges of human experience – Adams and Lloyd set upon writing a dictionary of experiences people recognised, but there wasn’t a word for.

The Salmon of Doubt – published in 2002 – is a posthumous and eclectic collection of writings, drafts, articles, observations, unfinished novels and other mish-mashes extracted from Adams’ computer (Over 2000 documents existed in total). This book has the biggest influence on me; it inspired me to start writing and this blog.

In The Salmon of Doubt Douglas Adams makes light of his towering height, his big nose that does not admit air and how he broke it with his own knee while playing rugby, stood up. He teaches the Americans a thing or two about tea, and offers the Traffic Police an insight into road safety in relation the fundamental laws of the universe.

To me The Salmon of Doubt is a firm testament to the fact that Adams was more than a novelist. He was an observer; capturing moments that would have passed most of us by. I have no doubt that Douglas Adams could have made eating Corn Flakes an interesting read. His expertly-placed words transcend each page as if he is speaking to you over a roaring log fire and an ice-cold bourbon; informal and deceivingly simplistic.

It wasn’t until Douglas Adams death that I began finding out more about him as. I discovered that we shared a few things in common: our parents divorced when we were young, we often came across as ‘strange’ to our families, our teachers at school couldn’t work out if there was something mentally wrong with us, we spent most of our school days getting out of games, we enjoyed acting and writing, and we are are both atheists.

In 2000…ish I purchased a book about evolution written by Richard Dawkins calledThe Blind Watchmaker. It shed a lot of light and logic into my life, and crystal-clear-clarity about my place in the grand scheme of things. I was surprised to discover while reading The Salmon of Doubt that Douglas Adams chose The Blind Watchmaker as the book that changed him. Dawkins dedicated his book The God Delusion to Douglas Adams after his death.

Another sort of six-degrees-of-separation-thingy was that Adams, like me, was a Pink Floyd fan; he named their 1994 album The Division Bell and performed with the band on his 42nd birthday (the same age that his daughter was born). Adams’ official biography shares its name with the Pink Floyd song Wish You Were Here. David Gilmour performed the song at Adams’ funeral.

When socialising, I like to slip in a clever Douglas Adams quote, like a secret handshake – acknowledgement suggesting that we are like-minded people. I always follow “drink up” with “the worlds about to end”, I cannot enter an elevator without wondering if it fears for the future, and I wonder what would have become of me if the lemon soaked napkin had not arrived at my table in time.

Like Douglas Adams, I also like the ‘whooshing’ sound that deadlines make as they shoot past. I view tea, towels, baths, poetry, Rickmansworth, Thursday, mice, Fenchurch Station, mattresses – and much, much, more – in a very unique and special way; a Douglas Adams way.

Douglas Noel Adams prematurely died in 2001, but his star continues to burn bright in all those who celebrate the life and times of this wholly remarkable man, and the remarkably remarkable works that he left behind.

So long Douglas Noel Adams, and thanks…

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TEQUILAS AT SUNSET

A trip to London’s south bank resulted in my first public encounter with another diabetic.

 A trip to London’s south bank resulted in my first public encounter with another diabetic (Written in 2009).

My girlfriend and I had spent the day at the Christmas markets in London’s Hyde Park; and later at the South Bank where we stumbled upon Las Iguanas – a South American themed cocktail bar that, once upon a time, served the best Tequila Sunrises this side of Saturn.

Las Iguanas have since decided to scrub Tequila Sunrises off the drinks menu – which is like Severn Trent Water deciding not to supply H2O anymore. In all fairness, though we asked if they could mix us some Sunrises anyway, and they did – at happy hour prices, too!

I did have get narky with one of the bar staff at one point; he decided that he would only serve Tequila Sunrises in pitchers – priced at un-competitive mortgage rates. I assertively remarked that this was our third call to the bar – for the same drink – and challenged him to explain his sudden shift to the right-wing of bar politics.

Upon my triumphant return to our table, another couple had perched themselves on the sofa beside us. I noticed that the blond girlfriend who was injecting into her right arm, using something that looked familiar: it was the same insulin pen that I use.

“Excuse me,” I asked, holding my own insulin pen aloft; like a secret hand shake of the Freemasons. “Are you Type 1?” She smiled and nodded. I couldn’t help but give a wry grin at her response when I told her that I was a recent type 1, “How’s that working out for you?” It was like a prison inmate asking another prison inmate ‘what are you in for?’

The diabetic I had just introduced myself to was named Lucy. She was 24 years old and had been ‘doing her time’ since the age of 11 – just as she should have been starting to enjoy the fruits of life. Lucy and her boyfriend, James, were out on a day trip toLondonin an attempt to ‘do something cultured’ with their day.

After a while we began swapping stories and comparing our likes and hates of our disease; like the overwhelming temptations of certain foods – and, generally, the general unfairness of it all. We soon discovered a mutual adoration for adopting spirits as a coping method – well, spirits are sugar free!

Naturally, being so young, Lucy took the news of being insulin dependent quite hard and constantly rebelled against her diabetes; stubbornly doing the same things as her friends, only to end up getting incapacitated by hypos. She even secluded herself from the other diabetics at the local clinic; resenting being viewed as different from her friends.

Lucy’s gung-ho attitude was swiftly rectified at the age of sixteen when she found herself in hospital as a result a severe hypo. Lucy recalled hearing her mother asking the doctor if she was going to pull through; the doctor simply shrugged his shoulders.

It was during that brief spell in hospital were Lucy acknowledged the fragility of diabetes – how easy it is to kill yourself without trying. It was the wake-up call she needed and has since grabbed the diabetes bull by the horns.

She still goes off the rails from time to time, but she is still young and comes across as mature enough to understand that anything can be enjoyed in moderation. I have since met a few other diabetics who were diagnosed quite early in life; I can’t imagine how restricted they must have felt during the times when rebellious instinct was at the forefront of their adolescence.

I was diagnosed quite late in life and had already enjoyed my rebellious teenage years in pirate fashion; drowning myself in murky, snakebite infested waters and high spirits; chocking on the thick layers of fog as I passed duchies on the port side.

I have since become far too cautious for my own good; even my diabetic nurses feel the need to persuade me that it is okay to ‘let go of the reigns every now and again’. Meeting and talking to people like Lucy has definitely helped me come around to their way of thinking.

Lucy told us that her handbag had recently been stolen, containing the essential glucose meter and insulin pen. While waiting for a replacement glucose meter she was getting by on sheer guess-work. Lucy’s improvisations had recently resulted in a nasty ‘episode’ on a tube train; I had a similar experience.

Lucy’s boyfriend, James – who eventually managed to get a word in – works with dogs. He provided a fascinating insight into the new training techniques being developed for medical benefits, including ‘hypo awareness dogs’ for people with poor diabetic control.

Happy at having had his chance to speak, and Lucy finding that her cocktail glass was empty, the couple set off on their cultural adventure.  After all the help and advice she gave me, I felt like should have offered something in return, but the only helpful thing that sprung to mind at the time was, ‘don’t go to the Tate, it’s really shit’. So, I wished them well on their adventures and returned to the bar.

Update:  Las Iguanas have once again started selling Tequila Sunrises.

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PLAYLIST TO THE MOON

A musical tribute to one of the most astounding feats that humankind has ever seen.

It’s hard to imagine that during the 1960’s, Astronauts and Cosmonauts were propelled into space aboard rockets equipped with computers less powerful than a modern mobile phone; and in the cold void of space, between the globe we call home and the moon’s magnificent desolation, they were as fragile as the eternal hope for everlasting peace.

Playlist to the Moon is my personal selection of tracks that hold lyrical relevance to the lunar tundra that drifts across our night sky, and to the fearless Americans and Russians who gave heart, soul and their own mortality in the name of discovery, progress, and peace -- in what remains one of the most astounding feats of engineering and ingenuity that humankind has ever seen…

RUNNING ORDER:

Part One -- pre-launch

NASA – Apollo 14 Excerpt 16
Amanda Palmer – Astronaut
ELO – Ticket To The Moon
NASA – Apollo 17 Excerpt 21
Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band – I’m the Urban Spaceman
NASA – Apollo 11 Excerpt 3
Sleeper – Good Luck Mr. Gorsky
Kid Cudi – Up Up & Away
Rush – Countdown

Part Two -- Orbit

NASA – Apollo 15 Excerpt 13
Inspiral Carpets – Saturn 5
David Bowie – Space Oddity (US Stereo Single Edit)
The Byrds – Eight Miles High
NASA – Apollo 10 Excerpt 6
Hawkwind – Silver Machine (Original Single Version) [Live At the Roundhouse London] -- 1996 -- Remaster
Sequoya – The Cosmonaut’s Wife
NASA – Apollo 15 Excerpt 5
Nat King Cole – Destination Moon

Part Three -- Moon

Neil Armstrong – Neil Armstrong “One Small Step For Man, One Giant Leap For Mankind” July 20, 1969
Roche Limit – Cosmonaut
The Police – Walking On The Moon
NASA – Apollo 17 Excerpt 14
Pet Shop Boys – Luna Park
Gil Scott-Heron – Whitey On The Moon

Part Four -- Epilogue

Tasmin Archer – Sleeping Satellite
NASA – Apollo 15 Excerpt 26
Ella Fitzgerald – It’s Only A Paper Moon
Brian Eno – An Ending (Ascent)

The End..?

If your device doesn’t support  Flash (ahhh haaaaaa), then you can’t see the nice widget above.  Cry not poor Apple user, for this playlist is also available on Grooveshark, Spotify and YouTube

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WE LOVED PARIS IN THE SPRINGTIME

A travel journal; written in the same style that Bill Bryson's aren't.

We arrived at the lobby of the Quatier Latin hotel after 9 pm. The hotel manager was sat, feet propping up the desk, reading what, judging by the off-white colour of the pages, was something a little more intellectual than Le sport De Dimanche. He was dressed like a physics professor; wearing brown corduroys and a green knitted jumper. The hair on his head appeared to be demonstrating chaos theory.

The lobby resembled a contemporary library of Alexandria; bookshelves and pillars jostling for real estate. Reclining on a large three-seat sofa were three men – also dressed as physics professors – gazing intensely at their laptops as if the earth would stop rotating if they diverted their gaze for even a second. In the far corner of the room were two other gents, locked in a game of chess. I couldn’t help thinking that we’d booked into the French branch of the Diogenes Club.

I was playing the part of a concerned diabetic in need of his next meal; my snack supply was all but depleted. The hotel Professor handed out some forms for us to fill in, collected them once complete, marked them, and advised us of the best places to eat; which should not, he advised, be the restaurant at the end of the street – it is, in his words ‘Ugh, disgusting!’

We settled for a small cafe across the street where the lady serving us spoke good enough English for me to negotiate my way into a large cheese and ham Broschetta. One and a half coffees later, which did nothing, we headed back to our room for Morpheus to have his way with us in the land of dreams. I slept like a baby.

As badly as coffee and orange juice goes together in terms of taste, they provide the perfect kick-start to the day. Fed and stimulated we embarked on our first EVA to the Panthéon. The Panthéon was originally built as a church, until someone suggested storing their honorary dead countrymen there instead. Foucault’s pendulum swings at the centre of a vast, domed room. It is named after the French physicist Léon Foucault who conceived it as an experiment to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth.

Surrounding the pendulum is a Greek-cross layout with paintings and large statues of exotic women with hefty cleavages. At the far corner is a door leading down to the crypt; we would be in good company down there: Victor Hugo, Louis Braille, Voltaire, Marie & Pierre Curie, and Alexander Dumas reside there. Placed on the stone tomb of Victor Hugo was a page torn out of a scrapbook with a carrot drawn on it – and the words, ‘Dear Mr. Hugo, here is a drawing of a carrot’.

At Saint Sulpice church – which has taken 100 years to build and still isn’t finished, I studied a map that was specifically designed to render what we were looking for virtually impossible to find. We were looking for Montparnasse Cemetery, but even the GPS on my phone was making every effort to ensure that we didn’t find it.

Walking for over half an hour and making several course corrections, our persistence was rewarded by the appearance a street sign. Montparnasse Cemetery is the eternal resting place for many of France’s intellectual and artistic elite. It is a tightly packed mass of tombs and graves; each trying to out-do the other. I was expecting, at one point, to see conservatories and a water feature – maybe even a shrubbery.

For Ceri’s Birthday we took a long stroll along the river Seine, en route to Les Invalides; the place of all things military and home to Napoleon’s tomb – among other decorated war heroes. On display at the War Museum were army uniforms dating as far back as the 13th Century. I was impressed by the large portraits on the walls; they were not protected by a glass frame – and all the better for it because I could get up close and admire the fine details of the brush strokes. Fuck laserjet, these were awesome.

After looking around the museum we entered Napoleons resting place. Situated in a large hall his grand sarcophagus sits prominently under the Les Invalides dome. Napoleon’s family, and several military officers who served under him, are also to be found nearby; a number of Generals, Admirals and Marshals are stored in the vault below – even in death there is a pecking order, with the little guy on top.

Continuing our tour, we learned that the Russian Première was visiting Paris. According to the news, the French Government was holding a sale on warships – buy one, sink one free. The busy main streets were lined with traffic wardens and armed police; sporting thick knee pads, bulletproof armour and guns that didn’t need a translator to relay their intentions. Every so often there would be a buzz of activity, the roads would clear, and a fleet of black cars with blacked-out windows would come speeding past – the cars were all Renaults, of course.

Top Gear once proved claims that a Renault Megane could collide with a wall at 30 mph without the driver sustaining a single scratch. When you see the way the French drive, you’ll understand why they are built tough: French motorists assume that red and green lights adjacent to black and white stripes painted on roads are just part of the Christmas décor, and that pedestrian walkways are simply the moped equivalent of a bus lane. French cars are designed in such a way that the horns need to sound in order for them move forward.

Alas, our short trip soon found its way to a speedy conclusion. Before we had time to say, ‘Sonne Lemitina’, we found ourselves homeward bound. On the train we were musically serenaded by a wealthy looking busker, towing a trolley of albums for sale. Everybody on the train ignored him; not because they didn’t want to make uncomfortable eye-contact with a needy busker, but because his music was shit.

Airport baggage handling is the frontier where time loses all ability to conform to the natural laws of the universe and grinds to a halt. After parting with our luggage we stopped for a bite to eat; I tried fish fried rice for what will be the only time and Ceri parted with a preposterous amount of Euros for no less than nine crisps; packed in a bag so big that it could have doubled as a braking parachute for an incoming Soyuz capsule.

After a long days travel back to Ebbw Vale, and with a few days leave left, we ventured into the countryside for long drives, bathed under the newly found sunshine; stopping for meals that were equally as exquisite than anything our pallets had encountered in Paris. To be honest, I was not fussed on the French Food – and I could have sold my pancreas for a cup of decent tea.

Someone recently expressed their dumbfounded snobbery at the idea of us going all the way to Paris and not appreciating the rich, culinary delights. It became apparent while sampling the rich, culinary delights that there are no rich, culinary delights to speak of; none that come within a whisker of what the Welsh countryside has to offer: Roast beef, Cottage Pie, Cumberland Pie – and all the other pies – Cawl; Pork and Cheese sauce with cream-garlic potatoes and cauliflower cheese. Afters like Sticky Toffee Pudding, Welsh Cakes, Apple Crumble, Rubarb and Custard, Bread and Butter Pudding. Fuck Gateaux and Truffles; fuck them with a rusty bent spoon.

The tea isn’t half bad, either.