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AN XMAS TALE

A short story about the meaning of the Stolen Pagan Festival; when it had one.

It was Christmas 1940, WWII: my young Great Grandmother, Mavis, and her sisters, Gwyneth and Poppy, wanted to find something special for their mother. With the War in full swing and rationing in place there was little to be found or afforded.

The three sisters were walking through the town of Ebbw Vale one day when they came across a large, red apple in the window of the general store – such items were considered luxuries for the poorer families in those war torn days.

The siblings pooled together what was left of their ration allowances, which was just enough to afford the tempting apple. My Gran would always recall the joy on her mother’s face on that Christmas day, when they presented to her a rosy red apple. After Christmas dinner, she sliced the apple into four pieces and shared it with her daughters to reward them for their love and kindness.

During modern times when families horde the shops like gannets; purchasing the latest fashions and gadgets – price no object, nor failure an option – it is warming to think of times when the thought really did count; when the true spirit of Christmas was as much about giving as it was receiving. Where kind words and the pleasure of warm company was the most priceless gift of all.

Perhaps we all need to take a trip back in order to move forward.

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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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DULL C1NT IN A BRIGHT CAR

A satirical piece about Boy Racers.

After the supermarket shutters close on the daily shopping masses, a different type of battered trolley rolls into the car parks. Piloted by 17-year-old boys in full pubescent swing – the nocturnal hours signal the rise of the Boy Racer…

Tonight we follow 17-year-old Trev – a strange ferret looking creature surgically attached to a genuine fake gold chain – the reason for the trickling blood flow to his starved brain. Trev has spent the last two weeks at his 30-year-old dad’s garage modifying his £150 Vauxhall Corsa with aero parts from the local scrap yard.

Today Trev is adding the final additions to his ride, straightening out the chicken wire grilles and touching up the poly-filler with Dulux finest gloss. He screws on his personal number plate: 1MA CNT, and with his tank filled to the brim with siphoned petrol, he buys a quarter of ‘skunk’ from his old man. He is ready for a cruise.

The place to be tonight is the floodlit forecourt of ASDA car park. In attendance since lunchtime is the regular 15-year-old throttle totty – dancing to Nokia ring tones while sharing a half-empty bottle of Lambrusco. The distant roar of a sports exhaust, designed to mimic the mating call of the blue whale, signals the arrival of Trev.

As it’s Friday, Trev’s female passenger has made an extra scowling effort, wearing week-old pink pyjamas and bunny slippers, a three day build up of Boots hair spray and an extra layer of make-up to protect her from the harmful rays of the moon.

Trev has had treads on his tires for over a day, so he makes his entrance in style, flexing his cars non-existent power with a performance of hand break pirouettes, masterfully undertaking a collision with a stray shopping trolley. He commences a lap of the car park, blazing from zero to maybe… eventually.

Cleverly designed to look as plastic as they are, the streamlined Lego appendages, consisting of an improbable wing that NASA hadn’t noticed missing, flatters to deceive, creating the aerodynamic efficiency required to negotiate the tricky speed bumps at near-stationary velocity.

His Kenwood digital theatre system is set all the way to 11, blasting a narrow variety of indistinguishable beats – the sonic boom box pounding seismic ripples through the earth’s core. His passenger seems almost hypnotised by the stationary display of the monotone graphic equalizer.

The underneath of the car is illuminated with blue lights, the purpose of which is to help find any drugs that are discarded if the police arrive. There are rumours that the pigs are venturing beyondDunkinDoughnuts tonight, in search of a vehicle containing a suspicious item, believed to be a tax disc.

Trev takes his place among the other 42 boy racers, all sporting alloy wheels bought from the same eBay seller. Signalling his intention to go EVA, he fixes his poloshirt collar, dons his baseball and steps outside. Choking on the clear Lynx free air, he complains to the other petrolheads about not being to afford ASDAs new congestion charges, he’s been saving up for his driving test so will have to hang out at KFC car park – where the Emos skateboard.

He is starting to look unwell, his eyes aren’t glazed over and his completion is returning to its rare gravy brown smear. After one coherent sentence too many, he puts on his official counterfeit shades and returns to the neon-tinted cocoon of his ride.

His passenger has sold four Mayfair cigarettes and two cans of Strongbow to the throttle totty, raising enough cash for them to share a donner kebab before going dogging. Trev rubs the two loose ignition wires together, bringing the Vauxhall Corsa to life. He rolls a joint on a stained MAX Power magazine, lights it up and toots farewell to the totty, leaving in a trail of intoxicating smog. He may lose his virginity tonight.

 

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CAPTAIN CAMERA

A short, out of the box promotional video. All character voices performed by me.

‘CCTV Control Room – Captain Camera’ is a short, out of the box promotional video highlighting the tireless and selfless actions of an elite CCTV Operator at Blaenau Gwent. All character voices were performed by me. I think you’ll agree, the resemblance between the hero and I is uncanny.

[Edited December 2016]

Sadly, Blaenau Gwent CCTV was closed down in 2014. The cameras are now monitored by Newport City Council – where I continue to operate. I will always praise the professionalism and gold award-winning standard of Blaenau Gwent CCTV. We were a bloody good team, and I’m immensely proud of the opportunity given to me; serving my community; helping in the detection and prevention of crime and disorder. It’s a shame our achievements were overlooked, and money had to come first. I stll miss it deeply.

This video is posted with the kind permission of Anytime Films and Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council.  All power to their elbows.

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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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A BALANCED BACKGROUND

My thoughts on background insulin and the part it plays in maintaining the complex balancing act.

Much has been said about rapid insulin and the positive benefit it has had on diabetic control over the last decade. Background – or long-lasting insulin – also plays a part in maintaining a complex balancing act.

The human body produces a constant flow of its own glucose called glycogen. This glycogen production is normally counterbalanced by the pancreas; which produces just enough insulin to break down the glycogen – for normal people, anyway.

A type 1 diabetic has no natural means insulin production to counterbalance the glycogen production – so we need to inject insulin into our bloodstream. In addition to injecting rapid insulin, diabetics can inject long-lasting, slow release insulin. This background insulin lasts up to 24 hours (rapid insulin lasts up to 4 hours). Its main purpose is to assist in balancing the body’s natural glycogen production.

When I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes I was put on a set dose of rapid insulin (Novorapid) and background insulin (Levmir). As previously documented in this blog I quickly worked out my carbohydrate to rapid insulin ratio, thus improving control of my glucose levels.

Despite this breakthrough I was finding that even when the rapid insulin was not present in my bloodstream – after a long sleep, for example – I needed to consume 20 grams of carbohydrate every few hours to prevent my levels dropping too low.  I eventually discovered it was because my background insulin dose was too high.

During a concert one evening I easily consumed over 60 grams of carbohydrate – the equivalent of a main meal – over the course of two hours without taking any rapid insulin; my blood levels did not raise above ‘normal’ levels during the whole time.

Standing up for long periods consumes energy, but not to the degree where I’m required to carry a bakery in by backpack! After a brief consultation with the Professor of Diabetes at my local hospital I was encouraged to experiment with by background insulin levels.

My initial dose of background insulin upon diagnosis was 16 units. Every week I would reduce this by 2 units to see how it affected my day-to-day routines. My method was to spread out my meal times so that the rapid insulin would be absent from my bloodstream at certain times of the day – preferably when I was resting.

I would then test my glucose levels every few hours to determine if my levels were still falling without the aid of the rapid insulin. The final test was to eat a zero carbohydrate breakfast – like chicken or scrambled eggs. If my glucose levels continued to fall during the course of my morning routine, then further adjustment was required. I kept this up for a few months.

At present my background insulin dose is 8 units – half the dose set by my diabetic specialist. I no longer need to snack every 2 hours – which has helped with my diet – and I sleep better knowing that I am less likely to get woken up by a hypo.

Over the years, through experimentation, I discovered that less background insulin is needed during hot summer months. In colder weather I increase my doses – though not as high as first prescribed.

The pay-off is that I now have to take a few units of rapid insulin when consuming some snacks that the background insulin would normally have coped with by itself. But it’s a small price to pay for more freedom and less food!

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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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CARBS AND A CUMBERLAND PIE

After a few months as a newbie diabetic, I discovered my carb-to-insulin ratio. It was all thanks to a man named Clive and a Cumberland pie...

After a few months as a newbie diabetic, I discovered my carb-to-insulin ratio. It was all thanks to a man named Clive and a Cumberland pie:

A lot of things are taken for granted in life; things like walking, talking, breathing, and whiskey. It’s only when those things are compromised that you realise you couldn’t function without them. Cruelly, for a diabetic, one natural and satisfying act in life is also one that demands the most care: the simple act of eating.

As a Type 1 I have to be more conscious and careful with my meal portions – ‘All things in moderation’, as my late Gran would say. For diabetics diet is all about carbohydrates and sugars – just like time and space is relative, so are carbohydrates and sugars. I’ve never had a sweet tooth and have always maintained a balanced diet; in that respect I am quite fortunate.

Five out of four people have problems with adding-up, and I am one of those six people. In the early months of diabetes I struggled with counting carbohydrates, especially pasta and rice. I was practically living off ‘healthy living’ microwave meals and Kellogg’s variety packs because the nutritional contents were printed on the back.

My overall feeling was that if I couldn’t eat, drink and be merry, then just measure me up, lay me in a wooden box and feed a thousand worms me for Christmas. I was on a fixed insulin dose of insulin per meal and was advised by my dietician to consume around 50 grams of carbohydrate per meal. So I did just that. Two hours after food my target blood glucose levels were always between 5-7 mmol – where a ‘normal’ person’s levels live.

But, it was getting to the point where I was eating to stay alive and not getting any pleasure out of it. During night shifts I don’t get very hungry, so instead of one large meal I take bread rolls. Rolls are around 25 grams of carb each – half of a main meal. I found that by halving my dose to 4 units per roll I was achieving the same target blood results (5-7 mmol).

On one afternoon shift I was talking to my work colleague, Clive, about my food dilemma. ‘What you’ve got there is the six times table’, he said. I stared at him, confused; as if a Berman cat had just materialized on his head. He continued, ‘4×6 is 24, and 8×6 is 48.’ The Berman coughed up a fur ball. ‘For 24 grams you take 4 units, and for 48 grams you take 8 units…that’s close to the six times table!’

The Berman cat caught, and toyed with a small vole. ‘If you were to eat something containing around, say, 36g of carb, then wouldn’t you require 6 units?’ The Berman put on a top hat and leapt into the air in triumph; performing a rather slickCharlestonroutine.Eureka! (Meow!)

Later in the shift I headed with purpose to ASDA and purchased a Cumberland Pie containing around 36g of carb and dosed as per six-times-table. A few hours after eating it I was within my target blood glucose range.

Over the next few days I experimented like a hippy in Amsterdam with different meals of varying consistency containing different carb contents, and achieved some far-out results. My insulin-to-carb ratio – or ‘food mojo’ – is around 1 unit for every 6 grams of carbohydrate I consume. My diet – within reason – is whatever the hell I want it to be.