Dad’s back.

April is World Parkinson’s Month, in which we (people with Parkinson’s) try to raise awareness amongst the general population, the month in which we try to share our experiences to help you understand why we do what we do and why we are what we are.

Briefly, Parkinson’s is an incurable neurodegenerative illness affecting movement and a whole bundle of other physiology. That means it’s going to affect every part of body functioning, it’s going to get worse and there is nothing you can do to prevent that.

These facts are usually presented to patients along with their diagnosis. That’s a lot to take in, a lot to absorb in that brief consultation with your neurologist. It is commonly said that patients die with rather than of Parkinson’s. That’s not strictly true. Life expectancy is shorter with Parkinson’s, the extent to which it is shortened being determined by age of onset and symptom cluster. On the whole, you get about 16 years post diagnosis. And, without wishing to belabour the point, those 16 years will not probably be as much fun as they would otherwise have been.

That sounds, on the face of it, a grim proposition, with little in the way of prospects. That’s not entirely the case. Sure, it is degenerative and incurable. But it is possible nonetheless to slow the disease progression. Careful attention to diet, exercise and medication routine (yes, all the boring bits) can change the clinical picture substantially. Okay we can’t stop it in its tracks but we can slow down this symptomatic behemoth. Parkinson’s is all about time, about buying time. Buying time until a cure is found.

Around 18 months ago, my 16 years were up. I was, if you will, on borrowed time. We (that’s me, my neurologist, my Parkinson’s nurse and my family) had to make a decision. We could let nature take its course or force its hand. And after 16 years of Parkinson’s, you don’t have too many cards left to play.

My choices boiled down fundamentally to one – DBS. DBS stands for Deep Brain Stimulation and, when you know what it entails, you can see why it is always referred to by the acronym. In this procedure, thin wire electrodes are implanted deep below the surface of the brain (around about 2 inches) into, mostly, the subthalamic nucleus. Once in place, tiny pulses of electrical current reduce symptoms of Parkinson’s, some more than others.
Not a decision to take lightly. For many in the early stages of Parkinson’s, it is a bridge too far, a Rubicon most will not choose. After 16 years of symptoms, the situation is different. You can no longer hide. In my case, the choice was simple. I could either continue down the same largely certain path of neurodegeneration or I could take a stand. I could buy myself time.

DBS is not a cure. Let’s be clear on that. It buys you time, nothing more. Time to enjoy life, to help other people with Parkinson’s, to watch my children fulfil their potential, to become the people their best selves. All these things and more. Is it all a bed of roses? No. A small proportion of patients get no benefits from the procedure. Some (thankfully few) get worse. A tiny minority even pay for it with their lives, suffering a stroke as the electrodes penetrate deep into the brain. But for the large majority, it helps.

My surgery was conducted at the beginning of November 2021, at the height of the Covid pandemic. No visitors were allowed. There was no one to hold my hand, figuratively or otherwise.

My electrodes were switched on on 5 November, fireworks night in so many ways! The benefit was instant. Not huge but noticeable. My walking was better, my tremor largely absent and my balance reasonable. I took videos of myself walking up and down the ward and showed them to my children. My daughter burst into tears. “I can’t remember seeing you looking so well” she said, in one sentence justifying the entire procedure.

What more can I say? Dad’s back.

Those hidden charges

I bought some tickets for the cinema the other day. The bill was neatly itemised for me. The tickets themselves, at £22 each (I had upgraded from buying the standard seats to what they called premium) and, immediately below, in small script was a booking fee of £1 per ticket. So, since presumably the booking fee was unavoidable, I had in essence bought tickets at £23 each.

This kind of thing gets my goat. It was not clear upfront, unless embedded in the impenetrably small words, invisible on my laptop, that there would be a booking fee. It is not as though one can even decline to pay a booking fee. The tickets must be booked, therefore there is a booking fee. Presumably by the time you get to the screen allowing you to pay for the tickets, you are just so damn grateful that the thing hasn’t crashed before this point that you are happy to pay anything. But since booking the tickets as an integral part of, guess what, booking the tickets, why itemise it? This is an entirely specious charge. I want to buy tickets at £22. And I expect to pay £22. That sum is the agreed price not the start of a bidding war. If the tickets are really £23, tell me upfront. Don’t look to tack on a contribution to the staff Christmas party fund. Or whatever.

By the time we get to the next screen and its invitation to round that untidy £23 up to an elegant £25 by donating to their charity of choice, I am feeling decidedly uncharitable. Eventually, after many oaths, effing and blinding, I reach a point where I can tap in my credit card details and the tickets will be mine.

Well, not quite. The tickets are mine if I wish to receive them in electronic form on my notoriously unreliable iPhone. Should I, horror of horrors, want to receive a paper ticket, I will have to stump up the cost of printing and of course postage. In the light of previous exchanges, I am surprised not to be asked to cover insurance during the tickets’ mile and a half journey from cinema to my house.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m no cheapskate. I don’t calculate exactly but I do like some sort of idea at the back of my mind how much things will cost in advance. So this kind of thing just annoys me. It’s the same in restaurants. Most nowadays make the assumption that the service charge is includable in the reckoning. Yes, I know that the waiter is probably a destitute Romanian living out of bins and my service charge is his only source of income. But I’m afraid I’m old school. To my mind the service charge is voluntary, and reflecting exceptional attentiveness. Besides, I like to make a point of awarding it rather than having it assumed on my behalf. In restaurants with questionable policies on tips, particularly the allocation to individual waiters from a collective pool, it’s even more presumptive. I frequently like to make a quick calculation in my head and thrust a note or two into the hand of the waiter/waitress rather than surrender it to some common pool. Just me I guess.

The same goes for VAT. I love the way in which garages will quote the figure for a given piece of work without the VAT and then, almost as though it had slipped their mind, say something like “oh and there’s the VAT on top of that”. Gradually softening me up by degrees. “Oh and the fitting charge”. Seriously? A fitting charge? Isn’t that what the garage does?
Again, they have me over a barrel. Unless I want to be handed my car and the boot full of pieces of engine, I can do nothing. I have to pay. Usually goes something like this. “The turbomagneto valve electro hybrid thingamajig comes to £152.17p. With the VAT that’s £197.34p. Oh and there’s the fitting at £112.33p an hour, making a grand total of £4000 billion.” Or something like that. “Will that be cash or card?” Neither I think to myself.

When I owned Jaguars, they used to soften the blow by valeting the car for me. So when handed back after I paid the ransom (sorry, of course I mean bill) the car would be gleaming and beautiful even if their choice of air freshener made it smell like a New Orleans bordello.

All rant over now. It’s safe to come out.

Gary and The Beeb

To be truthful, the political views of football commentators leave me cold. In the same way, I imagine ex-neuroscientist’s opinions probably carry no more weight and yet this realisation does not stop me from commentating when I see fit.

Social media is now so widespread that anyone who is anybody and many who aren’t are happy to offer their opinions on matters why doesn’t their brief. In the same way that Richard Wagner, that most repulsive of anti-Semites, was able to produce music of incandescent beauty, the question becomes one of context.

Gary Lineker’s comments were not expressed as I understand it in the context of his day job as football presenter/commentator but in a series of tweets criticising the government’s approach to immigration in general and boat people in particular. Had he turned a conversation on Manchester United’s comically leaky defence last week from football to immigration, the case would have been simple. A clear breach of impartiality and the Beeb’s response would have been understandable. But by taking him to task over opinions expressed as a private individual is a different matter. Let’s not forget that anyone who reads his tweets has essentially ‘opted in’. If they don’t like what they read they can always unsubscribe. It’s that simple.

I do not get Gary’s tweets in my inbox because I have not subscribed. Nor do I subscribe to any anti-Semitic scribbles on Wagner. I simply listen to the music.

It’s essentially a question of demarcation. Is it possible to express an opinion as a private individual when you also hold a very public job? That is, in simple terms, the question asked. The BBC evidently feels that their contract with him, as a TV presenter, extends beyond that and encompasses his opinions expressed semi-publicly but outside the context of his day job.

I think this may ultimately set a dangerous precedent. Clamping down on Gary the football presenter, because of the opinions of Mr Lineker and his criticism of government policy, is dangerously stifling.

Let’s be clear here. The government’s proposed ways of dealing with the boat people and so on are, at the very least, insensitive and worse, bordering on overt cruelty I would think. To call them out for this seems reasonable. Remember here that Gary is not mobilising an army, calling for acts of terrorism or otherwise, preparing public rallies or otherwise inciting unrest. No, he sent a few tweets.

If we reach the point where we cannot criticise or offer an opinion, especially one counter to government policy, that would be a sad day for democracy.

The Drowned and the Saved

Last weekend was pretty intense, in some ways enriching and in other ways diminishing. Let me explain.

I grew up in a family where books were considered almost sacred objects, their acquisition a source of delight, their loss a bereavement. Both my parents came from what would then have been called working class families. Books were a luxury, with maximum value obtained by passing the books around the family. No sooner had one finished a book than it was passed on to the next child. Books were important. By sharing, everyone formed an opinion that they could then discuss. Books encouraged critical debate by the same means.

My father was probably the least broadly read, focusing his reading matter on the mainly factual, perhaps a hangover from his days at Cambridge as an undergraduate medical student where the fixation on fact over fiction remained the principal legacy of his alma mater. He was after all a medical student not a classicist. If you had to remember the cranial nerves via colourful mnemonics, it’s easy to imagine that there was no time or space left to fill with Aristotle, Socrates or Plato. I remember he once read Richard Gordon’s entire output in an afternoon. Having thus slaked his thirst for materia medica, he swiftly moved on to James Herriot, perhaps reasoning that veterinary medicine was at least still medicine, if he reasoned it out at all. Being a GP in Doncaster amounted to many largely thankless hours and my enduring memory, while I was of school age, was of a man, dog tired, asleep on the sofa. Not really of a reading man.

My mother on the other hand devoured books like a paperback piranha. Her tastes leaned towards the more romantic end of literature albeit with a fondness for books involving naval officers (my father was in the Navy when she had met him). She loved the Master and Commander series. Otherwise it was Maeve Binchy and suchlike.

Why is any of this relevant? Well, last weekend my three children were here. The plan was simple – to boldly go into those reaches of the attic where unwanted items lived, where aged footballs lay among the dust of decades. Many boxes were unopened having been transferred from our previous house to the present, around 30 years ago. The children’s battlecry, “If you haven’t opened the box in 30 years, it can go!”, although entirely understandable, needed a degree of tempering by myself. Mostly the contents of the boxes were uninteresting – odd bits of electronics, long dysfunctional hi-fi, and computers using operating systems no longer used. And of course the inevitable mixture of ‘artworks’ by the children. On the whole these works of art tended to be abstract rather than strictly representational. Impressionist so to speak.

We also discovered a great many books of every conceivable genre and detail. Pulp paperbacks sat cheek by jowl with the great works of English literature. Shakespeare? Obviously. But also others less obvious. “Cider with Rosie” by Laurie Lee, Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” and Hemingway’s “a Farewell to Arms”. Great books by great authors, each in its own way a pinnacle of teenage angst, a battle of art and acne.

My eldest, taking me quietly aside, explained what was to happen. “Dad” she said “we have to get rid of these books”. While she sat me down to explain, my younger daughter was tiptoeing out of the building on armfuls of my prized books.

Suddenly, a delightful revisiting of our respective childhoods, uncovering buried treasure, had taken on the air of a Nazi book burning. I called a halt once I realised the indiscriminate nature of their process. Some supervision was absolutely essential once I realised the kids made no distinction between cheap insulation paperbacks and Hemingway first editions.

Books, even under the present Tory administration, a particularly Luddite regime, are not yet to be used as fuel. But gradually I began to realise that, if we were to fulfil our mission of clearing space in the attic, a great many books had to go. Like Oscar Schindler I could only save just so many. And for every one that was drowned, I tried to save one.

There is no foolproof way of applying any selection criteria. The human decision has to take priority. So with that in mind I pronounced yea or nay, like some Roman emperor, on the fates of several hundred books. My criteria were to the outside observer, capricious. I tried to retain walks that I thought I would possibly read (Brick Lane, Rites of Passage, The Bonfire of the Vanities) whilst being unable to throw away some tomes with, how shall I put it, sentimental associations. Retained under those criteria were the entire works of Isaac Bashevis Singer, aforementioned Hemingway and a first edition of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.

I would like to say it was a job well done. But, in all honesty, I don’t know whether it was or not. A number of books made it out of the house without my explicit say-so. But I don’t really think of the books being lost. More a case of being adopted by new readers. My loss is Oxfam’s gain.

Blog and be damned!

Today’s blog is about, well, blogs. When I say blog, I am referring in this context at least to Parkinson’s related blogs. My own blog ( could I suppose broadly be considered a Parkinson’s blog in the sense that its origins lie there even if it’s present format has somewhat drifted from its origins. But in the sense that it also distils my ethos about Parkinson’s, albeit infrequently, it should probably be considered within the broad envelope of this discussion.

I should also say that although I may refer to other bloggers and their approaches to blogging, I will not generally name names. This is not for any fear of lawyers (liticophobia?) but a desire not to needlessly hurt their feelings. Without also sinking into the mire of woke consciousness, be aware that I may also change their gender if I feel their identity is still too obvious.

I asked my eldest the other day about when I had started blogging. “Roundabout the late Cretaceous period” was her response. Evidently I am a true dinosaur. This will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me well. But after a little bit of verbal jousting, we agreed it was around about 2010. Having been diagnosed in 2006, I had some four years of experience to draw upon. And draw upon it I did, originally in a blog on the Wobbly Williams website, moving in the following year I think to my own free website and then later still on to a proper grown-up website where I could throw in all sorts of other dimensions – music, photography, video, blah blah blah.

Why did I start a blog? Well, it was largely the result of facing a very persuasive Bryn Williams, he being of a  wobbly nature (oh gosh I didn’t really disguise his identity did I?). Bryn is of course a lawyer and, by nature, extremely persuasive. After a brief session talking to him or, in actual fact, submitting to his hyperbole and flattery of my writing skills, I was persuaded that the world needed to hear from me. I don’t suppose for one second that it actually did but it was fun while it lasted. And Bryn has always been a beacon for many in the Parkinson world (am I returning the flattery here? It looks like it doesn’t it).

At first I simply wrote about my day-to-day experiences and how Parkinson’s had pulled the rug from under them. After a while I began to receive emails and letters even from people who generally said they enjoyed reading my thoughts and admired the positivity. I was seen in some ways as making light of the condition, and not submitting willingly to its many vicissitudes. And I think also because my background was science, specifically neuroscience and most specifically Parkinson’s, I was perhaps seen as a “go to” person if you wanted a bit of science scattered around your symptoms.

Even the most cursory examination of the blogosphere reveals the many different styles, objectives and execution. One, by a friend in Hungary let’s say, is irrepressibly optimistic, finding laughter and humour in the most insane moments. Another is a devout believer in the church of laughter, happy to cite scientific research that “proves” laughter, even the very physical act of laughing, is enough to alleviate dyskinesias. I can’t help feeling it’s not that simple. Rats don’t laugh much and they don’t get Parkinson’s. Hyenas might be a better model. Especially so for scientists with a death wish. My feeling is that hyenas would be Benny Hill fans rather than appreciating more Pythonesque humour. But laughter is just an exemplar. We all have something, some little trick of the light that benefits us and us alone. This of course is the “n of 1” trial approach. But that’s another subject for another day, beyond the scope of this blog.

Leaving aside the scientific tonality or otherwise of each blog, the principal differentiator is positivity or negativity. What is appropriate?

This is the elephant in the room and, in many ways, also the conundrum with which we wrestle daily. We need money for research into treatments for Parkinson’s. That’s obvious. It’s also obvious that we will raise much more money if we portray the condition at its most horrible, crippling and gruesome.

At the same time, we are keen, as a community, and especially for the management of newbies, to convey the message that you can live with this condition and live a fulfilling life. perhaps not your pre-diagnosis definition of “fulfilling” but nonetheless worthwhile. How do we protect them whilst flipping the coin over reveals a much uglier head. I’ve been blogging for a dozen years and still haven’t found the answer to that one. Answers on a postcard please.

I have a good friend in Andorra (could be, although the odds are against it) who is a Whack-a-Mole champion in his country. He is a strong advocate for single sport activity as a means of ensuring good long-term outcomes. Specifically Whack-a-Mole .

A couple of years back the inspirational Norwegian filmmaker Anders Leines and I made a short series of small videos about subjects we felt were difficult to tackle and poorly addressed by our physicians. Poorly explained by them and poorly understood by us. Essentially the direct result of embarrassment on both parties I suspect. We called this series The Dark Side of Parkinson’s. We opened up a message board. The messages we received were very largely positive towards the videos in the sense that we had apparently burst a dam, along the lines of “I’m not the only one then who suffers from this” and “now I feel I can discuss it with my doctor.”

We agonised over whether we should publish or withhold the videos. Would they do more harm than good? Were they balanced? In the end, we had to make a very stark choice. We chose to publish, with each video carrying a reference where further information could be sought.

The responses, as I said, were extremely positive about content. That’s not to say that support was universal. There were certainly some who felt we had done a disservice to the community. I don’t agree necessarily but I do certainly endorse their right to an opinion on the matter.

I probably take, especially these days, what I would consider to be a more realistic appraisal although I happily concede that my “realistic” may map very closely to someone else’s “pessimistic”. My own feeling is that it is easier to justify blind optimism than more downbeat tones. We don’t seem to have to justify happiness as much as despondency.

And there is of course also the issue of readability. From my own experience, although I vouch for the gritty realism of my own approach, I still find that persistently negative blogs do not, unless very well written (such as that by a fellow academic with connections to the low countries) hold my attention.

If I had to summarise, I have reservations about relentless positivity, like a rictus smile. It just doesn’t ring true and obviously even less so as time passes. It takes a very particular skillset to maintain such a façade. The most positive blogs are typically written by patients within the first few years of diagnosis, that phoney war where the drugs seem to work and we delude ourselves that we are somehow different and we can handle it.


The progression of Parkinson’s is hard to arrest and even harder to reverse. Painting rosy pictures of Parkinson’s patients playing racket sports and the like does not help. In fact I feel that setting impossible standards is counter-productive. It can induce a sense of failure. Very few Parkies can run marathons, swim triathlons and so on. Mostly we shuffle to the shops. It is difficult to achieve the right tone in such blogs. Achievement creates respect up to a point. Beyond that point it starts to reek of triumphalism, simultaneously crashing the spirit. For the most part I’m sure it’s unintentional and has been one or two heroes, making their handicaps a source of inspiration. But for others it’s the desperation such efforts can invoke that worries me.

Dismiss it if you will. I am no athlete and you could legitimately decry my observations as the ramblings of a sofa dweller. Perhaps you’re right and my more balanced appraisal (read pessimistic if you wish) is the one to avoid. Patients will work things out for themselves in the fullness of time. Some need more help than others. For some patients, a sharp dose of reality will derail the train. . But in the end the journey will always have rocky elements and it will be hard to hold the line if you don’t have the mental resources to do so. Listen to fellow patients, absorb their experience and prepare your own to help you best equip for the journey. Engage with your Parkinson’s because, as sure as night follows day, it is going to engage with you.

My own feeling, and perhaps it’s the scientist in me still, is that the greater breadth of information available to the patient facilitates more poised and reasoned decision making during the course of the illness. And yes, there will be a lot of that. Decisions, that is.

Start making them now.

Sex and food

Yes I thought that will get your attention.

I’ve come to realise that most wildlife photography is fundamentally about food and sex. No, I don’t mean breakfast in bed or offering the last of the After Eight to the wife before testing the bed springs to destruction. Wildlife photography calls for extraordinary patience and stoicism from its practitioners. Sometimes filming in hostile environments simply in order to make a particular point may be essential to illustrate a particular argument. Sometimes a given shot presents itself on a platter more or less. Sometimes in the case of wildlife literally so. But mostly

Every year, my elder daughter and I visit the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition at the Natural History Museum. It’s become a habit. The judges, some half-dozen photographers, biologists and researchers are, every year, tasked with sifting more than 30,000 photographs in 16 categories, everything from the sex life of Southern Right Whales (believe me, if you were a diver, you would not wish to be caught in the middle of that) to animals eating each other.

Whether we like it or not, many animals eat other animals, in many cases while still alive. The Yucatan rat snake devouring a bat (Fernando Constantino Martinez Belmar) is sufficient to put you off your lunch. Equally, the battle between the grizzly bears and sockeye salmon seems unequal with such vividly red fish (Adam Rice). Nature seems to have screwed up here. Obviously the magnificent crimson helps to attract a mate and comes in handy further up the stream. But it also makes you a very attractive seafood platter as far as the bears are concerned. Far be it from me to question the Almighty’s plans but I can’t help thinking that staying a murky sort of khaki colour whilst passing the bears and then changing into your cardinal costume would be a better gig. You obviously make a much less attractive suitor when missing a head for instance. But then I suppose we wouldn’t have bears since the salmon are their main diet.

Bears are naturally inquisitive, polar bears particularly so. Dmitri Koth’s image of a polar bear gazing out of a derelict building’s window with a sort of watching-the-world-though-by expression makes him look particularly cuddly and not in any respect the murderous apex predator he actually is. If you want cuddly, Douglas Kimesy’s lockdown adoption of the wombats fits the bill nicely.

All of animal life is there, from intimate little moments to big broad brush commentaries on deforestation or sweeping vistas of wildebeest on migration. If I’m honest, I am not crazy about bugs, even very colourful bugs. Same goes for the bizarre underwater spiders and jellyfish. Very pretty, lots of colours, really not my thing.

Some pictures made me angry. A Brydes whale being choked by discarded fishing net (Judith van der Griendt) or a spectacled bear puzzled at his diminished environment (Daniel Mideros) some were somehow redeeming. My personal favourite was of a 13 year old mountain gorilla,Ndakasi, dying peacefully of a virus in a park ranger’s arms.

Perhaps most remarkable are the photographs taken by children, some 10 years and younger. And often with spectacularly expensive kit. It probably says more about my innate cynicism that makes me question the authenticity of such pictures. Put another way, who set up the shot? Who pressed the shutter. Or perhaps it’s just jealousy of such talent. But I can’t help feeling that the parents of Amaya Shah (close-up picture of two male lions) were somewhat abrogating their responsibilities in allowing Amaya within only a few metres of the lions, however cuddly they appeared. Apex predators. My mother would shoo away small terriers in the street, let alone lions. And Jack Russells are not apex predators. Not by a long chalk.

Living and loving

The end of one year and the start of another are usually all the stimulus I require to rattle off a motivational piece for the forthcoming year, summarising our hopes and fears and offering some kind of action plan for the New Year.

I might even share a few resolutions with you, idle baubles of self esteem. I could perhaps tell you that I plan to lose weight although, having heard this every single year for the last decade so, I imagine this has a pretty hollow ring. I adore my hobbies – glassmaking, photography, writing, genealogy and crafts generally – and like to find time for each. Alas this means spreading myself too thinly to achieve any kind of excellence in any. I am ultimately a jack of all trades and master of none. I make glass in bright colours, vivid and sometimes beautiful pieces, often kiln-formed or embellished. But nothing that this stands up against the work of my friends in that mighty class of 2003. Cathy, Ray and Lesley – these are the genuine article, the real McCoy. To have exhibited once with them was the highlight of my glass endeavours.

In many ways, photography has served as a substitute for glassmaking, becoming my preferred outlet for my fomenting creativity. I even had the hubris to publish a book of my favourite snaps, along with this descriptions and anecdotes that made it (erroneously, mind) seem like a top end gallery catalogue and not the overcoloured and gaudy offering it was. So yes, in answer to your unasked (and probably unthought) question, I can take decent photographs but there are many better.

I registered for two adult Ed courses this year. The first, on basic pottery techniques, was so dull and uninteresting I never returned after the first session. The class consisted of a mixture of bored housewives and strident tattooed harridans with “Fuck Off” T-shirts and battle fatigue camouflage trousers. It wasn’t for me.

The photography class was cancelled before I had the chance to walk out. A general lack of interest I gather.

Of course joining adult education courses is one route to finding that “soulmate”, marginally less cringingly awful than Internet dating – I’ve got to the stage where I can read the other party’s disappointment before even reaching that embarrassing peck on the cheek or firm handshake decision.

It turns out that the world is not populated with statuesque, raven haired beauties of sapiosexual disposition. And in such that are, they mainly seek those of equivalent intellect and not someone whose prize boast is the possession of his own teeth (mostly). I am obviously not over egging the pudding. On the single occasion this last year when, fuelled by a cocktail of Sinemet and strong Belgian lager, I actually asked a girl out – a beautiful Italian neurologist – such, her dismissal was so crushing, flagging up the admittedly unanswerable issue of my age (around double that of hers). My younger daughter even helped douse the flames of ardour by casually dismissing said lady as “way out of your league dad”.

We are born fools and die fools. It’s only that bit in the middle that separates us all. I think that’s probably why I write. When I write, I can create a world, or a person, more perfect. I often don’t. Even when holding the creative tiller, I find the path of self-destruction pulls me nearer. – plus ca change,,,

My vestigial cricket career is now at an end. Battery pack in chest and electrodes in brain put paid to that. Now I am a member of the Bayham and Lamberhurst Bowls club. I have the shirt, trousers and a set of woods. And a new bunch of friends, a genteel group who are as encouraging as one could hope to meet. Ron, Jo, Roy, Kevin, Ian and more Johns than you could shake a finger at. What draws me to bowls? I think it’s the pace of the game (that’s low not fast), the precision and the relative lack of crowd violence and hooliganism. You don’t get a lot of that at a bowls match

We are living in a couple world. We singletons are the object of derision and/or pity, neither very attractive. So yes, I shall continue to write, make glass, write songs, take photos and what have you. It fills the days. And, incredibly at age 65 I flatter myself that I still have something left in the tank, something still to give.

A month ago I had a bad car crash, wrote off the Jag and thankfully missed everybody else. Nobody was hurt. On the other hand, the destruction amounted to a topiary fence, lock-up garage, telegraph pole and police surveillance camera. The lady who helped extract me from the wreckage said “you have one hell of a guardian angel!” Even the police officer said I should be dead. I think it was an opinion not a preference he was expressing…

So, if you’ll forgive me, I don’t plan on tough challenging resolutions for the New Year. I shall keep them simple:

1) try to stay alive.
2) try to find a nice companion to share that time (and they don’t even have to be raven haired goddesses)
3) try not to kill other people.

I don’t think that’s setting the bar too high.

Okay that’s probably enough vague ramblings. Feel free to quote this drivel back to me next year when my primary achievement will doubtless be watching four hours of daytime television each day. Please God, no.

Why the nurses had to strike

I come from a family of health workers – nurses, paramedics, doctors, pharmacists and medical researchers. My own mother was a nurse and my father a doctor. To see nurses on strike is heartbreaking. But to understand the reasons is even more so. I’m told that nursing pay has fallen by around 20% over the last decade in real terms. This is not a political issue – it has fallen under both Labour and Conservative governments. It is simply a wilful failure to recognise or understand what nurses do – because, if they did understand, they would of course wish to reflect their commitment to their patients with salaries appropriate to their skills and learning.

Or so you might think. Even Boris Johnson, acknowledging that he owed his life after Covid infection to the actions of nurses he even went so far as naming publicly, became amnesic when asked about salaries in the sector. Cheaper to praise than to pay.

There are even those, unbelievable though it seems, who see fit to criticise nurses To hear nurses criticised by those who have never emptied a bedpan in their lives, changed a septic dressing or held a dying person’s hand is particularly galling. This is the first time nurses have gone on strike. Try to imagine how desperate they must be to do so. Desperate enough to leave the health service in many cases. Over the last year alone more than 40,000 nurses have left the NHS.

Parliament is full of specious reasons why nurses cannot be payed more. Most cynically risible up of all – the country cannot afford to increase their salaries – is palpably absurd. Over the last decade MP salaries have risen by 28% (from £65,738 £84,144. Nursing salaries, in real terms, have fallen by more than 20%.

Six years ago, I was taken as an emergency by ambulance to hospital and operated on. I was in hospital for a week, nursed by a team of nurses. Three years ago I was involved in a pretty horrible car crash which broke bones. It took weeks of nursing before I was back to something approaching normal. A year ago I had some very specialist brain surgery done (and no, I was not having a brain inserted). I was nursed, in rotation by some six nurses. I would not be alive were it not for nurses.

So before you criticise them ask yourself this one question. What do you do on any day of your life that matches what they do on every day of their life?

Now watch this video. It will help you understand

Supporting the wonky donkeys

It’s that time of year when the clatter of charity boxes fills the air as so many charities compete for our attention. Especially this year, when we can barely afford to feed ourselves, the charities seen especially sharp pricks to the conscience. Just when we were beginning to be comfortable with the idea of cutting back on superfluous expenditure – and that includes for the purposes of this discussion charity donations – than we are accosted by earnest young men called Tristan or Sebastien in floral tabards outside Sainsbury’s, anxious to explain the importance of the charity and why it should be particularly deserving of our support.

In case you ever need to know about providing proper treatment for traumatised donkeys (or it comes up as a question in the pub quiz) PTSD is rife amongst the retired donkey population.


And when questioned by Tristan about the lives of these donkeys, he paints (with the help of a folder filled with pictures of some very glum donkeys). I reach for a fiver in my pocket. He reacts like a Bateman cartoon, affronted that I should do something so vulgar. No, he wants me to sign up to pay a pound a month or whatever it is.

I’m happy to hand over a fiver to assuage my conscience but I balk at making a long-term commitment to Eeyore. Tristan doesn’t give up that easily. He assures me that I can cancel at any time. But then Sky said much the same and it’s taken me nearly a month to rid myself of the last vestiges of them and their satanic satellites. I reassure Tristan that I am interested in supporting these unhappy ungulates but I will need to check out some details first on their website. Apparently they don’t have a website. Peals of alarm bells ring out.

The same day I am approached by the Cats protection league (I didn’t know there was such a thing), a charity aiming to rehouse immigrant families down on their luck, one about rare childhood cancers, and the usual Injured Jockeys Association, Cure Parkinson’s and RNLI.

A total, including the nondigital donkeys, of seven charities in one day. So what do you do? A fiver to each (or at least those who will take your money)? Or should I give more to some than others? Who is the more deserving? And how could you even begin to decide?

Let’s have a go. Bottom of the pile is the Cats protection league. Well, and this should bring down the hate mail like lava from a volcano, I don’t give them a very high ranking. I should probably declare my hand here. I don’t like cats. Never have. Had it been dogs, that would be different. But cats go to the bottom of the pile. For the moment at least.

What comes next? I guess it has to be the donkeys. On the basis that we should probably put human charities above animals. Or should we? I have watched jockeys in action and not been impressed. Whipping animals bred purely for our pleasure as a vehicle for betting doesn’t seem to me to be something I would wish to support. I don’t wish injury on anyone but horses are relatives of donkeys and I feel the need to strike a blow for the donkeys. Sorry jockeys, wrong place at the wrong time. You are now nestling between the cats and the donkeys.

Okay, the next rung on the ladder of misery is probably the RNLI. I think really this harks back to our imperialist yearnings propped up by a long naval tradition. Don’t get me wrong – the RNLI does indeed do a wonderful job for those who need it. But how many actually do? How many people each year are rescued by lifeboats? It’s somewhere in the region of 400 lives (human) each year saved by the lifeboats. And some animals although I don’t have a breakdown for donkeys.

Parkinson’s? I can hardly be expected to answer that one. Yes, Parkinson’s is indeed rubbish. It’s no fun to have. So yes I would like to see a cure. That would prevent more than a thousand deaths each year. But is it more deserving somehow than the 400 saved by the lifeboats. Parkinson’s is, after all (and we can argue over the details as much as we like) still mainly a disease of old age, of people who have had some sort of life at least. I don’t know for a fact but I guess that most of those lives saved by lifeboats are probably younger people, adventurers given a second chance.

You have to factor in quality of life, duration of life saved and the whole bundle of other policy assessments that make for some very heavy mathematics. And if you go down that route, where do you put the rare childhood cancers? Many of those lives are snuffed out so early that it is impossible to assess what they might have become. But there are very few. Should I factor that into my calculations? I just wish I had paid more attention in bioethics class.

Humans and animals? It’s not really possible to answer these questions. Do you distribute your dosh proportionally, giving more to childhood cancer research than unwanted moggies? And what about those website-free donkeys? Or do we ignore distribution and simply give whatever we have in our pockets to whoever appears in front of us?

Don’t ask me. These are questions for God and gods.

In any case, I love cats. But I can never finish a whole one…

Those competitive Stamfords

When I was sent to boarding school at Marlborough, it was instilled in us from day one that we were expected to be competitive both academically and on the playing fields and athletics track. I needed no telling. For the previous 13 years my father had instilled in me his intense competitive streak.

“It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part” my mother would counterpoint in order to perhaps blunt my father’s innate competitiveness. My father’s notion of competition was very much along the lines of lots of boys taking part in sporting events but with the Stamfords winning. This in turn became his own personal mantra some years later of “family first, everyone else nowhere”. There was no sporting or competitive event too small for him to take an interest if there was a better than evens chance of winning. Before the egg and spoon race, he would check out the eggs and spoons for the appropriate weight, shape and degree of depth and brief his offspring accordingly.

“Okay Jonathan, it’s a shallow teaspoon with a size 3 hens egg, slightly blunted. Try to get thee speckled one. Don’t go off too fast – let the others go ahead at a faster pace. Their eggs will fall off. Keep your speed steady but not maximum. Look to close in over the last ten yards. Got it?”

I nodded. I was four.

I tried to focus but with the best will in the world it was a lot of information to take in for a four year old. If I won I would get a brief but affectionate tousling of the hair. If I lost I got my mother’s voice instead with the bit about taking part. Either way I would still get my father’s analysis.

And God help us if we stepped outside the rules (even of the egg and spoon race). He abhorred cheating. Competition meant nothing if you cheated. Stern dressing downs followed any whiff of impropriety, any hint of a misdemeanour. He would punish us with that most brutal of sanctions, his disinterest. He would take no further interest in any sport or competition in which we had cheated. Which was very very few.

But it worked. I am competitive in many areas of life – in sport (stop laughing), research et cetera. Even writing – I want my writing to be appreciated, for it to be competitive with the best. I know I’m not there yet. I can think of plenty of writers whose books I admire but know that I cannot reach their pinnacles. But I try. I am my father’s son. I hope I have inherited the best of him and not the more tetchy withdrawn version of his last few years as a widower. It was not how he wanted it.

I make my father sound a tyrant, remote and disengaged. Nothing could be further from the truth. He had ways of rewarding us children with his interest. He had a way of making our world his. If we were interested in cricket or football he would make sure he was knowledgeable enough to be part of the conversation. He would ask for my thoughts on Edrich or Boycott as openers for England, whether Tommy Smith was too impetuous at full-back for Liverpool, whether it would be Connors or Rosewall at Wimbledon.

What we didn’t realise was that he was sharpening our social skills. He despised knee-jerk responses to questions. He wanted us to reason and argue. It was an education far greater than I was aware of at the time. Those lessons have stuck with me throughout my life. And those of my brother and sister.

And we are competitive even within the family. For instance I played intermittently for my local village’s 4th XI. My brother had a trial for Yorkshire, even bowling a future test opener in his short spell. My son appears to have acquired his uncle’s rather than his father’s cricketing skills.

Basically, we were competitive kids and became competitive adults.

I don’t know why I seem to have exempted my mother from all this, perhaps conveying – erroneously as it happens – the notion that she believed only in taking part. But in her own ways she was every bit as fierce a competitor. A game of Scrabble or canasta brought out the worst in her. She took defeat badly and was known to upend the Scrabble table when facing defeat.

Only once did she accept a defeat when playing an ageing Dowager aunt from Pietermaritzburg who played Scrabble to an almost international level. She would visit us for a month every summer, driving my mother to distraction and subjecting her to daily linguistic beatings. On the last day of her holiday before we shipped the old bat out to South Africa again, my mother had the letters in her hand to win the game but generously and perhaps wisely chose not to win. I still don’t think that aunt Ivy was quite ready for CLITORIS across a triple word score.