Fargo

“This is a true story.  The events depicted took place in Minnesota in 2011.  At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed.  Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.” Welcome to Fargo where all is not what it seems.

The latest series of Fargo dealt with a story as old as time.  Brothers, jealousy, death and money.  You can’t get any more ancient than that.  Yet it was the ending that was so brilliant.  The big baddie of the piece V.M. Varga, who is a Brummie of course, is finally caught by a freshly promoted Gloria Burgle who now works for the Department of Homeland Security.  Gloria revels in telling Varga the fate that awaits him.  Locked up in Rikers Island with no hope of parole.  Justice will be duly served.  Varga has other ideas.  He mocks Gloria for her naivety.  He is the grease that keeps the corrupt world we live in turning.  He calmly informs her that someone far superior to her will walk through the door, have a quiet word and he will be free to go on his merry way.  Gloria isn’t convinced.  Varga insists it will happen.  The camera then focuses on the door.  Who will come through?  Will it be Gloria’s federal agents or Varga’s evil overlords?  We are left hanging.

I had a similar experience in the eye clinic.  Well sort of anyway.  Last week I received an appointment to go to the eye clinic on Saturday at 1:30pm. Welcome to the seven day a week NHS folks!  Lovely but I had another appointment at the eye clinic in two weeks’ time to discuss my operation.  Maybe they had brought it forward?  I didn’t recognise the name of the consultant, so I was hopeful.

After the obligatory eye test, it is the eye clinic after all, I sat and like Varga, awaited my fate.  When the door opened it was… Mrs T. Great.  She ushered me in.  I mentioned the operation.  She wasn’t interested in the slightest.  She asked me about the cancer.  I wasn’t interested in telling my story for the umpteenth time.  We had reached a stalemate.  She wasn’t interested in me and I wasn’t interested in her.  Yet there was a chink.  She booked a scan to check the nerves in my eye.  That could be good and quite useful for the surgeon.  I explained I was on holiday the week following the appointment.  She snorted.  Did I really think the scan would happen that quickly?  She said that she would see me in three months’ time.  Not before I see someone who can actually help me first.

The League Of Gentlemen

Life seems to be becoming ever more like the life in Royston Vasey.  For the uninitiated, Royston Vasey is the fictional town where the League of Gentlemen is set.  The League of Gentleman was a comedy series that followed the lives of several of the citizens of Royston Vasey.  Many of the characters have weirdly morphed into real life.  The most obvious example of this are Tubbs and Edward who run the local shop for local people.  Extreme Brexiteers before the term was even formulated.

My favourite character has to be Pauline.  Pauline is horrific.  Pauline, brilliantly played by Steve Pemberton, is the tutor of the finding a job programme at the Job Centre.  She enjoys the power she has over the job seekers and regularly threatens to stop their benefits if they question her in anyway.

There are certain similarities between Pauline and my line of work.  In the first episode, she asks the group to shout out names of jobs, only to tell them they don’t have a hope in hell in getting any of them.  This was quite like a class where I got my learners to do an A to Z of jobs, although I wasn’t quite as dismissive about their job prospects.

Pauline shows how ridiculous some of these courses are.  Mickey, one of Pauline’s jobseekers, gets an interview.  However, it’s in the middle of the course.  Pauline threatens to stop his benefits if he goes to the interview as he must finish the course first.  Sadly, this mirrors what happens in reality.  On our courses, if a learner is enrolled to do an exam, there is an expectation that the learner will sit that exam come hell or high water.  If the learner gets a job, becomes ill, has a baby, we are expected to drag them in to complete the course and do the exam.  It’s all about the spread sheet darling.

The spread sheet has spread into all aspects of life.  Obviously when you are dealing with inanimate objects, they serve a purpose.  Yet humans aren’t like that.  Humans change.  We are an evolving species after all.  Yet the gap between those who scrutinise the spread sheet and those who are on the frontline gets wider and wider.

It’s all been a bit quiet on the health front recently, spread sheets aside.  However, the drooling is getting worse and worse.  I went to a concert with my sister in Hyde Park.  We tried to take the obligatory selfie.  I looked awful.  “Try opening your mouth a little.” I did. I still looked awful.  So now I have become like Mariah Carey in photos.  Mariah Carey is famous for never showing the left side of her face.  If it’s good enough for Mariah, it’s good enough for me.  Bring on the face lift!

Bucket List

Thanks to Mr Facebook, I know that it has been two years since I was attached to a handsome man and jumped out of a plane.  It wasn’t quite the experience I was expecting.  I did it because I am quite lazy and couldn’t be bothered to train for anything exhausting like a marathon.  The first man who ever ran a marathon, died straight afterwards.  That’s all you need to know about my view on marathon running.

Anyway, inspired by memories of Janet Ellis on Blue Peter leaping out of planes, I thought why not?  It’ll be over quick.  Everyone I spoke to who had done a sky dive kept saying how amazing it was.  A few were envious that I had had the opportunity to do it.  The allotted hour arrived and there I was, sat between the legs of a very attractive parachute instructor in a rickety plane, that kept climbing higher and higher.  Everyone in the plane seemed very chilled.

“Right. I’m off then…” said a jolly bloke as he jumped through the open hatch, like he was popping out to Tesco’s.

Then it was our turn.  I had stupidly paid for a video of the occasion which was a huge error.  I dangled my legs out of the hatch, with a loon who had a camera fixed on his head asking me how I was feeling every five seconds.  The instructor slowly shuffled forward and soon I was dangling under the plane. Then we dropped…

When we landed, the camera loon ran up.

“So, how was it?!?”

“Interesting… I think I might be sick…”

Not exactly the answer he was hoping for.  I was quickly disentangled and made to put my head between my knees.  I felt a lot better after that.

Sky diving is often high on people’s bucket lists.  I’m a bit dubious about bucket lists.  It’s all a bit organised for me. The best fun and experiences are the ones that are unplanned and spontaneous. The planning aspect somehow, takes the joy away from that, for me anyway.

I was in two minds before doing my sky dive.  I had started going to a women’s cancer group and one of the women in the group, Lou, persuaded me to do it.  Lou and I got on well from the start.  We shared a similar taste in humour.  Lou had breast cancer and found out that she had the BRAC-2 gene, made famous by Angelina Jolie.

“Believe you me that is the one and only thing I have in common with Angelina Jolie.  Mind you if she ever fancies trading Brad in…”

When I first mentioned the sky dive, she urged me to do it, just to ogle at the instructors at least.

“They are all gorgeous!”

A week after the sky dive, Lou took a turn for the worse and was admitted to hospital.  I went to see her.  She was in a bad way and was drifting in and out of consciousness.  Her mum asked how the sky dive went.  I told my story of it and I thought I could see Lou smile in the corner of my eye.  Lou’s mum asked who the instructor was. It turned out that Lou had done a sky dive five year previous with the same instructor.

“He was absolutely gorgeous!”

Sadly, Lou died the next week.  Myself and another woman from the group decided to go to her funeral.  Lou lived in a small village on the outskirts of Nottingham.  My Sat Nav failed big time and we were ten minutes late for the service.  As soon as we ran into the church, the vicar was finishing the eulogy.

“Lou was quite often late for things.  She would rush in apologising which made her even more endearing…”

You could almost hear Lou muttering,

“Honestly you two, what muppets!”

Glastonbury

Yes, it’s that time of year again.  The indoctrination that everyone is having a truly fantastic, awesome, lifechanging experience on a farm in Somerset.  If the wall to wall coverage is anything to go by, we at home are missing out big time.  However, all is not what is seems at Worthy Farm.

I went to Glastonbury twenty years ago.  I had graduated from university so thought why not?  Getting tickets weren’t a problem.  They were £65.  I think I got them from a record shop in Leicester.  None of this photo ID and registration malarkey.  I went with my friend Sooze who fortunately, had a tent and camping experience.  So off we set on a chartered coach from Victoria Coach Station with high hopes.

When we got there, the security was quite tight.  The previous year a lot of gate crashers had climbed over the fence.  It got so bad that Michael Eavis had said that is the same thing happened at the next festival, he would scrap the thing altogether.  We had been told so we were on our best behaviour.

Once we were in the next question was where to camp?  I had no idea.  Thankfully Sooze decided upon a location that was on top of a slope, quite close to the loos and a five minute walk from some shops and food vans.  I wasn’t too happy about being so near to the loos, but we thought we would stay put for the night and maybe move in the morning.  As we settled down for the night we were unaware of the dark clouds arriving.

The next day we woke up to a quagmire.  It had rained all night and there was mud everywhere.  I had bought no boots as I had optimistically, packed sandals and factor 15.  My first mission was to acquire some wellies.  This was done at a premium and then we could survey the damage.  As we were at the top of the slope, our tent was still secure.  As we made our way down the slope towards the Pyramid stage, the worse the situation became.  Tents had been washed away.  There were people who only had the clothes that they had slept in and nothing else.  It was like a disaster zone.

This was a time before mobile phones so there was no way of letting loved ones know that we were fine.  Our parents had to rely on really startling news reports that were showing mud of biblical proportions and not much else. That first day was pretty grim.  We trudged to the Pyramid Stage.  The Other Stage had sunk, so all performances on that, were cancelled.  On the Pyramid Stage were The Levellers.  For a band who were named after a band of revolting peasants, they weren’t really showing much comradery with their common man.  They had Hawaiian shirts on and seemed to be taunting the crowd.  Mud was chucked at them.  The atmosphere changed to something quite dark.

“I think we should go…” said Sooze.

The Levellers finished their set.  Beck was on next.  I knew a bit about Beck but not much.  But he was a revelation.  As soon as he came on, the darkness lifted.  Beck is more than a musician, but an artist.  His performance include dance, DJing and music from every genre imaginable.  More crucially it reminded us why we were all there in the first place.

After that, the rest of the festival was amazing.  Radiohead were magical.  I’ll always remember watching No Surprises while fireworks were going off.  Not huge New Year Eve type fireworks, but little bursts of colour that matched the music perfectly.  We tried to go shopping for wet weather gear and ended up raving in a clothes shop, which can only happen at Glastonbury.  The decision to be near the loos was genius.  You could hear them being cleaned each morning so we could time our morning ablutions to perfection.  On the Saturday, we worked out we had stood for more than eleven hours solid. There was nowhere to sit because of the mud but we didn’t notice at all.

I nearly went again in 2011.  However, I was still suffering from the trauma of radiotherapy to be fit enough to go.  Although I regretted not going, nothing could ever better that awesome Glastonbury of 1997.

Man Vs Food

Could he, do it?  Could he really eat a burger the size of his head?  After half an hour of build-up, we had to find out.  Welcome to the world of Man Vs Food.

Man Vs Food is one man’s odyssey around the US of A sampling the delights that American cuisine has to offer through the various eating challenges some restaurants have to draw in the punters.  This man goes by the name of Adam Richman.  He is charm personified.  His enthusiasm for food, kitchens, America and life in general has a magnetic draw. You can’t help but cheer him on in his quest.  It’s a great programme showing the diversity of American food.  It’s easy to dismiss American food as all burgers, fries, terrible chocolate and enough sweet stuff to fire a power station.  Yet America is a huge country.  I remember being told once that the distance from New York to LA is the same as from London to Baghdad.  A country so vast must have a lot of diversity within it.

In Man Vs Food, you see amazing seafood from the north-eastern states, Mexican inspired food from the south west, Texan steaks and a never-ending supply of hot wings and other barbecue food matter.  One of the best Man Vs Food came from Puerto Rico, which is part of the States, but somehow isn’t.  Yet Adam and all of us viewers, were bowled over by how amazing the cuisine was as well as the warmth of its people.

America gets a hard rap from most people.  Sometimes this is wholly justified especially where foreign affairs are concerned.  But it is an amazing country.  It has deserts, mountains, swamps and glorious beaches.  It’s quite understandable that two thirds of Americans don’t possess a passport.  They don’t need to go anyway, they have everything they need.

Food is a contentious issue in cancer.  Don’t eat sugar. Don’t eat bacon. Don’t drink caffeine. Every week there seems to be a different bit of advice. It’s a tough call as food is a very personal thing.  We live in a time now where eating is something to feel guilty about.

My cancer has affected my eating.  Thanks to the surgery on my mouth, I can’t open my mouth very wide.  I feel a pang of jealousy every time I see Adam deliver a huge bite into a burger, sandwich or burrito.  My big biting days are sadly over.  It also takes me longer to eat food. This can be a bit awkward, especially in restaurants.  On the plus side, as I’m chewing my food more, the portions I have, have reduced drastically.  Whether this is good or not, time will tell.

I am now a messy eater.  This is something I relish.  I see some people that I eat with recoil sometimes when I am eating.  Rather than be ashamed by this, I get a perverse enjoyment from their discomfort.  This is because, like Adam, I think that food should be enjoyed.  How can you enjoy food without getting a bit messy in a while? Adam often has hot sauce smeared over his face, which he wipes off with the back of his hand, before taking another chunk out of whatever it is he’s eating.  It’s pure enjoyment, plain and simple.

We are lucky to live in a country where food is in abundance.  You could say that programmes like Man Vs Food seems to show the dark side of this where gluttony is celebrated.  Yet food makes people happy.  If you feel like a piece of cake, have that piece of cake.  Just don’t eat the whole cake…

Murder She Wrote

Murder She Wrote is a staple of daytime TV all over the world.  It’s the one programme I’ve seen in both Thai and Czech, which was an interesting experience.  It seems odd that most crime shows involve people solving the crime, who aren’t qualified to do so.  I blame Sherlock Holmes.  He started it.  He went about his investigations in such an arrogant and original way, that he became the go to blue print for modern detectives today.

Now there’s a whole army of these vigilantes going around, sticking their oar in.  Image if that happened in real life?  The Met are investigating a brutal murder when up pops Father Brown to save the day.

There are some parallels with this and healthcare. When you go for an appointment, quite often you a met by Jessica Fletcher rather than DCI Tennyson.  On the surface, there is nothing wrong with Jessica Fletcher.  She solves the crime and everyone is happy.  Yet something is missing.  Police work is often quite boring.  Trawling through phone records and CCTV to get the evidence to prove your case.  But Jessica glosses over that.  Instead it’s all a big adventure.

This is why encountering a Jessica Fletcher in your appointment can be annoying.  They don’t know the detail.  Details are everything in healthcare.  When was your last scan?  What medication are you on?  When was your last blood test? Jessica Fletcher ignores all this.  She wants you out of that room as quickly as possible.  Yet she’s not horrible.  She wants you to feel better.  She is a doctor after all.  Yet when you are spat out at the other end, you are still left with your questions unanswered, bewildered in the waiting room.

That was exactly how I was feeling after all my to-ing and fro-ing in the eye clinic.  No one really knew or cared about the nitty gritty.  Just keep dolling out the eye drops and all was good.  Frustrated I phoned Melissa, my cancer care nurse in ENT.  She was sympathetic.   Within a week, she arranged an appointment for me to see my oncologist and a plastic surgeon at the end of the month.  Simples.  Hopefully now DCI Tennyson would be on the case…

Columbo

Columbo is like Marmite.  You either love it or hate it. Columbo always reminds me of rainy Sundays with my mum concentrating intently, while knitting away.  My mum loved Columbo.  I think this was because you found out who did the murder in the first half an hour of the programme.  With other whodunits, mum would usually fall asleep half way through.  It would be annoying explaining to her the next day who did what.

My favourite Columbo episode involved William Shatner of Star Trek fame.  In it he played a wine buff.  The two of them had a wine tasting face off in the last scene where you were unsure which wine was poisoned.  Seeing two such experienced actors play off against each other was great for a Sunday afternoon.  Of course, Columbo knew exactly what was going on and off went Shatner, hand cuffs and all.

I like William Shatner.  He seems a man who doesn’t take himself too seriously.  I read his autobiography a couple of years ago.  It’s a good insight into the temporary nature of the acting business.  Shatner’s coping mechanism of dealing with rejections that came his way was to shrug it off and keep on plugging away. Our family have a slight claim to fame involving Mr Shatner.  My mum’s cousin shared a room with him while at uni in Canada.  This was a while ago but in his autobiography, Shatner describes his time at uni by “hanging around with cool guys with red sports cars”.  Whether this was cousin Brian or not, is unknown.

My mum also has a quite amazing claim to fame which stunned my husband into silence.  While she was at teacher training college in Loughborough, she popped down to the student union to watch the film that would be playing at their weekly cinema club.  Once she got there, she saw that the film had been cancelled and that a young guitarist would be playing instead.  My mum decided to hang around and see if he was any good.  That guitarist was Jimi Hendrix.  I don’t which fact is more surprising.  The fact that my mum saw Jimi Hendrix in his prime, before he hit the big time or the fact that Jimi Hendrix was in Loughborough.  I wonder what he thought of the East Midlands…

I was once again at another marvellous institution of the East Midlands awaiting my follow up appointment in the eye clinic to see what on earth would be happening. On arriving at the Queen’s Medical Centre, a harassed sounding tram driver told us that unfortunately the lift wasn’t working at the tram stop.  Not a good start. I checked in at the eye clinic, did the usual eye test on arrival and settled down in the waiting area in time for Doctors.

After about half an hour I was beckoned into a room.  I had decided that this time I would use a different strategy.  She had probably already decided what she wanted to say, so I stayed silent.

“How are we today?”

“Fine…” (even though I have half my left eye sewed up, I felt like saying, but didn’t.)

“Right let me look at it then.”

She examined my eye and reported back that it was fine.

“I’d like to see you in three months’ time.  What medication are you on?”

This put me on the spot. I could remember my painkillers and the cancer stuff.  But now I was expected to remember the eye stuff too.

“Urm… something beginning with “L”?”

She frowned.  Surely it must be in my notes! I felt like screaming at her but I kept up the silent treatment.  She scribbled on a prescription pad.  It was barely legible.

“OK.  Here you are and see you in three months.”

“So, I guess the stitches are a permanent thing then.”

“Yes, until you…”

She didn’t need to finish the sentence.  We both know how it ended.

I nodded and left the room.  I smiled one my way to pharmacy.  I had a plan…a very good plan…