Former scientist, now graduated to a life of leisure;
Family man (which may surprise the family - it certainly surprises him);
Likes cycling and old-fashioned B&W film photography;
Dislikes greasy-pole-climbing 'yes men';
Thinks Afterlife (previously known as Thea Gilmore) should be much better known than she is;
Values decency over achievement.
Some lines composed whilst basking in reflected glory as one of the support group (ie, providers of a post-race pasta salad) for Team Ellen after her terrific performance in yesterday’s ‘Run Balmoral’ Stena 10K…
An athlete was once heard to say That to run in the Stena 10K Would make you feel ill By the top of ‘the hill’ And from then it’s downhill all the way!
Warning: there is a bit of a rant coming up, so just scroll down for the limerick if that is all you are interested in!
In the late 1970s, the then British Rail ran an advertising campaign that gives this post its header: The Age of the Train. One of its straplines was “Let the train take the strain”, something that drew derision despite the successful introduction of the Intercity 125 High Speed Train service during that period. My personal experience of using the Intercity 125 in those days is that it was, indeed, a good service.
I wish I could say the same of my recent experience with the fragmented UK franchise-based rail network. Out of three return journeys in the last couple of years, only one has been uneventful.
The most recent was on a flying visit to the Matriarch’s house in Kendal a week ago to finish off a bit of DIY that I’d failed to complete a couple of weeks earlier. Having made the return journey from Aberdeen to the English Midlands and Lake District by car on rather too many occasions in recent months, I thought that for my latest trip south I’d “Let the train take the strain“. Big mistake!
My journey involved two changes on both the outward and return legs. For the outward trip the first leg was from Aberdeen to Edinburgh with LNER. The second leg was from Edinburgh to Oxenholme with TransPennine Express and the third, a short trip along the Windermere branch line from Oxenholme to Kendal with Northern Rail. The return journey mirrored the outward one. (I can already sense the anticipatory laughter coming from those readers that have personally experienced those franchises.)
So, on reaching Aberdeen station to travel south, I learned that I would be travelling on a rail replacement bus. One, it turned out, that had a very grumpy driver and no working toilet (perhaps the two were related?). I hate travelling by coach and, if I had wanted to sit on one for three hours, then I would have booked it and not a train. So much for a smooth rail journey, but at least I made my connection in Edinburgh. Unfortunately, I never made the following connection due to my next train’s late arrival at Oxenhome. It was mid-evening and pouring down (it was the Lake District after all), so rather than wait at least an hour for the next branch line train, I called a taxi.
The following day my DIY job was finished with great elan (if I say so myself) and I left Kendal soon after only to find that both the Oxenhome to Edinburgh and Edinburgh to Aberdeen trains on which I had reserved seats … were cancelled. Apparently I can claim some recompense for the cost of my tickets, but that does not go anywhere close to making up for the inconvenience, the time wasted, or the additional cost of taxis.
When British Rail was privatised, its management lobbied for a single entity covering rolling stock and track. Instead, the Conservative government followed the ruinous plans of a right wing think tank (#nothoughtinvolved) by initially creating a fragmented system of seven passenger rail franchises and, later, 25 (these figures are from Wikipedia, so caveat emptor, but you get the gist). If the franchises make money, their customers get screwed as their executives and shareholders lap it up, and if they don’t make money, well, they just hand the franchise back and walk away seemingly without cost or penalty. As for improved performance under such a fragmented system? Let’s just say that press reports suggest that my most recent experience is commonplace.
Here’s the limerick
As the rail franchise once again fails Déjà vu is all that prevails “Let the train take the strain” Is the fatuous refrain As your journey goes clean off the rails!
Many years ago I was on holiday in Brussels with la famille. We often took the Metro to visit the sights on offer and, whilst at one stop, a very elderly couple got on. Our carriage had standing room only and no-one offered them their seats, so I motioned to Firstborn and suggested that we stand and give them ours.
The couple were both wizened and, I suspect, neither was used to the locals offering-up their seats. They had heard me speaking in English and the lady said ‘thank you’ in what seemed to be the only English that she knew, possibly learned from a film adaptation of Dickens or from Eliza Doolittle before she met ‘enry ‘iggins.
So, that is how I came to be addressed by an elderly, petite Belgian woman, speaking English with a Cockney accent, as she said “Gawd bless you, sir”. It made my day!
In contrast, my day was ‘unmade’ yesterday as I stood in a crowded bus travelling down Union Street in Aberdeen. I know the young woman meant well when she offered me her seat, but my angst must have been clear as I politely declined whilst thinking to myself, “Surely I don’t look THAT old!”.
It was a ‘first’, but I’m also vain enough to hope that it was also the ‘last’ for a very long time!
Here’s the limerick:
I’m grey-haired, but not lacking conceit, And was happy to stay on my feet So a young lass was told, “I’m not really THAT old!” When she got up to offer her seat!
Postscript: the header to this post comes from lines in The Merchant of Venice where Gratiano proclaims:
“Let me play the fool. With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come. And let my liver rather heat with wine Than my heart cool with mortifying groans”.
This is a longish one, so if you only want the limerick, just scroll to the end.
Regular readers may recall my recent sports-related injury of the is-it-or-isn’t-it-a-hernia variety (it looked like a duck and walked like a duck, but didn’t quack like a duck). The colorectal surgeon to whom I self-referred a few weeks ago wasn’t convinced that it was a hernia (no ‘bulge’ and the pain was a bit far away from where you’d expect it to be in a bloke). Consequently, she referred me for a CT scan both to check for a hernia and to eliminate any other pathology.
The CT scan results were mildly alarming. There was some apparent irregular thickening of the caecum that extended into the ileum (the ileum is the final third of the small intestine and the caecum is where the large and small intestines meet). Irregular thickening of the bowel is not a good sign apparently, so I was referred for an urgent colonoscopy to rule out anything sinister.
Fortunately, there were also some encouraging signs that indicated either a less serious cause of my pain or that any neoplasm, if present, was at an early stage. This was because the CT scan had shown that my abdominal lymph nodes were all less than 1cm long (Dr Google says that, generally, you’d be concerned if they were greater than 1.2cm in length, but less so if they were shorter than 1cm). Also, I’d not lost weight suddenly or unexpectedly, and there were no observable bloodied stools exiting stage right.
So, a colonoscopy was arranged for the week after Hogmanay. That’s not something that would normally be high on anyone’s New Year wishlist, but I have to say it was a fairly benign procedure. The good news was that my innards showed nothing of concern. Although the biopsies have yet to be examined, the consultant was pretty well convinced there was no thickening as suggested by the CT scan, but, simply, a harmless quirk of anatomy.
Once the doctor was happy that everything looked fine, I then got a guided tour of my caecum and terminal ileum courtesy of a handily placed TV screen. One of the ‘quirks’ was that the valve between the ileum and the caecum, the ileocecal valve, was ‘prominent’ (I thought it looked like a sea-squirt!). The other quirk was that the so-called mucosal folds of the large intestine were also prominent (the inner view of the large intestine reminded me of the accordian-like folds of a tumble-drier ventilation hose). As a bonus, I also got to see my appendix from the inside.
Given there was nothing found of obvious concern, I can say with hindsight that the whole process was fascinating. The consultant managed to navigate the endoscope deep into the distal end of my ileum, rounding three right-angled bends, to a total ‘depth’ of 1.6 metres. How they manage that is beyond me!
To ensure that a complete job was done, a number of biopsies were taken at the caecum and the ileum. An open-jawed instrument was placed against the tissue, snapped shut and, literally, ripped away from the intestinal wall. (The clarity of the image that I could see was due to a ‘well-prepared bowel’, ie, two days of fasting, gallons of water drunk and two doses of Picolax on the second day coupled to a frequently visited, adjacent loo.)
I watched the biopsies in real-time, but felt nothing. That was quite weird, as I thought it might nip a bit as I was only on pain relief when they were navigating the camera to the furthest point examined. Once there, there was no apparent need for it. I’d chosen self-administered Entonox (gas and air) rather than a vein-delivered sedative; largely because my other half had rather enjoyed tripping on gas and air during childbirth!
(Some people forego any form of pain relief as, generally, you are told you may experience only mild discomfort, but as I’m a coward with a low pain threshold I chose to get high.)
Consequently, I was only loosely aware of subsequently taking part in what must have been a surreal conversation with the chatty nurse at my head end. Pre-procedure literature had warned that the gas they use to inflate the intestines for observational purposes may make me feel uncomfortable and a bit windy afterwards, so, when asked how I was going to spend the rest of the day, I think I replied: “Farting!”. I can also remember referencing the ‘blood donor’ episode of Hancock’s Half-hour for some reason, but only after ensuring that all present were aware of who he’d been and emphasising that he was only known to me through repeats of his TV show as “even I’m not that old”.
Chatty nurse also asked me what I did for a living. I replied that I was now retired from Aberdeen’s Marine Laboratory, so she let me know that she was friends with a ‘bit of a character’ who worked there. I, of course, then regaled her with some colourful anecdotes about said ‘character’. As I was tripping quite high by then, I sincerely hope that I didn’t mis-remember them or conflate them with tales of other characterful Marine Lab staff (of which there are many).
Having successfully traduced my former colleague whilst lying on my left side, I was asked to change position onto my right side. Chatty nurse missed that manoeuvre as she had left her post for a couple of minutes and, when she returned, exclaimed “Oh, I didn’t see you change sides!”. I’m embarrassed to say that was when I compared myself to a deity: “Oh yes”, I said, “I’m like God – I move in mysterious ways!”.
The final topic of narcotically-induced conversation was the tale of ‘just a little prick, sir’ from many years ago when I’d had the snip. I think that, on this occasion, it must have been the nadir of my story-telling because as soon as I’d finished it they placed the Entonox out of my reach.
So, where to now? In terms of diagnosis, other than counting out a bowel problem, I’m back to square one. When I next see my consultant I’ll perhaps suggest a second look at the CT scan in case an apparent irregularly thickened bowel diverted the radiologist’s focus from a more benign issue that may have been present. If not that, then what?
Here’s the limerick.
A patient lay prone on his side Thinking “Hmm, this is not dignified!” As a doc tried to pass A ‘scope up his ass To a metre and a half deep inside
Postscript: a couple of days after undergoing the colonoscopy, I read a news article that referenced Whitney Houston’s song, Greatest Love of All. I couldn’t help but think it would have ended me completely if, when lying prone with an endoscope a metre and a half up mon derrière in full view of four onlookers, I’d heard her blasting out the lines:
“No matter what they take from me, they can’t take away my dignity!“
Despite this year’s Christmas festivities getting off to a bright start, courtesy of the BBC’s Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s Christmas concert at Aberdeen’s Music Hall, things have gone downhill since.
You see, it is a modern tradition in our house that Firstborn and/or The Tall Child bake a birthday cake for the Paterfamilias (ie, me) on Christmas Eve. Well, it’s after 5pm on the 24th and not an egg has been whisked by an offspring or any flour weighed out.
Fortunately, not all is lost! After (literally) decades of trying to replicate the taste and texture of my Czech grandmother’s festive vanillekipferls (crescent biscuits), I think I’ve finally cracked it!
Here’s the limerick:
On a cold Christmas Eve this year It’s become transparently clear That I’ll soon have to bake My own birthday cake ‘Cos the cooks have failed to appear!
Regular readers will recall that I usually mark this time of year with a reference to the tragic story of Lovell’s Christmas bride and a reminder to look-up my limerick from 2016 that tells the tale succinctly in five lines.
Well, I wasn’t going to remind you any more until I realised that this year, 2022, is the bicentenary of the first published version of the legend; a poem by Samuel Rogers entitled Ginevra. The song most associated with the poem, The Mistletoe Bough, appeared a few years later.
You can read Wikipedia’s version of its history here or, better still, my version here. (Be warned, Wikipedia’s entry does not contain an entertaining, cleverly thought out, humerous and insightful limerick.)
Anyway, 200 years later, I give you this…
The tale of a bride named Ginevra Told of love lost forevra and evra, But her story lives on In folklore and song And a limerick that’s an awful lot clevra!
Here’s a somewhat belated limerick-as-eulogy for the recently departed actor Leslie Phillips. A better thespian than the smooth and rakish image his career landed him with, he was another regular fixture on film and TV during my youth (and for decades after – including a spell voicing the Sorting Hat in the Harry Potter film franchise!).
Here’s the limerick…
“Oh, he-llo” he’d say, “have a drink?” A lecherous fellow, you’d think! Ding dong, you’re not wrong, But now the dings gone And expired with a nod and a wink!
Puzzled by the header to this post? It’s adapted from an exchange between Phillips’ and Liz Fraser’s characters in the film Doctor in Love.
The Doctor series of films (seven in all) was a close relation of the Carry On movie franchise; quite literally in terms of their directors as the Doctor films were directed by Ralph Thomas and the Carry Ons by his younger brother Gerald. Phillips appeared in productions of each.
Anyway, back to the header. An avid fan of the genre couldn’t fail to notice a typical Carry On moment in each of the Doctor films, and one such moment is this…
Dr. Tony Burke: Tell me about yourself. Bare your soul. Leonora: My soul? No one’s ever asked to see that before.
(FYI my favourite Carry On moment in a Doctor film comes when Dr Simon Sparrow (Dirk Bogarde) auscultates the chesty Eva (Carol Richmond) in Doctor at Large. You can look that one up yourself – answers on a postcard to…).
I have learnt, sadly post hoc, that when doing ‘core’ exercises as part of one’s attempts to mitigate life’s inexorable progression to decrepitude, it is best to avoid double-leg-raises whilst lying flat on your back. I’ve since discovered they actually do little or nothing for your core, but can lead to an inguinal hernia.
Unfortunately, the instructors at my local gym appear to be as unaware of this as I was, as ’twas one of them that instructed the spin-and-abs class that I attend to do just that.
Long story short, I’ve just learnt that I need a CAT scan to see whether I have to go under the knife to repair the damage those double-leg-raises did to me (a depressing tale and I’m not a happy chap!).
Interestingly (to me at least) although it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it doesn’t quack like a duck, so is it a hernia or something grander sounding like ‘athletic pubaliga’ (mea culpa, I googled my symptoms!)?
Why no quack? Well. there is none of the classic inguinal hernia ‘bulge’ associated with whatever mischief I’ve done to myself and any pain is not as low down the abdomen as would be expected (hence, I guess, the need for a CAT scan). Otherwise everything points towards non-vocal waterfowl.
Another depressing part of the story is the waiting list for non-urgent minor surgery at NHS Grampian of around three and threequarter years. If surgery is called for then I’m going to have to fork out to have it done privately. I realise that I’m extremely fortunate to be able to do so, even if it does go against the grain for me, but what does it say about the custodianship of the NHS under successive UK governments?
Anyway, here’s the limerick…
A not-yet-decrepit old man Said “I’ll train just as hard as I can”, But has now to restructure An abdominal rupture. Seems he’s learnt that he’s not Peter Pan!
Postscript: to discount a more suspicious cause of my soreness, my medical examination involved a nitrile clad digital insertion (you can guess where).
Fortunately. nothing suspicious was found, but the process did cause my mind to wander to an old blog post that queried the meaning of some RAF banter I once came across. I’ve never fully understood it, but it still makes me laugh: An insults an insult, but a chair leg up the a**e – that’s furniture!
…friends in London told us that they’d heard on national radio that Aberdeen’s Broomhill Road had been closed due to a house fire and wondered if it was close to us. It was. Very. In fact it was us! Our roofers had set fire to our house, ironically on Bonfire Night. So on the tenth anniversary of this…
Here’s the limerick:
I was phoned up at work late one day By a neighbour who’d something to say. The news was quite dire: “Your house is on fire! Seems the builders left your house to sauté.”