20 December 2008

Still Minding the Dog Some More Again

I know I've apologised for being a dog bore but I'm sure that some of you may be wondering what became of our Maxie.

If you remember, we were worried about his wound not healing properly and his not using his leg as well as we had expected.  To cut a long story short (thank goodness for that, I hear you say), we took him back to the vet where he had the surgery done for investigations. X-rays showed that he had fractured his fibula, the other bone in his lower leg.  Apparently, this is not an unknown complication of the TPLO procedure.  The fibula is attached to the top of the tibia and is put under stress by the rotation produced by the surgery.  In mature dogs, the bone is relatively fragile and a knock can make it snap in these circumstances.  That explained why Max was still lame, and the vet explained that it would heal of its own accord and not to worry. He seemed unconcerned about the wound, expecting it to heal soon.

The wound did dry but developed a cyst-like swelling and began to weep again.  We went to our own vet to get that checked and were sent home with antibiotics and instructions to keep the wound clean with a strong saline solution.  He had to continue wearing his lampshade.

To cut a shortened story shorter, I am pleased to report that his wound finally dried up last Monday, and he has not had to wear his lampshade since.  He also began using his leg much more normally.  On Friday, he went for his eight-week post op. x-ray that showed his bones were healing nicely.  We can now begin exercise - just ten minutes twice a day to begin with, building up over the next three or four months.

The most surprising thing is that Max seems to know that he has been discharged from the vet and suddenly wants to play and have fun again.  He was exactly the same on being discharged after his previous TPLO.  Perhaps he has merely picked up on our relief at being let out of prison.  Perhaps he really has understood all our careful explanations...

11 December 2008

New Layout

I fancied a change, something colourful that would brighten up our lives. I chose a different template from the many provided by Blogger and applied it to all my blogs (it would be useful if you could do that globally for all blogs in one go rather than one at a time). I hope you like it.

The image in the heading is an extract from a photograph I took one frosty day last winter. I hope you like that too. Actually, getting the image properly sized was a bit of a pain. There are some problems with Blogger if you want to do something more than use what's in the box. Even though Blogger includes the facility to place an image in the heading, I had to find the exact width by a combination of reading the page's source to get some idea of the heading width, and then use trial and error to get the measurement accurate. As it is, I think it's one pixel oversize in Internet Explorer 7, probably because Microsoft can't get the html box model right.

Anyway, it works in IE 5.5, IE 6, Opera 9, Chrome and Firefox 3. So, if you upgraded your browser to IE7, you'll just have to live with a narrow white line down the right-hand side of the border under the image. Alternatively, update your browser to something decent. Opera, Chrome and Firefox are all free.

I use Firefox 3 almost exclusively both professionally and for leisure. As well as being, in my opinion, the world's best browser in it's basic form, it has all manner of add-ons available for whatever way you want to use it. For example, I have a load of stuff added on to help with web development but, if that doesn't float your boat, there's plenty of other add-ons that may. It's also available for a wide range of operating systems, so whatever different systems you encounter you can stick with the same browser (provided that your IT department allows).

Well, what started out as a trivial announcement of the obvious change in appearance of this Bloggery (obvious to those who have been here before, at least) has become a plug for non-microsoft browsers. No apologies offered. At least it hasn't turned into a rant about web standards and Microsoft's inability to handle them properly, and having to hack my nice, standard developments just to accommodate the shortcomings of Internet Explorer. Oops! There I go...

09 November 2008

Apologies for being a Dog Bore

I wish to apologise to my readers for the number of posts about my dog's current predicament. I realise that it may be a bit much. My only defence is that I think it is a bit much and I have to get it out of my system somehow... I'm sorry for inflicting it on you. Thank you for your compassion and understanding.

Anyway, there are different things to read in other parts of my Bloggery (see the side-bar for details). I hope you can forgive my excesses and keep on coming back. Don't worry, the current phase will pass and I will get back to my normal self again. Whatever that may be...

Wales 15 South Africa 20

By accident of birth, I am an Englishman. It would be difficult to be more English, having been born in Birmingham, about as far from the sea as one can get in these islands. However, having grown up in that city and been sustained by water collected in the Elan Valley, one wonders if something Welsh has seeped into one's being...

Anyway, I watched the game yesterday and, as an Englishman, and without the slightest intent of patronisation, I wish to congratulate the Welsh team (the Six Nations champions, 2008) on their excellent performance against the South African team (World Cup winners, 2007).

Hold your heads up, boys! You outplayed them in everything except luck. Had the game been ten minutes longer I think you would have had them. Unfortunately for you, the luck went their way. You have a terrific squad, and a fighting spirit to be proud of. Build on what you achieved yesterday and I'm sure you will emerge as force to be feared by Southern Hemisphere sides.

This Englishman will always support you (unless you are playing England, of course) and be willing you on to success. You are a pleasure to watch.

08 November 2008

Still Minding the Dog Some More

Last night, I had the night off.  I went with a friend to see the new Bond movie (well worth seeing), leaving my beloved in charge of the dog (with her full agreement, of course).  Max's wound had stayed closed all the previous night and the dressing that I had left on overnight was clean and dry yesterday morning.  We had felt confident enough to leave the dressing off for the rest of the day.  His knee was rather swollen with fluid however, and we were rather hoping that his body would start to re-absorb the fluid and that the swelling would go down.

There had been no great change during the day but on my return from the cinema, part off his wound was looking swollen and angry.  We feared he had an infection and that the wound might burst open.  We resolved to call the vet's first thing in the morning and to put a dressing on his leg overnight, just in case.  My beloved took the air-bed so that I could get a decent night's sleep upstairs.

The night passed quickly and I dreamed about trying to contact the vet's but being cut off all the time. I was awoken before the alarm went off by my beloved climbing the stairs to the bathroom.

'What sort of night did you have?' I asked.

'OK but a bit eventful.  He got up in the middle of the night and started strutting around the room.  His wound had popped open and he was dripping all over the place.  I wrapped extra dressing on and cleaned him up as best I could.'

Downstairs we went and I was relieved to see that my beloved's 'all over the place' was typical female hyperbole, as in 'You never clean the toilet' or 'You always burn the toast' or 'there's mud everywhere': none of these expressions is true.  We cut the dressing off and were relieved to see that all that had popped was a recently-healed suture hole.  The removed dressing was sodden and his hitherto swollen knee was back to normal size.  The dressing had no smell to it, so infection seems not to be a problem.  Apart from the suture hole, the wound looked intact. 

All-in-all, a trip to the vet's seemed to be pointless.  We redressed the wound, my beloved went shopping, and I settled down to a cosy day at home in the cell, sorry, living room.  I've had to change the dressing again after four hours and he seems a bit uncomfortable but is quiet.  Meanwhile, we're keeping a close eye on him.

We're feeling quite anxious that he is not walking on the repaired leg as well as he did last time.  I guess it must be quite sore.  As I write this, he is stretched out on his bed looking quite relaxed and at ease.  It will be wonderful to see him swimming and charging about again...

06 November 2008

Minding the Dog Some More

Well, I am very pleased to announce that we seem to be making some progress with our doggie.  As I lay on my air-bed next to him last night, I prayed for all I was worth that his wound would mend.  Since we are told that God is kind to all he has made, I thought it a not unreasonable request. 

I must admit, it was a prayer of desperation, as we have been in constant supervision of Max since his operation.  It is very important that he does nothing like leaping onto the furniture, or climbing up the door to see the postman off, or spending the whole night licking his wound.  He came home after surgery on 21 October and so, for the last 16 days, one of us has slept beside him on that air-bed I mentioned.  We had hoped this miserable situation would cease after ten days when his stitches came out but, as I explained in the previous posting, that was not to be. 

It is not just our sleeping arrangements that have been thrown into disarray.  During his first week back home, I took half-days off work to keep an eye on him during the mornings while my beloved went to work.  When she came home at lunch time, I went into work for the afternoon.  I can tell you without any doubt that there is a limit to how much daytime TV a man can take.  After the first week, I began working from home for half days, and then going in after lunch.  Life has been far from normal, and all three of us feel like we have been imprisoned in the living room.

This morning, I removed his serous-stained dressing to replace it with a clean one.  Guess what: the wound was looking pretty good and showed no sign of weeping.  I cleaned it up and left the wound undressed for about half an hour, just to be sure.  I did put a dressing on, just in case, but I am happy to report at the end of the day that the same dressing looks clean and dry, whereas previous experience gave the expectation that it would be obviously stained and damp.  It is so clean that I decided to leave it on overnight so as not to mess about with his tender tissues any more than is necessary and with the hope that we can dispense with dressings altogether tomorrow.

On the downside, his reluctance to walk on the leg has continued if not increased.  As I have mentioned previously, this may well be a result of the aggravation caused by handling the wound, something that has had to persist by virtue of the need to change dressings and keep the wound clean with salt-water washes.  An additional factor may well be the absence of pain-relief, since his medication ran out about the same time as his stitches were removed.  We've organised some anti-imflamatory pain killers now, so we hope he will begin to feel more comfortable and start using the leg again. 

As I lie beside him on my air-bed tonight, you can guess what I will be praying for...

01 November 2008

Still Minding the Dog

Well, Max's early phase of recovery went better this time: he soon remembered how to poo and wee in the garden - something he would normally never consider an option - and we got his stitches out on day 10. The removal of the stitches and the ensuing couple of days are the subject of this communication; the squeemish should look away now (no, there are no pictures, that was a joke).

We went to the vet's on Thursday with a dog who was doing very well and was walking fairly comfortably on his leg after not using it much at all for the first few days after surgery. In we went, with Max's usual, 'I know where we are! This way! Follow me!' attitude. Once inside, we got his predictable, 'What have you brought me here for?' stance, his ears down, his tail between his legs, his legs quivering. We sat waiting long enough for Max to become resigned to his predicament and then the nurse called us through.

The wound looked pretty good on removal of the dressing, and the stitches came out fairly quickly and easily with not much objection from Max. He was pleased to be heading out of the consulting room so soon, and amused himself by saying hello to a Weimarama in reception while we procured worming tablets (for him, of course).

We went outside to the car and I lifted him into the back (he's not allowed to jump in while his bone mends and the leg is meanwhile held together by a small metal plate) and sat with him. It was at that point that I noticed my hand was wet. A quick inspection showed me that his wound was leaking serous fluid; it was odourless and only slightly pink, demonstrating the absence of infection and no serious bleeding. Max was a bit confused by our response, which was to lift him back out of the car and to take him back into the vet's.

It appeared that the leakage was from the suture wounds that were now open, having been plugged hitherto by the sutures. There was quite a large seroma (a serous-filled cavity) around the site of the surgery, and the nurse and vet spent a bit of time applying gentle pressure to express as much of the fluid as possible before putting a new dressing over the scar and letting us go again. No-one seemed too worried at what they saw.

Unfortunately, since then Max seems to have been quite subdued and uncomfortable, hardly using his wounded leg. I suspect that all the manipulation to get the fluid out has aggravated his tender tissues and made the wound quite sore again. The wound was dry the next day so we were quite confident that a satifactory resolution was emerging.

This morning, a different picture presented itself. The wound was leaking again, and his leg looks as though he has been licking it during the night. There is a small hole through which the fluid is leaking. I'm not sure if it is a suture wound or first indication that the wound has begun to break down as a result of the fluid inside and Max's attention from the outside. Max is still reluctant to walk on his leg. We dried the wound and then dressed it to keep it clean and dry and to discourage licking, and plan to keep a close eye on things and return to the vet's early in the week if there is further deterioration or no improvement.

We now have a quiet, house-tied weekend ahead of us just when we thought we might be getting a bit more freedom, although my beloved has gone shopping for the day to try and shake off the stir-craziness induced by the last week of confinement. It's my turn to go loopy today... Max is also looking a bit sorry for himself and will probably feel even more so when he discovers that he has to sleep with his lampshade on again...

22 October 2008

Minding the Dog

Today, I am sitting at home minding the dog, Max. He's just had major surgery on his right leg because of a damaged cruciate ligament. Actually, this is the second time he's had this procedure, his left leg having been repaired in January this year. We were hoping never to have to go through this process again but that was not to be; he damaged his right leg a few weeks ago.

The procedure is known as Tibial Plateau-levelling Osteotomy (TPLO) and basically comprises the re-orientation of the tibial surface of the knee joint to reduce the slope and obviate the need for a functional cruciate ligament. It's an amazingly successful procedure, as Max's recovery from the previous episode demonstrated. It's also quite expensive. The insurance paid for the first procedure but I've a dreadful suspiscion that they will try to wriggle out of paying for this one...

The recovery from a TPLO is long and tedious. The first ten days are probably the worst: he has stitches and a remarkable ability to remove them if given the chance, a wound that has the potential to become infected or to fail to heal (both of which happened last time), and a unfailing explosive reaction to anyone knocking the door or making a noise outside. Until the stitches come out, one of us has to sleep downstairs with him because he is too big to fit into his large cage whilst wearing a buster collar (colloquially referred to as his 'lampshade') and we have to be ready to restrain him if necessary. Once the stitches are out he can sleep unattended in his cage and we can sleep in our bed again. For the first six weeks while the bone repairs he is allowed no exercise at all, except for walking into the garden for toilet duties. Thereafter, and up to six months post-op, we will be gradually building up the levels of exercise on the lead (starting at five minutes) until the patient is able to run about again.

Actually, Max did remarkably well the first time around, reaching full fitness as early as five months after surgery. Full athletic performance was restored, and he was able to enjoy again all the pleasures he was used to - such as swimming, running, chasing tennis balls and generally charging about like a mad thing. All-in-all, the prognosis is good, although it will involve putting our lives on hold for a couple of months (again), and we are looking forward to having our wonderful doggie back to his old self. Fortunately, he has only two back legs and so neither he nor we will have to go through this one again...

01 October 2008

Revised Organisation

I have decided that it is easier to put short stories on a blog than to attempt to maintain the Desmond Hilary Home Page. The latter is therefore defunct and removed from service. The short stories are now on Desmond Hilary's Shorts.

26 September 2008

The Last Day on the Line

I have published on Desmond Hilary's Shorts a science fiction short story.

Called The Last Day on the Line, it tells the story of a the last battle on an alien world before a cease-fire is declared. You can find it under the Science Fiction category. Enjoy! Please leave any comments you may wish to make about it under this post.

24 September 2008

The Coffin That Carries You Off

I have published on Desmond Hilary's Shorts the very first short story I ever wrote.

Called The Coffin That Carries You Off, it is a sinister tale about a man who returns home from the army to discover that his father had a very strange agreement with the local coffin maker... You can find it under Sinister category. I hope you enjoy it. Please leave any comments you may wish to make about it under this post.

Other stories will appear soon, although the Sci-fi section will remain sparse for now while I try earning a bit of cash for my efforts.

22 September 2008

Stranded in Skiathos - XL.com Goes Bust!

I suspect that many of us live with the comfortable notion that bad things always happen to someone else, never to us. Our last two weeks have shown that this is not always a reliable adage upon which to depend...

On 5th September, we left behind an autumnal Newcastle Airport and jetted off to the Aegean sunshine with a fortnight in Skiathos in prospect. This was to be our first holiday on our own for four years and we were looking forward to some stress-free time with no-one to please but ourselves. As usual, it took a few days to disentangle our minds from the hiatus of work, our unwinding aided by nothing more taxing than reading a novel and the decision about where to eat.

The first rumour that all was not well came on the Tuesday: a second-hand, overheard comment that XL.com was having problems. There did not seem to be any supporting evidence on the BBC website and our Kosmar rep. set our minds at rest with her memories of similar rumours when working for other operators and the suggestion that this one, apparently, was founded in XL's intention to close down some of its unprofitable winter routes. We set our concerns aside and continued to relax on the beach.

On the fateful day, we rose to hear that XL.com was indeed in the hands of the Receiver and that we, along with around 200,000 other holiday-makers, were stranded. Our reps arrived to inform us officially of the news, having found out only that morning that they had no jobs, were not getting paid, and were stranded along with us.

It is interesting how varied human nature can be. The reps, despite their circumstances, told all in our accommodation that they were staying on to help organise our rescue and were thankfully relieved when most of us appreciated their commitment and understood that our plight was not their fault. We all experienced varying degrees of anxiety about how we would get home but one selfish couple, due to fly home the next day, were insistant that their questions were answered before anyone else's, declaring that their (otherwise enjoyable) holiday was "ruined" by this turn of events. In contrast, most of us understoood that there was a system in place to repatriate travellers in these circumstances and were quite pragmatic about the possibility of a delayed return home. The owners of our accommodation (who alleged that they had not been paid all season) decided to limit their losses by demanding that we leave by the end of the next day.

The day's intended relaxation was lost to hanging around, waiting for news of what would happen to us. Eventually, we got two hour's notice that we were being moved to various other locations.

It seems that Thompson's was charged with coordinating the rescue operation in Greece and we were moved for the second week of our holiday to one of their hotels on a bed-and-breakfast instead of a self-catering basis at no extra cost. The hotel was far superior to our apartment which, to be honest, was in dire need of refurbishment.

Those due to fly home were decanted to other locations to await news of their travel arrangements. What a test of endurance transpired for them. Travelling only a day late, they were ferried by sea to the mainland, bussed to Athens, flown to the UK and, some of them, bussed to their starting points; an arduous journey, upwards of eight hours but at least they got home.

We heard nothing about our arrangements until the day before our expected departure, the authorities having had a week to get things organised. As it happened, our flight home was scheduled for only ten minutes later than our original flight and, after delays, we got home only an hour later than we would have done with XL.com.

It was not the holiday we had planned. It was not the stress-free time we had hoped for. It cost us more because of the less favourable location of our alternative accommodation. However, by all accounts, our traumas were insignificant in comparison with the experiences of other holiday-makers.

We had our holiday, got home, and still have our jobs. Most of those who lost their holiday will be compensated. Even those who had to pay their own way home (£250 each!) will get over it. Spare a thought for the failed company's former employees: aircrew, cabin crew, reps., office staff, cleaners and others whose livelihoods have been cut off at a stroke.

If you ever find yourself in similar circumstances, take heart: the system works. Our thanks to ABTA, ATOL, Thompson's, the CAA and our ex-Kosmar reps.

15 August 2008

Billy Elliot - A Punter's Review

On Saturday, 2nd August 2008 my beloved and I went up to London to see 'Billy Elliot', a musical based on the film of the same name and with music for the stage show written by Sir Elton John. Billed as 'The Greatest British Musical', it held out great promise for a thrilling night of theatre.

The performance we saw had Layton Williams in the leading role. I can honestly say that the lad was absolutely fantastic in just about every aspect of his performance. I was very impressed by his ability and his natural presence on the stage. He really lived the part, and certainly held his own in the pas-de-deux with Barnaby Meredith who played his older self, taking account of the boy's age and the experience of the older dancer.

It was strange for me, a Brummie living in Newcastle and having travelled all the way to London, to hear a whole production done in Geordie. Even that most difficult of accents the boy managed extremely well, with a couple of slight mispronunciations. I've lived near the Tyne for 22 years and still can't do the accent as well as Layton.

Billy's dad was played by Phil Whitchurch, known for his TV roles in 'The Bill' and 'My Hero' (in which he played a very convincing idiot). He put in an excellent performance, displaying his versatility in contrast with those other roles, powerfully conveying the pathos of a man in mourning.

I have to say the music did absolutely nothing for me. I found it unmemorable and lacking in depth and breadth, apart from one piece - an excerpt from Swan Lake, written by Tchaikowsky. Sir Elton John has written some superb stuff in his time, for example, the music for 'The Lion King'. Unfortunately, at least for me, this effort was not comparable and left me unmoved. Certainly, there was comedy in Grandma's song but that had more to do with the libretto than the score. The anthem entitled
(presumably) 'We're Going Down' had the potential for so much poignant irony but failed to plumb its depths. So, sorry, Sir Elton, but in my opinion this is not Britain's greatest musical; I saw 'Joseph' in November and that had much more going for it.

I was moved by the parts involving Billy's late mother but even there I have to say that was because it evoked memories of my own loss rather than empathy with his.

The show has been criticised for the amount of swearing in it. Even as someone who never uses such language, I did not find it offensive, fitting, as it does, the culture in which the story is set. I know that sounds awfully snobbish but I was was once a young boy and am fully conversant with the terms used. Indeed, some of the worst expletives were used by the youngest members of the cast and only served to make the comedic sections even funnier.

All-in-all, I preferred the film - but I would not wish to detract from the excellent performances I have already mentioned and there was some superb theatre among it all. By way of balance, I have to say that the audience received the show very favourably, with most of its members out of their seats in ovation at the end. Certainly, the man sat next to me seemed to be enraptured by the whole thing.

My beloved loved it, of course. Still, you can't expect to please everyone...

31 July 2008

The Very Frasty Stroon

The Stroon wibbled at the fringes as the Gajjer prauned at its flobelites. ‘Don’t do that,’ said the Stroon, sloaming a loose heypraul at the Gajjer’s klopper, ‘It makes me wibble, and I don’t strake it.’

The Gajjer chumbled at the Stroon’s sloaming and jinkled beyond its amflutt. ‘I’m hardly stangly,’ said the Gajjer, ‘as it’s my wandret to praun the flobelites of a Stroon. In fact, I’m inflandessirant for it.’

‘Well I don’t care’, said the Stroon, ‘They are my flobelites and I would be stobelifted if you would keep your prauning sloppars to yourself.’ The Stroon jambered at the Gajjer and the Gajjer huned back a strelp or two. ‘If you can’t, then I shall be knuled to jamber you until your stradlisers are sprilandled; then you’ll be stangly, very stangly indeed.’

The Gajjer wested and flumbered, and drandled longingly at the Stroon’s flobelites. ‘Can’t I just praun one of them? I mean, you’ve got plenty, and surely one won’t be a snedderlism?’

‘Snatter off!’ the Stroon excrobulated, ‘I need them all!’

‘Like you need a slomp in your stobber,’ said the Gajjer. It randled. ‘Go on, just one. You won’t slimper it at all, and I’ll be obnauphesticularly obluterate, and make sure you are festuled at the Snorfting at the end of the flond.’

The Stroon flendered, and its fringes wibbled unconfluturatingly. ‘Hmm. If I let you, do you promise not to pruge beyond the snaffletts?’

‘OK. I’ll go as far as the snafflets, and maybe stiffle them a bit – you might strake that – but I won’t drindle or pruge any further.’

‘Hmm. Well. OK. And can I chiddle your noaf?’

‘I don’t know about that.’

‘Well, it’s only snoorklik.’

The Gajjer randled again. ‘OK,’ it said, ‘Just this once.’ It jinkled back to one of the Stroon’s flobelites and prauned at it until it reached the snafflets, where it drindled and pruged, and pruged and drindled, and then stiffled them for a very long snoppet; and the Stroon caught the Gajjer by the noaf and chiddled it until it blosed.

Just then, the Stroon’s Mosmos arrived. ‘What are you sluping at?’ it stappered, fringes wibbling and snaffletts afloam, ‘and who let that Gajjer in here?’ The Mosmos sloamed at the Gajjer, only just missing its stobber by the merest smiffer of a blat.

The Gajjer chumbled and jinkled, and warfed and jamboled until the Mosmos was prelacticated, then it fluped from the nozzar into the flarkness, never to been seen again.

‘You frasty Stroon,’ said the Mosmos.

‘I’m stangly,’ said the Stroon, ‘Very stangly indeed. But it was desanstrable. I straked it like a lostulate snarftangle.’

‘You very frasty Stroon,’ said the Mosmos, and blunged it to nozboz without any jum-jum.

10 July 2008

A Rant to Make Jeremy Clarkson Smile

Driving habits. We all have them. Some of you have particularly annoying ones. I, of course, also have them but none of them annoy me.

I am not talking about the illegal and absolutely downright stupid ones, such as conversing on a hand-held 'phone whilst actually driving (sending text messages is even more stupid). Why people think that the law does not apply to them, or even that their ability to drive safely is not in any way diminished by such behaviour, I will never understand. If you are one of those people, the law does apply to you and it certainly does affect your ability to drive safely. In evidence, I cite the example of the waved apology from a driver who, through inattention, had pulled out in front of me at a junction whilst simultaneously changing gear and holding his 'phone to his ear. Where he got all the hands from I do not know; I only hope he had a couple of spare ones for the steering wheel. Of course, if you normally drive like a moron, driving whilst on the ‘phone probably won’t affect your driving ability… I digress.

No, I am not talking about the illegal and absolutely downright stupid habits, just the ones that seem to make no sense. Here are some examples of what I mean.

Drivers Who Miss the Boat

I am sitting at a roundabout with one car in front of me and a bus alongside. The bus pulls off and enters the roundabout. The person in front of me waits until the bus has gone just to be sure that nothing is coming. She has yet to realise that anything already on the roundabout has to pass through an enormous, solid vehicle before it has any chance of hitting her car. Had she realised that the bus was, in effect, an almost impenetrable shield against all except fully-laden quarry trucks and Exocet missiles, she and I and possibly the driver behind could have been on our way. Instead she spends her time, and mine, preening her hair.

Space Invaders
Now, I like to leave a decent safe distance between my car and the one in front. I am the first to admit that it is not the Highway Code's-worth of stopping distance but it is a good deal more than some drivers leave between themselves and the back of my car, and is easily expandable by paying attention and responding to everything in front of you and not just the car you are following. After all, the stopping distance in the Highway Code (if 'Top Gear' demonstrations are to be believed) is designed with a stationary stack of cardboard boxes in mind, not the moving target that is the traffic in front. Rarely would the car in front of me stop instantaneously (unless it hits a steel-reinforced concrete wall, and, as I am paying attention, I would have spotted the wall long before the unfortunate driver in front did). Why do some drivers think that my 'safe space' is their 'pulling-in space'? It isn't. If you pull in, I have to drop back so that you don't have to glare at me in your mirror because you think I'm too close. I have to judge very carefully what I think is the minimum safe distance with the lowest risk of my being dispossessed of it. Otherwise, particularly on busy roads, I may just as well drive in reverse...

Space Creators
In these days of escalating fuel prices, it makes very good sense (seriously) to drive less aggressively. There is no point in roaring away from one traffic light and screeching to a halt at the end of the queue for the next. Gentle acceleration uses much less fuel and, certainly in rush-hour traffic, loses you no time at all. So, when I see someone keeping up with but hanging back in a slowly-moving, single line of vehicles I understand what they are doing and even commend them for their responsible attitude to the environment. I can even appreciate that such an approach is much less wearing on the nerves, and that one arrives at one's destination far less jaded as a result. What I do not understand is the reason to maintain the same generous gap when approaching a green traffic light. In that circumstance, the right approach is to close the gap with a little more, although still gentle, acceleration so that you maximise your chances, and possibly those of the person behind you, of getting through the light before it changes from green. At the speeds involved, if the light changes to amber, you will still have time to stop. If you hang back however, you (or worse, I) will almost certainly have to stop and to waste the world's precious oil resources on pumping greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere whilst achieving no forward progress at all. Of course, in double lines of traffic, one man's 'slack space' becomes someone else's 'pulling-in' space and so, for the sake of the mental stability of every consequently stationary driver behind you, keep up, there's a good chap.

Time Bandits
Then there are the people who seem to be in absolutely no hurry at all. They tootle along at twenty-five miles an hour, as if the two-mile tail-back behind them did not exist, and revel in the joys of the open road before them. (Here's an interesting fact: if you drive along with your speedo-needle on thirty, you are probably doing only about twenty-seven; so if you like to sit 'just under thirty', just to keep on the safe side of lurking speed-traps, you are actually doing about twenty-five – which is irritatingly safe. If you want to be on the safe side, drive with the needle bang on thirty. Check it out next time you approach one of those roadside speed-measuring displays.) I have no problem with people going along at their own pace, only with the time of day that they do it. If you are in no hurry, why not do your journey off-peak so that people who are in a hurry can get to where they need to be? Why didn't they leave more time, you repost... Because, before they left for work, they had to feed the kids, walk the dog, get the cat out of a tree, and scoop their adventure-seeking goldfish back into its bowl, that's why.

Lane Hoggers
Picture a three-lane motorway with nothing in front of you for as far as the eye can see except for one car. That car is in the middle lane. Why? Fifty miles further on, that car is still in the middle lane and has never moved over, either to the right or the left. Why? Several vehicles approach from behind, all travelling faster than the lane-hogger. Still she (and it’s usually but not always a she) stays in the middle lane. Why? Now all the faster-moving traffic has to wait in turn to get past the moron in the middle. Some drivers, in their total and understandable frustration, resort to passing on the left – actually not as dangerous as you might think because the lane-hogger has no concept of moving over and has completely failed to notice the less-than-subtle hints from other drivers (such as coming right up behind in the left lane, indicating right and moving right across the back of her car and into the overtaking lane, pulling swiftly past her, and then indicating left and moving quickly across her front and back into the left-hand lane). No. Unless a police car with blues-and-twos in full performance draws alongside and the officer in the passenger seat bellows at her with a loud-hailer on full volume, never will she vacate her beloved middle lane. There she sits, oblivious of the frustration, anger and mayhem in her wake. In a phenomenon known as ‘bunching’, the traffic slows down and only gradually works its way past her and the pink, fluffy dice hanging from her rear-view mirror. Sometimes, and much further back, the traffic density builds up so much that it actually stops! Have you ever wondered about those apparently causeless motorway queues? Now you know. People who hog the middle lane are a menace and a danger.

Anxious Right-turners

The anxious right-turner is a variant of the lane-hogger. This is the person who gets into the right hand lane of a dual carriageway because she intends to turn right (sorry ladies, but it’s usually either a woman or a man in a white van). What’s wrong with that? Well, nothing if you are actually nearing the junction at which you intend to turn right, but if said junction is twenty-five miles down the road… Here’s a suggestion for those of you who live in fear of missing your turn: put your right indicator on, then we can legally pass you on the left. What’s more, we will still have plenty of time to move over and turn right at your intended junction long before you arrive.

The Offside Rear Wing-man
Another variant of the lane-hogger, the Offside Rear Wing-man sits for mile-upon-mile in the overtaking lane travelling at the same speed as me and just about overlapping with me, effectively blocking any opportunity I may have to pull into the overtaking lane and thus avoid piling into the lorry at the far end of the rapidly-shortening gap in front of me. I have two options: I can brake, allowing the ORW to pass and then pull out behind him, all the while hoping that the driver of the car behind, whose front wheels are all but on my boot, is awake and paying attention (of course, there will not be any space behind the ORW because someone who wants to do 95 is trying to push him out of the way); or I can accelerate into what is left of my ‘safe space’ and get in front of the ORW hoping not to give him a heart attack in the process. Why would he have a heart attack? Because I have appeared suddenly out of nowhere! The lorry in front of me is not in his lane so he has not seen it. I am not in his lane and so he has not seen me. He most certainly has failed to realise that, at the speed we are travelling, I will very soon need to overtake the lorry but cannot because he is in the way. No. I’m afraid I have to do the thinking for both of us and indicate my intentions long before the need to pull out arises and just hope that the insistent blinking of my side repeater manages to penetrate his consciousness without causing too much trauma… and that his response is not to accelerate and box me in completely…

There! I'm glad I got all that off my chest. So am I qualified to rant like this because my driving is perfect? Not as perfect as my Beloved’s, whose driving is truly better than that of most men, including mine. She regularly points out my small and insignificant inconsistencies. I never point hers out unless I am likely to be in sudden need of a change of underpants…

And Jeremy, if you have been reading this, I hope it made you smile… especially the bit about mobile ‘phones…

30 March 2008

On Men and Colds

I am a man. I have a cold. Please note, I am not claiming to have the Flu. If I had, I would not be writing this at all. No, it is very definitely a cold.

However, let's be honest, the combination of male gender and the common cold is very near fatal. Ask any woman. Why is it that a normally vigorous and active man is reduced to a snivelling piece of human wreckage by something so small as a cold virus? Not that I am talking about myself, since vigour and activity are not usually high on my list of offences. Nevertheless, I find myself somewhat reduced, to say the least, by the ravages of this particular infection.

Fortunately for my employer, this episode has coincided with my weekend, only marginally denting my efficiency on Friday afternoon, and very likely leaving me well enough to stumble through Monday. My free time has, of course, been totally wiped out. On the upside, lots of weekend jobs have had to be put on hold, and I have a perfectly valid reason for being lazy and disengaged from the usual efforts to rescue our home from the chaos into which it descends over the course of a week; and from walking the dog. On the downside, all the stuff that has not been done this weekend will be added to next weekend's schedule, and two weeks' chaos could very likely induce a relapse.

It's not just my Beloved and I who suffer the indiscriminate evils of the common cold. Multiply our domestic inconveniences to the dimensions of a nation, allow that not all colds happen at the weekends, and you quickly see that thousands of working days are lost every year to the common cold (not all on my account, you understand). Millions of pounds are lost from the economy as a result. I'm pleased to announce that I have a cure for the common cold that, with one global effort, would eliminate this scourge of industry forever.

Here's how it works. A common cold usually lasts about four days, during which the sufferer passes it on to others by sneezing or physical transmission of the virus (never shake the hand of someone with a cold). These new sufferers pass it on to others and, before we know it, we have an epidemic on our hands (quite literally). So what's the cure? Isolation. The World Health Organisation needs to get the whole world into quarantine at the same time for long enough for everyone to get clear of their cold and have no-one to pass it on to.

How long is long enough? Well that's the difficult question. In our household, where there are only the two of us, 10 days would be more than long enough: four days for me to have the plague, four days for my beloved to endure it (assuming serial rather than parallel infections) and a couple of extra days to be on the safe side. The WHO would probably have to employ consultants to do some rather complex maths to derive the optimum isolation period taking into account average household size and infection rates. (Perhaps the isolation period could be reduced by having everyone in a household make deliberate efforts to infect each other. That would mean everyone being ill at the same time but, in my experience, mum would soldier on and look after the poor male wretches in her charge.)

Perhaps one month would be enough. Preparation would not be too difficult (after all, most British families are practised at buying a month's worth of food for the two-day Christmas holidays, and, since most of the stuff on telly is repeats, keeping people entertained would be no worse a problem than usual).

How would we pay for it all? Well, if I have, say, three colds in one year and, to take the worst case, they all occur during the working week, I would lose 12 working days in a year, give or take. The month of isolation would amount to about 22 working days lost, that is, ten days more. This would be almost paid for in the very next year in which we are all free from colds. Every subsequent year would result in 12 extra profitable days for the rest of my working life. Multiply this by every person on the planet in gainful employment, add in the days previously lost to other viral infections that may be coincidentally wiped out by the quarantine, account for all the years from now until the sun goes cold, and a phenomenal amount of time is saved in comparison with the month of isolation. All in all, this is an eminently affordable scheme, assuming the aforementioned consultants' fees are reasonable, and I recommend its immediate implementation.

And, let's face it, the way I feel today, I could do with a month off...

21 February 2008

Announcement: Launch of Web Site

I have just set up a web site to hold my larger literary efforts that would not fit into the bloggery. Visit the site by clicking here or on the link listed under Other Links in the side-bar. There's nothing in it yet, but you could bookmark it for future reference. New publications will be notified on this blog.

19 February 2008

Rumbled!

My wife asked me a question last night. ‘What are you doing?’ she said as I tapped away at the keyboard on my laptop.

Having learned before now that ‘Nothing’ would at best be an inadequate answer, or at worst would invoke the Spanish Inquisition because I am clearly up to no good, I answered truthfully, ‘I’m just… messing about with a blog.’

Something in my tone must have conveyed the subliminal message, ‘Mind your own business,’ or, perhaps, ‘Don’t pursue this line of questioning because you won’t approve,’ because getting on for a whole half-hour passed before the conversation resumed.

‘What are you doing?’ this time a little tetchily, her tone conveying, ‘You’re doing something stupid and I want to know what it is.’

‘I’m investigating what blogging is about and how it works.’ I really must work on my tone and try to eliminate the little-boy-caught-with- fingers-in-the-cookie-jar edge that it has to it when under interrogation.

‘But what are you doing? What are you writing in it?’

‘You can do anything you like with blogs. You can write anything you like.’ At this point I am corkscrewing like a Lancaster Bomber caught in a searchlight, deploying all the evasive skills I can muster. Why? I don’t know. It’s a free world, and there’s nothing wrong with writing a blog but, for some reason, I feel like the child whose mother has just discovered his secret stash of Woodbines in the locked box under his bed: annoyed but deeply chagrined.

‘What are you writing in it?’

Clearly I have had to bail out and have been caught by the Gestapo.

‘Well, a poem,’ and the sheepishness in my tone betrays that my evasive skills have evaded me, leaving me with no option but to blurt out the truth.

‘You mean, you put a poem out in cyberspace and hope that someone will read it?’ she fired at me, and I felt the barb of the question tugging at and embedding itself into my metaphorical flesh, and my mind registered subliminally her use of the word ‘cyberspace’.

‘Well… Yes.’

A silence followed that was exactly the right length to render the next remark completely un-rebuttable.

‘You’re weird.’

I looked round, just in time to see the shaking of her head and the sometimes-I-despair-of-you frown on the face of my beloved.

After what I considered a sufficient passage of time enough to convey, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about and I’m doing it anyway,’ I closed down the computer – a tacit admission of defeat.

For goodness sake, she watches ‘Eastenders'!

18 February 2008

What's it for, then?

I think the way this will go is as follows. This blog will be the top level of my bloggery. Connected to this, I will probably have a number of blogs (sub-blogs), one for each concept that I think important or of interest or both. This blog will perhaps have tasters for the main articles in the sub-blogs, and so will give you a general picture of what goes on in the 'World of Desmond Hilary'.

I fully appreciate that concepts that are important to me may be of no interest to you: but, hey, no-one has to read this. I realise that some things I think are important may turn your blood to ice or steam, depending on your temperament. Please bear in mind that I will never write anything with the intent of causing you offence. If you take offence at anything I write, I'm afraid that's your problem: this is my blog.

Should you feel the impulse to voice your opinion on anything I write, here are my ground-rules (subject to change as I think of new ones).
  1. Encouragement is always welcome.
  2. You may disagree but please don't rant. I have moderation turned on. Polite disagreement is much more likely to be allowed in any discussion that evolves than is 'YOU ARE AN IDIOT (or worse)'.
  3. I reserve the right to stand by my opinion and will try to give a reason why you have not persuaded me.
Anyway, I hope that you find something of interest among my ramblings.