Thursday, 30 June 2011

Submarines - vote now!

I’ve become addicted to Submarine School (on Channel 5), where trainee nuclear submarine commanders have to take charge and cope with all sorts of alarming scenarios. I was a big fan of Das Boot (1981 German U boat film and series – claustrophobia, filth and boredom from WWII), and this is the nearest thing to it for years.

I do think the Royal Navy have missed an opportunity though. What with all the cuts to the services, they should have made this a Simon Cowell-esque talent show to raise money. We, the viewers could vote off who we thought was the least promising commander-to-be. Of course, confusion would reign if one trainee stopped paying enough attention to his periscope(?) to garner voter support by playing to the cameras instead, or flinging bitchy comments to his colleagues. Chaos would also reign if a terrorist organisation realised they could weaken the British navy by getting as many people as possible to vote for the most useless commander-to-be. We would end up with a fleet of submarines run by men who were good at tap-dancing or wore their uniforms with ‘must have’ sequinned accessories, but who didn’t know they needed to hide the sub behind a rock when a warship approached.

However, seeing as I’ve never understood the point of having a sub somewhere nobody knows (so we don’t even know if they are really there) I think all these chaps should give up and enjoy playing ‘Battleships and Cruisers’ on strangely satifying squared paper instead.

Monday, 27 June 2011

I've Got Me a Bad Case of the Sunshiny Blues

28 - 32 degrees!


I think hot is over-rated.

When it's this hot, everything smells worse, you can't move without breaking into a sweat and you can't sleep without over-heating. Being cloistered in an office where fans can only move the stale air around is pretty grim. It's hard to be bothered to do anything, let alone think.

At night, with the windows open, you get to hear all the people around having more fun than you.

You can't wear thick woollies and pretend it's the jumper's fault you look like this.

All your food goes off quicker, even though it's in the fridge (I've never understood that).

The car feels like an oven when you get stuck in a traffic jam, and the cold air blowers feel more like your hair dryer.

I know this is an odd confession, but overall, hot is bad.

Bad unless you are lying on a beach, sitting in a shady garden, or eating strawberries at Wimbledon of course.

My best weather is a gentle, ethereal mist, with just a slight chill that hits the back of your throat when you breathe in. An autumn morning, a Scottish mist, ground mist swirling round open water. Cool and refreshing, making you feel bright and alert. Cosy scarves, open fires, jacket potatoes, warming stews and the smell of bonfires.

Today at lunchtime, I even found myself wishing I had a camping chair to put up at the end of the aisle in the most wonderfully air-conditioned supermarket. I wanted to throw myself into the ice cream freezer and drown in raspberry ripple.

Bring on the shorter days! Bring back the snow! Bring back a wonderful winter!

Oh woe is me!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Sun, the Witch and the Wardrobe

I arrived home at 4.30pm today (I start early), looked at the settee and thought I might have a moment or two to relax. I woke up two and three quarter hours later wondering what happened.

Just how tiring can sitting at a computer all day be? It's my favourite day of the year too, the longest, although I've now missed most of it.

Strangely, I found myself yearning to join the druid king at Stonehenge next year, and working out whether being there for sunrise would still give time to make it back to Prefab Towers in time for work. I'm not sure whether the combination of hippy vibe and end of the Northern line otherworldliness would work well, but it would be fun to try.

I also found myself yearning to join the world's largest skinny dip. All that joyful celebration of skin and surf, and no-one seeming to mind who's naughty bits were floppier than anyone else's.

All in all, midsummer madness seems to have arrived. I will stand in front of my wardrobe this evening and try to decide between dusting down my cloak and magic wand (C S Lewis has nothing on my wardrobe), or frolicking naked to check the floppiness ratios.

What's that I hear you cry?

'The cloak!'

No need to shout!

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Plumbing - not my strongest hand.....

There had been an odd smell in the kitchen for a while and I finally decided the culprit must be the long defunct dishwasher that sat, patiently watching each time I did the dishes. I thought there might be stagnant water in the tubes. I also wanted to get rid of the deep freeze, that had ice trying to escape out from under the lid, but alarmingly, no sign of ice at the bottom. It was always a bit touch and go as to whether anything actually froze before it went off (you will be reassured to know I hadn't used it for a while).

So, a trip to the dump was in order.

The freezer was easy, unplug it and wrestle it upstairs with helpful son, into the Skip. The dishwasher was slightly more complicated. I unhooked the waste pipe, which I noticed left an alarming hole in the kitchen's drainage system. I then cleverly (or so I thought) turned off the cold water feed. As I couldn't unscrew the pipe from the feed, I decided I could saw through the pipe with a kitchen knife. I took my place under the kitchen unit, sat in a puddle of fetid water that had indeed drained out of the dishwaher, and sawed through. The story of the boy who put his finger in the hole in the dyke came to mind very quickly, as water, at what seemed like mains pressure (I recalled a plumber once warning me that all the water in the house was direct from the mains) started squirting all over my cave. I managed to hold the ends clamped together, and sat feeling a) uncomfortable, my knees were very wet and b) foolish. There was also a feeling of mild panic rising from somewhere inside me. I started screaming for helpful son, but sadly, as he was two floors up, wearing headphones and I was shouting into the kitchen wall, nothing happened. Rather than sit there for twenty minutes or more, I had to let go of the pipe, and dash to the feed switch as my kitchen floor was watered as if from a fireman's hose. Luckily I managed to switch off the supply, and paddled back to the dishwasher as yet more stinking water flowed out across the floor. As helpful son and I struggled up the stairs with the white goods, I felt something go 'twang' in my back, which didn't help my general mood.

Many hours and many mop buckets later, my kitchen is back to something resembling clean. I have gaffa-taped up the offending holes in the pipework, and even risked putting the washing machine on, half expecting Niagra Falls to re-appear in the basement. All seems well, for now anyway.

One interesting thing that I discovered while clearing out the space where the deep freeze had been was that some of my plastic carrier bags had reached their half-life. They broke into tiny fragments as I tried to move them. Strangely fascinating, but also reminding me to have a cupboard clear-out more than once a decade.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Me and My iPod

I've invested in a new iPod. 'What fun!' I thought, remembering one I had before which gave me hours of happiness. Sadly, this one hasn't been a great experience so far. Apart from the fact it took several hours of grating frustration to even get a reasonable proportion of the tracks I had paid for onto my computer (and my son having to buy me an extra hard drive to help) it still hasn't really come together as hoped. Since the Skip had a new starter motor put in ('engine out job' the bloke behind the counter said, looking suitably depressed) the radio/cassette player(yes, you read right, cassette player) hasn't worked. So I was very pleased to plug myself into my new ipod for a long journey. Sadly, as the tracks changed, I received what seemed to be a mild electric shock.

I think it might be something to do with my ear-rings short circuiting and then something odd happening to my brain. I never was any good at the electric bit of physics at school, so it's all a bit of a mystery.

Having exerted so much effort getting the little device to work, I'm eschewing any safety concerns and ploughing on regardless. It might even be beneficial to have a little bit of electro-convulsive therpay to jolly up some of the more depressing tracks. Just to be on the safe side, I might return the solid platinum and diamond ear-rings to the shop next to the tube station too, and definitely not wear them in electric storms.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Empathy not Sympathy

I'm going deaf, at least I think I'm going deaf. It's hard to tell - I have tinnitus.

I realised for once and for all that this was becoming quite extreme while having my most recent hearing test. I was really struggling to differentiate the electronic bleeps from the cacophony in my head. The results were bleak, quite a drop from the last test only months previously. As a result, I am still not clear whether my actual hearing is affected, or whether it is the wall of sound I am trying to hear through that is causing the problem.

When I tell people this, in the hope they will understand why I sometimes either apparently ignore them, or give an answer to a question they hadn't asked, they quite often say, 'oh, I have that too'. While I don't deny loads of people have some level of background noise in their ears, I question their understanding of the severity of symptoms in some cases. Being an 'invisible' problem, some folk are highly sceptical and give me a wayward look that tells me they think I am exaggerating, or making a fuss. I tend not to go into detail as it can sound whinging and attention seeking. These people will start to realise after they have been around me for a while anyway.

On the other hand, some people are magnificent in their understanding and patience. I have found this with my colleagues at work, who have become used to repeating phrases several times and letting me know which phone is ringing. I have been given leave to attend lipreading classes and audiology appointments, and have been given a headset to enable me to hear better when answering the phone. In our most recent office move, I was able to select a seat the reduced the amount noise behind me, which even after an hour, made a considerable difference. I have also taken ownership of a hearing aid, but sadly this doesn't seem to have helped as much as I hoped - if at all, if I'm honest.

The whole experience has been an insight into how life changes when you lose one of your abilities. Gradually, almost without realising, I found myself reluctant to go for meals in groups. In a noisy restaurant I can just about follow the person sitting opposite me, using some lipreading as a backup, but stand no chance of joining in anything further along the table. After a couple of incidences where a well meaning person has tried speaking more loudly across the others, and me ending up feeling embarrassed, I started to withdraw into my shell. I am a very sociable person and it is odd to start to notice behavioural changes like this.

It can be difficult chatting on the phone too, especially if the caller is speaking quickly. Mobile phone conversations can be next to hopeless if I am out and about, due to all the background noise. I now rely much more on texts and e-mail than previously, but how lucky I am that this technology is available.

Stress aggravates the tinnitus, which can quickly trigger a downward spiral. As I become increasingly anxious on missing words, the tinnitus gets more obstructive and I miss yet more. However, it has been really illuminating to learn how my brain works with all this. I particularly remember one conversation around a dinner table. I was only hearing about one word in three, and I became aware of a process happening in my head that can best be described as being like an elongated fruit machine. The words I heard fell into place, but with wheels of other options spinning around in the gaps between. My brain was busily spinning the wheels around looking for a combination that made sense. I could almost hear a clunk, clunk, clunk as the 'cherries' fell into place then, hooray, a sentence emerged. I answered the question and everyone around the table fell about laughing - it wasn't the right one. Humiliating yes, but fascinating too. When you have problems hearing it slows down your thought processes while you work out what makes sense. Even when you do hear, you have lost so much confidence in being able to compute the information, that you still take an extra beat or so to respond. The extra time, even though relatively short in real terms, can make you look or feel 'slow' and compound any lack of confidence. It's also exhausting, the additional concentration you have to put into every exchange to just keep up is quite considerable.

The lipreading classes I recently attended were run by a gifted teacher. It felt very reassuring to be surrounded by people who understood hearing problems and learning common-sense strategies for dealing with day to day problems. Other teachers weren't so gifted, and I was saddened by a couple of others who came into the class and made me (and probably the others) feel a bit 'dim' by the manner of approach. One teacher from another class came to speak to me, putting her face very close to mine and mouthing the words in a greatly exaggerated manner, which had the effect of making me feel very small indeed. I do understand that she was trying to be helpful, but sometimes even the best intentions can be 'cloying'.

We were told in the lipreading class that 'lipreading' is really the wrong term, it should be considered 'facereading' as you use subtle changes in expressions as well as the lip movement to help decypher words. Not surprisingly, I had already become adept at spotting the gentle expression of faint confusion coupled with mute graciousness when I do answer a question that hasn't been asked. My heart sinks when I see that one.

I have been moved by some other people's reactions though, I have already mentioned my colleagues, but I went into a local coffee shop recently, and the chap behind the counter was making polite conversation. I have no hope whatsoever of hearing anything with coffee machines hissing away, and we were in a stressful stalemate of me saying 'sorry, sorry, I can't hear' and him patiently repeating again and again. He then, very thoughtfully, came out from behind the counter, thought for a moment, and chose different words to use. I finally got the message and almost wanted to cry with relief that someone had insight into how to defuse the situation.

The very worst thing someone can say is 'oh, don't worry' and then to shut off. It makes you feel completely worthless and depressed. It is also a mystery to me how no reasonable person would ever make fun of someone who can't see, but still think it is funny to poke fun at those of us with a hearing problem. If I hear one more person go 'pardon?' with a cheeky smile after I have explained about my difficulties, I won't be responsible for my actions.