Tuesday, 23 November 2010

A Comedy Of Errors

This could only happen to me.

It all started with a broken wheel. Right hand side at the front of the chair. Something had gone badly awry, and the whole wheel and castor was swinging off at wild angles. It looked like Eduardo's leg must have done when Sky refused to show it following THAT injury at Birmingham a couple of years ago.

Having nearly fallen down the toilet and crashed into a wall outside the office, I made the emergency call. Very kindly, the NHS pays for a company to come out and service and repair chairs when needed. All of which sounds good, but it doesn't always work out how you might expect. Last time I dealt with them they insisted on taking my chair away with them for two days because they couldn't provide something as simple as a ball-bearing. Anyway, choice is not something I am blessed with in this matter, so I arranged for them to come out to see me at work this morning.

The traditional thirty minutes after the agreed time they managed to do this. I was contacted from the security desk downstairs (we work on the third floor of our building) and told them that I would be down shortly. Except I wouldn't. Seemingly at that precise moment, and with a beautiful irony the likes of which I have never seen, BOTH lifts on the third floor stopped working.

Absolutely in no way panicking I reported this to the security desk. They never let the facts get in the way, so they informed me that one of the lifts was still operational. It wasn't. I tried again. It wasn't. I rang back to inform them of this and they finally agreed to 'send someone up'. A few minutes later, someone came up offering to lift me down the stairs to meet the chair mechanic. I declined, and instead a colleague was kind enough to go downstairs and ask him to come up to our office. At this point the mechanic informed me that I had a pin missing from my front caster, and that he didn't have one with him. Of course he didn't. Why would he when I reported to him yesterday that the caster was swinging away from it's normal position and that something in it would probably need replacing, if not the whole thing?

He took the chair away and I carried on working. No chair, no lifts, third floor. The only usable disabled toilets are on the ground floor. I was reminded of that scene from Phoenix Nights in which Brian gets stuck at the top of the stairs because his stairlift is broken. Gerry comes in and asks him what the smell is, and he says 'never mind that smell, I've been stuck up here all night!' A mercifully short 10 minutes later the man returned with the chair. Lo and indeed behold he had found a pin that earlier he definitely hadn't got.

So with the chair sorted I could now go to the gents at least. But lunch? I was living the dream if I thought I was going to be able to go out and get some lunch. Another kind colleague finally had to go downstairs and pick me up a sandwich from the canteen (I bet you can't guess which floor that is on?). The lifts are still not working as I write, although one or two colleagues say they have at least now seen men working on them. Earlier reports that they would be here to do it within half an hour of my reporting it proved to be somewhat exaggerated.

My boss has just asked whether I want to go home now, because there is no guarantee that the lift will be fixed today or that the relevant people will be around to assist me down the stairs at the normal finishing time of 4.30pm if it is not. I have declined this kind offer because I'd rather spend the afternoon doing my job and give myself the opportunity to eventually go downstairs safely and in comfort, than suffer the indignity now for the sake of a couple of hours off. If it is not fixed by 4.30 then it's the evac chair I suppose, but no need to do anything as rash as that just now. It's finally lunchtime, just in case she's wondering what I'm doing telling you this story right now. She might read. Apparently it wouldn't be the first time.

I really need a wee now.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Children In Need

This probably won't flow. I just felt the urge to write about it.

Today saw the annual Children In Need telethon. Every November BBC1 clears it's schedule for one night to put on a star-studded night of entertainment. In return they repeatedly ask you to call their hotline or go online to donate some of your hard earned money to help the more disadvantaged youngsters in the UK.

And when I'm finished writing this that is exactly what I'm going to do. Visit www.bbc.co.uk/pudsey if you'd like to follow suit. I think you should. Here's why;

I'm nobody's idea of a sensitive bloke, but Children In Need affects me every year. I challenge anyone to listen to some of these kids stories and not feel suddenly overcome with an urge to do something to help. I don't like to think too much about how a child can end up so poor that their family cannot even afford a fridge, or a bed which is not infested with insects. Or of how a child with cerebal palsy can be bullied to the point of feeling a complete sense of worthlessness. Or even of how children as young as five can find themselves in the role of 'carer'. I just know it's all wrong and that through events like this there is something we can do to help.

The entertainment itself is mixed at best, but it's uplifting to see what kind of difference celebrities can make to young people, even in trying circumstances. JLS are musically rank, but if they possess the power to light up a child's face, to make them so excited that they scream and shout manically, then they're doing some good in the world. It's ever so easy for me to sit and sneer at them and their like, but to do so in these circumstances misses the point by a breathtaking margin. I'm even going to give Cheryl Cole a big pat on the back for her involvement. Although she was shite.

Not all celebritites have the power of JLS, but it is nice to see them try. John Barrowman disguised himself as a paramedic visiting a school to give a demonstration. When he removed the disguise to surprise twin girls they seemed to look at him as if he had just landed from Mars. There was a genuine moment where they did not seem to recognise him. Or if they did, they weren't impressed. Thankfully, he rescued the situation beautifully by informing the twins that they were about to meet the stars of the Harry Potter films, and attend the premiere of the first installment of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows. That Emma Watson's new hairstyle makes her look like a boy without a winkle hardly seems to matter.

While the Eastenders meets Coronation Street sketch could have been cut in half and still been twice as good, the script had genuinely funny moments in it and a clever ending. I'm not even that irritated by the crap interpretation of Bat Out Of Hell by the Hairy Bikers. And did you know that Dr Who sex-pot Karen Gillan and I share a phobia of moths? It's a sign and you know it.

But the highlight so far has to be the performance of Take That. It's the first time I've seen them perform live since Robbie Williams rejoined and I have to say it seemed a bit odd. There he was stood on one end almost breaking into a dance, but you got the feeling all along that he was just bursting to grab his microphone, move to the front and centre of the stage and start barking 'come on!' and bellowing about power chords. The showman in him looked as if it might have to be physically restrained. Meanwhile Jason Orange and Howard Donald missed notes badly, but Mark Owen seemed beside himself with joy at the prospect of finally getting to perform 'Never Forget' with five members.

As I leave you, Peter Andre is murdering Man In The Mirror. This is a great song made famous by the late Michael Jackson and I have a majestic cover performed by James Morrison on my MP3 player. Yet Andre's act of sacrilege is still not going to stop me going over to the BBC website right now and splurging a sizeable (for me) wedge for the cause.

Follow me. Please.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Dancing With The Doc

I've been to see the doctor this morning.

I didn't mean to. I had to. See, I've had this infection. It's a biff thing. We're prone to it. It's all about foreign bodies. My bladder is in ruins, which in turn damages my kidneys which in turn gives me a bad attitude towards doctors, the NHS (though I strongly believe it should remain free), and a general mistrust of anyone known simply as Mr So and So.

Consultants have no people skills. Mr Singh had nothing positive to say to me at our last meeting three years ago except 'Stephen, you do know that there is no reason why someone with spina bifida shouldn't live into their 60's these days, don't you?' On reflection I'm not sure how positive that was. He spent the rest of the time shaking his head and telling me that my kidneys were 'chronically impaired'. Much like my character and my faith in humanity, then?

So I am in the doctor's room, and I meet Dr Richards for the first time. Dr Richards looks in several directions at the same time, which is quite a talent, but distracting nonetheless. He trots out all the old hits.....'You need to have your bloods done'......'We'll need to take your blood pressure'........'Have you had a flu-jab?'..........and of course the crowd pleasing 'The consultant will know better than me but.........'. He's very little help, but we both know why I'm here. Neither of us are very comfortable with it but it's a necessary evil so let's get on with it. I feel like a virgin in a brothel.

He sends me away to provide a urine sample. I'm being nostalgic here but does anyone remember the days when it was easy to provide a urine sample? Any male with even modest endowment should be able to pee into a bottle, right? That was too easy, so they've freshened up the challenge. Now you have to pee in a plastic cup, drive a plunger with a straw attachement into the revolting, smelly cup, and press to draw your liquid wastage into the specimen bottle. The same specimen bottle that is about a quarter of the size of it's predecessor. The changes are all in the interests of hygiene. Hygiene and misadventure.

It's all a bit like a science experiment at school. The son of an engineer, I nevertheless hadn't the first clue about science and hated every minute of it at school. At that time the science teacher was the worst person I could think of in my life. Thatcher had yet to make an impact, and what I knew about Hitler was horrific but it seemed so long ago. And he never made me spend two hours trying to work out which was live and which was earth.

So I'm back with my bottle of wee and the hits just keep on coming. And the dance begins. 'Take another sample in a week or so when you've finished this course of leeches. It'll check how much protein is in there and that might give us a better idea of kidney function' he says. Ok, but so what? It's all negative. Sorry to sound selfish but there's nothing in this for me, so I'm wasting my time. I've said that before.

If there was anything that checking my bloods or peeing in bottles could achieve I might be more motivated. I've already been told there isn't, and been given drugs to protect what little remains of my blancmange of a bladder and kidneys. I'm happy with that. Ignorance is bliss. Must we keep doing this bewildering boogie every three months when I rock up with a bit of a whiffy waterwork? The medical profession has become like an overbearing mother whose 14-year-old still can't cross the road on his own lest he drop his ice cream on the way back.

I'll take my leeches, the problem will go and I might be something approaching myself once more. I have been a little zombified these past few weeks. I've been drifting, letting the infection get worse because I don't want to do the dance with the doc and I don't want to take any more time off sick. But I'm not completely stupid. I know that eventually there's a stage when I can't just ignore it, when the pain becomes debilitating and I end up on the sofa watching Angela Griffin's day time chat show for a fortnight.

Which is even worse than the dance with the doctor.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Pizza-Poor Performance

You won't know because none of you read about it, but Emma and I went to the cinema the other night. I mention this because prior to the film, we took the outlandish leap of faith that is a visit to Pizza Hut.

We don't seem to have much luck in that place. I recall an episode some years ago when we almost missed our film, so long did it take the service staff to fulfill their highly complex duties. We ended up leaving the premises with a boxed up pizza which, when you get it home, never looks as appetising and leaves you wishing you had passed on the whole thing and gone straight home to order one in. I can't remember which film it was, but the experience ruined it. Probably.

This time they surpassed themselves. Our film began at 7.30pm. We both work in Liverpool so even allowing for the drive home in the currently gridlocked traffic jams around The Royal, we still had plenty of time. Emma finishes work at 5.00 and has a short walk of less than five minutes to the University where I work and where we park the car. We were back in St.Helens for 6.00.

So on arrival at the serial offender of a restaurant our first problem was not time. It was the cold. It is the middle of November, and so to be greeted by a notice telling us that the premises might be 'a bit cool' due to a problem with the air condiditioning was not ideal. Describing the temperature in there as 'a bit cool' is a bit like describing Wayne Rooney as 'a bit greedy'. If there is anything it was not, it is cool. It was very uncool. Freezing is a better word.

Undeterred we allowed Cathy the waitress to show us to a seat (cue gags about me bringing my own). Foolishly we took our coats off briefly, before having an even more brief moment of indecision. Should we make a run for the warmer climes of Wetherspoons now while we still could? By then, laziness had set in and we stayed put, stubbornly freezing half to death like extras in Titanic. The coats went back on and we ordered. Cathy seemed nice and helpful, but the relationship was about to go sour very quickly.

Occasionally, and especially in such frugal times, fat-cat companies like Pizza Hut like to tempt you with offers. Forgetting that you never get anything for nothing we took the bait. Two courses for £8. We'd share a starter, have our own individual pizzas and then share a dessert. I eat like a caterpillar and Emma may or may not be on a diet this week, so it seemed more than enough for us. And it would have been, had it worked out that way.

Fighting the formation of icicles around our extremities we otherwise happily began and everything was fine. We finished the starter, but it was some time before Cathy could arrange for the pizzas to make an appearance. Yet still we were not really clock-watching. We'd given ourselves 90 minutes to have a pizza, remember. Time passed, and passed, and passed. Then the pizzas arrived. By when it was around 6.40 and things were getting a bit tight. And things were beginning to get frozen too.

I eat pizza slowly. I'd imagine a caterpillar would take a long time to get through a Hawaiian all to himself, and I did. Yet by 7.00 I was done and dusted. Still 30 minutes to get through dessert. Easy, right? Cathy could make us four desserts in that time. Wrong. Again the clocked ticked by and the realisation sunk in that, like the Titanic extras, we were not about to be rescued. It was 7.25 by the time Cathy emerged from the kitchen all smiles and 'what's the problem?', dessert in hand. Emma explained that we didn't have time for dessert, and to be fair they knocked £3 off the bill. But it's not about the money. I'd rather pay and have good service than get crapped on for free.

As I mentioned this is not the first time we've had problems at Pizza Hut. I can now also recall an occasion when myself and my work colleagues visited the branch in Liverpool One. We were offered pizza and garlic bread for £4, and quickly found out why it was so cheap. The pizza was straight out of the freezer from Iceland across the concourse, and one colleague is still mocked for having a slice of pizza missing from his plate. He's always been once slice short, but elsewhere there were furious complaints and one or two justifiable refusals to part with a hard earned £4.

Food could be the death of me. On the way home from work today Emma reminded me of an occasion a couple of weeks ago when an entire crate of food fell off the back of a lorry in front of us on Edge Lane Drive. It was early in the morning on the way to work. The truck's doors inexplicably flung open and it unloaded, missing us by a matter of feet. I could see boxes of cornflakes amongst other things hurtling towards us.

Emma seems to think we have cheated death but so far I've just shrugged it off. But should I? It was a heavy vehicle carrying a heavy load, so maybe she's right. It's all a bit like that scene in Pulp Fiction when Travolta and Jackson are sprayed with bullets by a gunman bursting in from the next room. Only all of the bullets miss. Jackson thinks it's a miracle and just wants Travolta to 'fucking acknowledge it'. Travolta shrugs, no big deal.

Anyway, I told Emma that things falling off the backs of lorries in Liverpool was not a freak occurence by any means. It's an industry to them.