You won't have heard from me in a while. Unless you are Emma, the doctor or the pharmacist you certainly won't have seen me since Bank Holiday Monday. That's only five days ago, but for anyone used to stumbling across the contents of these pages or my habitual status-updating it might seem like an unusually long period of time.
That's because I've been ill again. In truth, I am not having the best of luck with my health at the moment. Two weeks ago I had a water infection. What doctors like to call a UTI or a Urinary Tract Infection. Basically you get a lot of bladder and groin pain, feel quite sick, and your water smells like you died four years ago. Foolishly I did not allow this to interrupt my working life. I phoned the doctor for a consultation on a day when I was on annual leave in any case, negotiated the time-honoured course of leeches solution, and manned up. I did this because I had only recently had a day off sick due to another bad kidney day. I felt a bit of a plank having the week off I probably needed only days after my boss had told me that my sickness was pretty good all things considered. So I kept on keeping on. It was a mistake.
It all started in the unlikely surroundings of Plymouth. Emma and I had travelled down there for the christening/first birthday party of her youngest niece Alexandra. Though we both left work at 3.30 on that Friday, it still took four hours to get from Liverpool to Bristol. We were staying in Bristol on the Friday because we thought that in the first place it might break the journey up, and in the second place Bristol is a city we have always enjoyed. The plan had been to meet my cousin whose girlfriend lives in Bristol, but he had spectacularly unsurprisingly texted me to say that he couldn't make it because it was his sister's birthday. Of course, since his sister is also my cousin I knew this, and had pointed this out to him repeatedly when we originally arranged to meet. It'll be fine he said, which of course it wouldn't be and wasn't. But that's Alex for you. Indeed it is, but you can't help thinking that the phrase 'that's Alex for you' is the principle reason why that is Alex for you. If you follow.
So anyway since I learned long ago that the absence of expectation eliminates disappointment I was not too worried. We passed a perfectly pleasant evening anyway, once we got through the hideous traffic. There were no roadworks, no accidents, just some quite needless speed restrictions near every junction on the M5. There's no point trying to fathom it out. Maybe That's The M5 For You. We went to Bella Italia for what I believe was the single reason that Emma had vouchers for the place. We had been there a year or so earlier, the night before the christening/first birthday party of Emma's older niece Elizabeth. Clearly their family like Bristol too. Emma's brother Andrew used to live there. He's in the navy, hence the recent move to Plymouth and the even more arduous drive that I don't know about while I am enjoying my pizza, but which awaits me in the morning. Accompanied by the return of my health problems. Before that we stop off for a drink at the Wetherspoons close to the hotel, a place where last time we visited we were offered free champagne (sparkly wine) by a man dressed as Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He's not here tonight so instead we find the only quiet corner there is and try to keep ourselves to ourselves. Every female voice sounds like Alex's girlfriend and I keep thinking that maybe they are here after all. Their accents are....distinctive. Amid a group of these girls a bag seems to have been left unattended and we worry again about ending up on tomorrow's news bulletin.
On Andrew's advice we had given ourselves two and a half hours to get from Bristol to Plymouth on Saturday morning. To be fair to him it should have taken a little less than that. Yet if the traffic was improbably bad on the M5 on Friday, it had reached new levels of silliness by Saturday morning. Still no roadworks, no accident. Just someone no doubt giggling away to themselves as they lit up signs instructing everyone to slow down to 40 miles per hour. A few minutes of that and 40 miles per hour seems like a distant dream as you crawl along as a consequence of everyone being slowed down junction after junction. The plan had been to meet up with Andrew and his wife Cassie and the kids for lunch at 1.00. But at that time we were still around 90 miles away. It was after 3.00 when we got there, to be greeted by Emma's mum Susan with Elizabeth. She told us that she would wait in the nearby pub for us while we checked in to our hotel. Susan that is, not Elizabeth. Elizabeth is only two and as yet her linguistic skills do not extend to making meeting arrangements.
Even this was not straightforward. If the pointlessness of speed restrictions on the M5 is hard to understand, then I don't know quite how to describe the idea of having two Premier Inn's side by side on the same complex. But there they were either side of the family pub that we had agreed to meet the family in. Naturally enough we went to check in to the wrong one at first, and had to plod around the back of the pub on to the other one. We left the car in the car park of the wrong hotel. It just seemed easier than getting everything back in and driving around, and getting everything back out again. The family wouldn't be there by the time we had done all that.
Not that they were there anyway. Unfortunately Susan is rather prone to doing the exact opposite of what she says she will. But not in the same way as Alex is. Susan usually doesn't know she is going to do the exact opposite of what she says she will, whereas Alex is completely aware. Luckily everyone else around him is aware of it too 98% of the time. Emma's disappointed by this because understandably she wanted to spend some time with the kids. Now the plan was to meet at the pub at 7.00 for a few drinks watching the Champions League Final but by that time of course the kids would be in bed. So it would have to wait until tomorrow and the christening. This puts a dampener on our pub lunch and I feel a little guilty that I didn't suggest leaving earlier. After all, we had spent a good deal of the previous evening in traffic on the M5 and so might have guessed that it would be a difficult journey. But I've never had much common sense. I rely too much on Emma for that.
What is also putting a dampener on things is the state of my health. Near the end of the journey to Plymouth I started to feel a soreness on the right side of my mouth. Like an ulcer or a sore inside my mouth. Nothing too dramatic, but enough for Emma to suggest that, since we were already too late to meet Andrew and the family for lunch, that we stop to pick something up for it if we get the chance. We stopped at a Sainsbury's where Emma picked up some mouthwash and some Daktarin. At first it made things worse. When I was applying it at the hotel I felt like someone was trying to slice my gums apart with a rusty blade. But by the time we were eating at the pub it had eased a little and I felt like it might be ok. Yet at the back of my mind I also worried that it would not be. There's a pattern here. Whenever I have been on anti-biotics in the recent past I have had problems with my mouth afterwards. Oral thrush, in fact. My doctor has explained to me previously that this can happen when you are taking a lot of different medication orally. In addition to my anti-biotics there is the Solifenacin I take for my old man's kidneys, and the seemingly constant stream of painkillers I was taking to get me through the working week when I had the infection. It wasn't too bad on Saturday eating lunch then, but I remember thinking that if this develops into oral thrush then I will be in some serious pain come Sunday night or Monday morning.
Saturday night is unremarkable enough. We meet at the Holiday Inn which we take a pleasant walk to via the marina. We don't really do that deliberately for the aesthetic pleasure of it. The hotel receptionist advises us to go that way to make sure we don't get lost. After about 15 minutes of sea air and shitting dogs we come to a large park with some access issues. We have to walk all the way around the right hand side of it to get through rather than take the steps at the front. Mercifully the Holiday Inn is on the edge of the park and we don't have far to go. That venue has been chosen because Emma's auntie Diane works in a Holiday Inn in Sheffield and so gets discount. Everything goes on her tab, we are told, and we don't argue. I save my arguments for her husband Chris. Last time I saw Chris he made some rather disturbing comments to me about Hillsborough. Lamentable nonsense about fans misbehaving on the day. I thought I had put him straight then but to my astonishment he brings it up again, almost as if he can't think of anything else to talk about to a person from Merseyside. He tells me that 'we' (he doesn't say who 'we' might be) have a 'real problem understanding' to which I reply that we have a real problem with people who don't accept that the fans were not to blame, that the police failed in their duty, and that subsequently lies were told and statements changed to instigate a cover-up. He changes the subject. Let's talk about Saints. They're currently in the process of losing 48-22 to Warrington and my only distraction from Chris is the Champions League final and the constant stream of text updates from my mates on Saints' impending loss.
After Arjen Robben's late goal wins the Champions League for Bayern Munich and spares us the tedium of extra time it is suggested that we move on. I'm not that keen on the idea, and not only because the ale is cheaper here. It's also quiet enough to have a conversation and genuinely socialise. I'm so old now that the idea of going to a loud bar in which conversation is possible only through the medium of mime no longer appeals. But we go anyway. The row of bars around the marina are all chock-full and impossibly loud and we mercifully settle on the one which has the least of these attributes. Women at a hen party are all dressed in sixties get-up and it's like wandering into a Hall Of Lulus. My gaze is diverted by the girl behind the bar who has a slight look of Karen Gillan from Dr Who. But I'd still rather not be here. I've not sat through an entire episode of Dr Who since Tom Baker's day. I'm not one of those obsessives who will watch or listen to something because it features somebody attractive. Although I did watch the drama that Karen Gillan was in about David Bailey and Jean someone or other. See I can't even remember who she played. I was distracted. We take the long way back to the hotel over the cobbles because the bridge we crossed to get here closes to the public at 9.30pm. Every time I go over a cobble stone I think that either a wheel will fall off or I'll be hurled forwards out of my chair and into the street. Or the sea.
As with all church-going occasions I find the christening almost unbearable. I'm not one of those ignoramuses who spent last week blaming Islam for the horrible murder in Woolwich, but nor am I someone who believes in religion. As a friend of mine so succinctly put it last week, the most common cause of atheism is logic and reason. I don't believe in God any more than I believe in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, so to listen to the priest bang on about His Lord just irritates me. I've expressed the reasons for this elsewhere on these pages. It is enough here to say that I have seen too much death among the young, experienced too much suffering on account of the science of my condition, to hold any truck with the view that there is one all-powerful, Almighty making it all happen. He's a sick fucker if he does exist. The nadir of the service comes when the priest pulls out a Mars bar and uses it as an analogy for the father, the son and the holy spirit. Something about chocolate, nougat and caramel. Except that I can prove that all those three things exist. No doubt he would argue that I cannot prove that God does not exist but we're back to Santa Claus again in that case. He tells us that in previous sermons he has used a three-point plug to illustrate his point. He tells us this proudly, as if he is reporting that he has just saved a toddler from a crocodile. The only thing enjoyable about all of this is that the church dog walks on to the stage near the end and promptly falls asleep while the priest is still preaching at us. As votes of no confidence go it's pretty damning. Before that it had begun barking in between prayers. The only thing missing was for it to have taken a dump on the altar. I can't be the only one relieved to have left the church, with it's inadequate ramp (I had to bounce down the steps) and it's sub-zero temperatures.
We progress to a nice little family centre for the party, whereupon I make the mistake that seals my fate and ensures my disappearance from public life for the week. For some reason I have a quite outrageous thirst. I make this worse by nibbling on the crisps, quavers and twiglets (I don't even like Twiglets, do I?) that Susan has distributed in little bowls around the room. I down the first pint of iced coke rather too quickly and it does not quench my thirst. So I have another one. While the children play games of pass the parcel and musical chairs which are blatantly fixed to ensure that they all win, the sugar in my two pints of coke sets about bringing out the worst in my oral thrush. When we go back to the hotel Emma decides she needs a rest, but I go to the bar to see if a pint of something stronger might dull the senses. It just gives me stomach ache and it is all I can do to fight my way through it (I'm nothing if not courageous when it comes to lager consumption) before I am back up in the room and asleep myself. I awake around 6.30 with my mouth raging. I can hardly move the left side of it and I have absolutely no clue as to why something which started on the right hand side and seemed to have been stamped out by a tube of Daktarin can have now resurfaced ten times as painfully on the other side of my mouth.
Sleeping, even for just an hour, has had the effect of completely drying my mouth up and it is now something close to agony. I can still speak, but with all the mouth movements of Keith Harris. Susan and Roland are staying for the extra night too, and earlier we had arranged to meet up for a few drinks again. I almost don't go because I'm in no fit state, but then reason with myself that if I get up, clean out my mouth and hammer it with alcohol I will feel better than I will if I stay in watching Channel 5 and feeling sorry for myself. Probably not tomorrow, but I have never been one for tomorrow. So we go, to another Wetherspoons where this time the staff are dressed as pirates or something. One woman manhandles me in her attempts to help me find the camouflaged lift. It's just a piece of carpet that blends in with the rest of the floor next to the staircase and a door that might lead to a cloakroom or a toilet. There's no gate, no signage. But there is a button and it does work. Another pirate goes to the trouble of finding us a table amid the Bank Holiday crowds, and moments later he comes back with a chair for Emma. You don't get that kind of assistance in St.Helens or Liverpool, I remember thinking. I remember thinking that, and I remember thinking that my mouth hurts.
I don't know how I made it through another four hour drive home on Monday morning. I awoke at about 8.00 in the same amount of agony I had been in during my previous experiment with sleeping with oral thrush. Sleeping with oral thrush? That just sounds wrong. Anyway, you know what I mean. So we decide to go straight home. Emma's not one for breakfasting when she has been drinking and I couldn't get so much as a single baked bean into my mouth in my current state. On reflection I should probably have asked Emma to drive but I just wanted to get home and probably felt more in control of that goal if I did the driving myself. En route, we stop at a service station for some fuel. Emma has suggested that I try some Yakult yoghurt drinks because they have good bacteria in them or some such. I agree because I'm willing to try anything at this point, but I have reckoned without our legendary gift for misfortune. We have stopped at the only service station in the northern hemisphere which is not open for anything other than the purchase of fuel. There is building work going on around the forecourt and petrol is paid for in a little room next to the normal kiosk.
I'm desperate by now so I go straight to the walk-in centre in town. I am greeted by a receptionist who listens to my problem and assures me that someone will see me soon. About ten agonising minutes later I am called into a room by a nurse. She's a very nice lady and I suppose she is only doing her job. It's just that after our conversation I am not entirely sure what her job is. Her name is Linda, and when she finds out what I think the problem is she takes a look inside my mouth with a light;
"Can't see any little white specks." she informs me.
I nod with all the patience I can muster, and she goes on;
"See, normally we can't give you the Nystatin (the drug I take for oral thrush, or at least the one I have taken the other 17 times this has happened to me) if we don't know that's what it is."
"But I know what it is, I have had it before."
"Just let me go and ask the senior."
She comes back in to the room. She has asked the senior and the senior says no.
"We can't give you the Nystatin." she repeats.
"Cos it's not oral thrush, you see."
But it is.
She surpasses herself with;
"It's not life threatening though, is it?"
Well no. But what was not my understanding of the function of NHS walk-in centres. In fact, I could have sworn I saw a sign outside directing patients with 'minor injuries'. So are we saying that walk-in centres only treat minor injuries which are life threatening? This would appear to be a contradiction. Fuming, suffering, about to kill someone or something I give up the proverbial ghost and go home. At this point I make my last contribution to anyone other than Emma for the week, speculating with a friend on Facebook as to whether I was refused treatment at the walk-in centre because I failed to walk in to the walk-in centre. I suggest Mr Cameron looks into the prospect of building some wheel-in centres pretty smartly. There is obviously an urgent need.
On Tuesday morning I phone the doctor and ask for an appointment. They offer my 3.50pm and when I ask if they have anything earlier they offer me 9.10am. Why did they not offer me that in the first place? Why would they not offer me the first available appointment? Is there some sort of conspiracy to stop me getting better going on? My paranoia is reaching Fergie levels, and I'm only calmed when I actually see the doctor. Dr Cox takes a look in my mouth and confirms that I do have visible signs of oral thrush, just not white specks which the nurse had been looking for. He calls it a 'white sheen'. At last I am prescribed the Nystatin that I know will work and that I know I need. He also gives me a course of tablets which he says will blitz it once and for all, so much so that I should only take half and save the rest for the rainy day when it returns. I feel like a junkie must feel when they finally track down their dealer. It would be euphoric if I wasn't in so much fucking pain.
And ever since that doctor's appointment I have been holed up in the house feeling sorry for myself. I have read all of Jamie Carragher's autobiography and half of a book with some kind of Lemon Tree-related title by a man called Mark Rice-Oxley which is about his experiences with depression and other stress related illnesses. If you are slightly mad like me it is required reading. I have also watched Traffic with Michael Douglas, Benicio Del Torro, Catherine Zeta Jones, Don Cheadle and lots of other famous people too numerous to mention, The Libertine which is a quite awful historical drama with Johnny Depp and John Malkovich, and lots of tennis, cricket and NBA Basketball. All with a slightly forlorn look on my face as the medicine has taken it's time to have the desired effect. As I write, it is more irritating than painful and I intend to return to work on Monday, whereupon I will no doubt have a discussion with my boss about how my sickness record is not quite as good as it was a fortnight ago.
Until then I'm off for a Yakult.