Welcome back to those of you who survived part one of my review of 2013. In a moment, part two, but first let me make it clear that if you were offended by anything in part one then I invite you to bugger off back to Twilight and 50 Shades Of Shite;
On we go.........
The month of July starts positively enough. What could be better than a week's holiday? We have to suffer a quite dismal Saints performance the night before we fly to Portugal, and then get up at what Monty Python might have described as half an hour before we go to bed, but it's well worth it. Villamoura is one of the most pleasantly surprisingly nice places I have ever been to. Not that this stops me from finding new and innovative ways to moan about it in MOAFH. First things first though, and a couple of hours wait in an airport bar wouldn't be the same without someone updating their Facebook and me making mention of it on MOAFH;
"When Emma writes on her Facebook she is in a bar with a Desperado and a bacon sandwich I somehow feel compelled to point out to her friends that a Desperado is a beer, and that she is not referring to me." I write.
This column doesn't normally do name-dropping but it would be remiss of me not to have pointed out that we travelled to Portugal on the same plane as one Rio Ferdinand. The same Rio Ferdinand who only weeks earlier had more or less retired from international football because flying around the world was bad for his health. But it's different if there is golf involved, obviously. DVT only happens to people who are flying around the world for reasons other than golf jollies. Everyone knows that;
"The flight itself is uneventful. I sleep through most of it." I start;
"The only thing of note to report is the surreal experience of being dragged backwards on an aisle chair to my seat, and looking up to see Rio Ferdinand trying to look patient as he waits for me to get my shit together and get to my seat. It's not every day you inconvenience a former England captain."
Well that's true enough, if we gloss over the time that Sir Ian Botham was queing behind me in Lidl and I made him wait while I paid for all my shopping in copper. No, not really.
As I've already said, what this column does do well is moaning, so I move into my element when we get to the hotel reception. Queuing there becomes a bit of a theme for the holiday, but I'm startled by the 35 minutes it takes to get to the reception desk on our arrival. I'd soon get used to it.;
"Waiting is something you need to be good at if you are going to stay at the Ampalius." I offer, before turning my attention to what looks to be an immediate access problem;
"While queuing I notice the lifts are at the top of a small flight of stairs. What I can't work out is how I'm going to ascend them. But Emma's checked all this out with the usual military precision, hasn't she?"
Yes she has;
"The wait gives us enough time to figure out that there is actually an opening in the corner of the lobby which leads to a ramp behind a wall which is not visible from the queue. First panic over, we won't have to be moved to another hotel like we did when we went to Tenerife in 2008. We got an upgrade to a lovely hotel on that occasion, but we had a very bad first day."
Our troubles were not over at that point however, as it takes another two attempts to queue and some two and a half hours more before we manage to actually be granted access to our room. I'm predictably unimpressed;
"Probably because I have been up so long at such a relatively early hour of the day I am a little peeved at this, and tell them so. The girl looks at me blankly as if she has forgotten all of the English that she knew 30 seconds ago."
Having had a good moan about waiting times and having gone through a tedious ordeal involving a faulty safe deposit box, I turn my attention to the few access problems that exist around the resort. It's all a little unfair really. Generally the access around Villamoura is pretty good but if anyone is going to find fault with it, then it will be me and my pompous bloody column;
"Though Vilamoura Marina has fantastic access in the main there is an area which is only accessible via a set of stairs." I complain;
"But these are not just ordinary stairs. As a nod to the need to comply with the ever more complex access laws in Europe someone has had the bright idea of placing a small ramp at the end of each step. My even brighter notion that this would therefore make access possible was somewhat optimistic. We make it, but it's a deathly struggle and there is absolutely no way to go back down the way we came without utilising our health insurance."
Even the hotel restaurant is not entirely devoid of the kind of stupid problems I encounter;
"On Sunday morning a man stole our seat at the breakfast table." I report in the third part of the Portugal tale;
"There were no recriminations, no whailing or gnashing of teeth as they say, it just happened and nothing was said."
It turns out that moving a chair to make a space for my wheelchair is not a good enough indicator to the holidaying public that you have 'baggsied' a table. We return from the briefest of visits to the breakfast buffet to find a man sitting at our table, having blatantly repositioned and sat on the chair that I had moved;
"He just looks at me like a frightened deer looks up from his grazing when he hears a suspicious noise, and then goes back to his bacon and eggs."
So anyway, when is a cruise not a cruise? When it is the Sunset Cruise from Villamoura Marina;
"The Sunset Cruise won't be sailing. Furthermore it never sails because there is never enough interest in it." I have to tell you after a long and pointless discussion with 'a greying, quiet man' at an excursions kiosk;
"He needs at least six people to make a booking to make it worth his while, he explains, but since he won't take any names or accept any money for it it is going to be incredibly difficult to reach that particular target." I suggest.
"So in effect what he is saying is that it is a non-cruise. A mythical cruise like something out of a Sinbad movie. It's Jason And The Fecking Argonauts. Do we get a Golden Fleece as a free gift just for enquiring? No. Not even a free Parker pen."
No sooner am I back from Portugal than I end up in hospital. Two greater extremes haven't been experienced this close together since Cecil Colby died on the job in The Colbys all those years ago. It starts with a lot of nausea and wretching, a generous helping of kidney and bladder pain, a call from the doctor and then a staggeringly fool-hardy refusal to stay overnight in the hospital when I should have. It ends with my heart pounding, hooked up to a 24-hour ECG by a man called Jack Daniels. I shit you not. Jack Daniels is helping me and killing me all at the same time;
"The phone rings. It's my GP. He tells me that the blood test I have had earlier in the day shows that I have very high levels of potassium. He also says that high potassium is extremely dangerous for the heart and that I need to go into A & E as soon as possible to have treatment to lower my potassium levels."
Apart from my morbid fear of hospitals and my complete conviction that all medical people believe the disabled to be expendable, what is stopping me from staying in the hospital is the fact that Saints have just beaten Wigan at Langtree Park. Already dismayed at having been unable to get to the game because they were busy pumping me with fluids and feck knows what, I'm adamant that I'm going home to watch the repeat. We don't beat Wigan very often in the post-Daniel Anderson era, and I've got to go. The consultant advises me not to, banging on about acidosis or some other shit I have never heard of, but I'm off. I sign myself out and go home. I explain my decision like this;
"She wanted me to stay in to explore it further, and to take a closer look at my kidneys. That meant another scan. At this point I had not had a kidney scan for six years. I was absolutely certain that they must have declined considerably in that time but I really didn't want to know."
Two nights later I was going to find out whether I liked it or not. Both of those nights were decidedly sleepless due to increasing heart palpitations until finally I succumbed. I'd gone to the hospital with the full intention of staying in overnight and maybe longer. I'd reached the point where choice didn't come into it. There were more tests and we waited in various rooms all night until;
"As morning arrived we were visited by at least three, maybe four doctors who each wanted to carry out an examination and ask the same questions. Have you got any pain? Are you on any medication? Are you allergic to anything?"
Yet it wasn't until I met my friend the female doctor that things really started to get scary, embarrassing and generally uncomfortable all around. She had a partner in crime, and between them they turned my world upside down for a day;
"What they said plunged me into a world of terror and, with a mind like mine, no small amount of depression and anxiety. They began talking to me about my kidney scan from six years earlier. They went on to describe how I might benefit from a permanent catheter, or another surgical procedure which basically entails bypassing the normal method of urinating and having your water escape from an altogether different, artificially created, orifice."
It did not help that the scan was delayed, almost postponed until the next day due to a quite bewildering mix-up with the porters. Twice I was offered more time to settle in to the ward before going for my scan, but nobody came back to take me for it at the agreed time;
"What I perhaps should have known but did not was that porters have absolutely no authority to decide what time a patient can be taken for a scan." I explained;
"That's not that surprising. They are porters, not medical people and so to have them scheduling scans seems a stretch. What is surprising is that they don't seem to know this."
Finally, mercifully and with the nurses fighting my corner with repeated phone calls to the lab, my scan got back on track. It would be a little late, but not a full day late as I had first feared;
"The chances of pissing through a hole carved into my person had not reduced any, but it was some comfort to know that I would not have to wait so long to get the news." I reflected.
Back comes my friend the lady doctor at this point;
"She had not come to discuss my future toilet arrangements but instead to interfere with my genitals. And not in a good way. Quite matter-of-factly, almost cheerfully, she informed me that she needed to place a permanent catheter into my you-know-what. It wasn't just the knob-grabbing I objected to, but also the insertion of a catheter which seemed roughly the size of a garden hosepipe. That had to hurt. It did. "
To give them enough time to monitor my kidney function with the catheter inserted, it also meant that I was resigned to spending the next 24, probably at least 48 hours in the hospital. Where would it end? If I lived alone I'd be considering selling my house and just moving into Whiston full-time. I was also wishing that I had gone for my scan when the first porter arrived, even though it was only seconds after I had arrived on the ward. Now I would have to go with the catheter along for the ride;
"Eventually I managed to clamber on to the chair and, carrying the most unsightly and humongous bag of what can only be described as my own piss on my knee, was wheeled off to have my long-awaited ultra sound."
Dignity had long since left the building, but I didn't care about that too much at that point. I just wanted to hear some good news. Finally it came;
"A man I seemed to recognise approached my bed and began to pull the curtain around it. Not a man I had seen since I was admitted, but someone from a hospital visit in the past. My old urologist. He walked nearer to address me and explained that he had seen the results of my scan. I winced inwardly and awaited all manner of possible calamities about to unfold. Except they never did. He told me that there had been very little damage to my kidneys since my last scan."
This is about as close to positivity as I could muster in reporting this happy event;
"A wave of relief shot through me." I began;
"But I just felt drained, physically and emotionally after everything that had unfolded in the last 24 hours."
Well, you knew I just had to mention the downside. I was drained. But I wasn't dead, and I could still understand the purpose of my penis in relation to emptying my bladder.
In Other News
Andy Murray becomes the first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years, making him a shoe-in for the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year. Yet he also provokes the anger of a public who don't think he's an interesting enough person to have any significance. A large portion of our population consider Joey Essex to have made a greater contribution to British culture, which is one of the saddest things I can think of.
Of equal tragedy is the fuss people make about the birth of Wills and Kate's royal sprog George. Brilliantly, BBC reporter Simon McCoy stands outside the hospital where the Duchess is about to give birth and announces that there is no news, and that furthermore this is not news. He then proceeds to read out a selection of tweets from the more sensible section of the public who are outraged that their licence fee is being spent on having to watch pictures of the hospital while waiting for someone else's child to be born. McCoy then excells himself in another report not related to the royal birth by holding a box of printer paper in his hand throughout. It turns out he had somehow managed to pick up the paper instead of his ipad and just ploughed on with it. This man is a hero on so many levels.....
Last to get a mention in this exhaustively long July is Russell Brand. He managed to find himself being interviewed about politics by Jeremy Paxman and, after saying a lot of sensible things about how rich people like himself could do a little more to help those worse off and the country in general, he goes and spoils it all by revealing that he does not and has never voted. All of which serves only to justify the political apathy of the nation. Which of course assumes that those at the younger end of the electorate have listened to a damn word he has said since Get Him To The Greek.
New blogs are in short supply in August as I spend much of my writing time catching up on the hospital story. I am only released from hospital at the end of July and spend the first few days of August on my couch wondering if and when the heart palpitations will stop. They don't for a while, and get worse to the point where I am back in A & E one miserable Thursday night at a very unsociable hour. There are more tests, more pricks and more pounding (of my heart) until the nurse just tells me to go home. That's it. There's nothing wrong with me. Potassium is ok, kidney function is ok. There's no reason to keep me in. But I should go for a 24-hour ECG, which is when I meet Jack Daniels and have to endure a whole day with a heart monitor attached to me. It's not quite as restrictive, personal or bloody painful as a permanent catheter but it is highly restrictive. And in any case by the time I have been sent my appointment to meet Jack the palpitations have stopped anyway. The doctor's in the hospital said that they would, even though nobody seemed to know what exactly was causing them.
When it's over we spend a few days in Shrewsbury going on walks and boats and generally doing tourist stuff that does not involve scans, tubes, heart monitors or being butchered by nurses. Shrewsbury is a fantastic place which I can highly recommend, but then it was always going to be a marked improvement on where I had spent the time leading up to it.
In Other News
Peter Capaldi is introduced as the new Dr Who. But not just in some press release. Oh no, apparently his unveiling is important enough for the BBC to dedicate an entire programme to it, with Zoe Ball jumping around excitedly before finally announcing the worst kept secret in television. I can remember a time when the BBC forgot all about Dr Who, considering it to be outdated and well.....a bit crappy. Now it's the hottest property they have once more. Although it's probably only up against Atlantis. Funny how things come full circle. Give it a few more years and they'll be bringing back Noel Edmonds' Swap Shop.
Mo Farah follows up his Olympic success in London last year with gold in both the 5,000 metres and the 10,000 metres at the World Athletics Championships in Moscow. A remarkable feat, though perhaps not quite as remarkable as the fact that he is a good two stones lighter than his nine-year-old stepdaughter Rihanna. Usain Bolt also gets back his world title in the 100m, duly thrashing all comers after the abberation of his disqualification in the Daegu final of 2011.
The month ends with the death of Sir David Frost, who suffers a heart attack at the age of 74. So the BBC show Frost-Nixon again, featuring Michael Sheen wonderously managing to portray Tony Blair no matter what the name of the person he is actually supposed to be playing.
We visit the Warner Brothers Studio Tour in Watford for Emma's birthday. Actually, when they say Warner Brothers Studio Tour they actually mean the Harry Potter Studio Tour. But that's no bad thing if you like your fictional wizards, or if you just have an interest in how megabucks blockbuster films are made. Which happily I do. And Harry Potter films are ok too. It's all here. Everything you ever wanted and probably didn't need to know about Harry, Hermione, Ron and company. Every prop and set right down to the night bus and the Dursley's house to Dumbledore's office and the ministry of magic or something or other. I note that one of the films was directed by a man from St.Helens who's name now escapes me. There's a video playing in which he explains some of the decisions he made during films. It's fair to say that he doesn't sound like he's from Sutton Manor but you have to take the words written on his profile at face value. He's one of us alright. He's just had some elocution lessons. Either that or he got out of here at the first opportunity.
My favourite part is probably the animatronics department. My long lost twin Warwick Davis is on screen, constantly looping with some puppet-making crew member as they tell us a few tricks of their trade. There's the head of a werewolf type creature mounted on one of the walls and at the same point of every play of Warwick's video it comes alive, moving it's head and eyes and growling like something out of a John Landis film. The only downside to the whole experience is the catering, which is all outdoors by the night bus and the Dursley home, and wasps are invited. Then there's the butterbeer, apparently the preferred beverage of many a Potter character, but which tastes a lot like frothy ice cream. More than a couple of mouthfuls is likely to make you spew, but you have a go anyway just to say you have.
In Other News
Presumably there is an altogether higher standard of culinary skills on display in the Great British Bake Off, which seems to have everyone glued to their televisions this month. I manage to avoid all of it. I really do struggle to get my head around cookery as a television spectacle. Food is functional. If you don't eat, you die. But give it to me on my knee while I'm watching Pointless rather than in a posh restaurant where it will be laced with herbs and sauces. Joe Public laps it up though, so who am I to suggest that it is total and utter bollocks? Well I just did.
Miley Cyrus throws off her teen idol image to go twerking with my friend Robin Thicke at the ever-declining MTV Awards. Apparently twerking is shoving your arse in someone's face or something, and Billy's Ray's lovely sweet and innocent daughter pulls off the remarkable achievement of getting the word into the public lexicon. Not everyone is trying to twerk, but you are nobody if you don't know what it means by the end of September. Hannah Montana is unavailable for comment but is believed to be appalled and disgusted.
We'll gloss over my turning 38 at the start of the month and move on to the altogether sadder death of my friend Jo. At just 40 years of age she passes away in circumstances I am still not certain about. All I do know is that yet another of my peers with a similar disability has gone and it is a crying shame;
"Thirty-five years is a long time to know someone." I reflect.
"You end up with a lot of history, not all of it that sensible. Every year we would be made to play Joseph and Mary in the school nativity play. We probably didn't mind at the time but it became a source of great embarrassment to both of us."
Jo and I weren't close at the end, but the biggest thing about losing anyone you have known for that length of time is that you can't take them for granted any more. While they live you think there's a chance you'll be good friends again at some point in the future. Their death gives takes that possibility away;
"It doesn't matter how long you have gone without seeing someone, the finality of knowing that you won't have the opportunity to see them again is difficult to come to terms with."
In Other News
We need to lighten the load at this point so where better to turn to than the idiot lantern in the corner of the room? Channel Four is on blisteringly crass form with the introduction of Sex Box in which, if I've got this right, guests of the show go into a box in the middle of the studio, have sex, and then come out and talk to Mariella Frostrup about it. I'm telling you, if this were my only option then celibacy would be the more attractive option. I'm floundering around in the dark again in criticising this too much as I would never actually sit and watch it, but there is something wrong with a nation that finds this entertaining surely? It's dishonest. If you want to watch people have sex then bloody well man up and buy yourself some porn. Stop tittering about what might be happening inside a box that you have no view of. Grow up Britain, you fuckwit!
Did I say lighten the load? Sorry.
I'm afraid my first work of November does not lift the mood any. In reaction to Jonathan Trott leaving the Ashes tour due that English cricketer's disease known as stress related illness, I turn my attention to my own mental health issues;
"I've been called 'mentally weak' (among other things) for my troubles. I am not, clearly. I go through things every day that many people cannot imagine and there is little doubt that my problems are inextricably linked to my disability. How are able bodied people meant to understand that?" I ask, failing palpably to keep disability out of the argument. But then this is Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard. If you want to read about physically perfect people buy a copy of Hello or GQ.
"Mental health problems are not the result of weakness, but of illness." I conclude.
There's still time in the penultimate month of the year for me to complain about being recognised by a taxi driver when it may or may not have been me, and to fall out of my chair spectacularly in the middle of Liverpool city centre;
"The awful truth is that he might know me, he might not." I state impatiently;
"He's taken a blind punt that it was me because he can remember, through the fog in his small mind, picking up a very drunken disabled person."
While I accept that the words 'drunken' and 'disabled' narrow down the field, I'm still not convinced;
"It could have been any number of people who happened to frequent the premises and have the temerity to do so in a wheelchair." I argue, before straining the concept of analogy to death with fond comparisons with the old 'Guess Who?' children's game. It's a fair cop, I'm Herman. And I do wear glasses and a wig and I did do it in the library with the candle. Oh no, that's another game isn't it?
And so to the comedy fall on Stanley Street;
"Suddenly, quite inexplicably and unexpectedly, I hit a crack in the pavement. Before I even know this I am on all fours on the pavement, crawling around groping for my wheelchair." I admit, the guffaws of the readership almost audible in the background;
"At least three people stop to try and help me. Everyone means well, but there are times when you wish that they didn't. It may sound harsh, but wouldn't it be better if, in this kind of embarrassing scenario, everyone just turned the other way and pretended that nothing had happened?" I add ungratefully, but justifiably.
In Other News
Former Saints star Steve Prescott tragically loses his battle with stomach cancer, seven remarkable years after being given only months to live. A huge crowd turn out for the funeral at Lowe House church to remember Prekky, who was an inspirational figure. During his battle with illness Prekky established his own foundation to help fight cancer, taking on superhuman challenges alongside many members of the rugby league community. But more than that, he was a bloody good bloke who gave us Saints fanatics some great moments. I will never forget his two tries at Wembley in the 1996 Challenge Cup final which sent us into something close to delirium. We hadn't won a meaningful trophy in our lifetimes until that point, making it a very special day. The Steve Prescott Foundation continues its good work after his death.
The festive season begins in outrage as I am ordered to censor my work by my employer. Or at least refrain from mentioning their name in connection with anything negative whatsoever;
"Apparently there is such a thing as bad publicity." I blast;
"But there are a couple of things about this. Firstly, I am a depressive. It is perfectly possible that I could fall into a vault of tits and chocolate and still have a shitty day. Secondly, how many people do they think will get a negative idea of the organisation from my columns? I noted darkly earlier today that over the last few days I have seen at least five photographs of food on Facebook which have received twice as many 'likes' as anything I have ever written. I'm so small time that you can barely see me?"
Where else could we end but on the subject of my health? I have a hospital appointment in the middle of the month, and am greeted with the startling and irresponsibly false news that I will need kidney dialysis within two to three years!
"With all the reassurance of a Tory politician letting us know that we are all in this austerity thing together, Mr Khalid informed me that I wouldn't need to leave work, that they could train me to administer the treatment to myself at home, and that following the treatment a kidney transplant was definitely a viable option." I explain.
But as we know, I was told by a urologist not three months ago that my kidneys had not deteriorated very much at all in the last six months. So how can this be? It isn't. I point out to my new specialist, Mr Khalil, that my kidney function, although at only 28% now, was only at 30% six years ago;
"Was it?" asks Mr Khalil;
"I'm so sorry. I did not know that. You can forget that two or three years, then. It probably won't happen that fast. I'm sorry to have upset you." he tells me, chuckling like Dr Hibbert from The Simpsons all the while;
"After Whiston in the summer, I am beginning to think that this is how all specialists operate. Scare the bejesus out of the patient and then everyone will feel so much better when it turns out not to be as bad as first feared. It's dizzyingly clever when you think about it. I came out of there feeling euphoric, a whole new approach to life developing at a searing pace." I write, giving the medical profession far more credit than it deserves, albeit tongue planted firmly in cheek.
So I survive that, only to endure a decidedly peaky Christmas. I go out once, consume three beers and then spend the rest of my holidays with my old friends the pounding heart and the smelly urine. The drugs make me worse, and give me oral thrush into the bargain, yet as I write I feel better than I have in months. Apart from finding out earlier today that I have anaemia and will know need something called iron infusions. The letter contains all manner of other scientific jargon which confuses and upsets me in equal measures, but then I am distracted by a futile attempt to get Netflix to work on my television and suddenly all fears for my health turn to frustration at my continued inability to see the final series of Breaking Bad. It's good to have priorities.....
In Other News
The news stops at Christmas. We all know that. Wars and famines just have a little break while we instead turn to worrying about how much more money will be generated by the major stores during the Christmas period and its effect on the ailing economy. But then Nelson Mandela dies and the news is back on. Mandela almost single handedly got rid of South Africa's putrid and racist apartheid system after spending longer than can be reasonably expected in prison without going completely tonto. And yet there are still those who, even after his death, would label him a terrorist, as if every other world leader in history hasn't been responsible for a degree of mindless violence in their time. Mandela's funeral is televised live and there a minutes silences all around in remembrance of a highly influential and great political figure.
And quite right too.