When you walk through a storm


As the pound continues to fall, food prices and the cost of holidays rise, businesses switch their investment to mainland Europe, the universities struggle to attract foreign students and the NHS, farming, construction and hospitality industries highlight their growing labour shortages, and the Leave EU voters mutter, “Nothing to do with us”, this Blog has sought diversion in harmless pleasures while awaiting the next Tory party inspired crisis known as the general election.

Owing plenty not only to the NHS but also the charities that keep it afloat, this Blog and Mrs Blog, and, in the past, both Blogdaughter and Blogdog, set out each May in the sponsored Brighton Heart Support Trust stroll along the seafront. I think this is aimed in part at showing bystanders that bionic “body parts scroungers” can still put one foot in front of another, and perhaps also at convincing us survivors of the same thing.

This Blog has made full use of the NHS over the years

The weather usually looks kindly on our walk, it provides more opportunity to enjoy the city than when you’re trying to park, and it offers unlimited prospects of bacon butties and donuts on the pier.


Displaying great self-discipline, we restrict ourselves to just one sandwich each….

….so we can afford to be a little more self-indulgent at the donut stall.

Mrs Blog and I, both being semi-retired, have taken to walking on the South Downs and  visiting National Trust properties, shops or tearooms during midweek with the result that the world seems full of old people. I suppose they have to be somewhere but they do seem to take a long time to choose a cake.

Midweek matinee fun

On the other hand, we find that children are also best avoided. The housing estate where we live (Mrs B doesn’t like me using that word — I think she has middle class aspirations) has organised a Street Party one Sunday in June. Now, we’re British and, despite recent security warnings, not easily frightened, at least not until the threat level hits “Replacement Bus Service” or “Street Party”. We have accordingly Googled, “HELP! Where else can we be on 11 June??” and will be attending the annual memorial service at the Chattri.

Our cul de sac always overdoes it with these things. This was to celebrate the completion of the draft neighbourhood plan

As it happens, this is a favourite walk destination for us and we have planned to make the service for a while. The Chattri is a fine, marble monument, a listed building, set high on the Downs outside Brighton with distant views of the sea. It marks the spot where Hindu and Sikh soldiers, injured in action in the WW1 trenches and brought to the temporary hospital in Brighton’s famous Pavilion, were cremated if they failed to recover. (Only if they died, as Mrs Blog rather pedantically insists that I point out.) Wiki tells me there were over 800,000 Indian soldiers fighting for the Empire at the time and that King George V felt that the exotic mock-Indian surroundings of the Pavilion might help them feel right at home.  That, and the pier, sticks of rock and Donald McGill postcards, no doubt.

Visiting any scene of “ultimate sacrifice” like the D-Day beaches, Flanders war graves or the Menin Gate is inevitably a most moving experience and to stand at the Chattri and think of those men a century ago, fighting and dying so very far from home, is right up there.

There must be something in the air because I met up with an old school friend a week ago at the Imperial War Museum. (Did I say I was seeking diversion in harmless pleasures?) He was over from where he now lives near San Francisco (it’s always sensible to retain friends in useful places) where they don’t have any history of course. This Blog isn’t really into weaponry and not obsessed about set piece battles, but the IWM is about so much more. It’s one of the best places I know for telling a story and engaging your interest. We spent a good three hours without even making the shop or café, which Mrs B found hard to believe – the shop and café bit. The more or less permanent, extensive exhibition on the holocaust would be hard to beat – and we did take in the equivalent in Jerusalem during a recent cruise – but our starting point was the temporary gallery on “Fighting for Peace”, the story of conscientious objectors, the Greenham Common women and protest marches against the Iraq war.

You put your whole self in….

The age old scenario: you finish your demo and there’s never enough buses

Adopting our “we’re approaching middle age” practice of buying tickets for midweek matinees, Mrs Blog and I went to see Richard Wilson as the headmaster in Alan Bennett’s Forty Years On at the Festival Theatre in Chichester. Having read the play several decades ago it was nostalgically comforting to hear Bennett’s familiar lines:

“wild horses on bended knees couldn’t have dragged me away”

“it was the kind of library he had only read about in books” and

“I have never understood this liking for war. It panders to instincts already catered for within the scope of any respectable domestic establishment”

That’s about as experimental and challenging as theatre needs to get for Mrs Blog and me.

Not exactly Alan Ayckbourn, though, is it?

Next week we take another adventurous step, this time musically, to the hip coastal resort of Eastbourne. Sorry, that should read, the hip replacement coastal resort.  It’s for a Gerry and the Pacemakers concert and there’ll be pacemakers everywhere. Along with all the other scouse ex-pats on the Sussex coast I’ll take me red and white scarf for the cardiac recoverers’ encore…..

“Walk on, walk on, with hope in your hearts….”

Gerry always gets a great encore at the Eastbourne Hippodrome





Computer says no



“Hallo, my name is Michelle.  How can I help you today?”

“I’m heading off to Barbados next month with Mrs. Blog for some well earned R&R. I understand that I need to take out some additional travel insurance to supplement my basic cover. I do this each year. Something to do with having had the odd operation in the past.”

“Right, we’ll need to go through a few questions, if that’s alright? Will you be taking part in any winter sports activities during your trip?”

“The Barbadian ski slopes have not previously had the benefit of my presence, so probably not.”


Planning my usual relaxing holiday in the Caribbean…



“Have you ever been diagnosed with high blood pressure?”


“Have you ever been diagnosed with high cholesterol?”


“Have you ever been prescribed medication to lower your cholesterol level?”

“I take a statin each day, like many men of my age.”

“The computer says that’s the same as being diagnosed with high cholesterol. I’ll put you down as ‘Yes’.”

“I haven’t been diagnosed with high cholesterol. I’ve never had a high cholesterol reading in my life. The doctor says it’s sensible to take statins to be on the safe side.  Is there a doctor there that I can talk to?”

“Do you weigh less than 17.5 stones?”

“Much less.”

“Can you walk for 200 yards unaided?”

“I can run up and down mountains if that helps.”

“Please just answer the question. Have you ever suffered with a back problem?”

“A few years ago I woke with a stiff back and thought my holiday flight a few weeks later might be a problem, so I went to see a physio for a massage. But not a medical problem, no. It’s just that I understand I’m supposed to tell you everything.”

“The computer says you’ve got a medical condition. We’ll need to investigate further. Has this condition necessitated an unplanned hospital admission within the past five years?”

“I don’t have a back condition. It was stiff one morning. Of course it hasn’t required a hospital admission.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but we do have to work through the questions. Would you describe your back condition as chronic?”

“No, but I’m starting to experience some tightening in my chest. I think it’s called stress. Or exasperation. Are you sure there’s nobody else there I can talk to?”

“Do you still take medication for your back condition?”


“Shall I put that down as ‘no’? Do you have any other conditions that you need to declare? You see, if you don’t, it could in the event of a claim make the whole policy void. So, is there anything else?”

“I had a hip replacement last autumn.”

“Has it dislocated since it was carried out?”


“Are you awaiting further surgery on the hip?”


“Are you receiving medication arising from the surgery?”


“Do you have any other conditions that you need to disclose?”


I suppose I should mention that I tripped over the kerb… 



“I thought I had dandruff once when I was at school but it turned out to be ash from a bonfire in the grounds. Don’t put that down for goodness’ sake! It was a joke.”

“I’m sorry, sir, the computer doesn’t let me delete information once it’s in there. Have you ever had surgery, or are you on a waiting list for surgery, arising from your dandruff condition?”


“If that’s all then, sir, let’s run this through and get you a quote. Let me see, ah, here we go. It appears that we can’t provide you with the cover you’re seeking. But if you wanted to go to Spain, the computer says that would be ok.”

“I don’t want to go to Spain. I’ve booked flights to Barbados. Why can’t you cover me? You managed alright last year and the year before that. What’s changed, apart from you not wanting to provide a useful service?”

“The computer won’t tell me. But it’s possibly down to the hip surgery you’ve told me about.”

“So, let me get this clear. By seeking medical intervention, having a successful operation and being now pain free and more mobile, I’ve succeeded in making myself uninsurable?”

“I can see where you’re coming from there.”

“Can you? Are you telling me that I’d be better off – from your point of view – by ignoring any illness and struggling on with incapacitating health problems, rather than seeing a doctor and having it sorted? Is that your official position? Perhaps you should give that greater publicity?”

“These questions are carefully designed by health experts to accommodate the necessary risk factors so we can offer an optimum level of cover to all of our valued customers, it says here.”

“It’s been a great way to while away the last hour. Thank you for your time. I’ll just have to hope that I don’t suddenly feel the need for an emergency foot massage on holiday.”

“Will there be anything else I can help you with today?”


Mrs. Blog faces up to the disappointment that I may not be able to accompany her on holiday this year…


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Health, Lewes

Remember, remember 18 October Gunpowder, treason and plot



Well, I made it home after my month in hospital but “discharge him back to the community day” was not without its moments. Lack of immediate capacity in the community nursing service to visit Chez Blog on a daily basis to drip feed my newly acquired bug-battling drug habit threatened an additional week’s bed-blocking stay in hospital while arrangements could be made. There was also some reluctance on Mrs. Blog’s part for me to vacate the hospital ward and head homewards while we still had a few days paid-for hospital Wi-Fi left on both the iPad and my laptop; and the family car resolved to let itself down on the journey home by attempting to complete the trip without the benefit of either clutch or gearbox.

Somehow I expected, having been incarcerated for what felt – from where I was – like an eternity, that major change would be evident all around me: a brand new government economic policy not based entirely on making poor people poorer in order to make the rich feel better; the reintroduction of Fry’s Five Boys Chocolate; or Liverpool FC signing a player that might be able to score the occasional goal.

“So, where you been, then” asked the taxi driver who picked us up from our still smoking, abandoned car and eyeing my two crutches and natty, hospital issue compression socks as Mrs. Blog and I scrambled out of the pouring rain.

“Nearly five weeks in hospital. Should have been a couple of days. What have I missed?”

“Lucky so and so! We’ve had five weeks of road works in Station Street, it’s been like a cross between Sodom and Gomorrah and that other thing. You’ve been in the best place, mate, take it from me. When you next do the lottery, let me know and I’ll copy your numbers!”

But, as ever, I get ahead of myself.

During my last few days in the ward there was “industrial action” within the NHS by the trade union of which I was a member throughout a 30 year public sector career. Having been advised by the ward nurses that it would be inappropriate to join the picket line outside the hospital (they suspected I might not come back), I settled back onto my bed and cheerily called the day shift nurses “scab” for having crossed the picket line, in the confident expectation that my care would be unaffected. Tricky stuff, labour relations.

I think Mrs. B is happy that I’m home. She’s not impressed that I’ve been demanding a daily menu of sandwich and hot meal choices from which to make my selection, which is no more than I became accustomed to in hospital. And she’s quick to point out that some of the TLC tasks fall well outside anything she ever signed up to under the “for better, for worse” clause – and what’s more, she would, in her work environment, delegate those to a veterinary nurse, or pest controller. On the other hand, there are vital things on the top shelves in the kitchen she hasn’t been able to reach for weeks, like jars of solidified Horlicks, and the precise roles of those pesky recycling boxes have remained impenetrable as far as Mrs. B is concerned – though, to be fair, in my absence she has succeeded in sorting my empty wine bottles by grape type.

On balance I think it’s probably helpful that Mrs. B is able to bring to bear her full array of veterinary skills to my recuperation. That said, there is a tendency to over-elaborate on the range of potential unhappy outcomes that might arise from any line of treatment – my lack of a moist nose and a glossy coat, apparently hinting at some dark scenarios. And, although she’s more than well versed in giving me some of the essential jabs, I didn’t like the way she seemed to be lining up her syringe last night like Phil “The Power” Taylor on the “oche” some eight feet away.

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Mrs. Blog prepares to administer my anti-thrombosis jab


I must make mention here of Mrs. Blog’s recent fund raising efforts on behalf of a local cats’ charity. Burdened by a fear of heights and evident lack of fitness, but determined to rise to the challenge – and, crucially, having been promised that a branch of M&S lay just out of sight on the other side – she managed to secure several hundreds of pounds’ worth of sponsorship to make an ascent of the roof of the O2 Arena in Greenwich. This she recently completed – together with the almost equally important descent.


Mrs. Blog takes a well earned rest at the summit


Mrs. B would, I feel sure, welcome suggestions for future charitable challenges. My own list for her includes bungee jumping, bareback rodeo riding and knife thrower’s assistant.

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I’m conscious of having got this far with no explanation of the blog title.

The small, historic town of Lewes, East Sussex, where this blog is firmly rooted, is – strangely – the UK’s epicentre for all things “bonfire”. Take some of the fiery beacons once common across the nation as a method of communication, add in the 1605 Gunpowder Plot, throw in the 17 Protestant martyrs burnt at the stake in Lewes during the Marian Persecutions, some Victorian mythmaking and modern perspectives on “reclaiming the streets”, and you end up with thousands of strangely clad, processing Lewesians (including family Blog) and many thousands of spectating outsiders in the narrow streets, tens of thousands of blazing torches, huge effigies stuffed with pyrotechnics, dozens of bands and half a dozen spectacular bonfires and firework displays, each of which could rival a major civic display in a provincial city. Health and Safety? Don’t ask.

On 5 November not only the various Lewes based societies, but also representatives of a couple of dozen bonfire societies from surrounding towns and villages, gather in Lewes for the nation’s biggest bonfire celebrations. And, on a series of Saturdays through October and November, members of the Lewes societies gather in town before being bussed out to support the locals in their own festivities. This is the “season” when one might expect to be propping up a bar next to a couple of Vikings, a platoon of Confederate soldiers and the occasional Zulu. But then, that’s not exactly unusual In Lewes at any time of year.

Family Blog have been members of one of the grown-up bonfire societies in Lewes for a decade or so and, before that, we dressed and “marched” for another ten years — as punks, smugglers, millennium bugs, superman and catwomen (you name it, we forced ourselves into the costumes) – as members of the town’s junior bonfire society, on a half term Saturday evening in late October. Yup, you’ve got it: blazing torches and huge bonfires, marching bands, huge aerial displays, and all in the hands of youngsters. What’s not to enjoy??

Pet friendly it isn’t. Through October each year, Mrs. Blog professionally advises her veterinary clients on how best to counter this awful assault on their pets’ eardrums and nerves. And on November 5th she dons her Commercial Square Bonfire Society yellow and black “smugglers” jersey and strides out with the rest of Lewes to the sound of “Sussex by the Sea”, hurling fire crackers and crow scarers. Hey ho.



This year I have it on good authority (Mrs. B – and I’m not inclined to argue) that I won’t be seen anywhere near so much as a sparkler this year. Crowds in their tens of thousands squeezed into Lewes’s narrow thoroughfares, lengthy processions and jostling throngs around the fire sites don’t exactly lend themselves to sensitive arrangements to accommodate the temporarily incapacitated with a dodgy hip. The most I can hope for is a small breakaway group at the end of proceedings calling round to describe the evening’s costumes and pyrotechnics to me with the aid of a box of Swan Vestas – it’ll be like listening to radio commentary on arm wrestling or tug of war.

I’ve told the Lewes Bonfire Council that they should press on without me this year and just try to make the best of it. I’ll be back…




“A Dog’s Life” in hospital?



No, not a complaint about the devoted care I continue to receive at the gentle hands of the NHS but, since admission on 15 September, I’ve been through the whole lunchtime sandwich menu several times, I’ve had two full hip replacement operations plus a “clean out” – all on the same hip – and had to learn to walk again three times, I know the unedited medical history of too many strangers and, after four weeks, my hair could probably do with a wash. I’d rather like to go home now, please.
Where were we?
My last blog related the gripping story of my chance encounter, and ongoing struggle, with a celebrity bug. Personally, I feel it’s not really a level battlefield when one’s opponent is the sort of creature that thinks it reasonable to hide out in one’s nether regions. I understand that, in terms of numbers, it has me licked, but on my side I have a supporting team with a lot of letters after their names and the interests of my posterior very much at heart, and the opposition can’t lay claim to that. Result, I feel.
Actually, the results are still awaited, but, if our side proves to be getting the upper hand, I hope to be on my way shortly. It’s just as well. Having been here so long, I’ve been asked if I wanted to make a cash offer for my little room under the right-to-buy legislation and I have been looking at some matching paint and curtain options. Just in case they want to move me into the main ward at any stage, I’ve threatened to scent mark my territory.
Despite my trusted supply of Muffles wax ear plugs (potential sponsors of this blog, please note “product placement” options), I’ve heard “our” end of too many phone conversations since I’ve been here – my room is immediately behind the nurses’ station:
“Yes, I imagine it is very messy – and, yes, I can see how your neighbours would have been a bit surprised — but I don’t think he needs to be readmitted for that.”
My capacity for decision making has been reduced to the daily choice between custard and pineapple upside down cake and whether to reply to a text from home before or after I do the hip stretching exercises. I ask auxiliary nursing staff if it’s ok to get changed or washed.
My world view is also undoubtedly overdue a refresh:
Mrs. Blog (who is undoubtedly storing up an ominous amount of credit by catering to my bruise creaming requirements): “How are you doing today?”
Me: “Blood pressure’s been a bit low all day, they’ve given me something for the swelling on my right ankle and I managed to you know what for the first time this morning.”
Mrs. Blog: “And what have you been doing with yourself?”
Me: “Watched Loose Women on the iPad, read the menu card twice and brushed my teeth. Though that could have been yesterday.”
Mrs. Blog: “Have you been following the Ebola crisis and the latest efforts against the terrorism in Syria and northern Iraq?”
Me: “I’ve asked if they can do an egg mayo on brown at lunchtime. It would make a nice change from the white.”
Mrs. Blog: “Your brother was on the phone last night to see how you were doing. They’re off to Kruger to mark his ‘big one’ on Thursday.”
Me: “I find, if I get a fourth pillow under my knee, it helps me sleep.”
Mrs. Blog: “Well, it’s good to see you’re on the mend. I’d better be heading home. The roads were absolutely flooded on the way here, the wipers are very dodgy and I think the gear box may have gone.”
Me: “OK. Can you remember to bring the cordial in tomorrow?”
There are still things that puzzle me after my weeks in here. Every single time they give me any heavyweight painkiller or put a drip in me they ask me to confirm my date of birth. If I were an imposter, sneaking into the hospital to assume this blog’s identity and undergo three major surgical procedures on its behalf, what would be my motivation? And my mental state? And just how essential was that unmissable arrow drawn on my right thigh before they took me down to surgery – was the huge wad of padding covering the existing wound, just three inches higher, so hard to spot?
I have way too much time here to contemplate my navel. I found myself recalling an earlier stay in hospital when, as a teenager, I had a cartilage removed following a rugby injury. At night, I remember, the nurse sat in the centre of the long ward, spotlit. You were made to feel distinctly guilty if you called for a bottle and she would make sure you waited a long time for it. A plea for a second bottle, to hold in reserve as it were, was regarded in much the same way as young Twist asking for a second helping of gruel.
There were four of us, youngish chaps, in a kind of bay at one end of the ward, and nurses would sometimes wander down for a chat, a flirt and a quiet smoke – on reflection that seems scarcely credible now. (I’m rarely on the receiving end of much flirting.) One morning there was a whispered warning as matron approached and our friendly nurse span round to talk to her, concealing her cigarette behind her. It was only when matron marched away that the lad in the next bed to mine let out a bravely suppressed groan from the still smouldering cigarette , stubbed out on his wrist. Halcyon days of the NHS.
Yes, I think it’s time I left, and I sincerely hope that my next blog will embrace some other subject, posted from home. Please excuse the self-absorption and reduced presentational standards, and accept my warmest thanks for the very kind wishes that you have sent.
On a totally separate subject, this prolonged stay in hospital has meant something of a clash with the publication of a light-hearted book about my life’s heroic struggle to remain normal(ish) while growing up and living with vets, particularly Mrs. Blog who vets in a professional capacity when not over-committed at M&S.

This excellent tome is called “It’s a Dog’s Life for the Other Half” and is out this month. My timings are now awry, thanks to The Wonderful World of Bugs, and I have already turned down one request for a live radio interview over the phone in fear that it might be interrupted closer to hand by a query on the quantity of leakage from my wound or whether I have opened my bowels today.

I have taken the liberty of reproducing below, in a boring monochrome format because I can’t master the technology, a kind of flyer thingy which should provide far more information than you could ever want. I apologise for the published price, for which I am not responsible, and I do know it’s available for much less. If you should happen to buy and enjoy, please “share” and “review” in appropriate places. If you don’t, please feel free to keep your feelings to yourself. Talk to you soon.



As the brother of a vet and the husband of a vet, Steve Ankers can’t escape the fact that All Creatures Grunt and Smell!

Very funny and touching, all fans of James Herriot and Gerald Durrell will love this new book

Available from 20th October 2014 through all good bookshops and internet booksellers

“Hilarious & eminently readable” Terry Jones

(Monty Python comedian, actor, writer & director)


by Steve Ankers

ISBN: 978 1 86151 199 7 Paperback 198 pages

RRP: £12.99 out 20 October 2014 Also available as an ebook

Published by Mereo Books an imprint of Memoirs Publishing

Amusing, bizarre, tear-jerking, side-splitting, harrowing and occasionally downright disgusting
encounters with pets (and owners) of all varieties, shapes and sizes …

“It’s a Dog’s Life for the Other Half” by Steve Ankers will have you laughing out loud and will
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When your brother and your wife are both vets, there is no escape from call-outs in the middle of the
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Steve Ankers wouldn’t have it any other way ….

Now Steve’s hilarious true-life adventures with animals and their owners are available for us all to read
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In Steve’s book you’ll meet …

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Some Things are Best Left Unseen


I have just returned from the deepest, darkest recesses of the worldwide web in search of illustrative material for this piece. Reader, I must tell you there are places you do not want to go – beyond even the hideous halls of cat videos and the bottomless and nausea filled caverns of Jose Mourinho interviews. I have scoured this resource of infinite horror, but I have found nought to compare with the reality that I wish to portray.

In the hours following my hip replacement operation – three long weeks ago now — the recovery nurse captured the offending area on my iPhone. You will appreciate that capturing one’s posterior for posterity has not been a frequent pastime for this blog, but Mrs. Blog has ruled that the outcome was so unprecedentedly repulsive that its circulation on the world wide web would give rise to trauma amongst even the most robust, and the possibility of premature death in the ranks of the more vulnerable – though it was not clear whether she was referring to the appearance of said backside before surgery or afterwards.

I will admit this: I am now supported by a purple, glowing mass of vast proportions, which, when the lights go out at night in the hospital, continues to illuminate most of the town of Haywards Heath. If the hospital were in Lewes, I fear I would be in contravention of our national park’s policies on dark night skies.

But I am getting a little ahead of myself.

I was fortunate enough to be allotted an admission date at the hospital immediately after a very sociable weekend involving house guests from Manchester and a visit to Shakespeare’s Globe. I spotted on the calendar in Mrs. Blog’s handwriting, for the Sunday evening, the words “Pre-Op Drinks”, which seemed like a jolly way to spend one’s last night of freedom. Disappointingly, this turned out to be Mrs. B’s reminder for me to consume the distinctly wholesome, non-alcoholic concoctions provided by the NHS by way of nutritional supplement. Certainly an excellent way to prevent any attempt on my part to ignore the looming prospect on the morrow.

Once delivered to the hospital, I was swiftly issued with paper pants, a gown open at the rear and a pair of knee length compression socks. I have to tell you, this is not a good look for me and, when combined with the “loose fitting shorts” that I was asked to supply, brings to mind nothing so much as the image of a disreputable scoutmaster.

I should point out that I have some history when it comes to the replacement of worn out body parts. Indeed, when I am eventually obliged to arrange some terminal one-to-one facetime with my maker, I suspect she/he may be a tad miffed at the number of my original working parts which I have subsequently felt obliged to upgrade. Anyway, some few years back, when having a full knee joint replaced, I awoke from the sedative during the operation and could both hear and smell the chainsaw working its way through the bone. (We lacked more sophisticated forms of entertainment in those days.)

Having failed to be awake enough this time round to take a selfie on the operating table, I also felt disinclined to take one when the catheter was being inserted back in the ward. (Oh, come on, you didn’t really think this blog would be too sophisticated for references to bodily fluids and naughty bits?)
I recall being strongly advised on a previous hospital admission to set aside any current (in my case, theoretical) “diets” and, as an aide to healing and recovery, eat as much as I wanted, whenever I wanted. This advice I took to with some enthusiasm, to the extent that I am still pursuing it some seven years on and can heartily recommend it.

Ever the optimist, I assumed it would be possible to make good use of time spent in hospital to learn a new language or refresh my grasp of quantum physics, but in the event, it has all just been too, well, busy. There’s always something to be measured, jabbed, swallowed, drained, wiped up, drizzled into a vein, or passed. Decisions have to be made on the choice of tomorrow’s breakfast cereal while being connected to a drip or suffering some other bodily indignity.

There’s an initial period post-surgery when the effects of anaesthesia produce a sense of wellbeing unlikely to extend far into the next day. For me, on this occasion, my early ambitions were wrecked on the shores of very low blood pressure, low blood oxygen levels and considerable blood loss and I was unable to rise from my bed for three days to begin the physio programme. The supply of somebody else’s donated “full red” proved the key to me switching from a horizontal to a vertical plane. I am more than grateful for this, of course, but I do wonder about the extent to which I will have acquired any personal characteristics from the donor(s). If you should, in the future, spot me with a copy of the Daily Mail in my hand, or hear me talking about the possibility of voting for UKIP, I would be most grateful if you could, discreetly, bring it to my attention….

Once the magic qualities of the new blood (“very nearly an armful”, as Tony Hancock’s Blood Donor had it) kicked in I was soon up and about and challenging fellow in-mates to Zimmer or crutch races – I’ve always been competitive. The layout of the ward meant it was possible to complete a satisfying “lap” along the corridors, and back to one’s starting point. Stimulated by the “pursuit” race format from the velodromes of Stratford and Glasgow, I was extremely tempted to see if this could be replicated around our circuit, with competitors starting off on opposite sides of the building. Before I could put this into practice however, it occurred to me that one’s opponent might simply drop out and go back to bed – or hide in the TV lounge – and you would never know.

You will not want the gory details (and I’m not keen on them myself) but I was discharged on crutches after five days but, sadly, readmitted less than a week later with far too much of the red stuff gushing through the bandages – this blog really should have had its own health warning.

It appears that I have acquired somewhere along the line one of those award winning celebrity bugs you see on the telly and am to be confined to the ward for a number of weeks. This, I must tell you, does not, for me, constitute a major source of humour but I felt a blog coming on nevertheless and this is it. Apologies if it reads a little more self-absorbed than usual, and fails to meet this blog’s usual production standards.

I confessed in an earlier blog to an excessive pre-occupation with crime thrillers on TV. This may account for me having requested that an armed policeman be on guard outside my door whenever I’m put on a drip (though, in my experience, they almost invariably get “taken out” before the drip is switched to fatal effect.)

The array of drugs that has seeped through my system in the past three weeks has been impressive, and with a rich variety of side effects, including some strange and troubling dreams and nightmares, However, I am reminded of a recent exchange I had with blogdaughter:

Self: “I had a really weird dream last night.”
Daughter: “Did you dream I was the kind of person who’d be interested?”

That said, I will make reference to my 85 year old mother in law who fell and broke a hip while in our care in France four years ago and, while under the influence of anaesthesia in the local hospital, became convinced that she was being held against her will in an underground garage. When I was allowed to join her by the French hospital staff, who were struggling to restrain her, I asked what she thought their motive might be. “Body parts”, she replied mysteriously.

I mentioned this one day to Fred, who cuts our grass and stuff. In return, he told me how he’d been preoccupied while in hospital recently with waves of planes dropping bombs nearby and had refused to let the nursing staff check his blood oxygen levels as the bombers were using the little red light on his finger clamp for “homing” purposes.

Now, that’s not an effect you can get on a couple of pints of bitter. Or, if it is, I’ve been drinking the wrong stuff.

How, I hear you ask, is Mrs. Blog coping with all this. On the positive side, she’s looking forward to carrying out my stomach injections that are part of the anti-DVT measures when I’m eventually sent home. And she likes to invest in new furniture whenever I’m away, “to cheer the place up”. On the other hand, she is struggling with the recycling boxes in my absence, and fears she may be obliged to reacquaint herself with some of my bodily parts that she thought she’d said goodbye to.

I’ve memorised all the notices in the ward and counted and recounted the ceiling tiles. I’ve put back the dance classes – it seemed wise. There was a little bit of excitement this morning when I dozed off immediately after being issued with my pill bucket and had to hunt for them later amongst the tangled bedclothes. I found one more than the records indicated I should have been given, but one turned out to be a Tic Tac, so that was ok.

Well, I don’t know about you but I’ve got a busy afternoon ahead. Somebody will be here shortly to check my blood pressure, and there’ll be the lady that changes the water jugs, and I have to make sure that I’m by my bed when the tea comes round. Don’t want to miss that. Talk to you later.


Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough



When these words appeared in John Betjeman’s twitter feed in 1937, the boys in blue were at his door by lunchtime thanks to an alert troll and an ever balanced tabloid press. “A clearer incitement to commit an act of terrorism, it would be hard to imagine,” as the Mail editorial quite reasonably put it. Or was it, in the words of the statement issued swiftly on behalf of its member by the National Union of Poets, Narrators, Voiceovers and Allied Trades, “taken out of context” and “just a bit of banter”? The offending tweet was deleted that same day and replaced by 150 characters about a Miss J Hunter Dunn and a game of tennis.

I worry about these things so you don’t have to.

BBC4, the one TV channel I would wish to have with me on my desert island (along with Sky Sports News of course – how could I survive without the wall to wall melodrama of Transfer Window Deadline Day?), ran two programmes this week on Betjeman – a documentary by his biographer, A.N. Wilson, followed by a re-run of a programme made for the BBC by Betjeman in 1973 when he was Poet Laureate.

This film, “Metro-Land”, celebrated suburban life in the area to the north-west of London that developed in the early 20th century around the Metropolitan Railway (later the Metropolitan line of the Underground). It comprised a series of vignettes of life in the suburbs of Metro-Land, drawn together by Betjeman’s commentary (Neasden: “home of the gnome and the average citizen”), partly in verse, and inter-woven with black and white film shot from a Metropolitan train in 1910.

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There is a fondness in Betjeman’s writing, and evident in his television appearances, not only for “the high life”, beautiful houses and ecclesiastical architecture, but also for more mundane aspects of British life, like the seaside holiday, the pier and the traditional country scene. These were subjects he frequently celebrated in his poetry and pined for in “Slough”:

 It isn’t fit for humans now,
There isn’t grass to graze a cow.

Betjeman’s poems are often humorous, and in broadcasting he exploited his bumbling,  fogeyish image. His wryly comic verse is accessible. He talks of Ovaltine and Sturmey-Archer bicycle gears.

Setting aside the question of whether Betjeman’s words in 1937 led directly to the Luftwaffe raids of WW2, he did surely deploy his pen effectively in the cause of conservation. A founder member of the Victorian Society, he fought a spirited but unsuccessful campaign to save London’s Euston Arch from demolition when the station was being rebuilt in the 1960s, but enjoyed success in other efforts, including those to save both St Pancras station and the adjoining hotel. A statue of him now stands in the renovated station concourse.

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As the subject for my first blog, earlier this year, I wrote about the architectural journalist and critic, the late Ian Nairn.

Nairn died at the age of 52 from cirrhosis of the liver and chronic alcoholism. Betjeman didn’t. While Betjeman celebrated Metro-Land, Nairn, in his book, “Outrage”, described his nightmare view of “Subtopia” — the areas around cities that had in his view been failed by urban planning, losing their individuality and spirit of place. The two approaches are not incompatible, the early aspirations of Metro-Land becoming tarnished and lost as the new suburbs were in turn engulfed by sprawl.

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The world famous Mildred Avenue Conservation Area, with its unique layout and bewildering array of architectural gems


Nairn was an equally powerful wordsmith in the cause of condemning what he saw as bad and hailing the good, in a style very much his own. “Glasgow is headed for disaster.” “No change here in Norwich’s steady, complacent slide down to vacuity.” He referred to the elephant on the Albert Memorial as having “a backside just like a businessman scrambling under a restaurant table for his cheque-book”. Whether he was always right is a matter for debate – (Sheffield’s) “Park Hill is undoubtedly a success”?

Those who care about the landscape and townscape of the places where they live or work owe much to campaigners who won’t lie down. While the profit margin generally determines what is built, I for one acknowledge a debt to those who have at least put conservation and good modern design on the agenda. The fight goes on: here in Lewes, now embedded in the South Downs National Park, we are blessed with organisations and individuals prepared to make a lot of noise in favour of better design and architectural respect from potential developers.

More poetry please, more ranting!


Footnote: Hip op bulletin: A man came to the house this morning to adjust the height of the furniture and check the shower so that I don’t damage “their” hip when I come home from hospital with it in two weeks’ time. This does not make me feel any younger. I am told that I will need a long-handled thing to help me put my shoes and socks on but I say, “What are family for?” Mrs. Blog says I will have to have my beard tidied before I go in, but I don’t think she told me why. And many thanks to those of you who have offered back-up supplies of wax earplugs.

It’s good to see that the hospital is taking its risk assessments seriously…

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I put it down to my sporting youth. One knee b*gg*r*d when playing seven a side rugby at school, the other while playing mixed volleyball in a NALGO organised competition, Sports and Social Secretary being the only union office I ever held, which probably says something.

So I do have “previous”. I am so confident that the artificial parts in my left knee will trigger the metal detector at Gatwick that I wouldn’t be prepared to board the plane if they didn’t. Regular readers of this blog will know that it recently spent its time in Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games, triggering nine separate metal detectors at nine sporting events. And each time that ominous buzzing noise was followed immediately by the approach of military personnel (male) donning blue Marigolds which had me wondering whether I was facing an intimate frisk down or an examination for an enlarged prostate.


An invitation it would be hard to refuse…

metal detector


Well, having prevaricated as long as practical, I’m now committed to hip replacement surgery in mid September. Personally, I incline to the view that there may have been some basic design flaw in this blog’s joints – though Mrs. Blog tells me the flaws run much deeper than that.

I suppose this is not the worst affliction. A hip, I can live with, though it doesn’t really shout “hunk” or “cute”, does it?

Back in school playground days I rather envied the kids that turned up with an arm in a sling. That’s the kind of injury you want, not a kidney stone. There is absolutely nothing sexy or heroic about a men’s urological ward – trust me on this. To be fair, there is something rather endearing about watching a group of blokes shuffling along the “waterworks” ward towards the TV room to watch the football, each pushing his “stand” with its own “Gucci handbag”, as the nursing staff insist on calling them. At least, when the game reached half time, we were possibly the only spectators who didn’t need to get up from our seats and head for the Gents.

When I was having my operation a few years ago, it was due to take place in the afternoon just before an England versus Portugal European Nations Cup quarter final that was being televised. (I measure out my life, not in coffee spoons, but in football seasons.) Remaining optimistic that, after surgery, I would still be in the land of the living (or, at least, Sussex), I estimated that I was likely to return from the theatre and “come round” just in time for the big match, and fearing that I might not be at my sharpest then, I carefully arranged the TV at the correct angle on its swivelly bracket thing over my bed before being trollied away to my fate, and pre-ordered the game over the hospital phone system. Nifty, eh?

Come the evening, back in the ward, my eyes gradually opened and scanned the locality. Even through my post-op haze I could tell all was not right. I’d been brought back to another part of the ward and never did get to see the match. I hope whoever was in “my” bed enjoyed the entertainment I’d bought for him. I understand that we lost on penalties after extra time, which I suppose I could have guessed. That was 2004 but the emotional scars haven’t healed.

I should add that the operation itself was most memorable for the fact that, being only sedated, rather than “under a general”, I was awake for a fair part of it and could not only hear and feel the hammering and sawing of my bones beyond the low screen, but smell it. More information than you need?

I have asked the surgeon about my prognosis this time round and he has assured me that, assuming a full recovery from my hip operation, he could see no reason why I should not be able to carry out a full waltz spin turn on the dance floor. Which will no doubt come as a surprise to Alex, our instructor at East Sussex Dance, who is fully aware that we haven’t managed one yet in two months of trying.

Mrs. Blog does not intend to let my temporary demise interfere with her own terpsichorean aspirations. She is not over keen, as I understand it, to turn up without me for our normal ballroom lessons, on the basis that she has enough difficulty grappling with me without taking on board another male partner, and that she has no intention whatsoever of pretending to be a man for the evening. On the other hand, I hear ominous rumours of her showing interest in some dance related fitness classes that Alex also runs, called “Fit Steps” and – I very much hope I have this wrong – ballet.


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Ballet is so bracing…


Mrs. Blog has suggested that, armed with a post-op walking stick, I might wish to take up Morris Dancing – but presumably only after I have graduated from using the Zimmer, or the whole bell and hanky thing could get unbelievably messy. For my part, I do wonder if, for the duration of any protracted rehab process, we might simply reverse our dance roles and Mrs. B could give thought to how she might best lift me above her head for our best jive moves.

So, here we are, about two weeks to go before I’m admitted and Mrs. Blog has gone into action. My mother was always keen that we children should wear clean underwear every day “in case you’re hit by a bus on the way to school” – which rather missed the point that any previously clean pants were unlikely to remain in that condition in the face of an approaching Routemaster.  Mrs. B clearly lives by similar principles and is not prepared to have me admitted to the care of the NHS (we don’t aspire to anything “private”) without a  suitable new outfit for the ward – at least not while this furnishes her with a splendid opportunity for an evening trawl through the local branch of M&S.


Mrs. Blog has brought home a range of  “hospital ready” dressing gowns for me to try on

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I have so far resisted anything that might say “Noel Coward”, but I admit something is needed if I am to avoid wandering the mixed ward wearing one of those hospital “gowns” that, for some unaccountable reason, hang open at the back. Anything more likely to reduce one’s sense of dignity, it is hard to bring to mind. Though it could, I suppose, divert attention from the black, knee-length “compressive tights”, which I understand I shall be obliged to wear for a month. Ho hum.

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I shall start my own packing list.

Number 1: Muffles wax earplugs, from Boots. These are indispensible if you don’t want to lie awake through the night listening to other people snoring (one’s own snoring is of course not the problem) or the conversation of nurses, who sometimes seem unaware at night time that there may be poorly people nearby wanting to sleep.

Number 2: More Muffles

Well, it’s a start…