Tuesday, August 23, 2011


A couple of weeks ago my little girl became a bit ill. After a few days of Calpolling and copious Ibuprofenisation our doctor diagnosed her as having a urinary tract infection, sent off a wee sample and dished out some magic wellness-juice.

Unluckily she turned out have a strain resistant to various antibiotics commonly used in the treatment of UTIs, and so got worse and worse over the following week until, last weekend, she was admitted to hospital. Once there they took blood samples and had the results back within an hour, showing her to be systemically unwell and harbouring a severe infection. An ultrasound of her right kidney lit up like a night scope, indicating an atypical pyelonephritis.

No-one likes to hear the word 'atypical' when it comes to medical conditions.

Cue, intravenous access, another, different antibiotic and a week of worry at her bedside for me and her mother.

After a couple of downturns and an initial awkward refusal to show any signs of improvement, she obviously decided to let the new antibiotics do their job and got better over a period of twenty-four hours.

We then thanked the incredible staff, left a donation for their social fund, said our goodbyes to some of the other parents we had got to know, wished them well and came home.

Thankfully, my daughter is now back to being her industrious little self. Despite the course of antibiotics she's been given tasting like Tutti-Fruttis, she's still determined to fight every dose as if they were made of ground up needles and chilli powder. As I try to get the syringe with the liquid  past her clamped little teeth I actually relish the struggle, as it’s a vast improvement over the lethargy and flatness of a week ago.

Anyway, my stress levels over the last few days were similar to those found in a tight-rope walker with an inner-ear problem, but the relief of knowing she was on the mend was palpable. It's only then you notice the tension in your shoulders that has been there all the time start to recede, and you can  begin think of other things without automatically labelling them as unimportant. Like going to work and doing food shopping.

In retrospect, you almost feel guilty about coming out of hospital when so many other children are still stuck there. I was struck and humbled by the well wishes of other parents whose children had far more serious, even life limiting conditions than a kidney infection, no matter how atypical. There seems to be room for compassion for others in people who have the best reason in the world not to give a damn about anyone else.

As grateful and relieved  as I am for the wonderful care my daughter received, my mind keeps flipping back to the Children's Ward, hoping that they find the cause of 2 month-old Josh's convulsions, that Aaron loses the ticks his autism meds have left him with, that 2 year-old Cameron's 6 weeks in traction for his broken hip aren't too traumatising, and that Oliver's mum and dad never have to use the CPR that the nursing staff were teaching them on the day we left.

Here’s thinking of them and others in similar situations.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Broad Church

And . . . we're back!

It comes to something when you have to blog in your break at work, and only then if there aren't any team leaders using the computer to sell ambulance service tourniquets and morphine on eBay.

This is what it has come to though, because of the demands of domestic life. Reality does like treading on the toes of the virtually inclined, leaving us to stare wistfully into a pixellated middle-distance, when once we might have a sudden urge to type something or simply read other blogs and then PLAG!, we could satisfy that compulsion there and then. Ooh, them were the days.

Plag is definitely the sound made by someone satisfying an urge to blog, by the way.

So there I was, stuck in the real world, and having to think of something to do to entertain the kids. It is a sad indictment on the state of the internet that you can't take children there, what with all those disgusting paediatricians, cyber-bulls and expensive child-slave-labour-agencies. It's just not worth the risk.

For this reason, we made our way to our local cityette, Gloucester, which has been parked about ten miles away next to the River Severn and boasts ancient heritage, roman ruins under the shopping malls and not one, but two Lidl supermarkets.

Usually, you can barely see the tattoos for the cigarette smoke in the main streets of Gloucester (presumably why they're referred to as drags), and you have to keep your head down to avoid a veritable hygiene mine-field of old chewing gum, new dog poo and medium aged spit that tend to adorn the pavements waiting to disappoint potential Dick Whittingtons.

On this day, howsowhatever, it was actually rather pleasant. People were smiling around their burgers and had put on their least crispy tracksuit bottoms to celebrate the warm summer weather. The pigeons weren't letting their almost universal lack of toes get in the way of a pleasant cooing, and the street cleaning wagons had bravely tackled the swirling litter and bacteria-laden deposits from the human, canine and avian inhabitants. If you squinted your mind a bit, you could just about stoop to categorising drinking MacDonald's coffee on a bench as pavement cafe culture, pretending for the briefest of instants that there was a certain air of European sophistication to the place.

We had a walk, being able to concentrate on some of the superbly eye-catching buildings that dot Gloucester throughout it's older bits and even attempted a spot of shopping, albeit in a mall which appeared to have been cloned from every other shopping mall in the country. We ended up swapping a watch for a slightly cheaper watch and a gift token, thus contributing about minus five pounds to the local economy.

We then went to Gloucester Cathedral.

Now Gloucester does a damned good cathedral. It's a big place, almost worthy of the might of thousands putting their sweat, tears and, all too often, blood into it's construction for the glory of . . . well, a rich, world spanning organisation based on a middle-eastern death cult, but hey, it's really pretty.
People who know me are often surprised by my enjoyment of churches and cathedrals, and houses of worship in general as I have been known to be a tad scathing about religion. The fact that there's a church in just about every village and hamlet in the country might seem like a huge waste of effort and resources to the contemporary brain, but in my opinion it shows a positive side to human nature because it demonstrates a quest for understanding. Churches are the medieval equivalent of observatories.

If you want to know how the universe works but have no idea that natural law could indeed result in something so beautifully complicated and perfectly suited to our needs, an intelligent mind would be hard pressed not to put an anthropocentric spin on things and even conclude that it has been designed, and even designed with us in mind. From this, constructing both organisations and structures appealing to that designer in order to improve your lot and try and find out what the hell is going on seems not only understandable, but even sensible, even if the end result was a form of mind control that stagnated human development for centuries.

So I'll be conciliatory and forgiving, understanding and appreciative of the results of their labours.

Of course, building churches in this day and age is just stupid, but there you go.

It would be easy to take the admittedly lovely but clich├ęd picture of the outside of Gloucester Cathedral to show off it's size, but without context it just looks like a  big church. Better I think to show a picture of the inside with a person for comparison, like those dinosaur pictures in books you're only really interested in if there's a little silhouette of a man next to it, so you can imagine how ghastly his demise might be. In this case, I took one of the inside just as you go in the main doors with my 17-month old daughter for scale.

Of course with her being only about a foot high the place appears to be even biggererer:

It'll be nicer when they've got the curtains up.

The cathedral is quite popular with the tourists, having seen many films and programmes featured there over the years including Dr Who, Outlaw, Songs of Praise and some film about teenage wizards who can't seem to magic up the ability to act.

One thing the cathedral did have was lots of art. Most of it was obsessed with suffering, guilt and death for some reason, like a goth teenagers wet dream. Other stuff involved flags, royalty and a nice collection of gold and silverware in the treasury, enough to make you think just a couple of quid donation rather than the fiver you gave at the entrance might have been more appropriate.

And statues. Lots and lots of statues. Solemn medieval types kneeling in supplicant observance, royalty looking regal, pious fathers of the church and, my favourites, lots of sneering faces in the architecture.

There was also this:

It's no good Joseph, he's well stuck. Pass the blessed crow bar.
It was made out of fibreglass and totally reminded me of the scene in Start Wars where a bloke called Hand Solo gets carbonised by a bounty hunter called Bobby Fett. The fibreglass meant it was satisfyingly resonant when you banged on it with your knuckles, getting the attention of people at the far end of the cloister

On the way out, an elderly lady lambasted me for not knowing where I was supposed to meet her friends, having mistaken me for a cathedral guide. I pointed out that, like her, I was merely a visitor to this stone behemoth, and I couldn't help because I was a stranger to it as well, although my unfamiliarity with the building  simply accentuated its mystery, because what would be nothing more than a corridor with turns in it to the initiated was, to me, a convoluted labyrinth dripping in history, a passage through time, perhaps even an insight into the minds of those who designed, financed, built and used this place in past centuries. And also, isn't that your bus?

It wasn't, and she harrumphed at me before limping off.

We finished off with a trip to Pizza Express, joining the rank and file presenting our Tesco vouchers for cheap expensive pizza, before making our way home with some nicely worn out and well fed offspring.

So, for one day only, Gloucester actually became a bit like you might hope it was had you never visited before, leaving visitors with that pleasant touristy feeling and even the desire to return some day. Including me!

At least it did until last week when some locals started rioting  because someone in London was doing it and they didn't want to feel too parochial and left out.

Anyway, when I got home, the art I'd seen in the cathedral inspired me to come up with my own sculpture. Something magisterial, like in the cathedral, that combines both architecture and life, something that would compare and contrast the dead material of construction with the soft yielding flesh of the living, the truly designed and built with the evolved, selected and grown. Highlighting the difference between God and Man, if you will.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you;  Strawberry On Stairs:

Deconstructing post-modern fallacies of western ideological sub-dominant paradigms in a post-9-11 world.