The best sound in the world is that of a baby laughing. I don't miss much about not having them around but that sound just lifts and gladdens the soul. This kid isn't a Crumble Kid incidentally, they've had the good sense to grow up, but the clip does remind me of one particularly stupid thing I did when one of them was the same age. 

I was making her laugh by making silly noises and then, and I don't know what possessed me, I picked up one of those rattle toys that you can see in the clip with a plunger on the end. I then stuck it on my forehead. Cue lots of cute baby laughter. Right up until I tried to get the fxcker off. My God it hurt like a bxstard but eventually, I peeled it off leaving a bloody great four inch red circle in the centre of my forehead. I looked a weapons grade prat walking into business meetings for days afterward. 'Just back from India,' I would say nonchalantly. 


A quick word on the Zika virus. The name "Zika" refers to a forest just outside Uganda's capital, Kampala, where the virus was discovered in the late 1940’s. It has since been identified in other parts of Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands. The spread of Zika is similar to that of the chikungunya virus: Once it is exposed to a dense population, aided by the right factors and conditions, it spreads rapidly. Concerns about severe birth defects associated with the Zika virus are not only understandable, but also are aggravated by the difficulty in detecting infection. Several studies are underway to conclusively prove the link between Zika and microcephaly, a congenital disorder associated with small infant head size and neurological impairment. Studies in Brazil have already shown a strong correlation. There is also evidence linking Zika to autoimmune disorders such as Guillain-Barre syndrome, but more findings will likely emerge over the coming months.

However, hard facts are difficult to come by and the media are not being proportionate in their reporting. It may well be proved to be very serious but the BBC colouring the whole of Brazil in crimson red on their graphics is hardly helpful. One recent report suggests that up to last week there were only 270 confirmed cases of microcephaly in Brazil and only 6 of those had Zika. 

There are also some suggestions amongst the Twitterati that there may be a story drawing in the mandatory Tdap vaccination for pregnant women in Brazil, (became mandatory in 2015). Tdap is manufactured by Glaxo and Sanofi. There also seems to be growing evidence that the disease can be sexually transmitted. I’m not taking a view on any of this. I’m simply keeping an open mind and question how a 65 year old virus suddenly becomes a threat to human health on a trans-continental scale. Mossies rarely travel far.

The WHO officially considers the Zika viral outbreak, which is currently plaguing the Americas, to be a global emergency. Yesterday’s announcement followed an extraordinary meeting to assess the extent of the infection. Labelling the virus an international health emergency improves the chances of getting it under control, thanks to an anticipated influx of personnel, resources and expertise spurred by the WHO designation. The emergency decision could even accelerate efforts to develop a vaccine, though this will not happen immediately. The virus is spreading rapidly through South and Central America and could lead to 4 million new cases this year. At least 20 territories, including Panama, Guatemala, Barbados and Puerto Rico, have registered local transmission of the virus. The disease, which is spread by the Aedes mosquito, produces no symptoms in the majority of cases and only mild symptoms in others. 

 There will be an economic impact. Containing and managing an outbreak is expensive, as is dealing with large numbers of dead and infected. This can lead to severe disruptions in trade, accompanied by enhanced screening measures to prevent the transmission of the virus across borders. Developing treatment, cures and vaccines requires huge investment, as seen in the recent Ebola outbreak in Africa. And then there is the loss of productivity resulting not only from sickness but those refusing to work and those taking time off to care for the infected. If the disease is neither deadly nor debilitating, however, the loss of economic productivity from death or incapacitation is low.

Mossies are a fact of life in the Tropics and whatever personal protective measures individuals take its usually a case of minimising bites rather than eradicating them. Zika is not the only mosquito-borne disease that is endemic to the Americas; dengue, chikungunya, West Nile and malaria have all taken hold, (before I was posted to Belize I came out of the Med Centre feeling like a pin cushion although at the time, the last thing we were worried about in the jungle and in the rivers were mossies. The Green Tree Viper, the Fer de lance, the Jumping Viper, the Bullet Ant, African Bees, bitey spiders too numerous to mention and scorpions; nice). Without mass eradication efforts, similar to those carried out in the mid-20th century, it is likely that several mosquito-borne diseases will remain endemic to Latin America. The difficulty in controlling these other diseases is a strong indicator that controlling Zika will be equally difficult. There are significant costs associated with constantly combating and treating mosquito-borne diseases, costs that are hard for cash-strapped countries to shoulder. In fact, the prevalence of such diseases in the tropics has historically hindered the economical emergence of countries in that climate range.

The biggest geopolitical effect of this outbreak may not be seen until 18 years or more after the current outbreak. Fear of Zika and microcephaly has to potential to lead to a decrease in pregnancies in the region, possibly assisted by political initiatives. The governments of El Salvador, Columbia, Jamaica and Honduras are already telling women to delay pregnancy until the virus is under control. Unlike other countries and regions that are expected to face demographic crunches in the next two decades, much of Latin America still has a healthy demographic curve, with a large, young population base. A rapid halt in population growth, caused by something akin to Zika, would threaten the continued productivity associated with sizable Latin American labour pools. This has the potential to hasten regional decline in decades to come although, I do emphasise, no one seems to yet have real handle on this thing regardless of what the newspapers are saying..

You Did What Canada?

The Canadian cabinet; How could they get it so wrong?

Minister of Health is a doctor.
Minister of Transport is an astronaut.
Minister of National Defense is a Sikh Veteran.
Minister of Youth is under the age of 45.
Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food is a former farmer.
Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness was a Scout.
Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development was a financial analyst.
Minister of Finance is a successful businessman.
Minister of Justice was a crown prosecutor and is a First Nations leader.
Minister of Sport, and Persons with Disabilities is a visually impaired Paralympian.
Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, and Canadian Coastguard is Inuit.
Minister of Science is a medical geographer with a PhD.
New titles include
Minister of Immigration, Citizenship and Refugees was an Immigration critic.
There are scientists in the cabinet, and it is made up of 50% women.

Obviously, our Canadian friends are suffering from an acute outbreak of common sense. If they’re not careful they’ll have a knowledgeable, caring and efficient government. Good luck to them.

He just Kept Going.

So, I've spent two days assembling these things. What do I do now........... polish them?

We woke this morning to say farewell to another piece of worn but much appreciated national furniture with the news of the passing of Ireland's best export, Terry Wogan. The BBC has already gone into full Diana mode but not quite to the extent they did with David Bowie who got a full 20 mins on the main news. There I was thinking he was a pop singer who liked to dress up and wear make up but no, it transpires he was responsible for the transformation of the nations way of life from post war grey to colourful Cool Britannia. Seriously? Also carried off where Alan Rickman, Ed Stewart, the Bull Market and last but not least, I lost a stone in weight.

The Dry January thing isn't a new thing for me, I've done it every year for longer than I care to remember. I hit the track sprinting this year though and had a good alcohol, dairy, red meat and sugar free month. Let's face it, after Christmas and New Year, (in fact after 2015), it needed to happen. Losing weight isn't fun and it isn't easy. We all kid ourselves thinking, 'well, I could give this, that and the other up if I really wanted to.' Hmmmm....... There is only one way to lose weight, eat less. Exercise helps in kick starting the metabolism but the bottom line is, if the calorie intake isn't slashed you won't lose weight. The multi billion pound diet industry is full of puff and nonsense too. 'Yes, you can have chocolate, a glass of wine and a little treat if you follow our diet.' No you bloody well can't. You need two things to succeed; self discipline and bloody mindedness. Bin all the frippery, diet plans and the 'yes, you can have a wonderful good looking and tasting meal with our recipes,' magazines, programmes and blogs. If you are overweight its pretty simple. To lose the lard, go spartan. 1300 calories / day and get to know porridge, blueberries, green tea and pomelo fruit really well. Bob's Beige Diet is a good start. Like I say, not easy. If I eat any more fish and drink any more water I'll grow a set of gills but its the only track on the map. Fasting for the odd day helps and as the stomach shrinks, it definitely takes less to fill up the tank. 

At the end of the month, one thing has struck me and in fact, hit me quite hard. I was thinking of the last time I had three months off the booze and I'm embarrassed to say it is so long ago the number of years has a 2 in front of it. Usually, the dry January thing runs straight into the Six Nations and all the good work is undone, usually in the first weekend. Enough, I have to get over it and get through the rugby in 'good boy' mode. So, bollocks to it. I'm ploughing on and doing February too. I'm the Forrest Gump of Dry January................... 'he just kept going.'


Go Rosie!

1 in 8 women in the UK will develop breast cancer in their lifetime

We welcome an update from friend Rosie who has come to the end of her chemo treatment for breast cancer; surgery next. Cancer, especially breast cancer, is as random as it is insidious. A nasty bloody thing that strikes without warning, and is completely agnostic it seems to me, as to lifestyle, background, age or fitness. Sooner we get this licked the better. Anyway, well done girl and good luck.


ALF : Cycle 7 & 8

Forgive the delay : With Cycle 7 occurring in the 'no-man's land' between Christmas and New Year and Cycle 8 being so much more exciting plus a flurry of meetings with the "team"... a major 'Ta-dah' moment worth waiting for : After 5 months and 2 weeks, I have finished 8 cycles of chemotherapy. What seemed an eternity back in August last year as I sat quivering in the padded Chemo Chair of Doom, has finally become a reality. Cannot quite believe it. Whilst half of me is obviously dancing up and down with glee, the other half feels strangely discombobulated… but I can’t quite put my finger on why?

Of course I am ecstatic that I can kiss goodbye to the multitude of drugs that have been flooding my system on a 3-weekly basis : over 10 different flavours at the last count. From the high-powered cancer-busting chemo itself to steroids; anti-sickness to self-administered injections to encourage white cell growth; numerous pain relief and not forgetting every laxative known to man…. I could write a thesis on laxatives… 

Even better, no more chemo equals infinitely less side effects, although to be honest I think I have been reasonably lucky in this department - it was like a bad hangover that lasted for a week or so after each session. Actually, I guess that’s exactly what it is - but replacing lovely wine with poisonous chemicals - or to put it another way, the hangover without the preceding fun. Thanks to the anti-emetics I was never sick, but did feel queasy, headachey, tired, fuzzy and emotional and have I mentioned laxatives...? Luckily escaped the ravages of mouth ulcers, weight gain and permanent insomnia, but did fall foul of losing my sense of taste, spectacular skin rashes on my hands and feet and a nasty brush with Shingles.

I certainly won't miss the steroids given to prevent allergic reactions and nausea that have such an interesting effect : each chemo session was accompanied by a constantly scarlet face and a manic ‘steroid-high’ followed by a dramatic crash into the depths of despair and weeping for 24 hours non-stop - only to awaken the next day feeling OK again. “Stroppy Saturday” has long been a regular fixture in the household after "Chemo Wednesday" and close family quickly learned to run for cover accordingly. 

The scariest side effect of all has to be the hair loss... everywhere. On a good day I can cope with being bald and looking like Bruce Willis "in da house". On a bad day I just feel plain revolting and deeply unwomanly, freaking out when I look in the mirror and see Gollum staring back at me (Good morning, my Precious…..) The no nasal hair is a bit of bummer as well. Come back, all is forgiven! Everyday it looks like I have a bigger coke problem than Daniella Westbrook - sniff, sniff! To me, nasal hair is now as precious as Saffron…

Unfortunately, not all the side effects with chemo stop with the final treatment. Naively, before starting chemo I thought it was all about vomiting and hair loss, but alas this is not the case. As previously mentioned, I am really struggling with chemo brain. I used to be a reasonably intelligent, efficient, multitasking individual with an awesome memory (though I do say so myself). I am now so forgetful it’s not funny. I have zero concentration and multitasking is a thing of the past. It is confusing, inconvenient and bloody frustrating, but at least a well-known fact and not to be confused with early onset dementia or brain secondaries. All I can do is wait for my little grey cells to start behaving again. I am also struggling with eyesight, severe fatigue and fitness levels… so I guess this goes some way to explaining the “I’ve Finished Chemo, But I Still Feel Rubbish Scenario…”

As for the rest of the way..? Having been plotting my escape from the Oncology Unit ever since my arrival over 5 months ago, I was completely taken aback by the deep rush of emotion when I was officially allowed to leave. Instead of the imagined triumphal sprint down the corridor shouting "byeee ... and thanks for all the drugs", Mark had to practically prise my finger tips from the door frame trying to exit to the car park... I am probably suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, but there is no doubt the protective bubble of the Oncology Unit whilst enduring chemo focuses the mind to the exclusion of everything else. The nurses are amazing (I had to hug them all - twice), you are looked after so beautifully and supported by a group of women going through exactly the same horrific nightmare. It's only when you leave that you realise you're on your own again and actually have to face up to the question of "has it worked?" Annoyingly ALF is still very much a "presence" and although the powers-that-be have warned me not to get too fixated on this, I am hoping it is a ghostly one and as dead as the proverbial door nail. I won't know the definitive answer until after surgery, but I hope to have a clue on Monday after spending most of the day in the MRI... Watch this space. 

As ever, I leave you with the good : chemo is officially over.... Onwards and upwards.

The better : my head hair continues to grow... very slowly, 50 shades of grey and I won't be plaiting it any time soon... but still making a comeback!

The best : logistically, things are moving forward at warp factor 9.... Surgery booked for Monday 22nd February. ALF will finally be excised..... Next update from the OR and beyond.


Bye Then

The last Defender rolls off the production line today. Many are mourning its passing and the media have got themselves in a suitably nostalgic tizzy about their passing. They’ve probably never driven one. Perhaps the last Defender will be parked on the spare plinth in Trafalgar Square. I’m not mourning them and I’m not in a tizzy. I sat my driving test in a long wheel base Land Rover in the country lanes of Dorset. It was a perfunctory affair but the Sergeant driving instructor pretended to take it seriously, ticking the boxes on his clipboard as we meandered down the road. We meandered because the front and real axles never seemed to agree on the general direction of travel and there was about half a turn of slack in the steering which was fine because it took all my concentration to be able to see, what with a bloody great spare tyre attached to the bonnet and wing mirrors that flapped in the wind like ducks wings. After years of driving them, I still have yet to figure out where your right elbow goes, what magic trick secures the seat belt buckle, how you drive in the rain with windscreen wipers designed by a three year old and how you drive at night with headlights emitting the kind of luminescence usually found in striking a Swan match.

There were some endearing attributes to the vehicle of course. Who could forget that rush of excitement when a door would suddenly open when going round a corner or that comforting feeling when the foot well filled with water when it rained. If you ever feel like buying a Lannie, ‘because I’ve wanted one ever since I was a little boy,’ go and lie down for a while until the feeling goes away. Ignore my advice and buy one and you’ll need a second one to ferry the spares home from whoever sells them on Ebay. You won’t be buying a vehicle you’ll be starting a new hobby. You can look forward to leaking front hubs and axles, the gearbox and transfer box will always leak as will the radiator, water pump, clutch master and slave cylinders. In fact, any fluid containing part….. will leak. The other parts designed not to contain liquids such as the door frames, foot wells and chassis will though, retain fluids and rust in quick time. Engine seals will be another source of frustration as will rusting springs, bushes. Rubber anywhere in the vehicle will grow algae and moss throughout the year and perish……. along with your patience. The Land Rover Defender, the world’s first biodegradable vehicle.

You probably give more thought to putting the lights on your Christmas tree than the designer gave to the electrics and switches on the dashboard which merely suggest what could, or might, happen if activated. Undeterred you will soon become familiar with the clunk clung, clang clang of your engine calling you as the differential seizes. Of course the Lannie does have its delusional head-in-the-clouds oily rag zealots but I’m not one of them. You know what they say in Aus, ‘If you want to go to the outback get a Land Rover; if you want to come back, get a Toyota.’

High Horse; High Hopes

In an effort to feed my unceasing quest for cultural advancement and understanding, the Crumble Kids kindly gave me for Christmas, two tickets to see Billy Connolly tomorrow at the Apollo. I'm very excited. It's not the first time I've seen Mr Connolly live.

They changed the name but it'll take more than that to erase the memory of that place; I doubt Alzheimers could do that.

Back in the day, well way back when in the mid seventies, I held a temporary position of some responsibility as a spotty teenager working as a smartly dressed hall porter at the Caledonian Hotel in Inverness for a summer job. Yes, the white shirt, black tie and red nylon jacket were very fetching. It was run by a tyrannical ogre called Smart. He had an insufferable wife and his only redemption was his rather pretty daughter, the sight of whom in jodhpurs led to all sorts of unchristian thoughts crossing a spotty teenagers mind. In between all the fun jobs we got to do, mostly lugging 5 tons of antique cases for antique guests straight off convoys of Shearings holiday coaches, ('here's a shilling son, make sure you don't waste it'), I was sent down to the ballroom one day to lay out some chairs for an event that evening, all nine fxcking hundred of them. 

Later that evening, I stood at the back for ten minutes and watched this banjo playing beardy hippie in big banana boots come on the stage and to be fair, I and the other porters thought he wasn't too bad. How we would have laughed if someone had said we were watching someone who would become an international film and television star and only one wee notch down on the National Treasure ladder from the Duchess of Cambridge. 



I like to think that I was one small stepping stone on his giddy rise to stardom, not everyone has laid out 900 chairs for Billy Connolly you know. Anyway, we'll see how the Big Yin goes tomorrow, I hope he's really come on.


Stripped and Bare

"Take the tree down please  lads and stow it at the bottom of the garden,' I said when I left the house.

"No problem Dad,' they said, 'but it won't fit back through the door with those branches," they added.

"Cut them off then."

So they did. Maybe a wee bit of overkill there boys.

Still, job done and good to see my old parang, made out of an old car spring, and bought from an Iban Tracker in Brunei in '84 still going strong. Best 10 bucks I ever spent. 


January Detox & Fat Birds II

January Detox hits hard with the M&S wholefood salad with some smoked mackerel for lunch. What is there not to love..... hmmmmm, yumety, scrumety......

After a genuinely enjoyable, amusing and indulgent Christmas, which was quickly followed by a ripping New Year it's time again to pay the piper. I've done the January good boy thing for so long now I enter into it more with dogged resignation rather than spikey irritation. I don't count calories or any similar such nonsense. We all know what the bad stuff is and we all know how much is enough. I drink water or green tea and will lose over a stone by February. It's not difficult, just dull. I then cheat by having the annual health check and blood test just when the pipes are at their cleanest. Unfortunately, the plan unravels spectacularly every single year when the Six Nations hoves into view. One of these years........ I really must see it through.  



So, the blog is six years old next month and I took a wander through some old posts and came across this beauty from Jan 6th 2011, January Detox and Fat Birds. One of the best I think you'll find...... even though it was written when I was in a somewhat less than sympathetic mood to fellow humanity.