Keep Calm and Carry On to the Theatre

You know how it is, when you haven’t heard news of an aviation disaster for months, then, just ahead of the date when you or loved ones are due to fly off on an adventure, everything with wings seems to have been repainted in the livery of vulnerability. You save up for a new household appliance, and on the day it’s scheduled to arrive you read a sobering piece in the paper, about how the model you’ve chosen is prone to catching fire or exploding without warning.

On a personal existential level, the last thing you want to hear is that the wonder drug you’ve been taking for more years than you care to remember, is suddenly banned in some countries, on the grounds that long term use can cause irreparable damage to the very parts you were hoping to preserve. Similarly, with surgical procedures, I don’t want to be confronted with nightmare scenarios ahead of my own imminent operation. I’ve read the ‘literature’ about anaesthetics, risks of infection, risks of bleeding, risks of tissue damage, risks of DVT, etc, etc. I’ve read and inwardly digested. That obligatory information is now stored away in a securely locked cupboard, in a room of my mind that only gets used on very special occasions.

So I should not have let my curiosity get the better of me when I spotted George Monbiot’s update on his own health. In a few brief sentences, poor George’s experiences were unravelling much of the goodwill and reassurance I’ve received from family and friends, ahead of the big day. He stopped breathing in the recovery room. He had a nasty post-op infection, and muscle spasms so violent, he found himself “…curled up on the floor, nails hooked into the carpet.” I have to stress at this point that George’s reasons for being subjected to the surgeon’s knife are in no way related to mine. But even so, a surgical intervention is a surgical intervention.

The truth is, I haven’t had an operation under general anaesthetic, for 57 years. Yes, that far back, when a tonsillectomy was commonplace among young children. When hospital wards were cavernous and intimidating, and parents were requested to leave their offspring with a starched uniform before melting away quietly. It was for the best, you know.

The nurse who conducted part of the pre-op assessment for my 2018 theatre trip smiled when I recalled my childhood trauma. She went on assure me that things have changed a great deal over more than half a century. Phew! Actually, one interesting fact she shared with me, was this: cataract patients used to spend five days on their back, following surgery. Each day day they were raised a little until, eventually they were sitting upright.

I have to say, this nurse’s light touch and and caring manner, not to mention her many years of experience, brought my stress levels pretty much back to normal. Raised, yes. But not through the roof.

These times in our lives, when our fate is effectively in the hands of strangers in masks, are full of imponderables. But these things I do know. My surgeon is Greek, and he graduated at University of Athens Medical School. Also, things have progressed, largely for the good since a nurse, in 1961, straight out of the Ladybird “People at Work” series, administered an insipid pink pre-med which left me fully conscious all the way to theatre, where I delayed proceedings not once, but twice. First, with a request for the loo, and secondly, with earnest enquiries as to what would happen next. What happened next was, a rubbery appliance was placed firmly over my nose and mouth.

And then I woke up. That’s the one thing I sincerely hope will remain unchanged.

The Beach is Back

Call it coincidence, a sign of the times, whatever. But in the past week or so, there has been a spate of articles centred around so-called ‘bullshit jobs”. When the words of people like David Graeber reach my eyes and ears, they are actually preaching to the converted. In fact, I’ve been banging on about invented jobs for years. I know about such things. I have form. At least two posts I held whilst working in an academic institution, were literally made up for me, by senior managers, on the hoof. Or should I say, on the back foot? How can we honour his permanent contract without paying him too much? Graeber would have recognised them, instantly, as “bullshit jobs”. He has much to say on the matter, in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Here’s a flavour: “Support staff no longer mainly exist to support the faculty. In fact, not only are many of these newly created jobs in academic administration classic bullshit jobs, but it is the proliferation of these pointless jobs that is responsible for the bullshitization of real work — real work, here, defined not only as teaching and scholarship but also as actually useful administrative work in support of either.”

So when I hear that 70 tonnes of sand is going to be dumped outside the Southampton Guildhall, to recreate a 480 square metre beach in the city centre, guess what I’m thinking. Yes, what kind of starved imagination dreams up a menu of beach soccer, foot volley, sumo wrestling, tug of war, art workshops and sand castle competitions to be played out in the city’s ‘Cultural Quarter’?

According to the Daily Echo, “…a “deckchair trail” around the city will offer the chance for sunny selfies leading to the giant beach.”

Look, I’m not a party pooper, honest I’m not. It’s just that, HELLO, Southampton is a port on the south coast, and there’s a lot of easily accessible where-the-land-meets-the-sea. Plenty of places where you can enjoy a paddle, seashells, salt water, wildlife, and a temporary escape from bullshit, while you’re demolishing a Mr Whippy.

That’s settled, then?

Some of you will notice that the name of this blog has changed. It used to be, ‘The Label Fell Off’. I don’t know what I was thinking when I came up with that one. Anyway, I don’t want to dwell on it for too long, although I’m sure a psychologist would have a field day. It’s now called ‘From the Sticks’, which is a fair description of my origins, and an accurate reference to where I live. Not a little thatched cottage in the woods, however. But a rented first floor, two bedroom flat. A habitat, housing association style. A place we decided, 18 years ago, would be temporary, for three years, max.

It’s a comfy home. Plenty of room for two people to move about without bumping into one another. Small enough to ensure that a conversation can take place without shouting, even if we’re occupying different rooms. It’s our base. Our shelter, if you like. A snug retreat, made for withdrawing to. A utilitarian nest designed and built around 45 years ago, to accommodate over 50s and retirees who had previously counted on tied cottages for a roof over their heads. It’s an assured tenancy from where we can emerge into the landscape, at will. And it was the landscape that hooked us almost two decades ago.
The village itself has no definable centre. Although, if pushed, I’d say that our little cluster of social housing, bordered on one side of the Close with detached, privately owned dwellings, is as near to a beating heart as you’ll get, in terms of population density. We have a small pub that’s currently closed, a primary school, garage, village hall, and a telephone exchange that’s close enough to deliver broadband speeds comparable to “Infinity”.
Away from where we are, the rest of the village clings to the tendrils of winding lanes, occasionally blooming around a number of village greens, so cherished that they warrant, collectively, a preservation society – cue The Kinks.
Our Close is tucked away from view, and you’ll probably only wind up in this particular patch of desirable postcode, if you have a connection, or you’ve taken a wrong turning. For anyone passing through, the homes of those who make up the main body of the village population are invisible. A significant part of the community exists in a haze of anonymity. The kind that goes hand in hand with transience. If there’s an elephant in the idyll, that no one talks about, it’s the one that doesn’t blow it’s own trumpet, and is born out of class division. Yes, we have our share of thinly veiled resentment/snobbery. Usually on the part of those who feel aggrieved at having to rub shoulders with the precariat. A minority who have their sleep disturbed by theories about how it all went wrong. Their recurring nightmares of precious chocolate box images inevitably marred with dog-ends and discarded takeaway cartons, break a cumulative cold sweat. Visions of the place of their dreams buckle and descend to the late night echo of domestic disagreement, and drunken discord. Quite sad, and unfounded fears.
Several years ago, a TV company came to film a profile of the village for an episode of a series portraying the workings of a rural community. There were items about first responders, a man who fashioned walking sticks from misshapen branches, a woman who spent her spare time making corn dollies. There were bellringers and church wardens. But there wasn’t the barest mention of social housing, or the inhabitants. Yet if the researchers had bothered to knock a few doors, they would have discovered a treasure trove of people with an intimate knowledge of the area. People who live useful and interesting lives. Low profile individuals who modestly keep the community ticking along. 
Little wonder we stayed. It’s a privilege to be one of a number of ordinary people, living together in an extraordinary landscape.

Words Are Not Enough

 After Manchester, much of what can be said, has been said. Beyond ‘shock’ and ‘sadness’, I can’t find words with enough substance to swell the conversation. The grief and the outcry, the outrage and the heightened resolve, the countless tears that fall in and between social media posts. ‘Why?’ is all around us. It’s a question that’s asked so many times, it eventually becomes devoid of sound. An unconscious movement of the mouth. A whisper, that dares an answer to come quietly and clearly from a room, somewhere down the long corridor of humanity.

Just Sayin’

  Back in October, 2016, I stepped away from blogging. I believed I’d run out of steam. The truth was, for a whole host of reasons and, as B.B. King might have recognised, the thrill had gone. I may have become too self-critical and, at the same time, uncharacteristically shy about having my say. But blogs are in fact the ideal places to verbally let it all hang out. There are zillions of personal spaces currently looking for a foothold in the ether. Many more have attained archive status or are simply withering from neglect. So here I am, putting another one in the mix. I mean, who’s going to notice another occasional airing of opinion and observation, eh?

Visitors who stumble into this blog shouldn’t be alarmed. They’ll just find a 62 year old bloke having his say about something or nothing. Feel free to heckle, but as Liz Taylor reminded the crowd at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, 1991, “I’ll get off in a minute. I’ve got something to say.” To which you might, of course, feel inclined to reply in the manner of Reggie Kray, “Look, you’ve got nothing to say and you’re saying it too loudly.”

With the world going through a particularly weird cycle, I doubt if a single head would turn if I stood in the road and cautioned, in my loudest voice, “Anything could happen in the next half hour.”

Trump looking to duke it out with North Korea, warnings of an imminent global cyber-attack, the prospect of sushi lovers having their bodies invaded by parasites, Jay Z’s personal fortune edging toward $1bn. Where’s Troy Tempest when you need him?!