24 Feb 2013

Post 384: Means testing is mean

I have yet more indignation for this blessed state of ours. Much earlier in this blog I got pretty bloody angry with the ‘pretence’ that this country ‘provides for it’s disabled citizens.
The NHS may have saved my life, but just about everything post hospital has been to do with the tenacity of my family, my friends and myself. State assistance has been negligible – every time they have looked like being of assistance it has been made abundantly clear you have to undergo a ‘means test’. Now as I live in a house that came from my family and my former employer very kindly pays me a disability pension that keeps me in food, heat, electricity and some concert tickets (or some self funded therapy) so I can get out of the house, maintain my pitiful semi-independence and see my friends, the state deems me to be a person of ‘means’ so if I need any help it’s always a big fat NO because I live in relative comfort, basically I'm not destitute enough! For example my carers have to go back to South Africa for a couple of weeks to sort out some stuff at some stage in the not too distant future. Now, seeing as I can’t manage on my own, I need to sort something out. So I got in touch with the operations director of the company that runs the brain-injury care homes that the state had been talking about putting me in when I left hospital in 2008. After a brief to and fro, cutting to the chase was that I could stay in their Battle (in sussex) respite care home for just over £800 a week. Disabled people (and I’d hazard most people) don’t just have that kind of money hanging around, so anyway, I knew the details of Elmbridge council ‘social care’ team, as they’d recently been in touch about a toilet seat raiser they had actually helped me with (fuck, my life is fascinating) and I had written them a polite email asking for their help. Anyway the month long wait for their reply was over the other morning:

I believe your family fund your carers. If they are going away for a few weeks the Agency you got them from should be able to to provide carers to cover their absence.

I hope this answers your questions.

They might as well have written:
‘Not our problem –F*ck off! When your corpse starts to smell the binmen will put you in the rubbish if you’re lucky.’
This was my actual response:

My carers are not from an agency, they are merely family friends who have emigrated from S.Africa. They live upstairs free of charge in return for looking after the house, the cats and me. It is a mutually beneficial arrangement. If they go away (as they have to this time ). I have no cover, I don't know where to look and even if I did, I couldn't afford it. I have no savings. My father is reluctant to do another means test exercise because they are hard work for a man of 75. In short is there any assistance this country can offer!? Sorry if you think I'm losing my temper but I subsist on my pension, I have no savings and my family can't afford to support me - my father helps me with this sort of admin but the information you require for means testing is difficult for a power of attorney to find. Isn't the fact that my stroke has left me a disabled individual enough for you to help?

Perhaps I’m a little low on crawling tact but for some reason it’s something I’ve always run pretty light on but now it’s all but exhausted. Feeling like sh*t 24/7 does that.

Surely the most universally popular political document ‘The Beveridge Report’ which after World War Two was the foundations for the NHS and the Welfare state in Britain makes the case much better than I could that means testing is not right. Means Testing basically ostracises me from the minimum standard of care. We’ve all heard horror stories about rich people using state money when they could use their own. I’m not one of those. I’m not asking for luxury, I’m asking for the bare minimum to survive. I believe that is why I have always paid my taxes. I’ll keep you posted.

The 2nd thing that really got to me was watching a program on BBC2 called ‘The Brain Doctors’ which sees the cameras following the work of surgeons working at the very frontiers of their medical expertise and knowledge. The series is filmed over nine months at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital and follows the daily highs and lows and those of their patients whose lives depend on the doctors' skill so goes the blurb. What struck me is how f*cked we are if anything goes amiss with our brains. It was faintly terrifying to see actual brain surgery. Doctors, Patients and the close families of patients are as brave as soldiers going over the top in the first world war. It is voyeuristically looking into an all too familiar world, it is disturbing and horrific yet compelling and moving viewing (which is I guess why they make these things) and I find it pretty awful that people have been through this because of me.
It was perhaps fitting that my big event this week was taking my parents to see Opera Carmen ‘in the round’ (ie in the middle where there are usually seats). It is a lavish production and quite a visual spectacle. I took my parents to see Carmen in the round at the dome back in about 2009 and that had been a similar production but the Dome as a space was just too cavernous. The Albert Hall is about right.
Firstly, the concept of Opera ie to convey a story through singing is MENTAL, I think much the same of musicals. At least this was sung in English but can you really understand what they’re going on about? All I could figure out is Carmen is a bit of dirty slag gypsy who gets involved with two men and the jilted one kills her in the end. Sorry if I’ve spoiled it for anyone – I like to think I’ve helped! That said, all Operas seem to be total tragedies! I have enough trouble following just talking in films but I suppose that could just be me. So despite not having the foggiest what the plot was for most of it, arguably I lost that years ago I still enjoyed the very recognisable (if you’ve ever listened to radio 4) music, the spectacle, treating my LSPs (long suffering parents) and my mum saying at the end ‘I think that’s the best Opera I’ve ever been to’. It probably wasn’t but it’s nice she said it. Vicarious enjoyment of life. DONE.

That’s not quite it, thanks to my friend Isa for taking me to see Les Miserables at the Cinema on Tuesday. I still know all the words (weird, I have for over 20 years) and it’s transfer from stage to screen has been ok. Russell Crowe as Javert and Hugh Jackman as Valjean (especially) weren’t bad, we’re not talking the cringeworthiness of Pierce Brosnan bursting into song in Mama Mia – thanks again to my mate Isa who is a bit of a hero really.
I will accidentally on purpose not be catching the earnest self congratulatory shite that is the Oscars tonight.
Instead my neighbours, Ian and Tracey came round for wine and laughter. I’m a little hungover today... Thinking about it Ian and Tracey are the best thing that has happened because of my stroke. Otherwise they would never have met. So, something good has happened because of this.

17 Feb 2013

Post 383: Haven’t we all already had enough of 2013?

Usually, I have an annual gripe about the awfulness that is the commercial construct that is Valentines day – and I’m afraid this year is going to be no different in that regard – at least kids enjoy Christmas. I’m having the annual (well actually it’s daily) ‘what’s the f*cking point?’ existential wrestle and I look around me and I see lots of people (my friends, my parents, my carers, my neighbours, the bloody Sopranos even) who seem to innately know their purpose and that is: To make their families happy, successful and secure. Now this is all very well but what happens when you have had that chance taken away? It’s a tricky bugger... it may seem obvious, and I’m pretty sure I do it already, I try as hard as I can to make the people closest to me happy, namely my parents, my carers and my best friends. It’s vicarious living.
This is a pretty good substitute but it can never quite make up for the strength of love you have to give to a partner or your own child (from anecdotal evidence). This explains why I have been trying so hard to meet someone since I’ve been out of hospital but having what it takes is not what I’ve got anymore (if I ever had it) it seems! Not having much physical appeal and ability seems to be my #1 problem, and the disjoint in my head is that I’ve still got a type which is way out of the league of a bloke in a wheelchair and I get continually chided for having and airing this view but ‘I CAN’T HELP IT’ – I’m sorry if that makes me a shallow hypocrite. A friend obviously took exception to something I wrote in my last post, here’s her thoughts on facebook starting the kind of discussion that is pleasant, ie not one with nasty unwritten undertones:

"Sadly the next comedienne on was a ginger American girl with a selection of jokes about her experience at Weightwatchers and being a ‘bit of a slut’ in London. I’m sorry but if I’d ever woken up next to a ‘fifteen pinter’ like her I’d have chewed my arm off to get out, I know that sounds harsh but it’s the bloody truth!"
I've always found this an interesting premise - that certain guys will happily shag someone because they can get their end away, and they get to chalk it up to "wahay, lads, yeah - look what I did, fnarr fnarr..." whereas the women involved are classified as dirty/ugly sluts for being that 'end away'. Then she said 'guys' will happily & publicly trash that girl for not being up to a certain physical par - hello, hypocrisy! The old "One rule for me, one rule for them" . Also, gingers are lovely. The End.
Some gingers are indeed lovely –This was my reply:

I grew out of being a dirty man-whore when I left the city and found myself in a deeply emotional complicated long term on-off relationship. I can't speak for all men but I always had exemplary standards, I certainly have regrets, god, do I have them now(!) but at the time I pretty much stuck to a code of conduct that wasn't out of order. There was certainly no "One rule for me, one rule for them" shit. People who behave like that are dicks. Of course some gingers rule Fi:). Not the girl the other night though. She was a rotter.

I judge people on all sorts of things, no-one has the time to go –:‘but hang on, have I taken everything into account? They might have had a difficult childhood. People, who aren’t dicks do try, and sometimes they realize ‘it’s for a blog/facebook community that isn’t widely read and in the grand scheme of things probably doesn’t matter – get it down! argument over I hope. I think since I have been out of hospital I have tried a few times to put my heart out there and each time I have not been up to scratch and had it handed back to me metaphorically discarded and in pieces which is a bit sh*t.
The only way I can get through life is by maintaining a sense of humour. For example, my carer the other day ‘for a joke’ decided not to put the clothes I’d picked out the night before on my bed. It meant that after my morning shower I had no clothes to change into. I could have got annoyed but instead I chose to let it go because I’m not in the habit of creating conflict with a person I rely on and am supremely grateful to. I’m simply not that much of a dick. I’m not brilliant at defusing conflict, I’d sooner win an argument than agree to disagree, I’m not a fighter in the violent sense, as the cliché goes I’m a lover, not a fighter, and if you think that makes me sound like a twat, come on then!
Speaking of twats, there were one or two on Friday night at the Albert Hall, especially the perfectly fine woman who thought she’d just skip the queue for the Ladies and use the disabled. I don’t know why this winds me up so much but it does. I think it’s just the ‘f*ck everyone else’ attitude that sticks in my craw.
Anyway the reason I was there was to see diminutive 80s/90s rebel Sinead O’Connor, I wouldn’t call myself a big fan but ‘Nothing Compares to you’ was a massive tune and from memory she had a pretty good voice and my policy towards going to see this sort of stuff is ‘why not?’
It was a complete coincidence the mate who took me, Ched, is bald, this wasn’t some kind of planned tribute! It ended up being really rather good, in the Elgar room, a rather more intimate space than the main arena which Miss O’Connor could doubtless have filled and last night I went to see comedian Alan Davies Hammersmith show. This was the second time I had seen his show, the last time had been in December last year and seeing this sort of thing twice is better than staying at home, plus I knew my ‘good Samaritan’ friend Jo would be up for it as she hails from Essex and for some reason people love it when someone lightly takes the piss out of you. It’s the British Way don’t you know?!

Even though I’m not the biggest Andy Parsons fan he makes a good point. As I said earlier it is vital to see the funny/silly side of almost everything. It is probably the only way to make life the ‘joy’ it’s supposed to be. I also want to make an apology to Jo for my slight sense of humour failure when we got lost on the way back from the Apollo last night. When I’m that tired I shouldn’t speak – at least, unlike a small child I can acknowledge that!

11 Feb 2013

Post 382: Getting 2013 off to some sort of start

Certainly not ‘Gangnam Style’, that can sod off, but if a theory is an idea you haven’t fully thought through, then I’ve got a theory. This theory started to take shape after I saw American comedian Rich Hall back in September 2009
Now he said (referring to being an American comedian in England),’you come to where the misery is’, which suggests to me that we’re a country of depressives, and the boom in the popularity of stand-up comedy (or mirthquake as Daniel Kitson describes it must be because people in this country are so f*cking pissed off with everything
I feel kinda exonerated for feeling a little bit depressed from time to time in the light of this theory and I’m hopefully doing the right stuff to try and improve things. Namely going places, meeting people and doing things (thankyou Cam for that turn of phrase). I also exercise three times a week with my trainer and perhaps most controversially, I have committed to drink more by getting a couple of hip flasks. I’ve got cherry brandy in one and Sloe Gin in the other. F*ck it, if I’m going to feel grim all the time. I might as well be drunk. Trouble is being drunk won’t make me feel better, it’ll probably make me feel more tired. Perhaps it’ll make me a better social drinker? I think I’ve already established that my favourite thing to do is have people round and sociably drink some red wine and watch a film or series.
Speaking of which my wicked mates, ‘the Cheds’ (Christian aka Ched and his wife Terri) came round on Saturday night

for wine, cheese and intrigue-filled series Homeland. It was superb. Because they can take the train home we can drink as much red wine as we like. I also have a guestroom with en suite bathroom upstairs if people need to crash. It is important that people feel they can salubriously get spannered.
In the rest of my time I have been doing my level best to try not to be one of these serially depressed Brits by going to more live comedy than you can angrily shake a stick at.
Gary and Gwen’s older son Mark is a rather good stand-up comedian, and seeing as he has just moved here from Cape Town he had one of his first professional gigs in this country on Wednesday in the back room of a pub in Guildford. Now this was proper grass roots professional comedy. Forget the glamour of the Dome, the Hammersmith Apollo, TV cameras, panel shows or bloody Michael Macintyre energetically skipping around and telling a howling mob his simple bullsh*t observational callbacks, this is a room with 60 disgruntled shivering middle class people on a freezing Wednesday in February. It must be terrifying for the comedians. It was 4 comics and one compere. It was a slightly inauspicious start when the first comedian, a rather attractive girl called Hills Barker

took to the stage and informed us she had snapped a string on her guitar. When she had tried to replace it, that had snapped. Apparently it was the G-string and it was pure coincidence, not an ‘hilarious’ part of her act. So she went on with her non-musical material. She started with a good bit about how she’s doing her bit to be one of the few ladies not going with the ‘hairless’ pubic look after noting her gym changing room is a sea of ‘bald twats’ –I’ll be honest my imagination might have been running quite fast and a little bit of me felt like heckling ‘prove it’ but then I remembered I’m not a teenage yob. Still, the joke only works if the comic was as ‘bang tidy’ as Hills. Sadly the next comedienne on was a ginger American girl with a selection of jokes about her experience at Weightwatchers and being a ‘bit of a slut’ in London. I’m sorry but if I’d ever woken up next to a ‘fifteen pinter’ like her I’d have chewed my arm off to get out, I know that sounds harsh but it’s the bloody truth! Mark was on next and was excellent and I’m not just saying that. He made some very astute observations like you know when you’re getting old when you ask for Christmas presents based on ‘need’ rather than ‘want’ and he bent forward to show everyone the bald patch on the top of his head that seems to be mandatory after you’ve hit 40. The last guy, a slightly camp cockney Guy called Nick Wilty was superb

– the consummate professional journeyman headliner, I literally cannot remember any of his brilliant set bar his opener ‘ not a good week to look like Freddie Starr’. The compere Paul Kerensa I thought was bloody clever,

never did I lose interest and his patter with the crowd was sharp. Seeing as I mentioned ‘bald twats’ earlier (I’m not talking about you Mark), it does link me nicely into going to see ‘bald geezer’ Lee Hurst in Epsom on Friday

with my mate Jo. He is her favourite comedian so when I found out he was on in the closest proper venue to where I live, I snapped up tickets. It was a proper sell out too. Lee has been around for years and even though you could never describe Epsom as being remotely cockney there’s a lot of love for him. He says he gets to ‘take the piss’ for a living and he’s so experienced at it that he can happily fill an hour just by chatting to the audience, taking the piss in such a way that makes people laugh at themselves which makes a room full of palpably depressed middle class people fizz with positivity and laughter. The desired effect. JOB DONE. Australian Comedian Adam Hills can do this too,

what an art! It was much the same last night seeing Jimeoin

in Guildford with my old schoolmate Owen. Jimeoin is actually the stage name of rubber-faced Northern Irishman Jim Owen. Clearly his marketing team must have printed too many DVD inlays to realise that the stage name Jimeoin is neither sensical or any bloody good! Anyway, he was likeable and had Owen, I and the crowd laughing properly. I am feeling a little tired today though and my Monday training was more hideous than usual. Writing this is not filling me with joy and it appears to be SNOWING. Spring better start soon, or else!
It hasn’t all been comedy – my mate Isabel suggested a while back that we go to the newish Westfield Centre in Shepherds Bush.

Now, I used to love a bit of retail therapy but now I go for the impressiveness of the space, the smoothness of the floor, anything to get out of the house and to spend time and treat a mate to the exquisiteness of Nandos. Retail therapy only exists on Amazon these days, S-Commerce is strictly for people who can walk and aren’t on disability pensions. The Westfield is clearly a top retail environment and I can see why Oxford Street is blaming a drop in sales on the ‘Westfield effect’ as well as the ‘triple dip recession’,

the shopping is very La-di-da premium (Prada rubs shoulders with Gucci) – I would describe it as the ‘Harrods’ of shopping centres, Bluewater is the Selfridges, Thurrock would be the ‘Lidl Megamart’ and Brent Cross is the fires of hell, all in my opinion of course. Anyway, a nice day out and with typical British Optimism despite being indoors and good old English slate-grey overcast sky outside, I bought some cheap sunglasses.

Thanks to Isa for the idea.

10 Feb 2013

Post 382a: Full post by Monday afternoon

I'm sure this will send reverberations around the online world(well ripples) but sadly I've had neither the time (nor energy) to post the usual great work of literature but I hope my mewlings will be up by tomorrow afternoon

4 Feb 2013

Post 381: January is bloody over, hurrah!

No this sadly doesn’t mean I magically feel better and although my relationship with alcohol isn’t all that symbiotic, it is a relief to be able to drink again. My whole life really isn’t about this,

and parties these days are more about ‘making the effort’ (most of the time sadly)but giving something that is a biggish part of your life up for a month I would recommend just so you can either enjoy the health or other(eg financial) benefits or really savour taking it up again, Christ, I almost feel like taking up smoking again just so I could quit. Twisted logic eh? Anyway, I have my dad to thank for taking me out to lunch on the 1st Feb where I had steak and a glass of Malbec.

My kind of enabler. It was after he took me to the opticians. Glasses are sadly not a solution to my massive vision problems.

The stroke has meant my right eye sees about 30 degrees above my left eye so I see double (I don’t even have to drink for this to happen!) so despite already having glasses I’m going to get a lighter pair which I’m hopeful won’t make my eyelids feel like they have to work so hard to stay open.
I actually received the type of email this week that makes me feel a bit better and doesn’t make me want to desist from making all effort. It was from a stroke survivor called Cameron and it said that it sounds like I’m doing the right things –ie that ‘I go places, meet people, do things’. Which could really be a motto for my post-stroke life.
I have quit trying to be an attractive person, anything about being attractive about me has gone, if it ever existed, that was in my 20s, instead I focus on avoiding and damage limiting things that make me unattractive, this may sound somewhat nonsensical but maintaining being attractive and avoiding being unnatractive are very different things. Some might say always smiling is attractive, now I would say perpetual frowning is unattractive. I physically don’t know how to smile anymore, I just don’t (can’t) unless something f*cking funny has just happened in my general vicinity. Instead, my face is the perpetual frown and tired eyes of an exhausted person. It’s all I can do when in the presence of someone else to fight this frown and it’s a b*stard.
I just figure the least attractive thing about someone could be if they were boring and unfunny, so I try to be interesting and above-averagely funny, not an easy thing when all I feel capable of is sleeping. For starters if anyone offers to take me to something, I always say yes, or I better have a damn good reason to say no!
Attractive vs trying to avoid being unattractive is a way of life now but you’ll agree it does sound like a double negative. Now, I remember a while ago, a friend of mine correcting herself because she had not framed what she had said in positive enough language. At the time this seemed ludicrous, and I think I said as much as it seemed a disingenuous affectation – trying too hard to be positive which sounds like bullsh*t, but about a year later I read something about the brain processing positive words quicker. Now, I’m not the kind of guy to automatically reconsider my position but I’m not a dick. Egg is ever so slightly on my face and given that the apparent reason for my constant feeling grimness is slowness of nerve impulses in my brain, anything that speeds the b*stards up is a help. My latest tactic in the ‘War on weirdness’ (TM) is to take up Speech therapy again. After all, when you meet someone and make a first impression, it is very much how you sound as well as what you say that people judge you on - and people saying they are non-judgemental is patent bollocks. Apparently a lot of our mind is made up for us subconsciously in the blink of an eye according to a book called ‘Blink’ I listened to in 2010 .
So, speech therapy, my first session is today and my counsellor Cathy (who used to be a speech therapist) has recommended a former colleague because she’s the type of person I’ll get along with. This is vital because my speech therapist history has been a bit chequered. When I last gave Speech therapy a try in 2009, Elmridge’s community speech Therapist was a miserable old battleaxe with the air of a disgruntled Teacher some of which were doubtless caused by my obvious antipathy towards her. She was soon dispatched. Awful humourless woman! Her and her exercises can f*ck off and all.
Before I left hospital, I didn’t have much luck with the therapist. I remember saying to her at the 2007 Christmas party, ‘you seem to have forgotten your Hat and Broomstick, perhaps a little harsh but so very true! I still have fond memories of my Frank Cooksey speech therapist Annabel, who I just used to laugh with. Speech Therapy is not easy for therapist and pupil. From one thing that’s not easy to another. My physical training is probably the most important thing I do. It is not forward looking, it is about maintaining what I’ve got and a big part of it is walking holding on, seeing as the last video provoked some comment I thought I’d post another one complete with a bit of commentary from my dad who is obviously not familiar with the camera!
It is horrific!
Seeing as I’ve said the only thing that’ll make me smile is something properly hilarious happening in my general vicinity I’d ordered up a double dose of funny on Saturday. My mate Sacha

(easily the funniest lady I’ve ever met) taking me to see Canadian comedienne Katherine Ryan

at the West End Centre in Aldershot. Now the West End Centre is my undiscovered gem of comedy – it is 45minutes drive, has a car park and as a space takes about 60 people. Jose, my physical therapist and trainer lives 5 minutes walk from it. He has always been quite rude about Aldershot but it seems fine to me. As a non-local I think you were more likely to have your head caved in when the town was full of squaddies a few years back, in fact my mate Paul who was a squaddie in Aldershot

a few years ago was supposed to be meeting us there but he got some weekend shifts doing his new job as anaesthetic practitioner which is knocking people out in a more controlled way.
Despite Jose being a little disparaging about Aldershot there’s a nice new restaurant development and judging by how busy it was I wouldn’t describe Aldershot as too down at heel, both restaurants we tried to go to were full and had huge queues. First Nandos,

then Mezzo, La-di-da. Better than f*cking Oxshott.
So Katherine Ryan – I’d seen her on 8 out of 10 Cats

and she has that glorious combination of being pretty, hilarious and a bit mucky. Jimmy Carr can be as filthy as he likes, a pretty girl doing it has a certain Je ne sais quoi and as the West End Centre is such a small space she was right there!

Her warm up act Jeff Leach was also pretty funny. Jeff is a 6’4” man not afraid of his metrosexuality

, obviously a bit of a ’man about town’, not ashamed to share his sex addiction or piles stories. Here is a name to look out for in the future. Obviously, I hate him out of sheer jealousy. Seeing Sacha again was brilliant, she no longer lives down the road-has moved in with her other half, she’s got a new job and is one of those people to whom being busy comes with the turf. Energetic, funny people are in demand, that’s how it is.
Last but not least I was taken out for Lunch yesterday by the mum and stepfather (Caroline and John)

of my oldest mate Dominic.

If people can be bothered with me I will be bothered with them! End of Story.

3 Feb 2013

Post 381a: Full post by the afternoon

I'm sure this will send reverberations around the online world(well ripples) but sadly I've had neither the time (nor energy) to post the usual great work of literature but I hope my mewlings will be up by tomorrow afternoon



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