Friday, November 30, 2007

failed phlebotomy

so I turn up to the appointment in the town hall, remember to lie about my age, read the booklet, fill in the forms, talk to the nice reception nurses, and take my place amongst the half-dozen others waiting their turn. I really don't know why I've left it so late. even now, I'm nervous. of what? pain? hardly. humiliation? possibly. so what if I faint? it must happen all the time. I've persuaded Kim to come along as moral support. it's her first time, too. she doesn't seem remotely concerned.

after a short while, my name is called and I go behind a screen with one of the nurses - taking in, en route, the slightly mediaeval sight, spread out in full view in the body of the hall, of the eight or nine high metal bed-gurney-things and their associated clinical equipment, each with a prone person on top with a tube coming out of their arm and a nurse in blue at their side. I think this is what the emergency field hospital would look like if Glastonbury were struck by an earthquake. except everyone here looks very jolly.

my jolly nurse goes through the form with me (remember your birthday remember your birthday), skipping through my yes/no answers on the form. I resist the temptation to embellish my replies with silly comments. have you ever had sex with another man? it crosses my mind that it must be quite challenging to a few of the worthy burgers who pass through these doors to have to answer that question put by a jolly plump nurse. but a simple, unmodified 'yes' will, apparently, be enough to exclude you from donating. forever. only total normals need apply here.

tough call.

we share a jolly joke about how if I'd left it a year later I wouldn't be able to donate at all, but that now I'm registered I can carry on until I'm seventy!


she assembles a few bits and pieces on the mini-laboratory-like tray on the trolley that manage to look both cheery and scary at the same time (everything that isn't stainless steel is either blue or white plastic with nary a drop of vermilion in sight) and explains that first she'll take a prick-test to check for haemoglobin levels. anaemics need not apply. she asks me to extend the middle finger of my right hand. so specific. I actually have to think about it. it's the minutest of pricks, although I don't enjoy watching her squeeze a good glob to draw the sample into a pipette. she apologises for getting blood everywhere - we share a joke about how I'm making up for lost time - and puts a plaster around the pricked finger. she deposits the glob into a bottle of green liquid (green for boys, blue for girls) where it very slowly starts to settle towards the bottom - evidently one's eligibilty to donate depends on the rate of descent, which is governed by an electronic timer. slowly it falls. I find myself suddenly anxious that it's not going to be alright. it's OK. I pass.

I return to the back of the hall, and barely have time to conspiratorially compare answers with Kim (how do you know with certainty that you've never had sex with someone who might once have injected, or themselves had unsafe sex with someone who might have had sex with someone else who had HIV/AIDS?) than my name is called again and I'm invited to come through and lie down on my allotted gurney. it's right in the middle of the hall. I was hoping for one less conspicuous, out at the edge. it's at this point that I realise I've drawn the short straw as regards the distribution of jolly nurse-attendants - the person into whose care the drawing of my lifeblood over the next few minutes has been handed seems to have been recruited from the agency that specialises in hatchet-faced stuff-the-small-talk nursing auxiliaries. she refuses to smile. OK, I think, all coolio, she's having a bad life day, let's just do this thing.

a rotund and ruddy white-shirted fellow with a clipboard and reading-glasses perched on the tip of his nose wheezes over and asks me for my name and address in the tone of someone checking a box of frozen fish fingers against a list of suspect consignments. only when he asks when last I donated and I confess that this is my first time does his manner shift slightly - in the form of the minutest of glances between him and hatchet-face that I fail to interpret. he asks me to expose the inside of my left elbow and wraps a blood-pressure velcro bandage around my upper arm, then asks me to clench my fist, locates a vein, swabs it - quite thoroughly - warns me that he's about to insert the needle with that pathetic lie that all medical people and dentists use - 'just a slight scratch' - and inserts it. actually, I hardly feel it. then he fusses around a bit (I've averted my eyes by now - I suppose he's adjusting the gate and the tubing), asks me to continue pumping my fist throughout the donation, tells me that it will take around ten minutes, and leaves me under the watchful eye of little Miss Taciturn.

so I lie there, pumping my fist once a heartbeat, just like everyone else around me, and, trying not to dwell on the fact of my precious blood slowly dripping through those tubes into a hi-tech packet discreetly concealed below the gurney, allow my mind to drift beyond the rather spectacular chandeliers and tasteful green panelling of our refurbished town hall, beyond the slight embarassment at the fact that the nurse sitting over there at the edge of the hall not doing anything in particular can see that my heels are evidence of the need for the next five-yearly trip to Clarks, to a general kind of non-specific internal musing on the nature of altruism and the warm and glowy feeling that accrues therefrom.

pump, pump, pump, pump.

the first indication that something might be wrong comes from the slight shift in attention from my diligent but uncaring attendant: she is scrutinising the process of my 'donation' with a look of unconcealed disdain, as if I'd just farted.

"Could you squeeze a bit harder?"

I do so.

"And a bit faster?"

I do so.

"Is there something wrong?"

"It seems to have stopped."


"Your donation - it's stopped."

"What? You mean ...?"

"One moment. Frank!"

she tries to catch Rotund Fellow's eye. he eventually comes over, checks the tubes, readjusts the needle, and asks me to keep pumping.

I do so.

a few minutes later, the same thing - "It's stopped again"

it takes a while for Rotund Fellow to be found. by the time he returns again, I'm beginning to feel like a bit of a lemon, lying here, pumping away, trying my damndest to bleed, and thinking why oh why does this have to happen to me?

there's more fiddling with tubes, more adjusting of needles, a re-adjustment of the angle of my elbow - and then, oh fuck, in the middle of all this, I start to feel a bit funny.

"Do you feel alright?"

Rotund Fellow speaks. fractionally more caring than Hatchet Face. not much.

"I'm fine."

actually, I'm beginning to feel really funny, but I'm buggered if I'm going to let him know.

"You sure?"

"Well, maybe a bit light-headed."

and at this point, I actually feel myself beginning to turn grey, as the blood, quite literally, drains from my head. to his credit, Rotund Fellow's ruddy face registers my ruddiless one and stops fiddling immediately, withdraws the needle, applies a pressure-pad, and nods at the nurse who I'd noticed sitting over there apparently doing nothing.

now we discover what she was waiting for.

a well-oiled machine engages: Rotund Fellow continues to apply pressure to my elbow as she who henceforth shall be know as Fainting Nurse lowers the head of the gurney so my head is level with my body and raises my lower legs onto the sort of large squidgy play-block that they have in kids nurseries - the only red thing in the room, I notice in passing. I continue fatuously protesting my imminent alrightness - as if I were about to fool these highly trained professionals - and surrender to the totality of the moment, this squirmingly public exposure of my own wussiness, complete with meticulously applied cold compress on fevered brow and diligent wafting of face with a piece of cardboard. oh the shame of it. da-da-de-da-da. memories of playground taunting envelop me. well, actually, the calm reassurance of Fainting Nurse that it happens a lot 'with first-timers', and that I'll be fine in a few minutes, envelops me, as she brings me several glasses of water to drink and discourages me from rising too soon.

so that, bar the final slice of cake and a nice cup of tea, is that. they can't even use the pathetic cupful I did manage to donate, because the hi-tech collection bags they use have to contain a specific amount in order for it all to be processed properly.

whilst I'm lying there, waiting for permission to get up, Mistress Whoareyousmilingat asks me what I've eaten and drunk today, and takes some satisfaction in pointing out that this - clearly - pathetically small amount of food (quite normal for me) 'probably' accounts for my bleeding incompetence, and that it might be better, next time, to try eating 'a proper meal' before I donate. so it's all my fault. in retrospect, I think she's wrong about that. I suspect she was blustering around to divert me from Rotund Fellow's incompetent placement of the collection needle, but that's neither here nor there.

what's interesting is the near-fainting. fact is, I'm ok with blood and pain (others as well as mine) under the conditions in which they usually occur. what seems to be the case (because, although I've never tried to give blood before, it has happened before that I've come close to fainting during routine blood-testing) is that, in some people, myself included, alas, the knowledge that one's blood - this lifey-stuff - is being removed from where it properly belongs, and that one can't, or rather, mustn't instigate the usual steps to staunch it, seems to trip an emergency fuse that overrides the conscious decision not to intervene in the blood-letting and compels one - by dint of withdrawing the blood supply to the brain, thus rendering one imminently unconscious and bereft of verticality - to lie down and reconsider that consent. there's no clear way around this other than to try again (in three months time, when the haemoglobin levels have had a chance to fully return), maybe having a heartier breakfast beforehand, and hoping, next time around, for a more amenable team than the cheerless Messrs Hatchet & Frank.

lest we forget

Sunday, November 18, 2007

doom and destruction

so we've got ten years, give or take.

this is not a long time.

realistically, folks, it's not going to happen, is it? not as long as the global players - the Americans and the Chinese (the two who, between them, are quite happily contributing more than the whole of the rest of the planet put together towards the destruction of its ecosphere) continue to put their faith in the infinitely flexible prevarications of deniability and the Mr Fixit school of technology and free enterprise to - well - fix it. they've been caught a bit short in their hopes that the science would be proved wrong - although there will of course continue to be a few diehard morons who insist on retaining their face-saving mask of scepticism - but is the continuing untenability of their position likely to be affected by all this? really? you think?

it would be kinda reassuring to believe that the version of events that we've come to depend on from the movies - the charismatic hero's last-minute sidestepping of the unscrupulous corporations and politicians and damp-eyed people-power kicking in to save the day - will happen. but it won't. a) there's no hero sufficiently charismatic (sorry, Al, sorry, Jonathan, but it has to be said), and b) the movies are fictional, guys! in real life, everyone who, let's say, falls in love, and declares that their love is going to last forever (a common enough movie-trained assumption) is either going to be divorced or wishing they were divorced within three years. five tops.

so, almost certainly, by 2017, ten short years from now, deadline date, the steps which by then need to have been put in place in order to avert global environmental catastrophe will have been fully initiated only by New Zealand, Venezuela, Greenland, and the seceded state of California, and the rest will still be arguing about quotas. as if, by then, such will matter one iota. the die will have been cast. global temperature rise of 2° Celsius minimum, with all the attendant irreversible damage that that means. and if we don't know what that means by now, we really haven't been listening, have we? really. I'm serious. we haven't been listening, have we?

clearly, nothing ever changes for the better simply because it's better (as in morally better) - if that were the case, there would never have been slavery, cigarettes, or TV phone-in competitions in the first place. under the standing rules of the free market, the only reason for change has to be profit, otherwise the precious entropy of the whole system is challenged.

hence, whereas the comforting version of the history of abolition, for instance, has the abolitionists' righteous indignation finally being recognised and implemented - huzzah Mr Wilberforce! - the more complex truth is that the economic foundation of the eighteenth-century slavery/sugar nexus in Europe (and, incidentally, the cotton/slavery nexus in ante-bellum North America) was weakening under pressure from the urban immigrations attendant on the Industrial Revolution, when the wage-slavery of local factory production - exploiting the desperate need of rural farmworkers displaced by mechanisation for urban work at bare subsistence levels - was proving a more profitable alternative to the industrial exploitation of even slave-produced imports. the Christian principles of the abolitionists, therefore, were the icing on the cake: the cake was already half-cooked to the traditional recipe of Messrs Adam Smith et al.

similarly, whereas the health arguments against smoking had been fully exposed and in the public domain for at least forty years prior to this astonishing overthrow of the smoking culture that has taken place in Europe, at least, in the last five years, it took the final opening to imports of one very large, less scrupulous market to persuade Imperial Tobaccco and Philip Morris to finally let go their decades-long expensively tenured lawyers in prevarication and concentrate on what really matters - profit. Potential sales-loss in smoke-challenged Europe (est pop 728,000,000 in 2005) weighed against potential gains in still-happily-puffing China (population 1,321,851,888 in July 2007) - no contest.

as for oil and blood - let's not even go there.

the future of humanity seems, truly, to be in the balance, as never before.

in the long run, of course, doom is inevitable. the dinosaurs must have thought they were in it for the long haul - at their 150-million-year dominance to our puny hundred-thousand this must have seemed a fair assumption - until that pesky asteroid hit. and, let's face it, our species track record of making any civilisation last longer than a thousand years or so is poor, to say the least. so we're long overdue what the biologists would call a speciation adjustment - a winnowing of the genetic chaff to encourage more diversity to redress, in turn, the balance of all those extinctions our careless global husbandry has precipitated. and whether or not this comes about through chance - the usual method - the bolt from the blue - or through our own carelessness is of no consequence at all in the greater scheme.

maybe that's it. maybe we blew all the chances we had. we have, after all, known (that's empirically known, not just speculated about, as in "you know, there's some dude says there's gunna be another ice age unless we stop smoking so much of this shit") about this impending environmental doomsday for quite a long time. Rachel Carson's novel 'Silent Spring' - often cited as marking the popular birth of the environmental movement - was published in 1962, and was itself an artistic articulation of a set of concerns that had been around in scientific circles for many years before. no-one wanted to hear it, basically. or, at least, having heard, no-one could face the reality of it.

even now, when we're all recycling so hard our unheated homes have begun to resemble Steptoe & Son's back-yard, we're unwilling to face the truth - that, unless in the immediate - that's immediate as within the next ten years - future we're all prepared to accept a massive - that's to say, a HUGE degree of compromise to our accustomed lifestyle expectations - from travel to food to accommodation to family size - then there is, simply, no future.

of course, for the very rich, there is an extension - the usual methods of insulating oneself from the unpleasantnesses of the hoi polloi will continue to apply for a while. gated communities, gated lives, and gated minds with sufficient material reserves to ride out the kinds of social collapse that are predicted might revert to the sorts of baronial structures that, in the macro-social sense, the collapse of the USSR has precipitated in Russia. it would be nice to think that, in best Schadenfreude fashion, such micro-societies would quickly implode under pressure of aggressive rival factionalism. more likely, they would, eventually, survive (by the same principle as the floater in the toilet bowl), emerging finally, from their hellish enclaves, hirsute, lice- and halitosis-ridden, to become the temporary template for the revised future - one which, by the way, I for one would be most content to be dispossessed of - only to be immediately culled by some meanwhile-massively-mutated world-wide influenza epidemic that their in-house lab of top pharmacists had failed to predict.

what a shame.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

a day in the life

woke at nine, made myself a cuppa, took it back to bed and read for a while - a particular and totally guilt-free pleasure that only seems to make itself available on Saturday mornings. I'm reading Robert L Forward's 'Dragon's Egg' - a slightly earnest but engaging little epic about first contact with the inhabitants of a neutron star. not Dostoevsky, but it serves me well.

rose at ten. another beautiful cloudless morning. not quite as cold as yesterday, but the birdies were nevertheless glad of the seed I laid out on the bird-table I improvised twenty years ago from a bit of marine ply left over from Michael's houseboat and hung on the washing-line, and has been brought out out every winter since. I don't know why I dislike starlings and thrushes so - perhaps it's their gang-behaviour. I admire the rainbow sheen in the thrush's coat, however.

the war on the visiting cats proceeds: I get totally incensed when that sniffing and corner-of-the-mouth-rubbing thing gets going against some plant or other - there's one bush in particular that's become marker-central for all things four-legged and remotely feline - and it goes on for a bit, with the turning and the raising themselves up on two legs to get as high as possible to the delicious smells, until the build-up reaches that pre-orgasm-analogue moment when they have to turn their backs, raise their quivering tails, and, surrendering to that whole-body pleasure-shivering thing, spray a thick jet of their disgusting body-fluid across their love-thing of choice - MY FUGGIN PLANTS! a well-aimed rock will usually dissuade the buggers for a day or two. they always come back though. such is the pleasure principle.

broke fast on toast and marmalade. greeted the finally emergent boys at 10.30, grunting semi-articulate delight in Assassin's Creed - the PS3 game that they'd had me pre-order weeks ago and that was released yesterday - but managing finally to tear themselves away to go to work. at least, Bo went to work - Jack drifted off somewhere with Kie the famous traceur and joint star of their almost-finished movie, who appeared at some point.

gathered the washing together and put on the first of two loads, then set to to finish the bathroom. it's been ten days now of re-tiling and grouting and stripping and re-varnishing, a task made fearsomely difficult by the never-ending use of the shower in this house: each day I've had to jury-rig a sheet of polythene around it to protect the exposed plaster or the fresh-drying coat of varnish. condensation round the window-frame has added to the difficulty, as has the fact that these past months of grout-leakage (I first realised there was a problem when I noticed the damp patch on the stairs side of the wall between the staircase and the bathroom) had left a bloom of damp plaster behind the tiles that had to dry out.

it didn't take long. to finish, though, I'd decided to re-route the shower-curtain slightly in order to shield the newly-varnished window-ledge in future from the worst of the splashing, and, in order not to have this result in the near-total occlusion of light into our tiny bathroom, I needed to rig up one of those curtain-tie-back things that they have in the better houses. in order to do this, I decided I needed to make a couple of eye-splices in a short length of some rather nice white rope that's been sitting around for - oh, all of twenty-five years - last put to use on the stage of Gellerupscenen in Ã…rhus as part of the suspension system for some extravagant piece of scenography that I used there. I couldn't remember exactly how to do this, but - as always - the knowledge was but a google-click away (and, as always, the search spun off as much enticing trivia as treasure - like, in this instance, the close resemblance of the eye-splice to the cunt-splice - I kid you not).

then Kim phoned to say that the two modelling-light bulbs I'd given her only a month or so ago had both blown and did I have any more. so she came over to pick them up - with her mum, Issie, fresh over from Portugal for a few days. a brief visit, since the ageing Hotpoint had just then entered its final spin cycle, which is a total conversation-killer. then, just as they were leaving, Henri turned up with Jess and Finn and li'l Liza - a very pleasant surprise, as she'd rung earlier to ask whether it was a good idea to come in at all today, it being Carnival an all, and I'd muttered darkly about the impossibility of parking and the early road closures and stuff.

so I set the boys up with the PS3 and laid out tea and cakes - and barely had we touched on exhibition plans and MRI scans than Liza started kicking up a total tired-and-grizzly storm, which curtailed that conversation, too, as, if not more effectively as the Hotpoint's final spin cycle. which was a shame, because we needed to catch up a bit, but hey, babies. another time.

the Tor was busy, what with the Carnival an all.

I resist deriding it, this 'retard magnet' as one of my younger friends most colourfully describes it. it clearly brings a lot of - well, joy is a strong word - let's say it keeps a lot of people busy who would otherwise be - how to say this - not. it makes the pub landlords happy. bless.

the booze-queue in Heritage extended halfway back into the store, so I gave up and bought a bag of Colombian in the deli instead. a once-a-year visit to this national award-winning and criminally expensive shop on the corner of the street. really, really nice coffee.

during Carnival, watched 'Primer' for the second time, and actually managed to unravel one or two of the brain-knots it left me with from the first. a really intriguing little movie whose construction verges on the perverse - self-consciously reflective of its temporal paradox narrative theme - but, thanks to the performance of the relationship between the two geek friends, manages to maintain a credible core of human concern in what could otherwise have been a rather arid if fascinating generic what-if movie.

there - that's what bloggers do, isn't it?

how astonishingly dull.