Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Merry Christmas (This was 2018)

It’s been rather a while since I posted anything, so in the interest of keeping up appearances (and whilst I’m in the process of shaking off a particularly crappy cold) I thought I’d review the year, or at least make an arbitrary attempt to do so. Essentially, this is my version of those lamentable round-robin newsletters you sometimes receive from people you didn’t like to begin with (with the exception that I don’t have to pay for postage). 

Being as I’m British, perhaps the best place to start is with the weather. Whilst the bitter snow of the winter followed by the hot dry summer was a tad more aligned with my traditional definition of the seasons, meteorological elements rarely behave themselves. The late cold snap (dubbed the “Beast from the East”) caused my wife to end up in hospital with pneumonia and then the subsequent second burst disrupted work on my new wall in March, meaning I ended up securing protective canvasses at 4 in the morning in my boxer shorts. Moreover, it’s been utterly shite since October and the continuing damp grey drizzle has led to general sickness and ill health throughout the entire household. With a solitary single day of holiday remaining in my annual allocation at the start of December, I took the day off to do some Christmas shopping, with Bath as my chosen destination. Alas, it hammered down with rain the entire day and I was greeted with one of the more bizarre sights of artificial snow being blown from machine (I laud their efforts at generating a festive spirit) only to disappear into the miserable grey ether.

My reason for choosing Bath was down to the fact that we had spent our ten-year wedding anniversary there in the summer and there remained a rather impressive-looking establishment called The Raven that I thought would be perfect in which to enjoy a pie and a pint in the winter months. Alongside the two days we spent in Bath, another highlight of the year was our trip up to Mount Snowdon on the steam railway on a scorching hot day in June. Despite the long car journey and the congestion at the summit, it was a magnificent day to make it up there and we have already put North Wales on the list for 2019. Not so high up on the list of enjoyable experiences was Legoland Windsor. For someone who loves Lego as much as I do, this should have been a glorifying pilgrimage and yet in reality was two days of being constantly ripped off and waiting in ridiculously long queues for very average rides. The only crumb of comfort was that we managed to get through a night in a family room, which to the untrained eye would seem like a complete non-achievement, and yet when one considers the nocturnal challenges of our youngest child, it actually represented a monumental leap forward.

Ah yes, nocturnal challenges. There was a time when sleep was something I just did. If I was tired I would lie in and if not, I would get up. Other than that I thought little of it. Then I married an early-riser and began to have an increasing list of demands on my time. Then two children came along, with the second in particular being a prolifically atrocious sleeper and my transition into insomnia was almost completed. I say almost because 2018 has been the year that this went fully into overdrive with some periods of extraordinary sleep deprivation being experienced. The only crumb of comfort in this sorry tale is that I have discovered some meditative techniques that, whilst not necessarily induce sleep, at least prevent me from getting irritated by it. Perhaps one day I will have another lie in and in the meantime I have the book and recordings by my side as an insurance policy.

I began the year with surgery on my right knee, something that I wrote about a couple of times, along with the challenges of rehab. Whilst flexibility has by and large returned, it is still stiff and I think I can finally come to terms with the fact that I won’t be playing competitive sport again – I’m best sticking to watching it (and complaining about it). On the rugby front, having led the nation team on a record-breaking winning run back in 2016, Eddie Jones went into full meltdown, continuing to play locks in the backrow, finishing 5th in the Six Nations and then losing to South Africa. It remains to be seen as to whether this is a necessary blip on the way to a more successful 2019 or the beginning of the end for him, but there are one or two glimpses of hope in the form of Sam Underhill and Mark Wilson that might come to something. The cricket team continued its inconsistent test form with an unconvincing (yet entertaining win) over India, before a more impressive away series win in Sri Lanka. However, it is the success of the One Day team on which the ECB have staked their hopes and so the proof will be in whether they can win the World Cup next year. I remain cautiously optimistic.

2018 was also the year that Twitter tipped fully into meltdown mode. Armed with a lethal combination of Brexit, a new generation of social justice warriors and of course a growing number of left-wing celebrity generals willing to lead them into battle, the whole thing blew up (something I discovered to my cost midway through the year). Despite being advocates for democracy and decency and the people being represented and all that sort of thing, the likes of JK Rowling, Gary Lineker, Lily Allen, Terry Cristian and others have ditched that line of thinking and replaced it with “we know better,” suddenly darting to the conclusion that the EU is an organization that we should pin all our hopes in. Not only does it of course make all the correct decisions when it comes to law, order and general governance, there is absolutely zero economic opportunity that exists outside of its jurisdiction and anyone who thinks otherwise is a thick, racist piece of excrement. Moreover, the EU leaders are warm, bold, courageous and paternal, whilst any British MP or MEP who suggests otherwise is the opposite. Having been Prime Minister of Luxembourg for a few years with almost no opposition or stretching challenge of note makes Jean-Claude Juncker the ideal person to head up the EU – if he wants to get bladdered on costly lunches and grope women, hey why not (hashtag MeToo anyone)? Michel Barnier is right to basically not budge one inch in the withdrawal negotiations – that’s his job right? And as for Guy Verhofstadt ranting and raving about forcing nation states to give up any sovereignty them might still have to create a federal Europe making all the laws and regulations for us, we should let him as he is exactly the sort of leader we need (and in no way resembles one of those lunatics from the thirties).

I am being facetious of course. Everything that we have witnessed over the past two years from the EU has confirmed to all those who exercised their hard-earned right to vote to leave that they were correct to do so (and I suspect quite a few of the more hesitant remainers). If this is the EU in its current form, what the hell is it likely to grow into in another ten or twenty years? That is of course if it doesn’t just collapse under the weight of its failed economic model, bringing down all the net contributors with it. Anyway, let’s not turn this into an exclusively Brexit-themed blog post. Suffice to say that the celebrity remoaning factions have stepped up their game on social media, aware of the failure of our current government to come up with an “attractive deal” and keen to latch onto the notion of a second referendum (cynically dubbed the “people’s vote). Back in the summer, I made the “error” of challenging one such celebrity remoaner, Brian Moore when he was midway through a succession of aimless taunts at Jacob Rees Mogg. What followed was a barrage of abuse from his legion of remainer followers, most of whom are a combination of left-wing, pro EU, nation-hating, politically correct zealots who think the world of the likes of James O’Brien and who would have Tony Blair back in charge in a flash. The abuse was fine for a couple of days – it gave me an endless stream of opportunities to inform them one by one what I thought of them. However, Brian Moore is evidently someone with a huge chip on his shoulder, repeatedly coming back at me, trawling my timeline for material and at one point furiously claiming that he had achieved more than JRM despite having had less money to start with. At that point I started receiving threats from stalkers, anonymous abuse and even efforts at sabotaging a podcast I had started (bad timing on my part I readily admit). The net result was that I changed my Twitter handle, went on private mode and then even shut Twitter down for a period of time. Having since opened it back up, I have come to the conclusion that it is basically now a pointless cesspit in which even humour and parody have been surpassed by the pillocking nature of the “liberal” left who seem only to want everything and everyone banned. Despite there being a small number of decent people on there, I think there are more creative ways of spending one’s time and one of my resolutions is to avoid it as much as possible.

Which leads me onto my overwhelming conclusion from 2018: that most things were better in the past. Remember a time when the government basically aspired to leave us all alone to get on with life? When the Tory Party were actually conservative? When the Labour Party actually attracted the working classes? When houses were built properly? When the roads were not gridlocked? When you could say what you want without someone being offended? When mainstream television was decent? When the BBC didn’t operate via the lens of diversity? When things were built to last and worked without having to be recharged and having apps loaded? To think that this nation produced the great castles, stately homes, the Victorian railways, museums, libraries, bridges and canals, the Spitfire, the Lancaster, the eType Jag and the Concorde. And look at it now – a plastic society full of permanently offended, purse-lipped drones all jabbing away on smart phones, frantically adding hashtags to whatever drivel they’ve just posted on Twitter. 

And so to the non-plastics out there, Merry Christmas :)

Friday, 15 June 2018

Lego Castle MOC 2018

I’m pleased to say that after eighteen months of on-off work (and following me tearing down the first effort) I have finally completed the Lego Castle MOC (my own creation). As I mentioned a few months back, this hobby was kick-started by a Christmas present a couple of years ago that quickly sucked me into the fantastic world of Bricklink where the challenge of purchasing a high volume of grey bricks to resemble stonework is made a lot easier – in fact, the idea of being able to construct something on this level back in the 1980s when I first started building Lego is almost unthinkable. So, before I simper on any further, here’s the finished product in all its MOC-glory:

Lego Castle MOC 2018

Aside from being able to order specific Lego bricks, the other advantage of building a Lego Castle MOC in 2018 is the wider presence of the internet and its labyrinth of forums, articles, blogs and fanzines, all offering up thoughts and advice on the subject of bespoke Lego-builds. The natural challenge when it comes to medieval buildings is that of creating the effect of vast sections of stonework that resemble what actual medieval castles look like, without falling into the trap of simply creating a boring “big grey wall.” This was the main flaw in my first attempt at building a Lego MOC and, having disassembled the entire structure, I spent some time looking in super-detail at how a wall could be constructed in a more realistic way. There were a few pointers on this that I can share here to anyone looking for tips and hints.

Lego Castle MOC 2018 front view

The first thing is to think of the shape of the towers. Walls are, by their very nature, straight – at least if you are building them using Lego they are as you have no choice! But towers can be square or angular and it is this that will allow the walls a certain level of character above and beyond the “classic castle” modular style of the 80's and 90's Lego sets. As such, I chose to use 2x1 corner pieces (modified bricks) on my four towers, which meant that the intersections genuinely looked like curtain walls linking the towers together as opposed to a single flow of bricks set at angles. The second thing is the choice of bricks used throughout the design itself. In my first build I simply used a shedload of 2x4 and 2x2 standard bricks which are firstly too large when compared with the overall size of the castle (and especially the minifigs that stand alongside them) and secondly are just too boring when used exclusively – even if you alternate the colours! This time, I found that by identifying half-a-dozen different types of brick, all of a varying nature, before beginning construction, by the time they were layered together the walls took on an interesting, rustic and more realistic appearance. To put this to the test, it is worth visiting a real-life medieval castle (i.e. one built in Norman or Plantagenet times) or at least researching one via a book or Google images. The stonework is often irregularly sized, with different shades either blending together or contrasting completely at intervals. Both the walls and towers are rarely “flat” in the literal sense of the word; sections protrude or become recessed almost arbitrarily (though almost certainly for specific reasons of defence or structural support) with decorative features flanking the windows and doors and overhanging brickwork towards the highest points of the building where the ramparts or turrets become crenelated. In many cases, these sections feature murder holes beneath the level of the floor and the battlements themselves and even these are often presented in an irregular or decorative way. All things considered, a standard bricklay effect from solid bricks isn’t going to cut it!

Lego Castle MOC 2018 showing the close-in stonework with a soldier

With this in mind I selected a number of bricks to use in the wall and tower sections, as follows. In the “standard” range, there were 1x1, 1x2 and 1x4 standard light blue-grey bricks, together with a “plate effect” whereby I would build up the equivalent of the 1x4 with three rows of plates but with a couple of darker grey plates to look like a “thinner” set of brickwork. Then there were modified bricks, including a 1x2 masonry piece (my favourite but more expensive), a “log” style 1x2 brick, a “grille” style 1x2 and then a technic brick with axle hole (for the impression of a spy hole or decorative feature). The final touch was the use of a 1x2 tile stuck onto a 1x2 modified brick with studs to look like a protruding block of stone. When clustered together, these completely break up the line of sight and create a really interesting section of stonework that, at least in the somewhat limited world of Lego bricks and MOCs, resembles the real thing!

For the windows, most are of the arrow-slit variety, which require a clever technique that I cannot lay claim to of arranging single 1x1 studded bricks facing each other and attaching single sloped pieces back in, meaning that the external gap looks like a religious cross type of arrow slit, with the inside having a wider view, which is exactly how castle windows of this variety were built so that the crossbowmen could load whilst protected and get a far wider view of the enemy without the full exposure being present on the external wall.

Lego Castle MOC 2018 showing the arrow slits and shields

This Lego MOC Castle is a hybrid of a keep and a more meandering collection of tiles, mainly because I didn’t have the space to create a full-on Edwardian monster of the concentric-wall variety! Therefore, I was unable to really expand sections of curtain walling, though I did ensure that a couple of my towers were styled in a slightly different way. The two rear towers have Tudor-style balcony-window sections protruding from them to give the impression of a later addition, perhaps from the Renaissance period where comfort and style overtook stonework in terms of priority. The one tower has a French-style sloping roof (probably the costliest section to purchase as those black slopes are a nightmare to get hold of these days!) and the second tower is the tallest with a set of murder holes creating an overhang in the style of Raglan Castle and Warwick Castle (both of which can be seen surviving today). 

So that’s a bit on the exterior of the castle – what about the inside? I decided that each section had to be accessible and look realistic so made the entire thing break apart into two parts so that it could be opened up like a doll’s house. Initially this had a hinged piece but after a while the whole thing became so heavier with the sheer weight of the bricks that it made more sense to get rid of the hinge and just have a couple of hole/cylinder snaps to clip it together and pull it apart which became far easier to manage and more practical to work on either part at any one time. The first floor is the bit within the rocky base and it basically a dungeon / prison / store section. Then comes the first floor, on which the gatehouse sits. On entering the castle, there is a main hall with a stable block on the right and an armoury (with a blacksmith) on the left.

Lego Castle MOC 2018 showing the stable block and horse

Lego Castle MOC 2018 showing the Blacksmith working in the armoury

On the rear section there is a kitchen for the soldiers and a staircase up from the dungeons with a spiral staircase block on the left hand side. Here I have a confession to make! In real castles, spiral staircases rose deliberately from left to right because almost everyone was right-handed, which meant that their sword/weapon carrying hand would be closest to the central pillar as they made their way up the stairs, giving a huge advantage to a defender coming down the stairs, whose sword hand would be free in the spacious section of the staircase (whilst holding the central pillar) to hack down on the attacker. Here, however, it was almost impossible within the constraints of the space I had in the collection of baseplates to start the entrance to the spiral staircase against the exterior wall and have enough brickwork to cover the stairs and create a structurally-sound wall (those spiral staircase sections look very cool but they are a buggar to set up and keep stable!). So the result is a staircase that favours left-handed knights and soldiers, which I like to think gives it a more unique quality! 

Lego Castle MOC 2018 showing the spiral staircase

Lego Castle MOC 2018 Throne Room featuring the king and queen

On the next level is the great hall, which on the right hand side includes the throne room for the king and queen with an ornate backdrop complete with decorative clock (a purchase from a Lego seller in the Netherlands!) and a display of shields. The housing to the portcullis breaks up the flow to the far end of the hall, above which a minstrel’s gallery sits, looking down onto the tiled floor below. To the rear of the castle is a chapel with two stained glass windows, created by using transparent pieces set horizontally, next to which there is an Elizabethan-styled studded room that gives the impression once again of a later evolution where comfort began to overtake military might when it came to prioritization of building work and decoration. Above this is a balcony linking the staircase to a library of books where a scribe stands reading his scrolls (this was a cool idea I “borrowed” from a Lego ideas book that my daughter has in her room!). Finally, on the top deck there are the front two towers which are bridged by the gatehouse ramparts and small wooden steps and to the rear the main tower and sloped roof. I decided to “close” the natural gap between the two sections by creating a very shallow house-styled black roof which is split at the top using single slopes to avoid the four towers colliding clumsily in the design. On reflection I think it was the best choice…

Lego Castle MOC 2018 Library featuring the scribe and bookcases

Lego Castle MOC 2018 Chapel featuring two stained glass windows

Lego Castle MOC 2018 View of Studded Chamber featuring an Elizabethan wall

A final word then on the two biggest challenges of this build – namely the minifigs and the rocks! The advantage of building an MOC in 2018 is that there are more minifigs than ever before, but this is equally a problem because most of the decent “medieval” ranges have since been discontinued and so fetch quite high prices. After shopping around I managed to get hold of a small garrison of Lion Soldiers and a champion knight, as well as a squire, blacksmith, king and queen, jester (my favourite), skeleton and war dwarf. Okay, the dwarf is rather more fantasy than historical but what the hell, it makes things interesting! 

Lego Castle MOC 2018 showing the champion knight on the drawbridge

When it came to the rocky base, I actually left most of this to last, having used some of my older 2x4 bricks to build the basement level, deciding to add the rock effect afterwards. This was fine, but I didn’t realise what a tough job it would be to create the genuine effect of an irregular rocky outcrop! Of course, using the darker grey bricks helped, but it took quite a few goes to build up the layered sloped (and inverted sloped) flow of rocks and especially when it came to bridging the corner sections – I can only recommend using as many joining plates and different styles of modified slopes as possible and being patient enough to build and dismantle a few times in order to get the right knack of hos this should look. It’s not easy but in the end I’m reasonably happy with how it turned out – I never thought I’d be able to build what looks like part of a mountain out of Lego!

Lego Castle MOC 2018 rocky outcrop with detail of landscaping rock and greenery

Monday, 21 May 2018

Why Do Our Historians Hate History So Much?

Recently I had a medieval history spurt. Following a family visit to the magnificent Raglan Castle in South Wales I watched back through Marc Morris’ excellent Castle series, as well as flicking through his book. His passion, not only for the buildings of medieval Britain but also the period as a whole oozes through the pages and I genuinely get a warmth and feeling for the subject that matches my own. Following this, a couple of weeks ago I watched the three part series on iPlayer on the Hundred Years War, presented by Dr Janina Ramirez – another topic I find fascinating. Once again, the delivery was articulate and passionate and covered all the salient events, twists and turns accurately and fairly. I remarked that one could consider that we should feel somewhat blessed to have such an array of historians presenting these sorts of programs in the UK because, whilst the content is there, it is important to pass on the appetite for historical knowledge to future generations.

I therefore find it rather strange that once you take these historians away from their subject matter (the past) to view them functioning in the present, they seem far removed from the passionate people who had presented their material with such a love for the history of this island. When I returned from Raglan, I tweeted Marc Morris and asked for his views on castle restoration. Of course, there are never any guarantees that people in the public eye will respond to a tweet from a nobody such as myself, but this is a relatively minor historian, not an A list celebrity and he only has around 5k more followers than I do and therefore I was mildly surprised when he ignored me. On closer inspection trawling through his timeline, he did appear to answer quite a number of tweets, but there seemed to be a trend to this and I then realized that he was a staunch remainer and huge critic not only of the current government (fair enough) but any political party expressing a disdain for the European Union. For someone who has openly talked of his passion for the likes of Edward Longshanks and Edward III and the sterling deeds of our great leaders from the high medieval period, he seemed to hold a completely different view of what our country should be and who should represent it in the present. With a tinge of dismay and my pious-o-meter starting to detect a high level of movement, I then switched my attentions to Dr Janina Ramirez whose timeline is even more reflective of the liberal left and noticed a very similar pattern of anti-Britishness. She waxed lyrical on political tirades from the likes of Ed Miliband, leading feminists and social justice commentators on how free speech should be curtailed, whilst criticizing a plethora of aspects of the British establishment, including the monarchy, an institution that she talks passionately about during her television programs. It is almost as if the entire output of her work is a “nine to five” exercise during which a magnificently effective pretense is put on in order to fulfil ratings and tick her career box (she has a doctorate after all so I would presume she needs something to show for her investment), only to return to Britain-bashing whilst off duty.

These two examples are not isolated of course. One can consider how utterly unpatriotic someone like Simon Schama is – a man who moved to the US but who constantly seizes upon the many opportunities presented to him by his association with the Labour Party (Tony Blair loved a celebrity endorsement after all) to appear on programs such as Question Time, Newsnight and various Sky pieces to tell us how we should continue to integrate with the European Union, how we require more progressive taxes, how we should embrace freedom of movement and so on and so forth. When dipping a level down from the glitzy historians, this trait then becomes rife – Linda Colley, Brandan Simms, Neil Gregor, even those who are not historians but present themselves as such when being interviewed on political history (I’m thinking the likes of the utterly wretched Bonnie Greer). It is probably only David Starkey who rises above this nauseating party line on the spectrum of historical “experts.”

Why then do these people, who have spent their lives professionally and personally immersing themselves in British history, hate either what we are, what we have become or (more importantly) what a great majority of people in this country want to be? I have two possible answers to this peculiar riddle. Firstly, that they actually genuinely hate everything about the actual history of Britain. They see it as racist, imperialistic, violent and misogynistic but therefore fascinating from the safety of a distant observatory platform and can be enjoyed rather like one can enjoy Game of Thrones. The liberal, watered-down, restrictive framework of society as it currently exists is far more to their liking and if they can wangle a career of researching and presenting the past to fund their lifestyles then they’ll take it. The second theory is that they are at best apathetic to the past but their views on current history and politics are essentially shaped by the indoctrination of academia. As people who have studied formally for longer than the average person, they have been subject to the huge influence of left wing thought which is rife throughout schools and universities (not so mention institutions such as the BBC) and therefore they have been lost to the system.

However, even if one of these theories is correct I still find it amazing that someone in such a position exposed to such a rich tapestry of wonder feels the way they do, seemingly wanting to tear the tapestry to the ground and burn it up, whilst benefiting from the salaried commentary position whilst the flames lick higher. All aboard the gravy train of history… 

Friday, 23 March 2018

Knee Arthroscopy – Part Two The Operation

Leaving aside dental work, the last time I had had any form of surgery was as a teenager and the last thing on my mind back then was to avoid being ill beforehand. However, it is an unavoidable hazard of living in my house that between the months of October and March there is a continual cycle of colds, illness, infection, viruses and flu that bounces from child to child and very often to an adult in between. Not wishing to have my knee surgery postponed and therefore have my recovery eat into the spring and summer, I therefore spent the first three weeks of January cramming oranges and Berocca down my neck, washing and dressing my two children at arm’s length and scrubbing my hands so vigorously that anybody witnessing my day to day behaviour would be forgiven for thinking that I had an extreme form of OCD. As such, I just about achieved my aim, though around three days before the operation, I developed a sore throat, which meant that there was a chance of cancellation due to the fact that as a registered asthmatic there was an unnecessary risk posed by my having a general anaesthetic. With this in mind, even as I was shown to my room in the hospital, there were no guarantees that everything would proceed as planned. Once I had been examined by the nurse, the physio, the consultant and even asked what post op meal Id like (courtesy of BUPA) the anaesthetist finally came into assess me. 
“No problem,” he replied briskly, “we’ll give you a spinal block instead. As it’s knee surgery that will shut off the pain and there will be no risk to your breathing as we won’t have to proceed with the general anaesthetic.”
“Great, that makes me feel more relieved,” my wife said. “Right, I’m going to get back so I can pick the girls up from school. See you later.”

Leaving me to contemplate the idea of being fully awake and conscious in an operating theatre whilst my knee was sliced open, she disappeared. I didn’t have long to ruminate on this course of events because within a few more minute a couple of people arrived to escort me downstairs to the theatre. The process was that firstly I required a cannula to be inserted into the back of my hand and this is where the fun really began. As I sat there on the side of the operating couch I realised that not only was I incredibly hungry, having fasted since eight that morning, but also dehydrated - typically I neck water copiously throughout the day but in this case had not had anything to drink for three hours. To say I was light headed would be an understatement, but as I felt the nurse start to fiddle with my veins I remembered how squeamish anything like that makes me feel and knew it spelt trouble. 
“Fuck,” I remember thinking quite clearly as the needle went in.
“What are your children up to today?” the anaesthetist asked, trying desperately to distract me from the sharp instrument being crudely jabbed into my hand right below my eyes.
“Er, at school,” I replied absently, not really able to engage.
“Now just try and relax your hand sir,” the nurse said, indicating that his first attempt had been unsuccessful. I tried my best to relax my hand, something that is more or less impossible when another fat needle is about to be forced into the same vein that has just rejected its first attempt. My head started to spin as I looked at the clock and realised that I had nothing in the tank.
“Sorry I feeling a bit light headed,” I murmured, hoping that they would take this as code for “I’m likely to pass out.” They didn’t cotton on.
“Please try and relax,” I heard him say as the needle went in for the third time and I felt the same grim sensation of veins and pain. I could tell from the smattering of blood over the wires below that his clumsy efforts were failing spectacularly.
“I didn’t sign up for any of this,” I thought as I blacked out completely.
Shortly later, I came to, realising that I had an oxygen mask on my face and I was now lying down.
“Wow, it’s over,” I thought. “They’ve done the operation. Great!”
A horrible stabbing pain, this time in the back of my right hand told me otherwise. I had simply passed out briefly and a different nurse had just successfully managed to get the cannula into my other hand whilst I lay there.
“Urgh,” I murmured.
“Are you okay?” Someone asked.
“Yes fine,” I lied. “Sorry about that.”

Having had to be revived simply from having the IV fitted, I sheepishly got back up and was then made to lean forwards so that they could get a shot to my lower back. I then realised that I hadn’t told them about the ruptured disks in the L4/5 region of my spine and the fact that they were asking me to get into what was precisely the worst position for my condition. However, I was too light headed and frankly traumatised to put together any form of protest.
“Argh!” I groaned as another needle was ploughed into the base of my spine. Ignoring the derisive noises that the staff were clearly making at my lamentable efforts at coping with what I had assumed to be a relatively routine sequence of preparation, I lay down, wondering what fresh horrors lay in wait. It was not lost on me that I had yet to enter the theatre itself and was already in a world of trauma and discomfort, made all the worse by the fact that I could hear every word of their conversations with words such as needles and knives being loosely thrown around as if I were actually asleep.
After a couple of minutes, the anaesthetist started spraying water on my legs to ascertain whether the injection had completely numbed the feeling yet.
“There?” he asked, squirting at my thighs as if they were a hanging basket in July. “And there?”
“No – but I could feel something down there,” I added, alarmed at the speed by which he seemed to want to get me off his desk. “Let’s just make sure, shall we?”
“All good to go,” he announced briskly, ignoring my frantic efforts at slowing things down, clearly with more of a eye on their theatre schedule for the rest of the afternoon. The doors burst open and I was wheeled in beneath the bright lights, entering a chamber that quite frankly I had not really expected to see. As far as I am concerned, the operating theatre is a place for specialists dressing in green gowns and blue masks, something that we the public only get to see if we have an interest in medical documentaries (I really don’t have any interest in them, finding it quite repulsive to see people being sliced open and their organs played around with like Mr Potato Head).
“Right,” said my consultant, who had suddenly appeared. “Would you like me to turn one of the monitors around so you can watch the procedure?”
I withstood the temptation to respond with, “No, I would rather staple my arse cheeks together with one of your surgical devices,” I simply fixed him with a stare that was sufficient for him to realise that my level of medical curiosity was in the negative scale.
“We’ll put a screen up so you can’t see what’s happening,” came a voice.
“Great,” I muttered. “My wife would be interested in seeing it. Not for me though.”
Much to my distress, there was a sharp pain as the first incision was made, before something was administered into the cannula which was likely to have been valium or something similar. For the first time since I had arrived at the hospital, I relaxed, drifting almost space like into a state of nothingness whilst they worked away at my knee.

The next thing I knew, I had been wheeled out of the room into the corroder outside, where a woman in a mask began to tell me all about her children.
“Could I have some water please?” I begged feebly, feeling like I had just been revived in the Sahara desert. She fetched me some water and a straw to drink it from, whilst continuing to explain how much they stressed her out. Of all the topics that could have been used to try and distract and relax me, children would not have been anywhere near the top of my list I reflected, before they finally took me back up to my room.
With my iphone for company and a large jug of water, I was left to recover and start to make sense of what had just happened. It was then that I realised the extent of the spinal block: as I lay there, the entire of my bottom half from my waist down was in complete paralysis. It felt like a solid block of rubber.
Panicking, I tried to lift the tips of my toes, something I was only just able to manage using my hips as a lever. I started to pinch my thighs, only to find them unresponsive – complete dead-weights without any feeling. As I did so, my right hand flashed with pain and I realised the cannula was still stuck in and had knocked against the sheets. My left hand was also sore where the three unsuccessful attempts had bruised the vein. All in all I felt a complete wreck.

After an hour of lying there, my sandwiches were brought in and I was checked by the nurse, who informed me that I wouldn’t be allowed to leave until I had walked upright and been to the toilet. By this stage, I was able to move my feet up and down, though the feeling was still completely gone from my knees up to my waist.
“It will wear off from your toes first and work its way back up,” the nurse said, as I frantically began to Google how long spinal blocks take to wear off.

At seven in the evening, I asked to sit on the side of my bed to try and get some blood flowing back to my legs, though was warned not to try walking by myself by the nurse. Stupidly I then attempted to stand and immediately found myself wobbling alarmingly before grabbing hold of the bed rails and vowing not to try that again in a hurry. Thirty minutes later my wife arrived and with the feeling starting to sour down my legs I made a successful effort at walking to the bathroom, where I sat down on the toilet and then realising that I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to go. Usually having a wee is something of an automatic process, but in this case all the equipment required to execute this essential activity from the bladder down was still in a state of complete paralysis, being right in the immediate zone of the injection and therefore being the final part to wear off. In desperation I turned the tap on and closed my eyes, willing nature to take its course, which after a minute or two it did. 
Having ticked the two requirements off and not wishing to have to spend a night in a hospital bed, I asked my wife to call the nurse and I was given my painkillers and to my blessed relief had the cannula plucked out of my hand, the brief sting being replaced by a feeling of utter bliss.

And then, supported by a walking stick and armed with a bag of paraphernalia, including surgical stockings, rehab advice, dressings and painkillers, I went home.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Knee Arthroscopy – Part One The Background

Was it years of playing cricket, rugby and football that did it? Probably a contributing factor. How about the few years working on building sites and lugging things around that were far too heavy for my frame? Definitely a cause. And more recently, the extensive landscaping clearance on my house, filling multiple builder’s skips with stone and rubble, having dug out countless tree roots and levelled the back garden.? Certainly the final straw.

I have always been injury prone and it is only in recent years that I have tried to get exclusively to the core of these issues in an attempt to do as much as possible to extend my shelf life as an active being and understand the problem. Since my early twenties my back had been playing up and then at the age of 28 I finally had an MBR scan which showed two discs bulging in the L5 section of my spine. Sporadic acupuncture did little to solve the issue and in desperation I sought the help of a chiropractor who happened to practice just down the road from my house. His positive mindset immediately helped and I was able after several weeks to start exercise again, slowly building up to running and lifting weights and understanding the muscles I needed to work on to strengthen my core (whilst actively avoiding the things that tended to exacerbate the issue). My right knee was another long-term casualty, having always been slightly more susceptible to twinges, strains and aches. During my acupuncture sessions I was briefly diagnosed with plantar fasciitis which was apparently caused by my right leg being ever so slightly shorter than my left, meaning that I was advised to wear (very uncomfortable) heel inserts to try and bring the legs straight. The problem was that my posture was not correct at the time of measurement so the inserts did not properly help, but it did point to a possible cause for my knee pain, especially when considering that as a outside half / centre I used to boot a rugby ball fairly hard and also almost exclusively used my right foot when playing five a side football or training at University. Indeed in recent years when I have been messing about with a rugby ball I have forced myself to kick with my left leg and have noticed how technically correct I am and how gently I strike the ball when power is taken out the equation.

It was the summer of 2015 that I really felt my right knee start to click badly following the gruelling landscaping work on my back garden and then the following year it would continue to cause me issues when kneeling down with the girls in the playroom, especially if I had been running long distances. Last year I entered myself in the Wolf Run in Warwickshire, a 10km cross country run across rugged farmland with a heap of obstacles thrown in and a swim across a lake. Halfway through my calf started to ache, which told me that once again my knee had started to give way forcing my other muscles to compensate. When mentioning this to my chiropractor he advised me to get it seen to as I have private medical cover and if the root cause was identified and fixed it might help to prevent other issues from arising.

The insurance company accepted my request and I was put onto a consultant who assessed me, reviewed my back story and suggested an MRI scan. This in itself triggered a lengthy process as the first scan had been arranged by my GP and the NHS promptly messed it up, losing the scan results and wasting around two months in the process. I eventually had a second scan at the Priory in Birmingham and waited for the results. Finally I went back to the consultant who stated that it had showed an enlarged plica – a membrane that is part of the fat pad of the knee, a redundant piece of our anatomy that for some reason is enlarged some people and causes friction in the knee, especially around the edges. His suggestion was keyhole surgery to get a camera in for a better look and a possible “tidy up” of the knee in the process.

So once the admin part had been dealt with, I was given a date of the 26th January 2018 for a knee arthroscopy. It was to be a day case treated at the West Midlands hospital, providing of course that I remained fit and free from illness in the meantime…

Monday, 22 January 2018

Medieval Lego Castle MOC

For Christmas a couple of years ago, Alison bought me a box of a Lego in an inspired spell of present-giving. Despite it containing bricks of all colours I started to build a castle and then in a moment of MOC-inspiration realized that I could purchase a load of grey bricks from a website for the purpose. A year later, as I neared the completion of the castle I decided that whilst it was okay for a first attempt, I could do a whole lot better and so I spent a whole evening dismantling the entire thing, filling five empty tins of chocolates with bricks. I have spent the past year building a brand new medieval castle, this time going for a far higher level of detail and intricacy, resulting in something I am far happier with. 

I have not yet completed this new Lego MOC, but as around two thirds of it is in place I thought it worth adding some pictures in - and so here you are, the results are a work in progress).

The main gatehouse... (rock detail only partially complete at the base)

The blacksmith & armoury...

Stable quarters...

Court jester in the minstrels gallery...

The throne room...

Top of the tower...

The soldier's quarters...

The library... (still under construction)

The chapel...

Monday, 15 January 2018

The curse of what Roger Scruton describes as “Soft Socialism”

I am of course referring to the likes of Gary Lineker, JK Rowling, Richard Osman and countless hoards of other celebrity pundits (many of whom who frequently appear in my Twitter feed under “You might be interested in following”). They are actors, presenters, comedians, writers, broadcasters and so on, all very wealthy, with a social media following to go with their bank balance (and more importantly their vast earning potential) which they use to spout socialist principles and, what we might cynically refer to as, virtue signaling at every available opportunity.

They people are of course bound by a level of fame that almost entirely requires them to build a socialist persona – at least from a socio-liberal perspective. This is where the core of their fan base resides – the BBC, left wing newspapers and the arts/entertainment. It is almost essential that persistently resonate as being as caring, sharing, warm, humane and generally full of virtue and compassion, for this ensures that their fan base continue to grow and their every output is fully consumed – whether that be a film, new book, radio program, podcast, game show or anything else that results in paid appearances, image rights or sales.

Their virtue-signaling views are of course slightly easier to hide than the rest of us, mainly because they don’t actually live in the real world. Of course, they might occasionally contribute towards a harrowing documentary, in which they are plunged into a heightened environment, which fuels the breaking of their hearts in a very open and raw manor, much to the distress of all of their television viewers (think Lily Allen in the Calais jungle camp), before scooting back in the limo to their mansion, zapping the button to close the electronic security gates behind them to ensure that none of the migrants they have championed come anywhere near their homes. They rarely see the full spectrum of migration, ranging from the entrepreneurs in the corner shops, pubs, takeaways and restaurants, the Eastern Europeans, often performing manual labour in niche areas of the country, those working in the NHS and those filling difficult-to-procure skilled roles. Nor do they see the other extreme, those over as health tourists, the illegal migrants in the backs of lorries, those lurking as criminals under the radar, or the apparently 59% of homeless people who are foreign nationals. No – good and bad, they are oblivious to it all and certainly have little interest in the overall implication that the population density of the UK continues to grow with added strain to our roads, rails, schools, hospitals and local authorities.

On the occasions that they are challenged on this small topic, they invariably point to evil corporations, the Tory party and Jeremy Clarkson as being the combined cause of the problem, with businesses needing to pay far more tax (they usually tweet this after frantically checking with their accountants and financial advisors that any wealth they have hidden in offshore accounts isn’t traceable by the Daily Mail). In haughty tones they will inform us that their wealth was created from pure talent alone and that they have never had to abuse the rights of others in order to advance their own careers. In other words, anyone running a business relying on the efforts of workers to generate wealth is an evil capitalist

Let me ask how much of her fortune (reputed to be somewhere upwards of $650 million) would JK Rowling have made were it not for the efforts of low-skilled workers? Those who served her coffee whilst she penned her book in warm cafes. The publishing company who printed millions of copies of her books in cheap printing presses. The hundreds of people in the film crews who worked on the movies. The thousands involved in producing the merchandising in Asia. And so on and so forth. Let us also recall how protective of her wealth via intellectual property she is – several years ago for example she closed down a local school nativity production when it touched upon a Harry Potter theme as it was not licensed. One wonders what her reaction would be were an evil corporation were to do the same?

Of course, we are all dependent on others for the generation of wealth – that is the nature of a free market economy and the sooner we manage to convince everyone to acknowledge this, the better. It might also help their understanding of how money works in the public sector as the “let’s throw more money are the NHS” argument is becoming rather thin. Never mind the fact that the entire GDP of the UK wouldn’t be enough to save the in its current form and with its current philosophy of “we help everyone and anyone free of charge,” it is their opportunity to again virtue signal their way to the top of the “I’m a compassionate person” award list without realistically coming up with a feasible contribution to how this might work. To this end, I remain confused, because the shortcomings of socialism can be easily explained conceptually to a class of children, yet to the soft socialists of celebritydom, it remains an elusive concept. If we were to level out exam grades so that instead of a couple of As, some Bs, Cs, Ds and Es, we gave the entire class a B, pretty much all pupils would be happy (save for the two swats who scored an A). Of course, this is where the soft socialists sit – unable to grasp what will happen next. Inevitable the two A-graders will slack off (why should I bother studying all weekend if I’m only going to get a B?) and they next time the average grade drops to a C. The process repeats itself as a race to the bottom in which everyone looks to the next person to bail them out, has no incentive to be self-reliant and in the end you hit zero productivity and the only way you can enforce the wretched thing is to have a dictatorship and block democracy. After all, who got to vote on the activities of the EU? Which party wants to lower the voting age, control it within the education system and devalue the voting power of older people? Answers on a postcard…

Of course, the soft socialists would be out of the country by that point looking for another political playground to keep their fortunes in. A playground in which they continue not to have to take job interviews, battle the daily commute, find the inner resolve to start a business and run a family without the assistance of cleaners, cooks and au pairs. The search criteria would be narrow, but I’m sure with the continued efforts of their agents they would achieve it.