Thursday, November 10, 2011

Corduroy Cranium

Nerve-racking day...

The last couple of days have been a huge quagmire of logistics nightmares, enforced by my return to conventional employment. I haven't done a simple 9 to 5 styled job since... Gods... 1988? That's 23 years and I have grown accustomed to being able to fit my life and job around each other, however, flexitime has now become a thing of the past. I now have to be normal and fit my life around my work hours and it really is a life changing and bloody awkward thing!

This week has been dominated by doctors. Yesterday, I saw the spinal consultant and he had rather jolly news... It's going to happen again - my back and my disc - probably as many as 2 or 3 more times over the coming years. I fell from one statistic into another with far more crappy consequences. He's ruled out surgery because my bones are not that bad; they still have a lot of 'normal' left in them and I've been unlucky. He feels that my best form of defence is prevention and for that he's arranged for me to have a series of physiotherapy sessions specifically targeted at strengthening parts of my back to at worst lessen the effects of the next prolapse.



He wants me to do the physio work at his practice and they only have appointments between 9:00am and 3:30pm. I'm at work; at a new job; and I really don't want to be seen taking the mickey or setting off worrying health alarm bells in the minds of my new masters.

Yesterday morning I filled out an on-line medical questionnaire for my new employer. It obviously tells the whole truth and without much space for explanations. The final screen looks back at you hard and unflinching and you realise that there are two sections of the form that look like an earthquake of doubts. After I returned from seeing the consultant, I got a phone call from the company that does the medical. They want me to talk to one of their doctors. It might be nothing, but... As I saw my own GP about an hour ago, I told her about it and how anxious it was making me feel; she wasn't (and never is) coy about the possibilities. The company only does this if they have doubts about your fitness for work...

She said that if the company is not happy with my medical history they can order a full medical or even suggest to the employer that any offer should be withdrawn. This was rather incredible to me, I would have thought that I was protected by the DEA if nothing else; but no. However, she did say that I have only had 2 incidents of illness; both were treated and both times I returned to work, full time, and my shoulder op and my slipped disc were not specifically related, so there is nothing to suggest I am any more likely to fall victim to another long bout of illness than anybody else.

Obviously, that argument sounds more hypothetical than assuring and the next few hours are going to be more hell than waiting to find out if I had the job.

My GP was amazed. She actually commented that in the last dozen times she had seen me, I was obviously down and pretty much out, but today I was my old self, full of witticisms and funny quips, positive and keen. She was really pleased and then I told her it was because of the Celecoxib and I could see her physically wilt. My doctor has always been blunt with me and her honesty has always been a relief. "Celecoxib is usually only really effective on about 10 to 15% of patients," she said, "It's usually prescribed if the other drugs are ineffectual, but in reality it is usually only given out as a last resort." I sat there thinking there must be some horrendous side effect that isn't in the literature; perhaps something like lycanthropy or zombism. "30 ibuprofen is going to cost about a £1, 30 Celecoxib is," she punched some keys on her computer, "£21.80 for 30." I winced; I'm not stupid, I understand the need to use expensive drugs as sparingly as possible. "However, because of the obvious benefit you're having with them, I'll give you a pack."

30 tablets? I'm used to having a small cupboard of painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs. What she wants me to do is take one a day for the next two weeks and then keep the other 16 back to use whenever anything flares up; when I run out of them again, we'll discuss whether I get any more. This was the first time I'd seen how NHS cuts are affecting people.

So, I have to postpone my physio until the Christmas holidays and then persuade my boss that, if I should need more sessions in January to get me the cover necessary so that I can go during my lunch breaks - which are only 45 minutes and the physio is 10 minutes drive each way, sessions are for 30 minutes and how often do you get in to see someone medical at exactly the time you request?

I mean, it's not like I get 13 weeks a year off to try and fit my outside-of-work-life into, is it?


My new post is obviously filling me with a lot of anxiety; it's a massive challenge and my new colleagues are desperate for me to get in there and transform the place and ease their burdens. To show my enthusiasm and eagerness, I emailed a few ideas to my new boss, thinking we could implement them once my CRB checks are cleared; but he liked them so much we're going to start them on Monday! He likes them so much I'm going to be doing them with one of the assistants (a form of training for her) so she can use them in her groups.

They were all things I devised for first time offenders and I had a lot of success with them back in the day; so, I'm hoping they transfer well. It will certainly be different for my new client base.

I should point out that was the last time I shall be discussing work in the blog. At the behest of my wife, she has asked me to lower the controversy rate. She is quite correct in thinking that some of the young people who will get to know me might eventually stumble across me on the net (which is why my Facebook and Google+ profiles have pretty indistinguishable pictures) and we all know about the domino effect, especially if I call someone a little sh1t or something. So, as well as my attempts to stop swearing; my blog is about to get an anodyne face lift. Sorry.

That's not going to suggest I won't be my usual narcissistic opinionated self; I just won't be saying 'fuck' very often and I won't be touching on any subjects that are remotely related to education or methods of disposing adolescents' bodies.


I have to say that I'm glad to have got this job at the present moment and I will do everything in my power to make the best job I can; it's important that I'm still there in a year and being successful, because while education won't be immune to cuts; once the Euro collapses and we're plunged into a full scale depression, I, at least, will be relatively safe. I'm sort of looking at this job either being the last one I have before I retire or it being the last kind of work that I do.

I can't say I understand the escalating destruction of Europe's finances; economics was always something of a minefield of equations and gobbledygook, but one thing is obvious, it has people very worried and I don't think Cameron's Crew are cut from the right cloth to deal with it. So far we've had more breaches of procedure in ministries than you could ever accuse the last government of doing (and amazingly these breaches have been attributed as Labour's fault because of 'the mess they left us in' which is slowly losing its impact and starting to sound like a stock excuse for ineptitude). The word Conservative is growing synonymous with the word Corruption and I find the general public's unwillingness to accept that Tories WILL NEVER look after their interests as one of the most unfathomable things I have ever contemplated.

I do know that if the Euro crashes and burns, it is going to have a remarkable affect across Europe and huge swathes of the rest of the world. One blogger I read suggested that by 2020 Europe could be on the verge of becoming the modern equivalent of a Third World country; another reckons that the noise about bombing Iran is a two-pronged objective - to rally the jingoistic Yanks to support Obama next year and because a war often kick starts economies (plus Iran has a lot of oil and the Yanks, Brits and most other 'normal' countries can't stand them).

I think if that happened people should really stand up and say, "I didn't ask for this, I don't want this and I have no faith in our politics any more." It won't do any good, but it would be great if the turn out for the next general election was less than 10%. If that happened it would create a constitutional crisis that could end with a political revolution unseen in this country.


I sometimes enjoy being wrong about the weather. I was convinced that we would be plunged into a westerly splurge of wind, rain and usual autumnal temperatures; but apart from some typically dreary November days, the weather is a revelation. The sun has come out in the last half an hour and people are walking past my window wearing t-shirts or with their sleeves rolled up. The temperature on the patio is only 14 degrees, but it just feels... wrong, out there.

The most amazing thing about this never-ending autumn of mild are the number of raspberries I've picked in the two weeks; I'm still picking five or six big juicy berries every day and unless we get a really penetrating frost, they are likely to continue for the next week at least. But the freakiest thing? Yesterday, the 9th of November, I picked a fully formed, fully ripe strawberry and there will be another by tomorrow! Remarkable.


Right enough of all this; I want to talk about something else and it could take some time, so grab a coffee, roll a fag, kick back and hear me whinge!

Facebook. I know I've already decreed that it isn't really designed for pragmatic adults, such as myself and a number of my friends, but I feel it needs to have a more circumspect examination.

When I joined Facebook, I thought of it as a really good portal to thousands of places I'd never thought of. It allowed me to play games, communicate with old friends, family and even people I've never met. It allowed me to, if I wanted, to use a number of utilities such as FB's own notes section. Facebook gave me entertainment, information, contact and the ability to do what I did everywhere else in one place, or if I chose, to continue doing everything elsewhere and link it through my page and whoever I appeared in the news feed of. I think this ease of use and the mix of old and new worlds at my fingertips is why I, like so many others, became hooked.

During those early days, it allowed me to control things to a degree - mainly who appeared in my news feed and who didn't - and while I seemed to get multiple notifications of Scrabble goes or friend requests, this was minor compared to the uniqueness of the thing. Then they 'improved' it. I remember this, it was about 3 years ago and I was one of 2 million people pleading for the old style Facebook to be retained; but 2 million is a drop in the ocean for a system that claims to have over 600 million users - it's about 3% and that is a very small minority in the grand scheme of things. Facebook was right; within 6 months I'd forgotten how the old one was and I'd just about got a handle on the new one to a degree I was happy with. Then they implemented more changes. They were no longer going to allow applications to notify you via the portal; so now instead of getting a useful little notification telling you that so-and-so had taken his Scrabble turn, you just had to go through the miasma of adverts and bollocks to find out that none of your opponents had taken a turn.

Then they started to disrupt other linked things. My blogs started to become erratically published; some were missed, others were converted into note format (why, I can't understand, but...) and Network Blogs, who I am a member of started to get stymied every time they tried to work out whatever bizarre new coding FB was using to, I presume, deliberately stymie them. Other things I was linked to stopped appearing in my feeds, despite the settings telling me otherwise.

All during this time, I resorted to doing a lot of cutting and pasting links and manually displaying things that once were done automatically and I started to realise that FB didn't like being a portal, it wanted to be the be-all-and-end-all experience, but without offering the services it drew all its members in for.

During all of this time, they continuously tinkered with the privacy settings, fiddled with account settings and did everything they could to make you as public as they possibly could. What's the point of being on a social networking site and not being social or network? Then they changed it again for no explanation whatsoever to a system that stopped you having control over what you see; now you were treated to Top Stories; a ticker tape styled running commentary on everything everyone of your friends was saying or doing with, about or on people you didn't know and probably are never likely to know. Because FB presumably thinks we'd rather be farting about with how it works than enjoying it; we were faced with the prospect of having to go through each and everyone of our friends to decide what we did or did not want to see posted by them (which has by no means meant that what we asked for is actually being delivered) and suddenly the news feed looked like it was going to more of a hindrance than a help.

Things changed so quickly and radically that I know there was a mass exodus to Google+, but even that is changing. Google, not to be outdone by FB, also instigates arbitrary changes and not just with + but with other utilities it offers. I like Google Chrome; you open a new tab and it shows you a montage of the top 8 sites you visit, plus a list of recently visited sites. It negated the use of Bookmarks (unless I wanted to visit something I rarely did) and was a quick and easy way of navigating my way through my favourite haunts. They've changed it. The new version is similar but actually requires you to do more - just like Facebook. Now instead of using these things like excellent portals, they've started to think they are more important than the places you want to go to.

Now, I know I don't like change, especially if it adds to my workload rather than diminish it, but are things growing more complicated on the net? It's like they have this desire to get you to stay longer than you should. It is, or course, a form of corporate branding that will become increasingly dominated by whoever advertises on these places. The longer you stay the more chance you're going to want to get your credit rating checked with Experion or you're going to want to buy something you have no interest in - perhaps in the vain hope that the advert will disappear! The news feed in FB now seems focused on promoting people or things that are advertisement led. Some of the things that appear in my news feed from friends who I have ticked off as 'Only Important' status updates or posts are a complete mystery. One friend, ticked off as 'All Updates' posted something in his status that was important, yet I never saw it. I did, however, see a link to a YouTube video, discovered he'd made friends with someone I don't know and he left a smiley face comment on the status of someone else I don't know. These bloody subscription settings are just arbitrary nonsense, unless you install Social Fixer, which is okay but still not perfect, you are subjected to whatever FB wants you to see, which it also arbitrarily ranks as a Top Story even if it just that Fred Bloggs likes soap. Clicking these and turning them into 'not a top story' is also pointless. I've ticked every kind of story from every kind of friend and I still get the same kinds of stories from the same people popping up as my top story. It is ridiculously random and almost designed to be so annoying you'd best just accept it.

Even the advertising is ridiculous. Apparently it targets what FB and its associates think interest you; yet I rarely get anything that even tickles my fancy. You click on the X and hide the advert, it asks you if you want to stop seeing adverts from ever again and a day later it's showing the same bloody advert. It's a sham. The more you now try to be in control of your page the longer you have to stay there - Facebook has a win win situation because even if you've grown to hate it, you rarely want to dump it in case you miss something really important. It is shit sifting extraordinaire! Only people with balls of steel can deactivate that account and not think about whether his friends like snails or people that say nah rather than no...

What FB needs to do is instead of investing all this time and money into Facebook Timeline, the thing that they're expected to make universal in January, they need to come up with an Old Fogies Facebook, which is simple, easy to use and caters for the generation that can remember life when there was no Internet.

Oh look; a herd of flying purple pigs playing trombones and being chased by a swarm of blue moons.


That was going to be it, but I just got in from collecting my prescription and witnessed something that should be a warning to all of us.

The chemist's conspired to lose my drugs, despite leaving the prescription with them 4 hours ago, so I was waiting to one side patiently (geddit?), the chemist began to fill up with customers. When I walked in there was a man at the counter, an elderly gentleman, probably in his early 70s. I thought, initially, he was waiting to be served, but it soon became clear, when I was approached by one of the staff that he was waiting. The counter in my local chemist isn't big; it's designed for privacy, so one person at a time can stand there and be served. This is often negated by the chemist's insistence that you recite your address loudly in front of others, regardless of who or how old you are. I've often thought that opportunist thieves could just hang around pharmacies and pick up the addresses (and often the names) of prospective victims.

Anyhow, with six people waiting behind me, I told them I wasn't in the queue and that I was being seen to, so they all, in a very British way, stood behind the elderly bloke.

One of the pharmacists saw what was happening; it just happened to be the woman who was serving me; so suddenly she was trying to direct staff to the queue, serve me and keep her handbag over her shoulder. "Excuse me sir, but have you been served?" She asked the old bloke.

"Yes. I'm waiting."

"Could you wait over in the seated area; someone will call you when your prescription is filled."

"No. That's all right. I'm happy standing here."

"Yes, but we need to serve other customers."

"I'm not in the way."

"Well, I beg to differ sir." The old geezer looked around him and saw the queue, so what did he do? He squeezed up against the racks of medicine behind him, making about half the desk accessible. The woman behind him, a quite large lady, bustled up and forced the man to back up as far as he could, causing a number of items to fall off the shelves and onto the floor, yet still the man was intent on staying put. The fat lady asked him if he could move; a simple request, but he seemed to think she spoke to him in German or something.

"I'm waiting."

"Wait over there," she said, pointing at the seats mentioned earlier and with that the man let out an exasperated sigh and trooped off to the waiting area, looking thoroughly pissed off.


I got my prescription and went home convinced that it's everybody. We're all idiots sometimes, and any age can go and and prove it to the world...

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