Chapter 5: Strikes, Cancer, Retirement.
This week's copy of New Scientist just landed on my
doormat. There is an article extolling the biological virtues of fat, describing
it "Fat is an organ. You should probably think of it a bit like the
liver." It is headed by the following paragraph which I thought you might
"I am one of the largest organs in your
body. A thrifty caretaker, I carefully husband your body's precious
reserves, investing in the good times to tide you over the bad. I
influence your behaviour, manage your fertility and shore up your defences
against microscopic invaders. Soft and snug I blanket you in a warm
intimate embrace, cradling your internal organs, cushioning your footsteps,
shielding you from the insults of a mad, bad world. Yet despite all I do,
you despise me. And all because I'm Fat."
Yes, and it also absorbs a lot of toxins and
keeps them out of your other systems.
Hug Natasha for me.
I don't know how much we make the news in the US, not much I
guess. The UK and other parts of Europe are slowly grinding to a
halt. We have had fuel blockades stopping virtually all supplies of petrol
and diesel, apparently in protest at the level of fuel tax. So now all the
petrol stations are closed, buses are running Sunday schedules, supermarkets are
rationing bread etc, and so on. This morning the blockades began to be
lifted, but it will be some time before fuel gets through to the filling
stations, and things like food supplies are going to get worse before they get
better, and no-one is yet saying how long it will be before I can resume my
business. I have been hearing
about it on NPR and BBC Worldwide, but not on other U.S. news. Oh, you
poor things. Quelle pain in the pratt.
It is not clear exactly who is causing the obstruction. Hauliers,
farmers and taxis are staging 'peaceful' protests at the refineries, and the
tanker drivers will not pass their lines. There are different reports as
to whether this is because the tanker drivers are supporting the cause, and so
are effectively on strike, or because the pickets are intimidating them, which
they claim not to be. However the net result is the tankers stay in the
refineries. Of course the gov. points its finger at the 'usual suspects',
such as "This was unexpected, we have never had a protest like this, the
organisers used the INTERNET and MOBILE PHONES!" No shit!. Headless
chicken if you ask me. On the one hand, pundits point out the oil price
rise has netted the gov. around £3bn in unanticipated taxes, but the gov.s
response to suggestions of a tax cut is "we would have to cut spending on health
and education." Bullshit!
It all seems to have started when the French
decided to blockade England as a protest about French fuel prices. (Why
us? We don't supply their fuel. We are just a convenient victim they
can hurt easily to embarrass their gov.) Anyway the French gov. promptly
gave in (the protesters had obviously studied Hitler's track record), and the
next week we had our own protest. Our fuel taxes are higher anyway.
The real problem is that taxes are a multiplier (about 5!), so small-ish changes
in the world oil price get badly leveraged into high-street fuel prices.
Why can't they levy taxes per litre instead of per pound (or dollar)? Oh,
far too difficult and expensive to implement.
Maybe we could use fat to store
some fuel in for when delivery drivers go on strike.
It reminds me so much of when
dockworkers go on strike in Hawaii. That's why you can always tell a
true Hawaiian, because we have three gross of toilet paper at all times.
It's not hoarding if you'll eventually use it... :)
At all times is OK, the trouble is people here suddenly decide to
become Hawaiian only when the news breaks, so the big problem is not that
there were no tankers, but that everyone rushed to fill their tanks and
larders, so that there is a quite artificial shortage of bread, sugar and so
The tankers have been running normally for a few days now, but some
filling stations are still closed, and there are still fuel queues.
The fuel crisis is over (for now) but it has made us think a bit
about what we are doing. Just-in-time production has been the fashion
for a while now, which made the blockade particularly effective. The
absence of input and output stocks throughout the supply chain meant that
things came to a halt VERY quickly. I dream of a situation where cheap
fuel (relative to manpower) does not destroy the advantages of
energy-efficient transport systems. Non-perishable goods transported in
a slow and leisurely manner on canals mean a buffer stock is held in transit,
without the need for warehouses at either end. Long-distance rail
networks for both passengers and freight with a workable system for getting
the loads to and from the stations. Airships, now that the ghost of the
Hindenberg has been laid. Teleworking. To achieve all this I
reckon fuel prices need to be about five times what they are now, even
here. Of course it won't happen because it would make exports
unsaleable. We just have to sit and wait for the oil to run out and
force majeur to take over.
Oh, we have all those things
now, but can we use them? People want things so rush-rush chop-chop wiki
wiki that I don't think they'd be able to handle the changeover
Just to add insult to injury we had a local electrical power
failure last night, so I put Natasha to bed by candlelight. It really
begins to feel Victorian around here.
How old is your house?
1865. It is a stone built mid-victorian house which was
originally built for the manager of a brewery just uphill, which used the local
spring water (which comes up everywhere). A pub was built adjoining. When
the owner died his widow divided the house into two. The original house
was three rooms wide and two deep, and was divided into two equal l-shaped
parts. We have the part with two front rooms, including the original main
entrance. Next door has former servant's entrance, which is at the front
because the house backs on to a cliff face, as I have previously
mentioned. Now the two halves of the house and the pub make a terrace of
three. The brewery is long gone, and the pub is currently without
occupant, although that is a recent occurrence.
I remember being
totally thrilled the first time I was in the U.K. because the house in which I
was staying was built in 1794. Did you see "The 1900 House"? It
thoroughly disabused any romantic notions I have had about living in the
past. I like living now.
Yes I saw
some of it. I thought the family's reaction to their situation was
disappointing. They did volunteeer after all, and obviously hadn't done
much homework, or communicating. There could have been a bit less whinging
about how bad it was, and what hard work. In reality the teenage girls
would have been in service, doing someone else's dirty work. And at least
they didn't have to deal with the horses.
Lyudmila was fascinated by it and
recorded most of the series. I just gave Natasha the tape to record
Pokemon on. So much for history.
girls of what looked like a solidly lower-middle-class family?
I believe so, yes. There weren't that many
options open to girls who had to earn a living. The alternative was an
early marriage. Possibly by 1900 things were a bit different, I don't
know. After all that is barely Victorian.
Privately, Tim, I'd like to thank you for your frank words when I
posted my bone scan results. As you can see, everyone else is giving me
the same happy horseshit, and I want to KNOW if I'm dying or not. My MRI
results were even more thrilling, by the way. My doctor wants me in a
wheelchair. I'm bummed.Thank
you for the appreciation. It is emotionally difficult to say the right
thing. I do understand why most people shy away from facing the
facts. They tell themselves they are protecting you but really they are
protecting themselves. I think that doctors are often the worst offenders.
That's why I felt I should stay with this group. Its easier to say hard
words to people you don't really know, at a distance. It wasn't easy to
say them to you, I care too much.
We had a lovely district nurse, 40ish, very
experienced, very matter of fact and very supportive. She had
near-infinite patience, and spent ages with us when necessary, well beyond the
call of duty. She knew just what was going on, just from watching and
accumulating evidence. "Yes, its in her liver now, you can see her eyes
have gone a bit yellow." I would have fallen in love with her but she
already has a young PhD scientist husband.
Tell me about the MRI. That is
obviously going to be the basis of whatever prognosis you get/got.
Wheelchairs get a bad press, they are wonderful because they mean freedom when
otherwise you are completely grounded.
Today's post from Carolyn
Herring is supportive, she is evidence that all is not lost, although she
doesn't say how old she is, which is probably a crucial
spin echo T1 weighted, coronal STIR heavily T2 weighted, axial spin echo T1
weighted, sagittal spin echo T1 weighted.
There is a metastatic
focus involving the entirety of the intertrochanteric region at the right
hip. It extends into the greater and lesser trochanters, as well. No
involvement of the right femoral head or femoral shaft can be seen.
femoral head, neck and intertrochanteric region are intact. A small focus
of metastatic disease is seen at the proximal femoral metaphysis.
small foci of high signal on T2 weighted sequence are seen distributed
throughout the pelvis. One measuring 1 cm in diameter is seen at the right
sacroila just at the sacroiliac joint, two others measuring 5 mm in diameter
seen nearby. An 8 mm diameter metastactic focus is seen at the left
sacromila, also near the sacroiliac joint. Several metastatic foci are
seen at the S1 level. The largest of these measures up to 2 cm x 3 cm in
diameter to the right of midline. A 2 cm diameter focus is seen to the
left of midline.
Imaged portions of the soft tissues of the pelvis
demonstrate no evidence for metastitic disease.
disease to the right introchanteric region extending into the greater and lesser
trochanter, also into the femoral neck. There is, however, no evidence for
2. Diffuse metastatic disease to the pelvis, mostly at the
iliac bones, but also at the sacrum, as described. The ischia are
relatively preserved. No significant metastases can be identified at the
This is as good as it gets.
It really tells nothing that isotope scan and a diagnostic X-ray would not have
shown. It shows mets confined to bones, with no significant structural
failures. Certainly should be very vulnerable to X-ray therapy
So there you go. Is this bad, bad mets, or
dealable-with-mets? And this is just the MRI of my hip. I expect
more glory in tomorrow's head and spine MRI.Well good luck. Good is small mets in intact bones.
Bad is mets in soft tissue (inoperable), mets cutting through moving surfaces or
significant fractures. The last two are the main sources of pain, and also
of further spread of the disease. Irradiating the tumours while the bones
are intact will prevent them destroying the bones and also prevent them
That would be good, I guess.
I'm a little nervous about the radiation; I've heard it makes one extremely
tired, and I'm alread so TIRED all the time I wonder if I'll ever be able to get
For the first time in my life I'm drinking a (small) cup of coffee
in the morning. Hmm. Might have to increase the dosage.
Side effects are
short-lived. The alternative is higher doses of permanent pain medications
to enable you to get any part of you vertical, ( the analgesic will make you
much more tired), and of course structural failures. I'd be more worried
about the risk of collateral damage - inflammation of nearby soft tissues, nerve
It takes about a month for the radiotherapy to take
effect, then the pain from that source slowly fades away as the bone
stabilises. It becomes a bit of a juggling act, finding new foci, getting
them zapped and waiting for the bone to settle down before the next focus
becomes a problem. It's best to only hit the ones that actually cause pain
because that way you get the longest period of relief, the most bang for your
We got to the point of asking if we could book the
x-ray therapy machine on a regular basis say once a month rather than wait until
we had a target, then make an appointment and wait a couple of weeks for
treatment. They wouldn't do that, but once we got the target list extended
on the day of treatment, fortunately the new target was visible on the edge of
an old diagnostic x-ray.
Dammit. I was hoping to be feeling like lifting large heavy
boxes by Saturday.
So you now have the
Grand Unified Theory of Catharine, and a new direction is taking shape.
Languidere is now a lady of leisure. I'll miss the image of the lady of
the pallet truck.
Now I have a sturdy black cane, which I am decorating with
stick-on jewels. I wave it about imperiously. Does that
I need to whinge for a minute.
The surgeon was scheduled
to implant a Port-A-Cath. I discovered, the morning of, that Port-A-Cath
implantations are done under general anesthesia here in Washington, and I had to
go home because I had driven myself and eaten breakfast. Okay, so we
rescheduled it. I got sent home yesterday without it because I came in a
taxi, and I needed to have a "real person" responsible for me. I'm
furious. So poor David needs to come home early from work on Monday so he
can pick me up. And none of this would be necessary if the doctors weren't
wusses and didn't like having conscious patients!
can't have a general at all as a day patient, at least you couldn't last time I
had one. You have to be admitted overnight. I'd hate to see someone
driving in the aftermath of a general anesthetic. Oh, I agree. Last time I had one
it was hours before my blood pressure would pick itself up off the floor.
I must say it seems a bit over the top doing a general for
catheterisation. It's not as if it hurts much. It doesn't! Well, I mean, I'm sure it
does, but a local anesthetic takes complete care of it for me AND I get to be
charming and witty to the surgeon. That
may be what he is afraid of.
Then again I don't have
locals to have my teeth drilled either, I'm just an insensitive sort of
I'm a smug, dental-obsessed American. I don't need to have
my teeth drilled. :)
They don't rot, they break. Although there
are some problems remaining from childhood cavities and 1950s dental
care. Most of those have long since fallen appart and been
crowned. Last problem was I broke a crown off - the first one I had
done, by a rather unsatisfactory dentist who I only had for a year. I quit
eating muesli type breakfast cereals because they damaged my teeth (mixing
chewy bits and hard bits means a high bite pressure coming down on something
hard). I think I just eat too enthusiastically, although the dentist
says most adults get more damage from chipping etc. than from decay, and that
I also have a rather deep bite which means a lot of side forces on the tooth
My problem is I grind my teeth in my
sleep. But I certainly do eat enthusiastically,
I'll ask my surgeon friend what
the practice is here these days next time I see him.
Thanks. My surgeon friend in Honolulu is distantly
outraged. But does that do me any good?
I talked to the surgeon this morning. He agrees
that we would not use a general for this sort of procedure, indeed would
discourage it unless the patient was very anxious etc.
He says we do
sometimes do generals on day patients, for elective procedures anyway. I
guess an implantation like this counts as an elective. Perhaps the
problem is a general unwillingness of the doctors to communicate - they don't
send out procedure information and they don't like having to talk to patients
However they should have f...ing told you. Don't they send out a
pre-treatment letter listing the dos and don'ts?
You know, "You are scheduled for treatment by Mr.A.Consultant (who you
never actually meet, its always turns out to be Dr.Z.Registrar) at 13:30; report
to the outpatients reception; do not eat or drink anything for eight hours
before; If you are taking any medication please bring the packet; woffle woffle
drone drone etc."
All I got was a card saying NPO
from midnight on, which is actually not going to happen as my surgery is
scheduled for 14:30. If I can't drink several large glasses of water
upon waking I go mad, I tell you, mad. I think eight hours NPO is
Is NPO the same as Nil-by-Mouth? If so, why turn up
stuffed? Didn't take it seriously, thought you knew better maybe and
that it was just an unecessary routine note sent to everyone regardless of
procedure? It still shows they didn;t communicate their intentions very
Oh, I don't plan to. I
understand why one must be empty perfectly well. However, I don't think
that sixty or so ounces of water taken at 6:00 a.m. when I go under anesthesia
at 2:30 p.m. will be a problem. It's not as though I'm going to eat
I guess they think you're an old hand who doesn't need
telling. It's probably worth raising a complaint about that - it must
affect a lot of people and play havoc with the
I called all over the place and found out that this appears to be
a regional variation; if it involves the heart, it's general
anesthesia. When I had one placed in Honolulu, it took five minutes
with local anesthesia. Then I got up and shopped the rest of the
day. That's not gonna happen on Monday... Oh, man, I hate general
I'm a little scatty today. First Taxotere treatment this
afternoon. I've had a little infection somewhere deep in my port and have
been feeling pretty crummy, and that crumminess has increased my fear of another
chemo treatment by a factor of about 27. Though the oncology nurse SWEARS
that weekly Taxotere will be NOTHING like every-three-weeks
Adriamycin/Cytoxan. We will see. Please, please, please don't
let me be nauseated.
I don't think it will be if its
anything like Taxol, which I think is supposed to be harder. Lyudmila
really had no nausea from it at all, allowing that she got a dose of Zofran with
My oncologist gave me the most fucking patronizing talk
I have ever had from a human being, pardon my Pidgin. He reminded me of
the great oncologist whose name I have forgotten, who says, "I can tell who's
going to survive the minute I walk into the office. Some people present
with a 'don't hurt me' face. They're not gonna make it. Others
present with a 'do whatever it takes' face. They will."
What an arse. What's survive
anyway? Were all going to die, that's the only thing that is sure.
Lyudmila presented as a hard bitch but she still died in 12 months. She
was tough, and she always asked if she could have a higher dose to improve her
chances. She didn't want to fuck around with it but hit it as hard as
possible as soon as possible. But even a Tatar constitution conditioned by
Siberian winters wasn't enough.
I said that it was likely that the
first group had already been through chemo one time, and that in my view
oncology would be well served by having each oncologist go through one round of
something nasty just for grins and chuckles. Then we'll see who can put on
a "do whatever it takes" face. Then I swept out rather grandly, an effect
spoiled by stopping at the reception desk to share some birthday
They're not all as bad as that
one. I don't think I'd condemn them all to a shot of Adriamycin/Cytoxan
out of hand. Some definitely though.
I guess it's better to be
going into chemo slightly more angry than scared.
Sure. Best is to go in as healthy as you can get, the rest
probably isn't important, but scared isn't going to
Nope. So I came home
from radiation and cooked and ate a fried steak the size of my head, and
now I'm going to go iron a dress so I look all purty.
The boy-wonder has finally
departed for University again yesterday, only two days late, not bad (for
him). He gave up trying to get back into Hull University. Hull is
considered a rather pedestrian establishment, but as I have said he did not have
good enough grades to actually enter a degree course there. So now he has
transferred to a positively troglodytic college - Thames Valley University -
which will allow him to start a course on his existing qualifications. He
is doing Business with Finance, not because he is interested but because the
entrance requirements are low. It is more likely Laziness without Finance,
but we'll see. Can't you tell I don't approve? I admit this is
better than retaking the 'foundation' year, but I fear he will come home with
catastrophic debts again and little result. He has much less to live on
this year, so the temptation to borrow beyond his means is even
I remain optimistic. Maybe the opportunity to be
Big Man On (troglodytic) Campus will be the making of him.
I wish. More likely he will find his level.
It has achieved one thing, he phones my parents.
He was forced to, to borrow
enough money to be able to pay the deposit on his digs. It took him three
days to summon up the courage, but eventually he realised that I couldn't pay it
(except by credit card borrowing, which I refused, especially as he never paid
back the last debt) and no one else would lend him any more - he's already
overlimit with the bank etc. So it was either getting on his knees or
getting a job.
Do they want him to? And can they afford to "lend" him
this money? I hope they know it's not likely they'll see it
Oh yes. The were always
disappointed he never called them. And they are relatively wealthy and
can easily afford it. We had a long discussion about whether it was a
good idea in which I expressed my concerns about the probable black-hole
effect. They consider it a gift to help him with his education.
The money itself is not a problem, the question is whether it helps by
enabling him to continue his education, or just puts off the day when he has
to face economic realities.
Maybe they will be able to help only with educational expenses,
and leave him on his own for everything else.
Thats the trouble with money,
you can't control what it gets used for. We give him the money. He
pays his fees. If he doesn't use the money to pay the fees then
So you can't have the school bills sent directly to you (or
doting grandparents), bypassing feckless youth altogether?
Not that I know of. It
is supposed to be his responsibility. Sometime he is going to have
to learn to be responsible. I don't think that taking it out of his
hands is really helpful in the long term. Either he learns to do
it right or everyone gets tired of supporting him and lets him drop. I
thinks its been made clear that this is really the last last chance, are you
sure about that, really really sure, final decision, no doubts,
I fear that there is still
little sign that he has learnt to take responsibility for his spending, and that
we will be faced with more debts next year. Sooner or later reality has to
hit him in the face. I still hope it can be achieved without too much pain
or permanent damage.
He was disappointed to find that
this university was more like a school than a university. That isn't too
surprising, it is one of the former further-education colleges that got promoted
to university status in the last round of the Government's egalitarian policy of
"Why should university education be free-issue, reserved for the
intelligent? Everyone should have the opportunity to benefit from it and
pay for it" A great step forward for political dogma and for the creation
of a class of unskilled white collar thickies who are above getting their hands
dirty. I'm sure this great country can afford such indulgences.
Why "we"? Is he over 18? Or is
the age of majority in the UK 21?
indeed technically an adult and responsible for his own errors. However it
wouldn't be much of a father who turned his back on his son and let him stew
because he fucked up.
This is interesting. I and many of my friends paid for our
own college educations. It seems as though kids in the UK tend not to do
so. I'm sitting here just WISHING my dad paid for more of
The idea is they are supposed
to get a soft loan from the government, which they start to repay when their
earniings go above some threshold level. However a means-tested
contribution (up to about £1500pa) is expected from parents. The only
trouble is it is calculated from the earnings the year BEFORE. So with
Lyudmila falling ill and dying during last academic year, they seriously
overestimated my means and put me on the max. It is theoretically
possible to get it reassessed, but of course I didn't have time to jump
through the necessary hoops.
The problem is that he didn't apply for
this course until the last minute, after he finally realised that pretending
nothing had gone wrong wasn't going to get him back in at Hull. So he
won't get his loan for another few weeks, and needs support for that time,
because of course he made no financial preparations whatever, and has used all
his available credit.
We occasionally have discussions
about the linkage between freedom of progeny from parental control and freedom
of parents from responsibility for same.
Ah. And does he
advocate the former without the latter? The little skunk.
Yes he's a lazy skunk too. When he got into
difficulties last year I asked to see his bank statements, cheque stubs
etc. He made the excuse that he had lost all these things when his
wallet got stolen in Hull. Well obviously he was lying, he had a wallet
not a handbag, to carry 6 months bank and credit card statements, a cheque
book, a paying in book, all the receipts and invoices and so on, but I left it
at that. He was too lazy to even cover his tracks. Now THAT'S laziness. One should at least
make one's lies consistent. Today I was emptying the overflowing
wastepaper bin in his room (now empty, after shipping his stuff to London),
and found a pile of bank statements stuffed in it.
I've got another use for
his room for a few weeks. The local college asked if I could help by
accomodating a Russian exchange student for a few weeks this term.
That's handy, a bit of native conversation to keep Natashas language up,
another potential babysitter, and they pay me a pittance for it too. Just
need to give it a good airing first, and shoot any socks skulking under the
All good! Let's
hope said student is pleasant and clean.
Hmm yes. My previous experiences of such visitors
have been good, but you never know.
When he failed to pay his
tuition fees last year the University were charging him something like £30 per
MONTH in interest, that is about 40%pa. I could see it was going to come
back to me one way or another sooner or later, so the best thing seemed to be
to take over the debt and make a repayment agreement, so that at least the
interest stopped. However he reneged on the agreement, and even at one
point denied its existence (although he admitted it later).
My objective is
to correct his world view to improve his chances of surviving in it. If
I use too much stick, eg throwing him out, then I lose any influence.
The stick also has to inflict pain without doing damage. Denying him
education would do permanent damage. Whether what he is doing is any
better education that he could get at work is a moot point, my parents are
marginally in favour of the educational establishment, I am marginally in
favour of industry. I don't mind yielding that point if they are
paying. This is diplomacy again. One must not lose sight of the
objective, and not cling dogmatically to strategies that failed to work.
Rights don't really come into it.
Another political whinge of the
month. The pundits are banging on about state pensions. The
recipients want the state retirement pension rate linked to average
earnings. The taxpayers don't, because of the demographics. It will
lead to a rapidly increasing tax burden. The flipside and current
situation is a deteriorating state pension that will soon become worthless and
pointless continuing. I don't understand why we can't heve a
demographically determined retirement age, you know like the oldest 20% of the
population get a wage-linked pension or something like that. That would be
Of course then Europe comes into play. Maybe
Brussels would insist on a common retirement age across the Community. So
it would place an increased burden on countries with a longer lived
population. Well, they've dealt with that sort of thing before, with (eg)
the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which passed subsidies around to normalise
farm produce prices. But what politician would dare to propose, by
analogy, a Common Retirement Age Policy? :-)
either, especially as people are healthier longer now. The retirement age
of 65 in the U.S. is a joke, as most people are now in late middle age at 65,
and not physically ready to retire. However, the AARP (retired person's
lobbying group) froths green at the mouth at any urge to make the retirement age
So that means you get specimens like my father, who I love dearly,
BTW. He just hit 65 this year. He is delighted. He runs three miles
a day, fixes electronics for everyone on his block just for the joy of smelling
solder, lives in a house that is paid for, and has combined pensions from his
working life of $73,000 a year. Now that he is 65, he can dump the private
insurance he's paying for and go on Medicare, and he gets a whopping $1300 a
month from Social Security. I'm sorry, but much as I love him and wish him
well, I don't think he needs those benefits, and I think they should go to
Aloha, Red Catharine.
Yes and there is still pressure
for 'early retirement' here, although the practice is becoming frowned
upon. Ageist recruitment policies, illegal in the US, are still rife here
although awareness is increasing. The media are often commenting on how
silly and undesireable it is, but there isn't really a debate because I have
never heard one interview where anyone argued any defence at all for
ageism. The employers are not all stupid, they must consider that the
policy acts in their interest, and its only if their perceived losses are
addressed that the problem will be solved. I think a letter to the BBC is
in order here.
It is crazy that as long as I am self employed, I can't find
enough time to do the work that comes to me without advertising, but if I tried
to find full-time employment I would probably be considered past it.
admit I only really started this discussion for the punch line of the
How 'bout Yugoslavia!
Sounds like fun. How
often have you wanted an excuse to set fire to a large government
building. Fairly frequently
-- I'm from Hawaii.
Nice to see a change of leadership, lets wait and see what that
means. Its a damn complicated situation out there, and anyone who thinks
that getting rid of one leader is going to make all the problems go away is
living in dreamland. It's not
every region that turns into a verb. ("Balkanization") On the
other hand Milosovic was certainly a troublemaker. I'm a little surprised
he didn't make a more violent stand, you know, drive tanks through the crowds or
something heroic like that.
I think he is a classic
bully and was probably hiding in a coat closet somewhere.
My ears are still
This is the aftermath of Natasha's 7th birthday party.
screaming kids running around the house for two hours.
Oh My God. At least we know you'll go straight to heaven; you've
served your time in purgatory.
Are you sure there are no screaming kids in heaven. I mean, where do
they go then, do they have their own private room in heaven, or do screaming
kids automatically go to the other place.
This sort of question exercised
me for some time a while ago, not what happens, I'm an atheist, but what the
god-botherers believe about it. How to explain the church-school
teachings to an intelligent seven year-old so that it makes sense. We
had the heavenly mailbox concept: when you go to heaven with body parts
missing are you made whole again, if so, do they keep the amputations there
somewhere for later reattachment? Natasha pondered whether Mama had two
breasts in heaven, and decided that everyone had a mailbox and all their bits,
hair trimmings, nail clippings, Mama's breast, my right little fingertip (lost
to an industrial transmission belt some years ago) all went to heaven early
and were stored awaiting the soul's arrival.
The other thing was, the
church teaches that if you aren't good you'll go to hell. Rubbish!
How many people do YOU know who went to hell, at least by the church's
consideration. Even politicians have nothing but compliments for an
opponent once dead. I have never heard a priest say "Well we did what we
could for him, but I'm afraid on balance the old bastard's probably not made
it. The best we can hope for is a few millenia's roasting." It's
always "Well he can rest in heaven now." Of all the people I have known
who have died I have never once heard anyone postulate that the deceased might
be in hell. The statistics just don't add up. Either they are
lying when they threaten you or they are lying when they talk about you after
you've gone. Both simply can't be true.
I pondered these matters with
the vicar after the funeral. He was a nice guy, very intelligent and a
former physicist, and was quite amused by the ideas. He was under no
illusions as to the nature of religion. You might ask why an atheist
needs a vicar at a funeral, but I can assure you there are very good and valid
As reform Jews, we do not
believe in Heaven or Hell. When I asked my mommy what happened when my
friend Tonya died, she said that Tonya is gone from earth forever and that's
why we're all really sad. I said that Mrs. Modder (my first grade
teacher) had said that Tonya was in Heaven. Mom said, "Well, do you
remember when Ma'ai told you that her family said all haoles are rich?
We talked then about how some people believe what we don't believe. We
believe that as long as you remember Tonya, a little piece of her is alive in
your head, but she's not really alive anywhere else."
then and continues to do so.
Sounds about the same as what we did. I explained that people
believe different things about this but they don't really finally decide what
they believe until they grow up. She understands that what I believe is
different from what the school teachers believe. I think finds mine more
coherent but theirs more comforting, and is happy to live in a world where
both viewpoints exist and sees no real need to reconcile them or take
At least that's it over for another year, except for one who is staying
overnight, and one who's parents seem to have abandoned her here. I think
they expect me to take her home when I've had enough. Maybe they hope I
won't, I don't know, they have a small house and a lot of kids.
surgeon's kids treated us to an anatomy lesson - every sentence contained
'willy' or 'penis'. How
enCHANting. Ah, children... the little fairy people.
They're almost as hyperactive as their dad. He's one of those
that keep a 4wd and go offroading at weekends.
The hard part wasn't living in
an ear-defender zone, or ensuring that the bullies got to beat up the other
bullies (and protecting the professional victims), but clearing up the toys in
the living room beforehand. We started at the shallow end and worked our
way to the deep end. The carpet was blinking in the unaccustomed
daylight. We filled a binliner with toys that were broken or no longer
That and an evening spent wrapping parcels: about 16 layers for
pass-the-parcel and 15 small toys for prizes and so on. And a day off work
for cooking and shopping. I made a 'bran tub' with polystyrene beads and a
large cardboard carton from my workshop. Right now the three girls are
taking turns to jump into it.
FYI, these are NOT American
birthday traditions. I know what they are, but they still sound weird.
Well the bran-tub isn't a tradition either, but it seemed like a good
idea. It is a tradition to have games and give out little prizes to the
winners, and somehow make sure everyone gets something. I thought it
would simplify things if winners got sent to pick out of the tub, then at the
end everyone who hadn't won anything got a dip, then a free-for-all for
anything left. That way I could cover for an uncertain number of
Taking an example from the commercial organisations I kept
the party down to two hours. That meant I didn't have to organise too
many games. After taking away time for eating and for general running
about screaming, terrorising the cat and such like,
pinning-the-tail-on-the-donkey and pass-the-parcel was about enough to fill
They just found an unexploded parcel at the bottom.
OK - Finally
disposed of the surplus child - yes I had to get all three dressed and into the
van to take this one home. They just don't think about the fact that I
don't have someone to leave in charge of the kids.
Now they are
playing vampires: kind of cute since the friend has a Transsylvanian
grandmother, although I don't think that occurred to them. Her mother
occasionally complains jokingly about her blood-sucking in-laws.
you ever read any of those Terry Pratchett "Discworld" 'novels'. He has a
series set in Uberwald, which I eventually realised was a literal translation of
Transsylvania from Latin (or Romanian) to German.
We don't do parties at home
every year, sometimes we take advantage of the of-the-shelf job at the local
steak-house. Thats what most of the kids get most of the time, and quite
like, but Natasha specifically asked for an at-home party this year, and
generally they say it is more fun. Of course. No interfering waitresses. When
I feel it is too much hard work I think about the £100 or so I am saving (and
still think it's hard work).
The girls just invaded the office. My god,
they are playing 'maternity ward' now. "Deep breaths!" "Push!"
"Wah Wah!" "Its a girl." Where do they get these games from?
Now they are doing a breech birth! I imagine they'll be doing cesareans on
their dolls next. Barbie with bikini line scar? IVF
Now, if they were small indigenous children living in, say Darkest
Africa, one could say they were practicing rite-de-passage rituals and papers
would be written about it.
Yes it did occur to me. Last
night we had finished clearing up and earlier visitors had left. I was
doing some ironing and Natasha was sitting in a corner doing something with her
Pokémon cards, and my mind suddenly threw up an overlay of an equivalent
stone-age scene. The only real difference is the 'props' thanks to mass
production, the human activities don't change much.
I told the friend's
mother about the maternity game. She was startled but then explained that
her daughter had recently been asking about 'where babies come from' and had
been given some straightforward and fairly detailed answers. She felt that
in common with most of our generation she had not had anything like adequate
explanation from her parents, and wanted to avoid that trap. Fair
enough, I always answer Natasha's questions like