Thursday, September 29, 2016

Philippa gets another MRI

So, six months after round one, the follow-up. As I managed to scare a few of you with my rambling free-jazz approach to introductory paragraphs last time


and back to the rambling. Again, I am writing this to get it out of my head (the temptation to say 'off my chest' is quite strong here) so the tl;dr version is above, basically. And the story of the first one is here, which deals with the mechanics of the experience in case anyone else out there is claustrophobic and getting ready to have one.

I remembered everything, which is good - previous dossier, the contrast solution, rainbow socks because they cheer me up. We had a slight difficult second album moment as the woman putting the line in couldn't find a vein at the first attempt, which meant switching to the other arm (not ideal, as that's the one that's a mess, but bless her she didn't even blink, and mostly just seemed mortified that she hadn't got in first time and that she might be hurting me). As a result of this she was extremely solicitous in the machine room, when I refused the headphones, and the alternative offer of earplugs, saying "but Madame, it will destroy your ears!". I finally convinced her that it was fine, that it was fine last time, that it was fine, and away we went.

This time my elbows scraped the inside of the tunnel. This wasn't as scary as I would have imagined. When I opened my eyes, I could vaguely (no glasses, natch) see outside the tunnel, or at least that the outside of the tunnel was there. This was also comforting. As was the blanket that they put over my legs because it is damn chilly in one of those things.

I got three songs this time. Being mildly less stressed than last time, I was able to discern more from the noise. Not just chunk-chunk-chunk but definite tone changes and the occasional top-end industrial guitar-type noise. Again it was quite hypnotic, and not having frozen legs this time certainly helped in the drifting-off department.

They seem to have changed their procedure slightly, perhaps connected to last time when I got sent back out into the waiting room to await the verdict, where they promptly forgot about me, and, being British, I just sat there. This time, I was stationed in a chair just outside the techs' office - and the machine room - to speak to the doctor. This meant, as one woman left the machine room and they left the door open before the next woman went in, that I was able to get a look at this thing - with glasses - for the first time. Siemens do a lot of good stuff, don't they? When my washing machine packs up I'm definitely buying one of theirs. It's like something from a sci-fi film. A room that felt small when I walked in must be pretty big in reality. You can also hear the chunk-chunk-chunk from outside in the corridor, without the nuances of what you can hear in the tunnel. I wonder if the techs are occasionally driven mad by the noise and have to take personal time.

Anyway. Doctor - different from last time - says I have a fibro-something, but this is nothing to worry about, that it is both 'benign' and 'stable', ironically the absolute opposite of my mood over the last week or so, so the next check-up in six months will not involve an MRI. Just a mammogram / sonogram. Bleah. Weirdly, the trip to that clinic was more claustrophobic than being slid into a big tunnel, as they left me in a windowless changing cabin for what felt like ages and I had to distract myself from hyperventilating with the available reading material (a guidance poster in a dozen languages) so I now know how to say 'bra' in Vietnamese. But this is clearly a good thing overall so I will just deal with that when it comes.

My utter thanks again to Caroline for coming with me, and showing me a fabulous new shop on the way back into town, and Gareth and Felix for joining us for lunch.

So, again - friends, be it tits or balls, check yourselves. And if something seems weird, get checked out. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Philippa gets an MRI

I'm writing this because when I write things they leave my head. And I need this to leave my head. It's quite long. Don't feel you have to stick with it. 

Today, I had an MRI.

I'm claustrophobic, so this was a worry. So much a worry, in fact, that I was focussing completely on the MRI and not even thinking about what the *results* could mean.

Let's wind back a bit.

Early February, I was showering, I thought I felt something weird. Got out of the shower and did a proper check - nothing. A few days later, again, in the shower - felt something weird. This time I was sure.

I booked a check-up for that afternoon. No problem. I love the French healthcare system.

The gyneco was lovely - that bit where they have to ask *those questions* and it's all very awkward? She was awesome - so she checked me out and said... "It's probably nothing but let's get you a mammogram and sonogram to be sure".

I rang for the appointment and it has to be at a particular point in your cycle if you have a cycle so...

Three weeks later, I have the mammogram / sonogram. Again, the mammogram tech was lovely - that perfect mix of human and practical that means you feel in control of you, if nothing else. And then the sonogram tech said... "It's probably nothing but let's get you an IRM to be sure".

This is how stressed I was - I didn't even realise that IRM = MRI. I've solved way harder anagrams than that in the past (RIP Araucaria). But that's what I was booked in for, three weeks later. The receptionist at the mammogram / sonogram clinic urged me to call the second clinic if I had any questions. She stressed - any questions. At the time, I didn't know what questions I could possibly have, as I didn't really know what was happening.

I looked 'IRM' up on Wikipedia not to read the details but to check the translation. But I kept seeing the word 'claustrophobia'. I started to panic. Then I started to plan. My questions. Practicing lying still. Buying a sleep-mask so I wouldn't be tempted to peek. Calling on all that CBT that I'd had, what, fifteen years ago?, to work through positive scenarios.

Shortly after this, a friend of mine on Facebook (extremely pregnant, with a cold) put up a post: "Spent an hour this morning flat on my back, trying not to cough, wedged in an MRI scanner approx the same size as my bump, as a normal* control for a study looking into fetal brain development."

The word 'wedged' terrified me. As did 'hour'. But the fact that she - an NHS doctor - did this voluntarily, made me less shaky. Also the * was "shush now". 

Which made me laugh. 

The only people I told about this were the friend who came with me for mammogram / sonogram, and Team FFW, one of whom responded (in a long chain of messages about various subjects) "Does it help to know you only go half in and then out again? When I had a CT scan I was really disappointed - I'd always assumed you went all the way through and out the other end like a car wash!...Think we said publish for day of match".

Again, that made me laugh. 

Eventually I rang up - and I should have done it earlier - the woman who answered the phone was a star. I got maybe two questions in when she interrupted me - it's OK. You go in feet first. You lie on your stomach, it's like a massage table. (pause) A really noisy massage table. We give you headphones, you pick the channel.

Ooh, I thought. That sounds less scary.

So. Today was the day. I slept OK last night - it was the previous night I had the inevitable anxiety dream (in which I was having my MRI while on a business trip to Canada, so there was snow - I've never been to Canada, I just have assumptions - and I got lost trying to find the right door, so, standard anxiety dream there). My friend met me at the tram stop and we trammed to St Eloi, talking about a kid's birthday party she'd been to.

We found the right door pretty quickly. They were very nice on reception. Filling in the questionnaire, I had to check one translation with my friend. And the conversion rate of stone to kg. Winged it on my height in cm.

When the technician came to take me through, she heard I'd been talking to my friend in English. Asked me, very slowly and carefully, can you understand what I'm saying? Yes, I said. I can understand more than I can say, and if I don't understand, I'll ask. You might have to...I waved my arms around to represent 'explaining things in roundabout ways'. OK, she said, that happens with the French people too. And smiled.

I had the injection for the contrast solution - again, I'd been so worried about the MRI I hadn't thought to check about that, I'd assumed it was localised, but no, in my arm - and was led through. And - and here a bit of serendipity, perhaps - I had to leave my glasses in the prep room. I can't see shit without my glasses. So I never really saw the machine.

In the machine room, it was as I'd been told. Lie face down - and this was when I realised something that I hadn't before; when I rang up, I didn't give my name, I'm not 100% sure I mentioned what part of me was to be scanned, but it didn't matter - because this place specialises in that. Only that. Their table is specifically designed for that.

Like I say, I love the French healthcare system.

This was the one nasty moment. When I put my face into the space in the 'massage table', the table was covered with paper, and this had been hollowed under the face-space. The space was restricting, I couldn't keep my head down. I managed to say 'c'est claustrophobe' and immediately both technicians reached into the space and broke the paper so it wouldn't be restricting. I still couldn't keep my head down, the memory made me panic - the second technician said 'you can put your head to the side'.

I took off the headphones, said I didn't want music, and felt much more comfortable. "It's very loud", said the technician, looking worried. "This is OK," I said, lying down, face sideways.

And it was. I did peek. But like I said, I can't see shit without my glasses so it was just white. And the noise? It's loud, yes. But I spent ten-fifteen years going to ATP, genuinely, I own CDs that sound just like that. The middle-eight was particularly inventive.

So that was it. The drip was taken out and I got dressed and went back to the waiting room, and my friend. And then we waited. An older woman was called out to speak to the doctor and when she came back into the waiting room she just gave the \o/ gesture and her friend hugged her and it was awesome. My friend and I talked about global politics and interior decoration and military deployment and how cool midwives are, and I started to get a bit worried that it was taking so long for them to call me in to speak to the doctor about my results.

Turns out they'd just forgotten I was there.

So, eventually, my post-MRI consultation wasn't a formal meeting in a doctor's office but a quick chat in the dark review room, where the doctor said "rien de suspecte".

I have to go back in six months for another MRI to compare with this one, but the most difficult thing there will be aligning the window for the appointment with my slightly capricious cycle. I'm OK. For now. And won't be as scared next time.

My complete and utter love to my friend Caroline for being with me through this (and the last clinic visit). Not being alone was so important.

So, friends - tits or balls, check yourselves. And if something seems weird, get checked out. 

Here endeth the over-serious.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Coupe de France Round of 64


The Coupe de France;
Sixty-four teams


Prepare to dream,
To fight 
For honour,


Minnows, giants
On the turf


All looking
To make history.
To win

Friday, June 26, 2015

A possibly irrelevant point on something from a possibly irrelevant person

Today, the Supreme Court of the USA ruled in favour of gay marriage at a federal level. Not just ' Hey states, it's OK if you want to', but 'No seriously. All of you. Listen up.'

And this makes me happy, obviously, because justice. Full judgment here, and clock that closing para in the Opinion of the Court.

So, some people are cross. Including this guy:

Just going to have a little unpack here, because I'm in a bit of a spin and that's what I do when in a bit of a spin.

Firstly - religious liberty is a concept open to all people. Those of faith, those undecided, and those of no faith. Because 'religious liberty' really means liberty of belief, and the belief that religion should be rejected or discarded is as valid as that it (or a particular one) should be held.

There are many people who don't believe that religion has or should have any place in lawmaking. These - and this may surprise Mr Fischer - include some people of faith.

But even accepting that 'God' is a relevant concept in lawmaking, he's still got problems. The phrasing implies that he is referring to 'God' as a monotheistic concept, so possibly we should strike out the views of any poly/pantheistic believer.

And I'm guessing from the circumstantial evidence that Mr Fischer is a Christian rather than a member of another monotheistic faith with a shared God, so let's also lose believers in eg Judaism and Islam from this.

If we just look at Christians, he's still in something of a tricky position because, well...Quakers, Lutherans, Trinitarians, Methodists - all groups/denominations with (with national variations) positive stances on gay people marrying.

So he's really down to - "My church doesn't like it. I will therefore define 'God' for all churches in my denomination, all denominations in my religion, all religions in monotheism, and in general for everybody, whether they have faith or not".

Or - bref - "I am everybody".

The US Constitution, First Amendment, to recap, says:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances
It specifically says that 'you are not everyone', religion-wise (no law respecting an establishment of religion). Mr Fischer and his church are free to exercise their religion (and tweet as above, etc). But their free exercise of their religion, as they see it, does not mean that they get to impose their religion, as they see it, on anyone else, whether that means imposing religion in general, or in particular.

Religious liberty is protected. Mr Fischer is under no obligation to marry another man, whether his disinclination to that is religiously motivated or otherwise. He is free to go about his heterosexual business, continue to believe that gay people marrying is wrong, and to tweet that.

He just doesn't get to be everybody.

I mean, imagine if another bunch of people got together, citing 'God', to support a federal ban on bacon (at least three major world religions involved there, I think) - I think I know who'd be one of the first to complain.

If 'everybody' encompasses such a wide range of beliefs, then nobody gets to be everybody. We are all somebody, and we get to decide for ourselves.

My particular love to two dear friends who are getting married this weekend. You are somebodies I love deeply. If you will allow me - que Dieu vous benisse...

And let's finish with a song.

Monday, May 18, 2015

A Bunch of Lesbians

So, allegedly some chap in Italy has been talking in less than happening terms about women footballers and while this could all get rather involved and unpleasant, it prompts reflection on the positives of the women's game being a bit more open in terms of player orientation. Also, I like making lists, and the team formation builder from

So - how good could 'a bunch of lesbians' be?

Heh. Pretty damn good.

Some rules here - it's the World Cup in the summer (so excited) so let's stick to players for the qualified teams. Also, current players for those qualified teams, in the most recently announced squads (so Bresonik misses out, boo). And, most importantly, those openly gay or bisexual - no speculation, no rumours (just rude, apart from anything else).

And a 4-4-2 formation because that will both please and annoy different types of traditionalist in equal measure.

A little look at the details (mostly from Wiki so, y'know, stats could well be higher than this):

GK - 
  • Nadine Angerer, Germany: 2 World Cups, 5 European championships, 1 UEFA Cup, 4 German cups, 2 Bundesliga titles, 138 caps, FIFA World Player of the Year 2013
  • Abby Wambach, USA: 2 Olympic Gold, FIFA World Player of the Year 2012, 241 caps, 182 goals
  • Lianne Sanderson, England: 5 league titles, 1 UEFA Cup, 6 cups, 2 Community Shields, 1 Cyprus Cup, 46 caps, 15 goals

So. That's 1388 international caps and 343 international goals between them. And a shit-load of trophies. Let's add a coach - Pia Sundhage, 3 Algarve Cups, 2 Olympic Golds, FIFA World Coach of the Year 2012.

I realise that some people have a problem (theological or otherwise) with non-heterosexuality. But I also know that some non-heterosexual people have to deal with a problem - not of their own making - connected with their orientation. Because they don't see themselves in public, on the big screen, in the discourse.

There will be a wonderful tournament this summer, and it will involve people who are like us. That Casey Stoney interview is on the official FIFA WWC website. Yes.

If you think this doesn't matter, or is 'PC gone mad', then please go about your business. I'm not really talking to you, I'm talking to the legions of little girls who get told stuff and called names when they just want to play the sport they love.

I believe that we will win.


Thanks to Marco Bantani for helping out when the team was short of defenders in formation. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Barclays Academy

I was watching Arsenal v Liverpool, with the traditional manager sideline shots (Wenger, putting a coat on; Rodgers, hands in pockets; both, in V-neck sweaters).

It occurred to me that, collectively, Premiership managers look like the staff of an under-performing boys' independent school.

Who really don't get on.

So obviously I went with that.

Arsene Wenger is headmaster. He's been there forever and has to deal with balancing the books, admin, student recruitment, basically everything. But he wouldn't have it any other way. Also teaches French. He has a very different approach from Deputy Head Brendan Rodgers, who takes PSE.

In the Humanities department, it's something of a mixed bag. Newly-appointed Louis van Gaal teaches Geography, and while he has some very interesting anecdotes about his own travels, tends not to stick to the lesson plan so students can become confused, as can everyone else. Tony Pulis takes History, where he has comprehensive knowledge and is very organised, although has had some unfortunate disciplinary issues in the past. Jose Mourinho is in charge of both Politics and Philosophy, and does get results, but can make some contradictory arguments, and many of his students are prevented from expressing themselves fully and at risk of burn-out. Mark Hughes takes Critical Thinking, and on RE, it's Gus Poyet, who has some difficulty getting his students to actually turn up.

In the Arts department, Mauricio Pocchettino is in charge of Foreign Languages, which has quite a high influx of students each year. On English and Drama, it's Chris Ramsey - we'll be honest, they aren't very good, but he manages to stay cheerful. Manuel Pellegrini looks a little tired and put-upon as Classics master, as many people believe he should be getting better results. Steve Bruce takes Art.

In the Sciences department, Ronald Koeman is head, focussing particularly on Chemistry. Sam Allardyce is the slightly aggressive Maths and Economics master who may need to be replaced in the summer, while Garry Monk is an extremely popular younger teacher for ICT students. Sean Dyche's position is possibly in danger as the school may stop offering CDT courses in the future, and Alan Pardew is a little aggrieved as he thinks that Business Studies should be more highly rated by the school.

Elsewhere, Roberto Martinez takes Home Economics, and is rather well thought of, but there were some criticisms of that trip to Europe he organised recently (although he is by no means the only teacher who had that problem). Tim Sherwood heads up the PE department, but yearns for more responsibility. Nigel Pearson is in charge of extra-curricular activities including the CCF and Duke of Edinburgh schemes (lots of hiking). John Carver sort of fills in wherever. There's some doubt as to his qualifications.

Obviously, many more staff are needed to run a school. In the admin office, Greg Dyke tries to keep on top of things. Dr Carneiro has mostly given up explaining to people that she isn't just the school nurse. And with numerous former staff and students, including former Economics teacher Harry Redknapp, working in the media, there's a lot of attention that isn't always helpful.

But they bumble on. While results may not compare favourably to similar schools on the continent, they have solid financial backing, so despite some concerns from parents about the financial model, they are in no immediate danger of going to the wall.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

I might be Charlie...

Today, I had a booking to spend the day training clients and their other advisors in Paris. To make the most of this opportunity, I went up on the train yesterday morning, with the intention to spend the afternoon pottering around the Musee d'Orsay and so on. About an hour out of Paris, the news broke.

I've reaggravated a muscle injury from last year so am in a fair amount of pain which isn't allowing me to sleep, and yet my brain is still wide awake in a slightly squirrel way, so...

This is France's worst terrorist attack for decades. It's a tragedy. It's an assault on freedom of speech. Watching the numbers roll in, the estimates of how many people went out last night, stood up, held pens or presscards high, was amazing. The pictures of the manifs, the responses. On the TV, the Imam of the Lille Mosque, Philippe Val on the verge of tears, Richard Malka struggling to hold it together. This morning, walking to the training day, being asked to take a detour by a cop in front of Invalides - police cars everywhere, vans, barricades - and the elderly woman who reached him first not questioning him but saying "mes condoléances pour vos confrères - courage".

In amongst the hashtags and the signs there have been some articles, posts, tweets, that have been critical - questioning - of "je suis Charlie".

I'll be honest, I've never read it. I tried reading Le Canard Enchaîné, on the advice of the Oiseau, but struggled with the in-jokes and level of previous knowledge assumed (imagine trying to read about Ugandan Affairs in a second language and making sense of it - this is way more involved). And some of the cartoons in that made me wince. Charlie Hebdo was - is - different from that.

I thought it crude, offensive, juvenile, and not very funny. Of all the covers being shared right now, that of Mohammed, his head in his hands, saying "c'est dur d'être aimé par des cons", strikes me as good. The responses by the cartooning community have been better - more balanced, more pointed, less 'cheap laughs' - than a lot of the content they were supporting.

So however much I support freedom of speech, press freedom, the importance of satire, resistance against terror - can I say, je suis Charlie? Not at that level. Being that wilfully offensive - whoever the recipient - isn't my style. I've had problems with a lot of the covers I've seen over the years. I'm not that.

But in another way, je suis Charlie doesn't need to mean that you were A-OK with the editorial content of Charlie Hebdo. The people that did this did not have a reason to do it, in any logical sense - they had a motive. And you can come up with a sick, twisted motive for anything, if you are a heavily armed dogmatist with a self-appointed God-given role to seek vengeance. For crashing planes into buildings, blowing up a public transport system, hacking a man to death in the street... Anyone can be a victim.

Yesterday, and today, there was a slightly strange atmosphere in Paris. Police everywhere. But no...fear. That was very different from 7/7 - my primary frame of reference for this because it was there right next to me, rather than images on a TV screen - maybe because this was so targeted whereas that was so random. Also in another way (and thank God my parents had forgotten I was due to be in Paris yesterday) - then, we were frantically ringing round trying to locate staff members (an audit firm - staff were all over the place on client work), trying to find out what was happening, mainly through overseas press and having info passed on from a friend at a news outlet that they weren't broadcasting because it wasn't corroborated. Now there's Twitter.

Twelve people died yesterday. By no measure was that reasonable. It was sick and twisted and a tragedy and all twelve will be in my thoughts and my prayers, as their families are, as the people still in hospital are, as the people dealing with the backlash are. Because we all know there'll be a backlash. Nobody demanded that Christians rejected Breivik, witness the surprise when it turned out that David Copeland, white guys with pipe bombs are lone wolves - McVeigh really wasn't a lone wolf - somebody bombed the NAACP yesterday and yes, I found out about that from Twitter, those people pointing out the casualty numbers in other countries yesterday and being told they were missing the point when they weren't, they were making a point...

Marine Le Pen is going to fall on this like the smallest, nerdiest, most annoying wolf in the pack feasting on an already injured deer and making out that she's fucking White Fang. If she hasn't already.

And in a world with no reasons, just motives - or 'grounds', if you're a nation state and on the Security Council - then you can fashion a motive for anything. Press freedom matters. Freedom of speech matters. Lives matter. Wherever they are lived.

So, if I say je suis Charlie, it's not because I agreed with them. It's because I don't agree with the people who murdered them.

First they came for the cartoonists...