Wednesday, 27 March 2013


Finished and ready to go. So, let's.. go back in the house and sit by the fire..
  We were going to go to Scotland in the van. But the weather decided otherwise.
Ahh.. memories of balmy evenings, friends and baking...
I was going to rebuild my clay pizza oven in the garden but I don't think the clay would be workable at these temperatures.
Everything is on hold awaiting the arrival of weather in which one can actually consider doing something out outside, other than scurrying from the car to the front door huddled in a coat.

This time last year, it was briefly warm and the two aforementioned post-brain-haemorrhage convalescence projects were in full swing. Ok it would be a while until the DVLA let me drive my splendid van, but I was happy rebuilding the interior such that adventures could take place in it. It allowed me to use the remaining fragments of thinking ability I could muster at that point and promised a future I didn't at various times then expect to have.

Similarly the sequential nature of stomping sand into clay and making mud pies in a way so as to be ultimately useful was also therapeutic, again in anticipation of better times to come when my head didn't hurt and the question "Marmite or marmalade?" didn't send me into paralysed apoplexy for three hours.

But time moved on apace. It rained all Summer but even so, the oven got used spectacularly effectively on a couple of very enjoyable occasions with dear friends. The van not quite so much. But the hope was there.

And so, here we are, the high pressure hanging over the British Isles, drawing nasty blasts of icy winds from Scandinavia. We hide inside, staring forlornly out of the window at the snowflakes, awaiting some sign that our frozen fingers may yet unfurl and shade our eyes from a cheerful beneficent sun.

But I have, what me old Dad used to call the "eeby-jeebies". I want to get GOING!
I desire to drive my van to outdoor places where we can spill out on to the grass of moorlands and drink tea, to sit on the step of my van, ok, swaddled in a fleece perhaps but drinking beer wistfully whilst the sun sinks gloriously below the Atlantic horizon.

My restless feet tap a mute Riverdance under the table as I think of all the things I want to be doing. I have seeds to plant, raised beds to repair, sheds to refelt. But not in that bloody cold! No fear!
So, inside passtimes absorb my restlessness. I now have 20 gallons of beer made recently (my big sack of malt is now half the size it was and the results are most spectacular, though I say so myself.)
A gorgeous pale ale I made recently.
But when can I sit in the garden? When can I stand, peel in hand, and slide pizzas into my oven with the blast of heat from the fire in my face, my eyelashes singed and my eyes streaming from the woodsmoke? It's been so long and we really do deserve some Summer at some point. It's not much to ask is it?

So, hope springs eternal. There will be beer on the patio. I shall rebuild my oven (and the process will be documented here, or those closer to hand: Come and help. And learn how to make one yourself). And I will drive to the sea in my van and look wistfuly westwards. And if you want, I will let you have a go in my kayak.
And a small enclave of Bohemia will decamp to North Devon where wine will be drunk whilst we talk nonsense as the sun goes down. That's the plan, anyway.
I look forward to seeing you there.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Sartorial Conventions

I do not look like this.
We sat around a table, the meeting in progress, laptops in front of us (a modern habit I deplore, akin to reading at the table). Everyone wore suits and ties. I like my suit. I had it made to measure and it is damn sharp, or so reactions to it would indicate. But often, suits are dreadful, ill-fitting compromises, shapeless and attempting to encompass a belly grown opulent on too much business travel, too many working dinner and too little exercise.
The absurdity struck me, as it sometimes does: We have all dressed up in clothes that are deemed to be a "uniform" for the corporate world. And yet we know who we are and what we represent. Why do we have to conform to this ridiculous convention and wear impractical clothing (it is not cool in Summer and does not keep one warm in Winter!) in order to be taken seriously in our business endeavours? Surely, our capabilities and intellect are apparent in what we do in the course of our jobs. What we wear to accomplish this should not be relevant.

And yet here we are, all similarly attired and with stupid strips of cloth round our necks allowing for a tiny hint of self-expression beyond the conventional. And would we perform any less effectively were we in clothing that more suited our surroundings and personalities? Should I decide to turn up in a a dressing gown, silk pyjamas and a fez, I can imagine my judgement on other matters might be called into question. Though frankly, I feel this would be a spectacularly cool thing to do one day.
But, though I detest the lazy choice of jeans and a t-shirt, would attending meetings dressed thus really indicate anything of our capabilities or professional attitude? In fact, often, I do meet people who have wandered distractedly in to the meeting room in what would be deemed "scruffy clothes". And it has not been in any way an indication of how sharp they were or how well they performed their allotted tasks. Indeed, some of them have been wily and sharp and extracted far more from the deal than was their due. So should I regard them less for their relaxed approach to matters sartorial?

And yet, here we all are, sat around a table, collars chafing as we tackle the agenda. And I have things to sell, and they have requirements to fill. Does it really matter what we are all wearing?

I propose a new approach: Fancy dress business meetings. We should all be allowed, nay, encouraged, to participate in meetings having thought as hard as we can about a creative costume. Arguing pricing with a purchasing manager dressed as Robin Hood or Tinkerbell, or possibly a dalek (though this might be problematic for body language purposes) would be so much more fun and, I feel, productive. One could advertise one's position on a certain negotiation by what one chose to wear. Perhaps a particularly intransigent buyer could dress as Genghis Khan or maybe don a suit of  Black Prince armour, or a conciliatory sales engineer might appear as a Dickensian underling in the nature of Uriah Heep. A feeling that one's negotiating position was particularly strong could perhaps show their confidence  by donning an ostentatious codpiece. All manner of possibilities exists. And I am sure they would not detract from the process of business. In fact, I think it would improve things immensely, allowing a little more shared humanity into proceedings.
A local viking bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the author.

I have a meeting in Oslo later in Spring.They are a lovely bunch of chaps and very open-minded. I think, in deference to their culture, and my probable ancestors (if certain genetic traits are to be believed) I might dress as a viking for my presentations. I am sure this will go down a storm. respect for heritage is always appreciated.

Business worldwide has been grinding to a halt for the last five years. Perhaps a little eccentricity and individuality might be just what the world economy needs. And then perhaps we can rediscover our shared experience of the Human Condition allowing us all to treat each other as human beings again and not merely numbers on a spreadsheet or roles on an organisational chart.

Monday, 4 March 2013

One Year On and All is More Than Well!

I know I said I wouldn't mention it again, but today it is exactly one year on from the night I had my sub-arachnoid brain haemorrhage and I find myself unable not to reflect on what has been a very strange year.
From the moment of the explosion of the pain, light and noise in my head at pretty much the stroke of midnight (pun possibly intended, but it lightens the mood a little, don't you think?), my life has been different. Even now that I am, as far as I can tell, almost completely recovered, the way I view things is necessarily different. Those kinds of afflictions kill people. In fact, most people who experience it die. That rather puts it in perspective for me. After such a realisation that more people than not die from a SAH, it is impossible not to feel somehow as if you had a significant and lucky escape.
Life therefore has an entirely different complexion as a result. This is a Good Thing.

From the exquisite agony of the happening itself, the months of painful recovery, the confusion, tiredness and frustration, I have arrived here. It feels a good place to be. Paradoxically, it feels a better place to be than had I been a year on without it having happened. Perhaps this sounds a little trite, and I am sure that those close to me who had more awareness of what was going on than my addled self, might disagree. But it was a profound experience.

What strikes one, having viewed the world with a brain which had various regions malfunctioning, is how mechanistic the process of cognition, of sentience itself is. Parts of the brain have specific functions relating to how information is gathered and processed. When they are not working, cognition works differently.
I am going to be blunt here, and some of you might this difficult to accept, but when one experiences existence with a damaged brain and perceives just how different the experience is, it is not difficult to extrapolate this to what it might be like to have more impairment of the circuits. And ultimately, if the experience of consciousness is so altered by physical damage to the brain, then the complete removal of neural activity by death, must surely produce the ultimate change in consciousness: Oblivion.

My recollection of general anaesthetics tend to bear this out. And it does not bode well for notions of a soul or consciousness after death. I think now, if I ever doubted (and that would have been a very long time ago now) that definitely "This Is It: This life is all there is". Notions of afterlife seem fanciful hopefulness, and I have had all the confirmation I personally need to make it completely evident that consciousness is solely produced by the action of the neurons in the brain. When that stops, we stop.
And I am ok with that.

I am ok with that because it means that this new flavour life has, as a result of my reminder of mortality, acquired a new deliciousness. To be alive, to be mobile, to have a mind, and inside that a vibrant, colourful Life of The Mind, is, if we take the time to examine it, a dazzling experience. It is one I shall henceforth never take for granted.

My mind came back in stages. There were times I thought it was all back. I was wrong then. But then the problem was with my organ of cognition. It is excusable that this organ, self-regarding but damaged, might be unable to examine itself correctly. I think as a result, I pushed too hard, came back to work too soon and set myself goals that were too high for the various stages of recovery. I hope this learning will not be required again. But it does perhaps make a case for a little compassion towards ourselves and others.

But now, I really do think I am all there. I thought so before and have said so here. But this time, I think I am right. There have been times this past week for instance, when I felt my mind was on fire with agility and a euphoric sense of its own possibility. I have so missed that.
Small physical symptoms persist which hint at the possibility that subtle cognitive effects may linger, though I personally am not aware of any mental impairments. If I bend my head forward on my neck, the pains in my limbs return: Stabbing pains, almost as if in my femurs and radius and ulna bones. It would seem reasonable to assume that these residual effects might be mirrored mentally and I am vigilant, in a curious rather than anxious way, to see if they manifest themselves. At this stage though, I can discern no phenomena of this nature.

So, here we are. A year. And an enormous amount of strange experiences. I have made the acquaintance of my own brain and how it operates, seen it not operate properly, relearned to use it, discovered new ways to use it in order to circumvent it's dysfunctions, and discovered a new taste for life. My memory is better than before, my ability to evaluate information is better, I have taken up tango, started reading fiction again and feel, if I may say, 110% at least of what I was before.

In all this, somewhat self-regarding, piece of prose, I hope there might be messages of hope for what can be achieved in the face of setbacks.

I have been asked by several people to document all I can recollect about the whole experience in the hope it may help other sufferers of brain injury to make some sense of the experience. I was initially against it. Until yesterday actually when it suddenly, for some inexplicable reason, seemed a good idea. So, I shall do that.

Well, if you have read thus far, well done. I admire your patience. But what I want to say to you is this:
The brain is an incredible machine (and sorry, but machine it is, but don't let this detract from its wonder). It is unbelievably configurable. And there is no manual! So, given as how lost function can be regained with practise and discipline, what else might it be configured to do???
I exhort you! Play with it! Feed it! Teach it and challenge it! Learn a language, take up dancing, write a blog, or just plain start talking to people in the street. And I promise you, you will be rewarded with unexpected and delightful results. It will reconfigure itself by what you do. You just have to do it.