Stroke

Having a stroke really focuses the mind.

It makes you realise how much your loved ones mean to you.

It makes you realise that life is too short to fuck around.

And it makes you realise just how good bacon tastes.

I had a stroke a couple of months ago – nothing too major, just one of those ‘wake-up calls’. A nasty wake-up call admittedly, like when you’ve accidentally set your alarm clock to Heart FM.

On a Wednesday evening in late June I got up from my sofa to go to bed and couldn’t walk straight. Now this is not necessarily unusual for me, although it’s an occurrence that usually happens towards the weekend, when too much gin and/or Brew Dog have been consumed.

Also, the left side of my face was numb. I went to bed, expecting to wake up fine and dandy.

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I didn’t. I mean, obviously I did wake up – if I hadn’t that would probably been quite bad – but I didn’t wake up fine and dandy. I still couldn’t feel the left side of my face, and every time I tried to walk I pulled to the left, like a car with a near side front puncture. So I did what every sensible overweight middle-aged bloke would do.

I drove 35 miles to work.

Well, I thought it would just ‘go off’. When I got to work, it hadn’t. I stopped fooling myself and knew I’d had a stroke. But it was then I also realised my biggest mistake. I was in Bedford. The best hospital in the country was in Cambridge, in a direction I had driven 35 miles away from.

Now we all know that all NHS hospitals are staffed by amazingly dedicated and skilled people whose expertise mean that it doesn’t matter where you are in the country you will get first class care whichever facility you are admitted to. You’ve probably gauged by now that I wasn’t thinking very clearly at that stage, and I was determined that, if I was to be cured, it would be in Cambridge’s Addenbrooke’s Hospital. I knew Addenbrooke’s; I’d been treated for minor ailments there before, and they had looked after my family through some pretty tough times. I knew nothing of ‘Bedford Hospital’, but it just didn’t sound right. I pictured an old building that, in a previous life, had been a lunatic asylum or leprosy clinic, with big wooden doors and doctors attacking you with syringes bigger than a baby’s arm.

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So, naturally, I drove 35 miles back home.

I then called 111 and they arranged to send an ambulance. But, where was the ambulance coming from? Sometimes, because of our location (in Cambridgeshire with a Hertfordshire postcode), they send help from Stevenage’s Lister Hospital.

Lister. Like ‘Listeria’.

What to do? Maybe if I drove towards Cambridge, pulled into a lay-by and called again I could guarantee my admission to Addenbrooke’s. All this wasn’t helping my blood pressure, and my Fitbit – yes, I’ve got a Fitbit, wanna make something of it? – had stopped recording my pulse rate, presumably not used to the challenge of such high digits.

I opened the door to the paramedics. “Where are you based?” ‘Upon arrival, patient seemed confused’. “Which hospital?”. “Addenbrooke’s, sir.” ‘Patient calmed down quickly and was fully responsive.’

Needless to say from then on I’ve received some superb NHS care. I’ve had more scans than a successful IVF mother, and treatment that couldn’t be bettered anywhere in the world. My family have, naturally, been fantastic.

When the paramedics assessed me they asked the obvious questions about my drinking, eating and exercise habits. I was honest with them. Just as we were leaving for the hospital one of them pointed to a picture of my granddaughter on our wall, looked at me, and simply said, “Lifestyle change, mate.”

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I’ve taken the patronising git’s advice.

I’ve cut back on alcohol, processed food, cheese and crisps. I’ve lost over 20 pounds and feel pretty good. It’s the cheese I miss the most, but the consultant I saw early in the week reminded me that life was for living, all things in moderation etc. In other words, don’t be a boring bastard and go and get a large piece of Applewood Smoked. That’s how I read  it, anyway.

And, as a treat, I’ve just eaten my first bacon for 7 weeks.

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So all’s well, considering. I was back to work within 2 weeks.

Now, if only I could kick the heroin habit………….

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Onboard

A few years ago I was asked who in the business world I most admired. My reply, to the slight surprise of my questioner, was Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary.

My reasoning was that he had a built a very successful brand with only one real benefit, that of perceived low cost. Yes, your £25 flight to Venice will cost you over £75 once you’ve added the extras. Yes, you won’t actually land anywhere near Venice, incurring additional costs to get you to your final destination. And yes, your walk to the Ryanair gate at Stansted takes 15 minutes and passes through 3 postcodes.

But still, we came. Most Ryanair flights I’ve experienced have been full, and that’s not counting the poor guys who have been ‘bumped’ due to overbooking. O’Leary has proved that you can treat customers like shit and still retain and attract customers, and that’s one hell of an achievement.

I seriously believe that after the current crisis, and despite all of the inconvenience and total disregard for their current customers and target market, that Ryanair will remain a successful airline.

However. Does anyone really believe the reason given for the substantial number of flight cancellations? Pilot shortage due to poor annual leave planning? Surely what’s really behind the disruption is the rationale behind all of Ryanair’s actions. Profit. Maybe their loss-leading routes are becoming too costly. Maybe the forecast for the next financial period was looking a bit low.

Or – and I’m not really qualified to comment on this but I will anyway – maybe there’s a more serious underlying issue.  The prospect of dangerously reduced profits? Cashflow problems? Time will tell.

Ask me again who in the business world I most admire and the answer will not be Michael O’Leary. Not with Sir Philip Green around…..

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Houses

‘NIMBY’ is an overused acronym.

I know that because I use it far too often myself; a knee-jerk reaction when I hear of protests against new housing developments or transport links.

We have a severe housing crisis in the UK and one of the only solutions is to develop land close to current amenities and infrastructure. Constructing new towns such as Northstowe helps, but it’s not enough.

I appreciate that some people are genuinely worried about jamming the local infrastructure and the pressure on local schools and healthcare facilities. No doubt some have a genuine fear around environmental issues.

But others see massive personal threats. House values falling pound by pound with every brick laid. An extra 2-minute wait in the queue at Spar. The risk of Johnny Foreigner infiltrating the bowls club. Here’s the response I received on Twitter to my accusation of NIMBYism on the topic of building a new busway linking Cambourne with Cambridge:

I am against because it will wreck what I and my family invested in. There are better options.

“Better options” somewhere else, I imagine.

Yes, developers may well be evil money-grabbing bastards, but we must make them bring facilities along with their cash-cow dwellings. That’s the role local councils should be taking, not automatically rejecting any plans put before them, safe in the knowledge that the village gentry will get behind them.

300,000 new houses are needed every year in the UK.

Everywhere is someone’s ‘backyard’.

Words

Merriam-Webster (lovely lady, by the way), has produced a fascinating feature which determines when a word was first used in print. Surfing through the years, it’s somewhat surprising how long ago some commonly used marketing terms were first used.

‘Direct marketing’ was first used in 1961, and it follows that ‘database’ appears a year later. ‘Big data’ dates back to 1996.

‘Case study’ dates back to 1914 – usually referring to medical histories – the year of the start of WW1. If only there had been a cautionary case study showing what would happen if you asked thousands of young men to go ‘over the top’.

‘Email’ was, of course, first written in the early 1980s, and ‘e-commerce’ in 1993. 1999 gave us ‘blog’ (and ‘clickbait!), ‘vlog’ followed just three years later.

‘White paper’ was first used in 1884, but it’s not clear when marketing hijacked it and removed the necessity of governmental origin.

The first known use of ‘social media’ was in 2004, the year of Facebook’s launch, despite platforms such as Six Degrees and MySpace existing earlier.

And the word ‘marketing’ itself? 1561.  Which makes sense as it was the 1600s when posters were first used for promotion, and the first newspaper published leading to paid advertising becoming available.

Incidentally, the word ‘guru’ was first coined in 1613 – a year that most self-proclaimed marketing gurus seem to be stuck in.

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Helmet

There’s a cyclist in Cambridge who travels around the city with a webcam on his helmet, verbally challenging motorists, bus drivers and pedestrians whenever they offend his 2-wheel sensibilities.

Whenever wronged, he catches up with the offender (easily done in Cambridge’s grid locked traffic) and confronts them with their offences, which range from walking on a cycle path to not giving him enough space when overtaking.

His party trick is to point to his helmet-cam and shout – “I’m recording you, you’ll be on YouTube tonight! Want to see yourself on YouTube tonight?!”

He usually has a point. Watching the video coverage (yes, he does actually post it on YouTube), it’s clear that in most cases that he is not receiving enough consideration as a cyclist, particularly by bus drivers and white van man.

However, there’s a strong sense that he’s actually waiting to have his cycling rights abused. He seems to crave the confrontation to avenge his righteous indignation. I imagine him circumnavigating the Cambridge ring road day after day, acting as bait for careless road users, offering himself as a sacrifice in the name of cyclists’ rights.

As for the YouTube threat, I haven’t once seen evidence of a cornered offender cowering with fright.  “Not YouTube, please not YouTube, I’ll do anything, mend your punctures, clean you saddle with my tongue, hand-wash your lycra…….”.