Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The V.S. Pritchett Memorial Prize

The Royal Society of Literature:

The V.S. Pritchett Memorial Prize

An annual award of £1,000 for a previously unpublished short story. This prize is supported by Chatto & Windus, V.S. Pritchett’s publishers.

The closing date is the 14th February 2006.

Freemasons Learn to Shock

First Aid: Masons Learn to Shock

A Date with Danger: First Aid Pitfalls on Valentines Day

A Date with Danger: First Aid Pitfalls on Valentines' Day

St. John Ambulance offers a guide on how to deal with unexpected dangers of Valentines' Day.

Postcard from the Yorkshire Dales (2)

Sunday, 29th January 2006

Today is my birthday.

I am forty-six years old. Four and six add up to ten, which is my lucky number, so it is going to be a good year. In fact, the numbers in today’s date, 29.01.2006, add up to 20; twenty can be twice divided by ten, which must mean that it is going to be a doubly good year.

As an Aquarian, I am also in good company. Robert Burns was born on the 25th January and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was 250 years old on the 27th January this year. (The DJ, Tony Blackburn, was born on the 29th January, but I try to ignore that fact.)

A few days ago, I mentioned that I had awoken at 5.55 each morning for three days in a row. I can lend significance to that today; I was born at 5.55, only it was in the evening. However, surely there has to be a good omen in there somewhere!

It is also the Chinese New Year, which is an interesting coincidence as it varies from year to year.

So, the portents are looking good. Coupled with a crisp frosty landscape outside, I think I can step boldly forward into my next year of adventure, enterprise and self-discovery.

There is also a bottle of champagne in the fridge, so that looks encouraging…

Postcard from the Yorkshire Dales (1)

Saturday, 28th January 2006

The day opened with a promise; the rising sun soon high enough to illuminate the haw in front of the cottage. For the uninitiated, a haw is a type of enclosed hill. This one takes its name from the village and, to be truthful, is not immediately in front of the cottage. Instead, it towers over half the village. However, a good bit of it can be seen from our kitchen window, which is good enough for me. Its various moods change in accordance with the weather. When the top can be clearly seen bathed in sunlight and the sheep are spread over its grassy mounds, contentedly feeding, I know that we are in for a good day. Today was one such day; a good one for a walk.

After a short drive, we reached the village of Malham. A delightful village set amidst green hills (it is difficult not to be around here). Malham is one of the Dales’ honey pots for visitors throughout the year. The summer is particularly crowded, so, apart from a foray to the annual Malham Show, we tend to save our own visits for the low seasons when the area is relatively quiet.

The focus for today’s visit was the spectacular Malham Cove, with its 300 feet high limestone cliff and surmounted pavement. It is always an impressive sight and today was no exception. The sun illuminated the cliff face such that the whiteness of it shone with a vividness to be remarked upon. Every now and again, a cloud obscured the sun and, as it did so, the cliff took on a darker hue. Even that was worth watching. It was as though we were looking at a watercolour painting, with God in the process of applying a light wash of Payne’s Grey.

A climb to the top of the cliff was rewarded, not only by the fascinating limestone pavement itself, but also by a stunning view down into Malhamdale, through to the hills of Lancashire and, although I cannot be sure, possibly beyond. The weather was so brilliantly clear that the horizon was difficult to pinpoint with any accuracy. From our vantage point above the cove, we were able to look down to where a pair of Peregrine Falcons nested in the Spring of last year; the memory of them soaring above the valley still vivid.

As I now sit writing, it is 5.13 p.m. and, although the end of January, the sky is still a light blue colour, with a tinge of redness in the east as the sun sets. Such has been the beauty of today. It will be rounded off with a meal at one of the best country pub restaurants in Yorkshire, if not in the country. The Angel Inn at Hetton has previously won all types of awards year upon year. However, it has just been approved for Michelin status. I am not surprised. We are indeed fortunate to have it as one of our favoured ‘locals’.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Going to the Dogs

Many a patient has lamented that the NHS is ‘not what it used to be’. Hopefully, far fewer try to hasten its financial demise in quite the same way as one of my recent patients.

An elderly chap attended complaining that he was frequently feeling faint and dizzy. A check of his BP gave a reading of 110/75. Sensing that his hypertension (high blood-pressure) was being somewhat over-controlled, I suggested that he stop taking the ramipril tablets (which lower the blood-pressure).

“But doctor, I have never taken those”, he answered in reply.

“Well, you have had a prescription issued every month for the past four years”, I responded.

“Oh yes”, he said. “The vet said my dog has heart failure, so I feed them to him. Done him the power of good and cheaper than paying the vet’s bills.”

As I reached for the ‘delete’ button and looked down the rest of his drug list I couldn’t help pondering whether his dog suffered from asthma, arthritis and constipation as well!

(First published in GP Magazine in February 2005)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Thought for the Day

A wise man is cautious how he becomes the echo of commonly received opinion.
Phillipe Pinet

Numerical Conundrum

Maybe I have been reading too many Dan Brown books regarding the alleged significance of pentagrams and the number five (see The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons). However, for the past three mornings I have spontaneously awoken to the time 5.55 on the digital clock.

I am not certain as to the significance, but it sure does set the mind thinking!

The Oxford Dictionary wasn't at all helpful, giving the definition of 'five' as 'one more than four'. Great! I suppose it is an accurate definition, but hardly of help to me.

A quick search on the internet brought up an interesting site developed by someone who had experienced the same as myself. The site can be found at: http://www.crystalinks.com/555.html It gives a lot of detail about the symbolism of the number five and pentagrams etc. However, it still doesn't answer the question as to the significance of the occurrence of 555 on the alarm clock for three days in a row.

I will tell you if it happens five days in a row. Now, that would be very thought-provoking.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Inner Workings

Apparently, the human brain is at least 1,000 times more powerful than previously thought (The Mind's 'Enigma Machine', The Daily Telegraph, 24 Jan 06). It is estimated that, if you connected a Pentium 4 computer to every connection on the global internet, the average brain would still be 100 times more powerful.

Medical students are often flattered to be told that they are amongst the top 3% of the country when it comes to matters of intellect. Given these statistics, why is it that I have great difficulty in remembering the names of people?

Unless it has something to do with that (rather delicious) steamed sheep's brain I ate in Paris when I was eighteen...

Lest we Forget

The appalling story of the Holocaust is one which has been told so many times that there is a slight danger of becoming immune, by a process of familiarity, to the horrors which took place. However, even I was unprepared for the stark reality of hearing a Russian infantryman, on arriving at Dachau, asking the question, 'how many women do you have to kill to produce seven tons of hair?'

Thought provoking indeed.

As an international community, we cannot afford to be complacent regarding such atrocities. Examples such as the one quoted above must never be allowed to rest as a simple matter of historical fact. Without frequent reminders, the human race is not clever enough to consistently learn from the lessons of the past.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Clarity of Thought

The recognition of one’s illness and an awareness of how that illness and certain actions might have an impact on one’s well-being have long been considered positive prognostic signs in psychiatry.

It was therefore most reassuring to receive the following within a letter from a Community Psychiatric Nurse who had been to assess a patient, whom I shall call John:

‘John has had violent pre-morbid thoughts of killing himself, but states that he would not act on them as he realises that it would be contrary to his best interests.’

Insight at its best!

(First published in GP Magazine, 15 March 2004)

Skipton Market

A 14th Century Bolton Abbey monk, returning today to stand outside Holy Trinity Church at the north end of Skipton High Street, would be greeted with a scene not entirely unfamiliar. The buildings may have changed in design, and cattle and sheep no longer roam the street. However, market stalls still spread out in lines down both sides of this main thoroughfare and on into Sheep Street, as they most certainly have since the poet Thomas Gray made his visit in 1762. They probably did much the same in 1300 when the monks were rebuilding the church. For Skipton is an ancient market town, well known to centuries of people as a gateway to the Yorkshire Dales.

Today, the brightly coloured stalls are present four times per week, pitched on wide cobbled areas called setts, sandwiched between the pavements in front of the High Street shops and the busy main road. A wide variety of goods are there to tempt locals and tourists. Plants, flowers, electrical goods, jewellery, pictures, sportswear, china, rugs and books sit alongside stalls where local farmers sell their eggs, fresh meat and fish, cheese, fruit and vegetables.

One cannot help being drawn into the cheerful bustle and friendly banter of the traders as they stand clutching mugs of soup with hands swathed in fingerless gloves, money belts fastened around their waists, the collars of their fleece jackets turned up against the cold wind. The shouts of ‘all at half-price’, ‘two for the price of one’ and ‘best bananas you’ll see all week luv’, follow you like some ritual chant, vying to be heard above the noise of the traffic. Through it all, the chiming of the church bell brings a timeless quality to the scene.

My favourite stall is the Lawson family’s cheese stall. Such is its popularity that Saturdays see two stalls, one each side of the road, the green and white striped canopies beckoning from a distance. Few can pass by without being tempted by the enormous variety of cheeses on display or the mountain of rich, homemade, mouth-watering fruitcake.

Walking along the stalls exposes one to snatches of history which enhances, rather than distracts from, the market. The Black Horse Pub, situated just below the church, is a good example. An old coaching inn, it has a large stone mounting block outside the courtyard entrance and a plaque stating that it was once a Royal Mews, when Richard III was Lord of the Castle.

Further down the street other plaques indicate sites on which once stood the Bull Baiting Stone, Pillory, Market Cross and Stocks, whilst intriguingly named alleyways, such as Bay Horse Yard and Hallam’s Yard, punctuate the buildings, leaving the passer-by with unanswered questions.

Finishing back at the north end, the statue of Sir Mathew Wilson Baronet gazes down at the benches where cloth-capped locals sit alongside weary tourists, their feet surrounded by bags containing the prizes of their foray into this splendid and enchanting market.

Thought for the Day

A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.
James Joyce

Monday, January 23, 2006

A Conflict of Wit

It is said that Winston Churchill and George Bernard Shaw did not have much time for each other.

During the 1930s, sometimes known as Churchill's 'Wilderness Years', Shaw sent him four tickets for the first night of one of his new plays, with the comment 'These are for you and your friends - if you have any.'

Churchill returned the tickets with the reply that he was already engaged on that particular evening, adding 'But, I would very much like to have tickets for the second night - if there is one.'

A Matter of Identity

Almost twenty years on, the question doesn't arise as much as it did when I first arrived in 'The North'. However, in those early days I was frequently greeted with the comment 'you're not from round here, doctor'. Fortunately for me, the comment was usually in a warm tone of voice. I always assumed that it had an implied question mark at the end, rather than being a veiled warning and an invitation to 'sling my hook'.

The revelation that I was from Kent quite often invoked the further enquiry as to whether I was a 'Man of Kent' or a 'Kentish Man'. It always amused me. It was as though my inquisitor was saying in a subtle manner, 'see, I do know something about The South!'

The fact is I am a Kentish Man; a revelation that invariably brings on the further question, 'What is the difference?'

Quite simply, to be a Kentish Man, one has to be born on the west side of the Medway. Conversely, someone born on the east side of the Medway is a Man of Kent.

Historians trace the difference back, some 1,500 years, to the Jutes. When they settled in the area of Thanet now called Kent, they gave the two parts different names - West Centingas and East Centingas. The traditional rivalry between the two halves is said to have sprung from the time of William the Conqueror, when the Men of Kent are said to have fought harder battles than the Kentish Men. (As a Kentish Man, I like to think that it was more the differentiation between 'brain and brawn'!)

However, like most counties with an inner rivalry, the people of Kent unite when it comes to the matter of 'incomers'. Such people cannot assume either title and are distinctly 'foreigners', albeit welcomed ones.

As, indeed, I have been welcomed in The North.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Thought for the Day

The only thing I know is that I know nothing.

Success by Osmosis

'Walking in the path of greatness' is a phrase often heard in respect to someone pursuing a specific course of action in life, which moves them in a direction already taken by a figure of historical significance. The association is usually metaphorical. However, I am inclined to a more literal view on occasions.

How many people feel a 'sense of occasion' when visiting a great building, where history itself was in the making some hundreds of years ago? Or, in the case of the temples and pyramids of Egypt, many thousands of years ago. I know that I do.

I cannot help but stroll along the corridors and through the rooms of great houses feeling the spiritual presence of those who have been there before me. I have touched the walls of dungeons and imagined the tortured souls who have pressed up against them, waiting for a release from their despair. I have sat in the seats of venerable leaders, monarchs, archbishops and prime ministers, and have tried to see through their eyes. It doesn't make me as great, or as tortured, or as powerful as them. However, what it does is to spiritually empower me to walk my own path with a greater sense of confidence. By allowing myself to become mentally attuned with the past, I hope to absorb something which will give me a greater degree of understanding, which can then be put to use through my actions in the present. The gradual assimilation of ideas leading to 'success by osmosis'.

Robert Louis Stevenson was a great writer. For many of his later years he lived on the the island of Samoa. Indeed, he died and was buried there. It is said that the natives of Samoa held him in high esteem. They called him by a Samoan name, Tusitala, which translated means 'teller of stories'.

I cannot sit at his desk or hold his ink quill in order to draw inspiration from him. However, I can borrow his given name as my pseudonym. Then, each time I take off the 'white coat of a physician' and pick up my pen or sit at a keyboard, I can assume a different persona; that of a writer. Perhaps, one day, I will be able to show that 'success by osmosis' is more than just a whimsical notion.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Spiritual Leadership

A close family member last year sent this to me as a text message:

'If God brings you to it, God will lead you through it.'

Call me daft, if you will, but so far I have been unable to erase it...

Rats and Aquarians

As it is soon my birthday, I thought a little introspection would be an indulgence to be forgiven!

It was interesting to learn that I was born under the Chinese zodiac sign of the rat. Rather a sharp contrast in mammalian terms to my new-found daemon! Additionally, a concept rather different from my perception of myself as an Aquarian. A little research was therefore called for.

Contrary to the Western view of the rat, the Chinese hold the rodent in high esteem. In the Far East, rats are considered to be symbols of wealth and luck. Accolades such as being of exquisite taste, charming and quick witted are just a few of the rat's attributes.However, that said, they are also careful to look after their own interests. They have an agenda of their own and do what they can to bring it to fruition. They are hoarders but at the same time can be most generous to friends. Rats are observers rather than partakers, with a keen eye for new information and knowledge. They are quick to eschew boredom, preferring the stimulus of new challenges.

Today is, of course, the first day of the Astrological Sign of Aquarius, the Water Bearer. Supposedly with progressive minds and visions, Aquarians are considered to be philanthropic, humanitarian, near-geniuses. Happy
Whilst happy to give to needy causes, they also need plenty of their own space. They are considered born leaders rather than team-players. They can also be quirky to the point of being eccentric.

Well, I once again reserve judgment on all of this, lest I tie myself in knots trying to be a mixture of a black panther, a rat and an Aquarian all at the same time. Whatever I am in reality, I will leave my friends and acquaintances to judge for themselves. I am sure they have significant views!

In the meantime, I will look forward to the fresh opportunities of another year, being true to one of my favourite mottoes:
Carpe diem - Seize the Day

Thought for the Day

Know something about everything and everything about something
TH Huxley

Writer's Itch

Books have always been central to my life, whether it be curling up with one as a five-year old, pouring over textbooks at university, browsing my way through a book shop or building a library of my own. Books are essential to my well-being.

For forty years or so, I have admired the authors that stare down from my shelves. I have marveled at their ability and have fantasised over seeing my name on the spines of their books. The idea that I might actually be able to write a book of my own has therefore been a slow but logical progression from the above.

I suppose that doesn't actually say why I want to write! You may well ask why I don't just carry on collecting books, or open a bookshop, or become a book publisher? The answer is easy. Deep within me is an urge to write. An urge which made its presence known years ago and was partially sated by scientific studies and later business activities. However, it is no longer so easily placated. Over the past few years it has slowly grown. No longer simply an "inner itch", it now gnaws away and will not be ignored. It has become a burning desire. It is now so strong that it feels impossible to do anything other than let events take their course. I make no apologies if that sounds melodramatic. It is exactly how I feel.

My ambition is simple in its concept. I wish to have a well-written book of fiction published so that it can sit alongside those great names and I can allow myself the delusion that I have joined their club.

I'll let you know when I have been granted membership. Writing

Definition of Golf

A game of do-it-yourself fetch.

The Gift of Insomnia

Insomnia - friend or foe?

I have never quite understood why people consider the inability to sleep to be a problem. A fair smattering of my patients on any one day will request "something to help them sleep".

I appreciate that sleep is necessary for our well-being. However, just as we eat when we feel hungry, why not sleep when we feel tired? Or more appropriately, why sleep when we do not feel tired?

Many men can now look forward to reaching the grand age of at least eighty years. If one slept six hours per night (instead of the average eight hours) that represents a saving of two hours per night; equivalent to 47,450 hours between the age of 15 years to 80 years. This equates to 1,977 entire days extra or, if converted into "working days of 18 hours", a saving of 2,636 days (or 377 weeks). In essence, more than an entire extra year's worth of available time!

So, perhaps we should consider insomnia a gift rather than a disease. In the words of Roald Dahl:
'My candle burns at both ends, it will not last the night - but ah my foes and oh my friends, it gives a lovely light.'

Friday, January 20, 2006

Know your Daemon

Have you ever wondered about that inner voice? That unseen companion and comforter? That little voice inside your head? If you have read Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, then you will understand what I am referring to. If not, then you have so far missed out on a very interesting work and I recommend you obtain a copy at the earliest possibility.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a daemon as 'a divinity or supernatural being of a superior nature between gods and humans'.

Your daemon is said to be a physical manifestation of part of your soul. According to some, its gender is usually the opposite of yours and always takes the form of an animal.

Intrigued by the concept, I took a test to determine the shape of my own daemon. Apparently it is a black panther. Only 3% of people have such a daemon. (Make of that whatever you will!) The following character description was attached as a summary:

PANTHER - You are brave, proud, and graceful. You let nothing stand between you and the things that you want. You are cool-headed and you like to be in charge of the situation. You do not take orders. You work best on your own, because the incompetence of others just impedes your ability to get things done. You are the true king of the jungle.

Well, whilst I reserve judgment on the actual existence of daemons, I have to say that I consider the above is a reasonable character assessment of me!

If you wish to check on your own daemon follow this link: http://quizilla.com/users/wolfcaroling/quizzes/What%20Is%20Your%20Daemon?

The Power of Love

Looking through my writing archives for the month of March, I came across the following article, initially published in my weekly column for...