Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Don’t Be A Winter Ostrich

There is something about winter that makes ostriches of so many people (except that at present they have to stick their heads in the snow rather than sand). Even after twenty years in general practice, it is something that never ceases to amaze me. What is it that I am speaking of? It is the simple issue of people not wishing to protect themselves against a potentially serious infection, and the infection I refer to is influenza.

As a doctor, it concerns me that less than 50% of the eligible population of North Lincolnshire have had the influenza vaccine this year. Put bluntly, being 'eligible' basically means that you have a significant risk of dying from influenza and its side-effects. So, if that is the case, why do people choose not to protect themselves? Simply assuming that you are super-immune to influenza simply because you have not caught it for so many years doesn't guarantee your survival. I have never had the misfortune to be knocked down by a car; but I still take the precaution of looking both ways before I step into the road; if I do not then one day my folly will catch me out, at which point it will be too late.

In an average winter, there are 25,400 more deaths in England and Wales than at other times of the year. The precise death rate depends on various factors, including the temperature. However, influenza is implicated in many of these deaths. The peak period is between December and March, so we are now entering that time; and as you are aware, it is very, very cold.

Everyone who has not been immunised has the chance of catching influenza. However, amongst those most at risk are children and adults with asthma or diabetes, those with heart disease, anyone whose immunity is reduced (e.g. because of treatment for cancer) people over the age of 65 years, and pregnant women. Anyone within those categories should seriously consider having the influenza vaccine as soon as possible. Carers and health professionals should also be setting the standard by getting themselves vaccinated; by not doing so, they are putting other people at added risk.

The serious side effects of influenza include bronchitis, pneumonia, exacerbation of asthma, convulsions, heart failure, and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). I am sure that you would agree that none of these sound particularly trivial, and they are not. They are very distressing to the sufferer and the observer, and often cannot be cured. On the other hand, the side effects of the vaccine are usually very mild or non-existent despite all the myth surrounding it.

So, let us not think of the risk of death from influenza in terms of statistics. Consider instead individual human beings known to you. If you are not personally in the high risk categories, do you have a relative or friend who is? Have they been vaccinated against influenza this year? If not, start nagging them to go and get vaccinated. Let us face it, none of us would wish our elderly parents, our children with asthma or diabetes, our husband with heart disease, or our pregnant wife to be one of those 25,000 extra deaths this year. However, without the influenza vaccine, they are at significant risk of becoming one of them. I know I would not want that on my own conscience.

(This article was first published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph on Wednesday 8th December 2010.)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Something for After School, Young Man?

One month ago, Pope Benedict XVI announced that the use of condoms may be morally justified 'when the sole intention' is to combat the spread of AIDS. My immediate response was to ask 'so what?'

As I am writing this column in my capacity as a physician, this is not the place for me to start a religious debate, and I certainly have no wish to upset anyone. However, whilst the Pope's edict may influence the use of condoms in parts of the world, I feel sure that it will do very little to improve condom usage in this country; especially amongst our younger members of society where such improvement is desperately needed.

Two months ago it was announced that the teenage pregnancy rate in the United Kingdom has fallen from 46.6 per 1,000 in 1998, to 40 per 1,000 in 2010. Whilst we should be pleased to make any improvement on this front, it remains deplorable that, in this country, there are 40,000 pregnancies per year in people under the age of 18 years. Although I am all for the United Kingdom taking the lead in respect to many issues the world's stage, having the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe is not an achievement to be particularly proud of.

Unfortunately (in respect to condoms), the majority of our young people are not influenced by the traditional teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Neither (speaking from a Northern Lincolnshire perspective) are they greatly influenced by the risk of contracting AIDS, as the incidence of the latter is mercifully low in this region compared to some of our cities, and very low compared to certain countries in Africa. Nor do our teenagers particularly concern themselves with preventing other forms of venereal disease; except that is, in respect to Chlamydia infections. Though, with the latter, my perspective is that we also seem to have got the message over in the wrong way. Anecdotally, I come across teenagers informing me that they have responsibly taken another Chlamydia test (note the word 'another') as they have recently changed partners. Yes, that is good news to a point. However, if they were to use condoms in the first place then there would not be the same need for the Chlamydia tests. We are not doing very well in communicating the real messages.

The truth is, our sex education program is not working. Yes, there is a place for moralistic debate and reasoning, greater parental responsibility and informing youngsters of the health risks. However, there is also the pressing need to make condoms 'cool' in the eyes of those most influenced by fashion. Regardless of society's laws, or the best of moralistic and religious teaching, sex happens and will continue to happen within an hormonally fuelled younger generation.

Thus far, we health and social educationalists have got it wrong. Perhaps our sporting and celebrity heroes are the people to recruit in a renewed drive to relegate us from the top of this particular league table.

(This article was first published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Friday 3rd December 2010)

Friday, December 03, 2010

Do You Have a Mo?

For one brief moment this month I thought I was a trendsetter; a man of the moment; a fifty-year-old icon of fashion.

What was the cause of the delusion that I had become a leading light in the world of masculine style? It was the realisation that upper lips were becoming hirsute; or at least some male ones were. As someone who has sported lip foliage ever since my teenage days (apart from when fellow students shaved it off during a university Rag Week in 1980), I was happy to form the advance party of 21st century masculine chic.

Then I read about 'Movember'; the Canadian-based movement to raise awareness of prostate cancer. Now, for older readers of this column, the name Little Mo may bring back memories of the 1950s tennis star, Maureen Connolly. However, younger readers may be more familiar with the character from the soap opera, EastEnders. Nonetheless, I suspect that neither group will immediately guess that 'mo' is slang for moustache, and that these chaps are therefore in the process of sprouting a 'little mo'; hence the renaming of last month as Movember; witty people those Canadians.

So, you may well be asking what all the fuss (or fuzz?) is about. It involves the recognition that 35,000 men per year develop prostate cancer. It is the second most common cancer in men, with a 1-in-13 lifetime chance of developing it. 90% of cases occur in men over the age of 60, and there is a 2.5 times greater chance of developing it if there is a family history of prostate cancer.

That makes for some cheerful reading, doesn't it? However, before you decide all is lost, there are certain things you can do to help reduce your individual risk or improve your chance of responding successfully to treatment. Preventative measures include adopting the healthy lifestyle we keep hearing about, which means eating less saturated fat, meat and dairy products; all of which adversely influence the risk of prostate cancer.

The next action is not to ignore any urinary symptoms. Whilst problems with urinary flow and middle-of-the-night 'calls of nature' are familiar to many older men, do not ignore such issues, and certainly do not ignore the presence of blood in the urine: go and have a chat with your GP. Not all of these symptoms suggest prostate cancer, and (except for bleeding) may be caused by age-related growth of the prostate. However, your GP may recommend a blood test and possibly a scan; neither test being unpleasant to have.

Oh, and how is your sex life, chaps? According to Italian scientists, a healthy sex life makes men live longer. Apparently, sexual activity reduces the risk of heart disease and diabetes, and helps to avoid prostate problems.

So, gentlemen, although the month of Movember is now over, still give consideration to your prostate and go to it! I will leave you to decide whether that means growing a winter moustache; you may find some of the alternative activities are more enticing...

(This article was first published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph on Thursday 25th November 2010)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Literary GP Wins Poetry Award

The Scunthorpe Telegraph coverage of the Fathom Prize can be found at:


Living Means Moving


Well, perhaps you can afford to relax for a few moments more and read on before carrying out my first instruction. However, before explaining, I would like to carry out a small experiment, for which I need your assistance.

I want you to turn to the person next to you and check that the person is your 'nearest and dearest', for if they are not I cannot be held responsible the consequences of your next actions.

Now I want you to grasp that person's tummy just above the waistline and tell me how much you can pinch. If it is less than an inch, then you possibly have a 'lean mean fighting machine' as a partner. However, if there is a roll of fat several inches thick, then we might have a problem; if you need more than one hand to do the squeezing then, without question, we have a really big problem. Do not be fooled by his or her claims that it is 'muscle'; if you can squeeze it, it is not muscle, it is fat, and it is making your nearest and dearest very unhealthy, and will probably shorten their life expectancy.

Right, having established the reality of the situation, let me give you a few facts, and then I will explain how you can help me save a few lives, make our population healthier, reduce the cost of the NHS, and allow me to retire early for the want of any patients to see.

Inactivity increases the risk of developing more than six major diseases and, according to the Department of Heath, affects 60-70% of the adult population at a cost to the tax payer of £8.3 billion. Add in some other figures: 24% of adults are affected by obesity (£16 billion), 9% affected through misuse of alcohol (£20 billion) and the 20% who suffer through smoking (£5 billion), and the cost to our economy is astonishing: lifestyle issues cost us £50 billion per year.

That shows the size of the cost to our pockets. However, what about the cost to our health? Well, by taking a little more exercise (and I am not talking about a lot), we can reduce our risk of heart disease by 10%, stroke by 20%, diabetes, bowel cancer and osteoporosis (fragile bones) by 50% each, and the risk of breast cancer declines by 30%.

The official recommendations are to exercise for 60 minutes each day if you are a child, and 30 minutes five times a week if you are an adult; and it doesn't take very much – a good brisk walk is a good starting point, and for those less capable, how about discovering what tai chi is all about?

If your intention is to accept my invitation of a few weeks ago and attend my 120th birthday party, you have got to slim those waistlines. Now is the time to get going. At the very least start walking for your lives – and start today!

(This is article was first published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph on Monday 15th November 2010)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Who Cares, Wins

'You're not from round here, are you doctor?'

Those words were frequently heard during my early days in practice in North Lincolnshire. Considering that I am a Kentish Man, I happily accept that the enquiry was pertinent and showed a considerable degree of perspicacity on the part of my Lincolnshire patients (unless it was my accent that gave the game away?). Some people would put the question down to nothing more than an innate sense of curiosity. However, for me, it was an indication that I was being welcomed into my new community, and that my interlocutors were simply showing that they cared. After all, the Oxford English Dictionary does define the verb 'to care' as 'to feel concern, interest, affection or liking'.

That the inhabitants of North Lincolnshire are caring people came home to me in another way one dark winter's evening whilst I was visiting a patient in a rougher part of town. On my way to the house, I was vaguely aware of some young men lurking in the shadows and felt a little uneasy about their possible intent. Upon departing the house, I was suddenly joined by another, rather scruffy, young man who was also a patient of mine. Sensing that I might indeed be in some degree of danger, he said 'looks like you've got a problem sir; stay with me and you'll be alright'. With that he safely escorted me the fifty or so yards back to my car. That young man was caring for me.

Such thoughts led me to think about the Prime Minister's concept of the 'Big Society', and how that fits in with the idea of caring. For a 'Big Society' to work, local people must care about the people and communities where they live. If they do not care, then the Big Society cannot work.

Of course, we already have a familiar group of carers within our society. They are the armies of family members and paid carers who look after people, young and old, who through frailty or disability are unable to look after themselves. However, I would like to suggest that we are actually all carers; each and every one of us, whether we realise it or not. For example, when was the last time you put an elderly neighbour's dustbins out, assisted with someone's shopping, offered up your seat, held a door open to let another pass, gave someone a lift in your car, or simply smiled at a stranger in the street? I am sure that you can think of many other examples. Each of these individual acts shows that we care.

Now that winter is approaching, many people will have difficulty with basic daily chores. Who, therefore, will you seek to help? By performing at least one act of caring every day we can together make 'care' the foundation of the Big Society in England; that way everyone wins.

After all, as my story shows, we all sometimes need care.

(This article was first published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Wednesday 10th September 2010)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Fathom Prize

This morning finds me still delighted and surprised at having won the Fathom Prize for poetry last evening, with my poem 'My Neighbour's Lawn'.

Th competition, billed as Northern Lincolnshire, Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire's 'foremost literary competition', was judged by the poet Frances Leviston MA (whose anthology, Public Dream, was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Forward Prize and the Jerwood-Aldeburgh Prize).

An anthology, Fathom 10, is available from The Ropewalk, Barton upon Humber, North Lincolnshire (www.the-ropewalk.co.uk), price £5.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Poem For Remembrance Sunday

The Remembrance Day Parade

As he walked up to the rostrum,

silence round him fell;

and whilst he gazed upon the steadfast ranks,

emotive lines began to tell.

Too many lives were lost before today:

young men and women – yesterday's youth.

They were the cheques we drew to pay

for the blinded search for fallacious truth.

You are the inspired; the fortunate few

who have lived through to this day;

the ones who now must tell the world

to find a better way.

It is the charge of those who live

beyond vanquished dreams of many men,

to find the strength to forgive;

to learn and love as best you can.

And in so doing, let us ensure

a sense of remembrance, not of rage -

may this quietude beyond the war

turn pugnacious soldier to reflective sage.

Thus, he stood upon the rostrum as

the silence round him fell,

and gazed upon the steadfast ranks

of those returned from hell.

© Copyright Dr Robert M Jaggs-Fowler 2008

Friday, November 12, 2010

Gold Dust, Hens Teeth and Audiences with the Pope

Have you had difficulty getting an appointment with your GP recently?

Yes, I thought that might be your answer. I won't tell you how many of my own patients tell me that it is easier to find gold dust, spot hens teeth or see the Pope than to get an appointment with me. Indeed, one enterprising patient threatened to book an appointment for every Monday morning and then put them for auction on E-bay. I suspect there are many similarly accused doctors harangued by politely disgruntled patients, so you are in good company. However, having established that fact let me ask another question:

Do you fancy hearing about a local scandal?

I knew the answer to that one as well; so here goes. Do you know that last month in North Lincolnshire one GP was paid to do nothing for the entire month? I hope you are astonished as I was when I found out. Just think of all that wasted tax-payers' money. Does that incense you? Good; I am pleased. Now, before you start to harangue your local MP over this flagrant wastage of NHS money, let me explain.

In my practice we waste two hours per doctor per month because some patients do not keep their appointments. If the same applies to all 110 GPs in North Lincolnshire, the wastage amounts to 1,320 lost appointments per month, or the equivalent of one doctor in the county not working for almost six weeks.

Now, if that isn't bad enough, think of another fascinating statistic. In England, every month one lucky GP wins the NHS Lottery and is given the next 36 years off; yes, that's right: full pay for no work. Honestly, it's true! It happens every month; twelve doctors per year are paid by the tax payer for a full working career to do nothing. I told you it was scandalous gossip I was about to impart.

Actually, I am not really telling you the truth; but the reality is almost the same. If you extrapolate the earlier figures for time wastage in North Lincolnshire to the 30,000 (full-time equivalent) GPs in England, then each month 60,000 hours of GP time are wasted by missed appointments; that's 360,000 appointments. If all those hours were allocated to one GP, it would be the equivalent of that GP not having to work for just over 36 years; and that happens every month, hence 12 lucky GPs per year, at a cost to the tax-payer of some £1.2million per year.

So, next time you cannot get an appointment with your GP, or the NHS cannot afford some part of your treatment, don't start by blaming the doctors, the managers or even the MPs; first ask yourself when it was that you, or a friend of yours, last missed an appointment with your GP.

As for me, I need to get my blood pressure checked. I think I'll go and register with that GP who has nothing to do this month.

(This article was first published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Friday 5th November 2010)

Thursday, November 04, 2010

All Change Please

'All changed; changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.'

You might recognise the lines, taken from the poem 'Easter 1916' by the Irish poet, W. B. Yeats. It was written in response to the Easter Rising in Ireland in 1916. Whilst the poem bears only a metaphorical relevance to my topic today, I find that as I grow older those two lines increasingly resonate for me; especially in a time when change seems to be occurring on a daily basis.

Change is something which our human nature tends to avoid if possible. We feel comforted by familiarity and repetition. Normality is a state of equilibrium, where everything is just as it ought to be and nothing happens to offend that sense of well-being. However, the modern world is not like that, and perhaps it is idealistic to think that life ever was. I am sure that the Romans, Tudors, Victorians, Edwardians and so forth, all saw changes happening which caused unrest. Utopia is, after all, a mythical land.

So change happens, and somehow we have to deal with it. For some people, the rate of change is too fast for them to easily adjust to the new circumstances. Life changing events are the worse culprits: separation, divorce, redundancy, bankruptcy, house repossession, or the death of someone close. Such experiences are stressful, causing anxiety, loss of sleep, irritability, palpitations, mood changes, loss of concentration, hopelessness and depression.

Sometimes, the changes are positive in their nature, but no less unsettling. For example, I started studying medicine thirty years ago. However, the medical world I now inhabit is nothing like the one I entered in 1980; is certainly different from the one attending my birth in 1960; and the latest NHS reorganisation will ensure that it will be a very different organisation I retire from. Apart from structural changes, each week brings news of medical advances, making it harder to keep on top of my professional knowledge. This week alone informed us of a genetic cause for depression, a new screening test for prostate cancer, a 'breakthrough' screening test for bowel cancer, and new drugs for breast and ovarian cancer; all encouraging news, but no less unsettling for a professional trying to make sense of it all for his patients.

So, somehow, we need to turn change round to be positive and life-enhancing; to make it a time for new opportunities; a time to take a fresh look at how we do things and how we lead our lives. 'Who Moved My Cheese' (by Spencer Johnson, published by Vermilion) is a small and very readable book about dealing with change. It is a simple parable for modern times and I would recommend it to everyone who is affected by change of any sort. Change brings the need to adapt; this book reminds us that we are significantly empowered with the strength and ability to do so.

After all, somewhere out there, life is still beautiful.

(This article was first published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Thursday 28th October 2010)

Monday, November 01, 2010

St John Ambulance - The Difference

For an important video, which may save the life of a family member or friend, go to:


You need to know...a life could depend on it.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Century and Not Out

'Who wants to live forever?'

Those words are, if my quinguaginarian brain remembers correctly, lyrics from a song by Queen. For readers who have the pleasure of being under thirty, it probably seems that you are going to live forever. However, for those of us who are middle-aged or beyond, reality sooner or later sinks in; the truth is we have used half of our innings.

Or have we?

Consider your reaction to being told, at the age of fifty, that you have seventy years to go. You would probably greet such news with scepticism. After all, doesn't the Bible speak of 'three score years and ten' being man's allotted time? Well, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) would beg to differ. In a recent report, the ONS says Britain will have some 90,000 people over the age of 100 by the year 2034. Already, we know that there are several people living at the age of 115, and the oldest life on record is that of a French woman who died at the age of 122 in 1997.

Now, let me put that into perspective. The year 2034 is only 23 years away, and 90,000 people is approximately 60% of the population of North Lincolnshire. At least some of us fifty year olds may therefore not have reached middle age yet.

There is, of course, much in the way of current national discussion regarding what the retirement age should be (or whether we should have one at all), and whether the country can afford everyone's pensions. However, I would like to offer another thought for you to consider. If you were told today that you have a pretty good chance of becoming a supercentenarian, what would you want to do with all that extra time? How would you wish to enrich your added years with activity rather than be restricted by illness or infirmity?

I cannot answer the first question for you. However, in respect to the second, now is the time to start preparing by getting those lifestyle excesses sorted out (you know the ones; you don't need me to spell them out for you). For my part, I have so many interests to pursue that I am setting my sights on reaching at least 120. You are therefore cordially invited to my birthday party in 2080 (but do bring a cutting from this newspaper to prove eligibility).

(This article was first published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, 20th October 2010)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

To Wake or Sleep?

'To sleep – perchance to dream!'

At least that is how Shakespeare's Hamlet voiced his feelings on this important aspect of health. I have no doubt that his view would continue to find many modern-day supporters. However, how does such leisurely sentiment fit along side the Chancellor, George Osborne's recently expressed wish that we might all work an extra hour for the good of England?

Assuming that, for some of us, the proposed extra hour of work reduces time asleep, how might that impact on our health? It has long been known that sleep deprivation causes an increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and depression. Recent statistics also indicate a greater risk of heart disease and of dying younger. Furthermore, we might be heavier in the process, as reduced sleep reduces the ability to burn off fat. Sleep deprivation is also a safety risk; causing 'microsleeps', where people spontaneously 'nod off' for brief periods and thereby run the risk of causing accidents whilst operating machinery or driving vehicles.

Meanwhile there is no doubt that sleep is a necessity in order to allow the body to regenerate cells and heal damaged tissues, revitalise the immune system, organise our memories, and improve our energy levels, apart from just making us feel happier.

However, for those of us who find difficulty staying in bed, all is not lost. Whilst the usual recommendation for an adult is seven to eight hours sleep per night, a report in Sleep Medicine recorded that, in a survey of 450 women over a period of fourteen years, those women who sleep between five and six-and-a-half hours were more likely to be alive than those who had been managing the recommended seven or eight hours per night.

This brings me to another Tory statesman (Disraeli), who is reported to have said: 'there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics'. What, then, is a person to believe? Personally, I subscribe to the poet Felix Dennis's concept that our task is to find the most agreeable way to fill the gap between being born and dying. If you wake naturally after only five or six hours sleep, do not fret; instead rejoice that you have that extra hour to make use of for the betterment of England. For, as A.E. Housman wrote in the 'Shropshire Lad': 'Up, lad: when the journey's over there'll be time enough to sleep'.

(This article was first published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Wednesday 13th October 2010)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Whither the Local NHS?

We live in exciting times.

At least we do if the government's announcements in respect to the National Health Service are to be believed. Primary Care Trusts are going to be abolished; supposedly meaning less money spent on bureaucracy and managers, and more money for front line health services. Best of all, GPs are going to be given control of a large part of the budget. Surely that has all got to be good? Well, many people thought so at first. However, the reality is now beginning to sink in, and the initial promises do not look so sparkling.

The NHS is an institution that many of us have known and taken for granted during our entire lives. We are accustomed to the freedom of visiting our GPs without worrying about the cost. Neither have we had to give thought to the price of the investigations, prescriptions, or operations which might be necessary. In short, we have benefitted from a health service that many other countries have looked upon with envy.

Times, however, are changing, and the changes will affect us all. Along with many other public services, the NHS has to take a long hard look at its finances. Many GPs have understandably taken the view that our job is to look after people's health; how it is all paid for is someone else's problem. No longer can that be the case. Local GPs are already working together in anticipation of the change 2013 will bring, and the message is daunting. We simply cannot afford everything we do.

Which begs the question as to what the NHS is really for? How prepared are we to discontinue specific services, reduce the level of prescribing for some drugs, or see waiting times become longer for certain operations? It is a debate which successive governments have shied away from, preferring the delusion that the NHS can afford to do everything. The truth is it cannot, and the general public needs to know that. The public equally needs to be involved now in shaping the local services for the future. Bringing the money nearer to those who spend it means greater responsibility. However, the responsibility belongs to everyone, not just the local doctors.

After all, whilst we are often thought to work miracles, when it comes to a lack of cash, I am afraid we are not magicians.

(This article was first published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Wednesday 6th October 2010)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Schizophrenic Pen

Thumbing through the latest copy of The Author (the house journal for the Society of Authors), I discovered a website called 'I write Like' (www.iwl.me). In order to discover whose style one is unknowingly emulating, you enter a few paragraphs of your own prose into the site and, hey presto, it caters to your writer's weary ego by coming up with some literary giant.

I entered the first two paragraphs of my novel and found that my style is decidedly akin to Dan Brown. A pretty promising start, I thought.

That was until I tried the second chapter, and found that I had inexplicably become Agatha Christie. However, by the middle of the novel, the great Dame had left the stage and H. P. Lovecraft had taken over.

Confused (or rather 'bemused'), I decided to enter a few paragraphs of an award winning short story from a few years ago, and discovered that I had once been a James Joyce write-a-like.

At least, rather akin to Tony Blair, I should in due course be able to get my work onto several different shelves in Waterstones.

So that is all right then...I think...

Friday, April 23, 2010

Reflections of a Tourident

The following article first appeared in Pissouri Contact 46, 10 October 2009 (http://www.about-pissouri.com)

It is possible (albeit unlikely) that the Oxford English Dictionary will one day include the following entry:


noun. 1 a person who is new to, and still learning about, a community, but who owns and occasionally resides in a property within that community. 2 a cross between a tourist and a resident.

My wife (Linda) and I are touridents in respect to Pissouri, having taken possession of our new apartment in the village in the spring of this year, and only managing three short visits thus far. However, there are advantages in being in such a position.

One benefit is that Pissouri is still an open book to us. We know what the picture on the cover looks like, and have read the blurb on the fly-leaf. However, we have thus far only progressed through the first few chapters of the contents, and most of the story is yet to reveal itself to us. Some characters appear on a regular basis, there are constant introductions to new ones, and many more exist, of whom we have only heard snippets and have yet to physically meet. Meanwhile, we are gradually treated to two unravelling storylines, where the historical meets the contemporary; tradition meets modernity; Cypriot meets newcomer; different cultures interact. The result is a plot worthy of that classic English novelist, Thomas Hardy, and just as enjoyable.

One aspect which is very evident to us is that Pissouri is a community. It is not just a collection of disparate individuals, who happen to live near to each other (as is often found in cities). Furthermore, Pissouri is a friendly community, consisting of individuals who know each other, who live and work together, who share interests and visions, who depend upon each other, and who strive to achieve collective goals for the better of the society in which they reside. That is the outward face of Pissouri. For the new-comer, whether it is the casual day-tripper, or the tourident, Pissouri has the appearance of a congenial family.

However, like all extended families, there are naturally disagreements, arguments, irritations, clashes of personalities and, inevitably, a few 'black sheep' whose actions are unpleasant and disturbing. Linda and I have now 'read sufficient pages' of the narrative, to understand some of these issues. However, far from spoiling the 'picture postcard' image of Pissouri, these issues make Pissouri even more genuine; even more of a community; even more of a family. Perhaps surprisingly to some, therein lies the village's strength. Families must learn to live with each other and make allowances for the likes and dislikes of individual members. Where there are differing points of view, compromises have to be reached and harmony restored. That is the richness of family life. Without such interaction, relationships are bland and nothing is achieved. Diversity of thought should bring people closer together in order to find and develop the common ground. That is, I believe, what is happening in Pissouri, and has probably been happening for many years past. The rich tapestry which is the modern Pissouri is the summation of all that has gone before. The beauty is that every now and again, someone will twist the kaleidoscope and the picture will shift slightly again, bringing new dimensions to what is already priceless.

My thoughts will probably say nothing new to those members of the collective community of Pissouri who were either born in the village, or who have been resident for many years. However, as a tourident, we are looking at the community with a fresh set of eyes, and what we see is, overall, a power for the good. Linda and I feel that we have recently married into a new extended family. We are slowly getting to know how the family 'ticks', but what we have learned thus far is that Pissouri is a friendly and welcoming community, and one to be valued. It is a community we are glad to have joined.

And remember, when the word 'tourident' does enter the Oxford English Dictionary, it was here that you first read it!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cerebral Tai Chi.

'Travel can be one of the most rewarding forms of introspection.'

So wrote Lawrence Durrell in his 1957 book, Bitter Lemons of Cyprus. He later described the necessary travelling companions in order to achieve this utopia; namely, loneliness and time, declaring them as 'those two companions without whom no journey can yield us anything'.

He was, of course, writing about his time in that wonderfully complex, Mediterranean retreat otherwise known as the Birth Place of Aphrodite. Indeed, it is where I am now writing, accompanied by a welcoming, though yet still cool, morning sun; its rays reflected by the expanse of yellow wild flowers and intensely luxuriant grasslands which rise behind my home here. The only sound is that of sparrows in a nearby carob tree, interspersed by the distant call of a wood-pigeon, and the soft mewing of a ginger cat, which has seated itself expectantly on the terrace outside my kitchen door, and which now stares back at me in the hope that I have something more exciting on offer than the occasional man-made 'meow' I return to it in the spirit of trans-cultural friendship.

Durrell is a writer I immediately warmed to. His work speaks of a man who understands the enormity of the mundane, the intrinsic value of indolence, the desirability of solitude, and the wealth of material residing just out of reach within the grey cells of one's mind, just waiting to be freed by the onset of some melancholically-induced cerebral exercise.

Cyprus is an island which allows for all of that. It is impossible to ignore the whispers from centuries past that filter through the rocks, like vapours through the pores of a living, yet antiquated, historical tome. 'Listen to me,' the land murmurs; 'listen and feel; listen and learn; listen and understand.'

So I listen, alone and unrushed. I allow the sounds of nature to filter through the labyrinth of neurones which somehow act as the repository of my thoughts; I let the rocky terraces speak to me of the island's origins and the tales of centuries past, laid down within it like seams of history, layer upon eventful layer, and I feel my mind tuning in to that same wavelength which endeared itself to Durrell, as it has to so many writers over the centuries. Yet, as I do so, my thoughts stretch, not just back down the monumental ages belonging to this island, but laterally across to the other side of the world, to the Caribbean Sea, where I sailed less than two months ago, and where, alone and with all the time in the world to muse, I cerebrally travelled back not just centuries, but through millennia, to the time of the world's earliest existence. It was a cathartic moment, and one which I tried to capture in a haiku:

Wave laps against wave:

wind's primeval voice echoes

from the start of time.

That, I believe is precisely what Durrell understood could be achieved from travelling introspectively, with time and solitude as one's companions. It is achieved through bouts of unmoving contemplation; that splendid quality the Moslems know as kayf. It requires no more than the gentle stretching of the grey cells. However, the reward is immeasurable.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Reggie Tyrwhitt Illustrations

The North Lincolnshire market town of Barton upon Humber has seen many illustrious names over its long and distinguished history. Names such as Isaac Pitman (inventor of Pitman's shorthand), Samuel Wilderspin (pioneer of infant education), Ken Harrison (cartoonist of Desperate Dan fame), and Chad Varah (founder of the Samaritans) are just a few of such illuminaries in the town's annals.

Now, we have another star continuing to keep Barton on Humber firmly on the map as home to men of distinction. Without further ado, allow me to introduce Reggie Tyrwhitt, a man to whom the pencil is but a sixth digit of his right hand; a man who will faithfully portray your family castle (whether it be Georgian townhouse, country retreat, or resplendent folly) in splendid reproductions of lead, ink and watercolour; a man who will capture the idiosyncrasy of your dinner party, the foibles of your shooting party, or the disgrace of your golfing match in less than the time it takes for you to reach for a pencil-sharpener...

Reggie Tyrwhitt, who has the distinction of having exhibited at the Hungerford Gallery, is now available to illustrate (at a very reasonable price) your greetings cards, postcards, book-plates, invitations, menus and letterheads, etc. in a unique style of your choosing.

Take a peak today at his website and start planning your new stationery for 2010!

Reggie Tyrwhitt Illustrations

Now, who do I know who could illustrate my next poetry collection....

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Misprint of the Week

The cruise company, P&O, take pride in the presentation of all aspects of their service. However, I thought that the following announcement, printed in the ship's daily newspaper (Horizons) during my recent cruise on Artemis, was taking their concern for the welfare of their passengers just a little too far:

We are pleased to advise that the spare parts for the aft lift has arrived onboard and repairs will commence forthwith. Between now and Barbados all ship's lifts will also undergo survey and safety inspections, which means that all ship's lifts will be subject to interruptions in service from time to time. Every effort will be made to minimise disruption. We apologise for any incontinence caused.'

My imagination keeps conjuring up a picture of passengers attempting to climb the stairs with their legs crossed...

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

All Things are Relative

Mr Bargewick is not a man known for his sense of humour; at least not by me within the timeframe of the twenty years during which he has been a patient of mine.

I am uncertain as to whether his origins are truly of Lincolnshire descent, or whether, some seventy something years ago, he was hewn out of North Yorkshire limestone and then transported to the territories south of the Humber River. What is very evident is that he doesn't like communicating. Once called from the waiting room, his face assumes the appearance of a foreboding, craggy outcrop of fissured rock. Couple that with his verbal ability to articulate each word as though it was meant to be the first syllable of the next, with the resulting sound drawn out into rambling sentences devoid of punctuation or, indeed, any discernable structure, and all delivered at a volume that makes an earth worm sound positively noisy, and you will start to have some idea of the character of the man I am alluding to.

One thing is for certain: I have never before seen him smile. It took a recent, prolonged cold snap, with snow falling over several days, for me to see that a sense of humour, albeit dour, lay beneath the rugged exterior. However, first I must tell you about the weather.

Like much of the United Kingdom, Lincolnshire has just seen its heaviest snow falls for some thirty years. Over a couple of weeks, each day had seen new layers added to those of previous days, causing considerable inconvenience to everyone, and not least to those living in rural areas. Mr Bargewick is one such person, living in a village six miles from the market town. The fact that he had been able to get to the surgery on time for his appointment was commendable, and I made a suitably appreciative comment.

"Aye," he mumbled. "It's been a long time since we've had such a sharp frost."

Momentarily speechless, I turned to the window, beyond which the wall was surmounted by a layer of snow some six inches thick. Returning my gaze to my patient, I shook my amused head, and replied:

"When I was in Ireland last year and happened to be soaked by a deluge which the locals dismissed as nothing more than a 'slight mist', I thought then that I had heard the best of understatements. However, yours beats that hands down. That, Mr Bargewick," I continued, gesticulating to the view beyond the window, "is six inches of snow...it is not a 'sharp frost'!"

I grinned with incredulity, and an amazing thing happened. Mr Bargewick's face burst into a broad smile and for the first time in twenty years, I heard him give a deep chortle of laughter, as though even he was amused at the dryness of his own wit.

In life, some nuts are harder to crack than others. People are much the same. Some wear their emotions on their sleeves, whilst others have solid defences. It has taken twenty years to find a crack in Mr Bargewick's hard exterior. However, it was definitely worth the wait, as it is unique moments like that which add to the delight of general medical practice.

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...