(Newest entries first)

Jammin' pictures

Some pics from last Sunday, including rare pictures of me, are just in, courtesy of Brian.

See below.


Through glasses, darkly

Today was the day when I finally admitted defeat and bought myself some reading glasses. I can't think of any way that you can age yourself so much at a single stroke.

I started needing glasses for long distance when I was about 15 but since November 1978 have been wearing contact lenses. My eyesight has got so bad over the years that when I have had my eyes tested without my lenses in and the optician has asked me how many lines I could read on the chart, I was only half joking when I said: "What chart?"

But it has been a great consolation that I haven't needed glasses at all - and haven't owned a pair for about 20 years - because the contact lenses always did the job and I didn't need help with reading.

That has started to change over the last year and I really wasn't looking forward to having glasses - not just because of the bother of putting them on every time I wanted to read something, but the major inconvenience of carrying, remembering, finding, cleaning and not sitting on the damned things. So I was pleased when my optician suggested something called monovision.

This is where you have two different contact lenses - one for long vision and one for short vision. The idea is that your brain will eventually get used to seeing two different images - one out of focus and one blurred, the two superimposed on each other. In theory, your brain learns to adapt the image so that you eventually only "see" the sharp part of it.

This sounded fair enough in theory, but after a week of trailing it, I had to give up. You end up having to concentrate on everything you see so that you can make proper sense of it, especially when driving, and it got worse at night. But the only way it can really work is if you don't think about it at all and let your brain go into 'automatic pilot'. But the more you try not to think about it, the less you can. In the end, it was such hard work that I was pretty relieved to go back to my old lenses - even though it means I cannot now avoid having reading glasses too. There are some kind of bi-focal contact lenses you try can, too, apparently, although I don't have much confidence in them.

Going to the optician's turned out to be a big effort because the one I went to turned out to be totally incompetent (email if you want me to tell you who they were because I really, really wouldn't advise anybody to go there). What made it worth the effort, though, and what will save me a lot of money in the long run, was that they admitted that there is no need to go to them for reading glasses. In other words, it's a con they have been pulling for years. You can get some nice ones off the shelf at Asda that make you look like an interior design or a TV chef for 5 or 8 (as pictured). And the ones in the Pound Shop are just as effective, though obviously not so cool.

The image, below, gives some idea of what things look like when you are trialing monovision.

Holly's progress

We had a meeting at Holly's school today because they had to have a care plan in place before she can return, and after the meeting she stayed for half a day of school before returning properly tomorrow.

We met the Year 9 (13-year-old) girl who is going to be her mentor. She has been diabetic for 10 years but has only been injecting herself for about six months. This conforms to what seems to be the norm, whereas I would have thought that kids would have started earlier. Holly injected herself for the first time only 24 hours after being diagnosed, but all three other diabetic girls we've met this week have been relying on their parents to inject them. It makes Holly's achievement seem even greater.

Looking back now, it seems like we threw Holly straight in at the deep end, but it never really crossed our minds to start injecting for her, thinking that the quicker she did it for herself, the better it would be for her. The other girls are in a different position because they all found out that they were diabetic when they were too young to be doing the injecting themselves, but it's interesting to see how long it has taken them to get to the stage that Holly is at after just a week.

Part of the delay may have been because they only needed to inject at home as they were on the old-fashioned twice-a-day method rather than Holly's regime of injecting doses of insulin based on the carbohydrate content of the food you've just eaten, then a slower-acting insulin to see you through the night. This idea is newer than we thought, so at least Holly will benefit from doing it from day one. And at least her timing is good. It seems that all the kids (in Swindon at least) have either only recently converted to it or are in the process but the school seems to have got it sussed.

The old method seems to have been much less flexible and much less reliable than the new method, and has major advantages in the short-term and the long-term, as far as I can tell.

Carb counting

It was back to diabetes school again today. From 10am to noon, me, Julie (who's still off sick with tooth trouble) and Holly went to a class at the hospital about carb counting - a lesson on how to add up the carbohydrate content of Holly's food so that we can calculate the correct doses of insulin.

We also got a new - even cooler - blood testing machine which is better at storing information and is smarter than the one we had previously.

We had already been given some instruction on carb counting in hospital and were pretty pleased with ourselves when we found out that we already knew most of what they went over and had been doing it, mostly rightly, ever since Holly came out of hospital.

There were two other diabetic girls in the 'class' - both a year younger than Holly, but they were diagnosed six and seven years ago. We were surprised to find that they knew much less about the whole idea of injecting after meals but this was because they are new to this system and had previously been on the old regime of only two injections a day, which involves very rigid rules about what and when they could eat. So we are actually ahead of them, even though it's only a week since Holly was diagnosed.

We were quite surprised that one girl had only just begun injecting herself, and the other was reluctant to, and her mother was doing it most of the time. This family seemed a lot more casual about the whole insulin thing, which we thought was too complacent. So we came away feeling even more pleased with Holly that she had been so good at doing her own injections - not to mention pleased with ourselves for getting to grips with it all.

So we decided to treat ourselves to cheap buffet lunch at Pizza Hut - a brave step considering we had to calculate the carbohydrate content of everything Holly ate (it didn't help that, unlike Burger King and McDonald's, they don't provide an information sheet). It was just as well that we had gone into Asda beforehand so that we could weigh up a few pizzas and give ourselves a better chance of estimating correctly.

Jam today

I experienced something new today - playing drums with real people.

Until now, I'd only played along to backing tracks and actual recordings, but with Trevor (my nephew), Steve (my brother-in-law), Sean and Frank (a friend) all on guitar, we had a bit of a jamming session at Supermarine FC.

I'm not really sure how these things are supposed to go but for me the time went really quickly and it was a really enjoyable experience. I found out how difficult it is to play together to produce a particular song (especially when there was no singer) but jamming along to improvised music is easy enough - and you can get away without playing the proper stuff on the drums. Most people don't know whether you are doing it right or not and probably haven't got much idea that what I was playing was comparatively easy compared with, say, what Sean can play.

He also had a go on the drums and the general view is that he looks much more relaxed (ie cool) than me, although I felt relaxed enough and often had to stop myself throwing in lots of fills. Strangely, it seems that you need to play faster when it's live than if you're just playing along to a backing track. I'm not sure whether this was because the guitarists were actually playing faster or whether it just seemed like they were.

Anyway, it was a memorable day, made even better by the fact that we went to Maurice and Jacky's for lunch to see Town live on Sky - and they won, 3-2 at Lincoln.

The pictures below are courtesy of Brian.





Poetic Licence

After a bit of a long haul, I've just finished Stephen Fry's book, The Ode Less Travelled, which is about poetry.

It's supposed to be a manual for poets, and apart from the fact that anything Stephen Fry writes is worth reading, I bought it for two reasons. Firstly, I've never been much keen on poetry but always thought I would find there's more to it if I made the effort to find out more. And secondly I've always thought I could probably write poetry quite easily, and might have a go.

The book turned out to be heavy going - and in somebody else's hands it would be like walking through treacle. Unfortunately, it gets highly technical at times, which is bad enough, and it's made worse by the fact that there are countless technical terms involved - usually derived from some ancient Greek ideas or something. You soon realise that you can't retain even a tenth of the details, so I sort of switched off trying to take it all in, coming to the conclusion that if there's one thing I'm sure of about poetry now it's that it's even more complicated than I feared.

In fact, I now find myself favouring the simplest rhyming poetry because at least then you don't have to get bogged down in all the technical stuff and work so hard to read it. So the book probably fails in its aim - which is to get you to appreciate and even have a go at writing in different styles.

QI (quite interesting) sums it up, appropriately enough.

A cowboy, more cowboys and pirates

Poor Julie is still battling with her toothache and still has a jaw like Desperate Dan. After a return to the dentist's at 9am, it turns out that she has a 'dry socket' infection or something. The dentist says it only happens in about one in 25 cases and this is the worst he's seen - which just about sums it all up for us at the moment.

Never mind because there isn't much to report on the diabetic front tonight, which must be good and shows how quickly we've got to grips with the situation. Holly bravely completed her second day of doing all her injections herself, so, in a way, it's become the norm. Also, her blood sugar levels, though not settled down yet, do seem to be following a pattern, which is the first step to getting them under full control. Apparently, it's only a matter of time before they settle down, but the sooner it happens, the sooner she will have the freedom to eat normally.

The way she maturely talks about her feelings about it is still amazing us. The injections are still an ordeal, and you can tell there's a point when, just before each injection, she has to grit her teeth and force herself to push the needle in. But it is slowly becoming easier and you have to admire her attitude.

If only everybody was half as sensible.

Today we came across our first bloody minded health service jobsworths who were determined to make life difficult, and if you thought Desperate Dan was a cowboy, we've met his match.

At lunchtime we suddenly discovered we had run out of some strips for taking blood samples which are crucial to the whole process of getting Holly's blood sugar levels under control. These fit in her magic testing machine, and at the moment she uses four a day. But when we opened our last pot of 10 of them, which the hospital had given us, we found that it was missing the chip that controls the machine and checks that you are using the correct batch. Although we had 10 strips, they were useless without the chip, so we obviously needed a new pot - and we needed them before her next test, which was due at about 6pm.

This wasn't because there would be any immediate danger if we didn't test her then, but we are under strict instructions from the hospital to keep a regular check on blood sugar levels - because it's the only way they can work out correct doses. So it was really important that we had some today. Although the surgery normally needs 48 hours' notice for prescriptions, we thought there would be no problem in them raising an 'emergency' prescription.

Well, we thought wrongly. Julie came home with a story of how she had got a telling-off from the receptionist, and was told to come back later - without being asked whether there was any medical urgency or priority, and even though she explained that Holly was newly diagnosed. This should have alerted them to the possibility that her blood sugar levels aren't fully under control yet, but also the fact that parents who are entirely new to a complex situation could quickly get out of their depth in a matter of hours. Still, rules is rules.

When we went back at the allotted time, there was a different receptionist on duty but she had obviously been talking to her colleague because there was a general air of unco-operation and she said we would "just have to wait" until the doctor was free before she could possibly get a signature. Presumably, if somebody was having a heart attack in the waiting room they would also "just have to wait" until a doctor was free.

By now it was two and a half hours after the first visit - plenty long enough to have consulted the doctor and also plenty long enough for any medical problem to have become serious. Not that this receptionist was the least bit interested in the circumstances, only the rules. In the end, after waiting another 10-15 minutes, she went in to see the doctor and emerged three seconds later, which says everything about how long it took a doctor to assess the situation and the real level of difficulty involved in processing a prescription.

We were, of course, livid. We didn't say anything because we really don't feel up to having a slanging match with jobsworths at the moment, and Julie could barely talk, anyway, because she was in so much pain. Presumably, two receptionists therefore went home feeling that they had made their point. But if either of them think they've heard the last of it, they might just think differently when they get to see a copy of the letter I will be circulating to interested parties. If there's one thing I'm good at, it's writing formal letters of complaint.

Grrrrr. Perhaps the most annoying thing about it is that, while Holly was under the hospital - and when she was seen by the doctor at the surgery - her care was absolutely brilliant, every single step of the way. It takes a special breed of fascist battleaxe to put a spanner in the works.

As well as having to deal with cowboys today, I've also come up against pirates.

When I tried to upload this blog at 12.30am last night, it would not work, and when I called up the site to see if it was working properly, it had been replaced by a website apparently selling baby clothes. The last few days have been a bit of a blur at times, but I'm pretty sure I haven't set up any mail order businesses, so I was pretty surprised by this development, to say the least. Then I remembered that I had been a little late in renewing my hosting account and it was overdue by a matter of minutes - and it suddenly dawned on me that somebody had nipped in when the old registration expired at midnight, and bought my address. I eventually found my way to a site that offered to sell it back to me - and wanted me to make them an offer "of at least $200".

As I wasn't born yesterday, I obviously didn't make any offers, but was cursing the fact that somebody could come in and hijack it, just like that. However, when I contacted the hosting company this morning, they said that once my (admittedly late) registration renewal payment was processed, I would be the proud owner of grahamcarter.net all over again. So, in fact, I wouldn't have needed to pay $200 at all because I unofficially still owned it. In other words, it's a scam. A couple of years ago I lost grahamcarter.co.uk in the same way - which is why I switched to a .net - but now it seems that I could have held on to that, all along.

I'm still not sure why the pirates uploaded a thinly disguised page that masqueraded as a legitimate business, but I took a screenshot of it (pictured). I think I'm the one on the right.

The moral of the story is: if you have your own address, make sure you don't let it expire.


Footnote: please note that not all doctors' receptionists are fascist battleaxes. Especially my sister, Carol.

Remembered pirate joke: Q - Why are pirates called pirates? A - Because they arrrrrr.

PS: Lucy - hope you had a good birthday.

Routine

It all seems a bit surreal, really. On Monday we had a perfectly healthy daughter and now, just three days later, we have somebody who is routinely injecting herself with insulin, four times a day.

Holly's incredible progress in embracing being diabetic still leaves us full of wonder. We keep telling her she's a superstar but that's an understatement. This morning I suggested we could try to make this the first day when she did all the injections herself - and the challenge was not only accepted but accomplished without complaint. It's still a psychological ordeal for her to inject herself, but every time she does it, it brings her a step closer to it becoming the norm.

In the meantime, she has relished the challenge of getting organised, such as filling in the results of her blood tests like the consultant showed her, and labelling newly bought tins containing treats with a star system. These include some things that she is allowed to eat in-between meals. The number of stars informs the rest of us whether we are allowed to share the contents, and culminates in the three-star "Never ever touch under any circumstances" which has already been applied to some sugar-free sweets that Ronald and Jenny gave her and a diabetic Easter egg from Glyn. Actually, an ordinary egg would have been fine as no food whatsoever is actually off-limits, and part of her tea tonight was about 20 common or garden Maltesers. We've had a couple of helpful emails from Stuart (my nephew, who is a veteran diabetic) and he said the most annoying thing is that people keeping asking you: "Are you allowed to eat that?" I expect Holly is going to get a lot of that.

It's one of the myths surrounding diabetes - although, to be fair, it is consistent with how it used to be. Things have moved on alot since then, including the technology. I've included a photo (above) of the injection pen that Holly uses, to show what the needle looks like (I hope it's not too macabre). It should dispel another myth about syringes. This pen is the one she uses only once a day, just before bedtime. I haven't worked out how long this will last, based on current doses, but I estimate about a month. When I was taking the close-up pictures of the needle (below), Holly was complaining that these made it appear bigger than it really is or seems. It's true that the needle is so thin that it's quite difficult to see with the naked eye, and sometimes I have to hold it up to the light to see it. This pen also seems a little more sinister than the one for the three other injections of the day, which is decorated to look more trendy and is orange (I think).

Another aspect of diabetes is the support you now get. There is an area diabetic nurse, you work closely with dieticians, and we even got a call from Holly's school today, to arrange to go in next Tuesday. This is to discuss her care plan - which they must have in place before she can go back. They've already assigned her a 'mentor' - an older girl who is also diabetic.

So Holly still deserves a lot of credit for the way she has ridden the storm.

In fact, it's Julie who is getting the most sympathy as her problems with her tooth were only just beginning when it was yanked out on Wednesday. Just when she's itching to give Holly support, she's been knocked sideways. She must have developed some kind of infection, judging by her semi-hamster-like appearance and has been in so much pain that she is still spending most of her time just trying to get some kind of comfort. She's now on anti-biotics but it's hardly any better.

If she doesn't improve soon, we might try injecting her with insulin.

Home again

Holly's home from hospital - and getting on with her life after the trials and tribulations of the last couple of days (see below). And we've never felt so proud of her.

I woke up in hospital this morning for the first time since 1961, having also been woken at 2am by the nurse testing Holly's sugar levels. That means pricking her finger and putting it into her cool testing machine. Testing during the night is something they only need to do at the moment because it's early days - and it won't be a daily requirement.

I got up at about 7am and made myself a cup of tea in the parents' room. In the cold light of day, with the adrenalin of the previous couple of days wearing off, I felt a bit down about the whole thing, but things soon changed.

Just before 9am I got to give Holly her insulin injection for the first time - something which I had been dreading for about 24 hours. I am somebody who previously couldn't even watch when the cat was injected at the vet's. And now, of course, having done it once, the second time will be easy. In theory, Holly will always inject herself, though there may come a time when somebody will do it for her - when she's ill, for instance. The whole point about diabetes is that it's all about being able to adapt to something, getting on with it and doing it properly, so we're off to a good start.

After popping home and then returning to the hospital - while Julie went off to the dentist's - I was ready for another data overload but it was much less intense today, the information mainly being in the form of reiteration of things we heard yesterday.

Julie eventually returned from the dentist's, having had a tooth out, but the pain slowly got worse instead of better - which continued into the evening. Toothache is bad enough at the best of times, but to get it this week of all weeks is asking a bit much of anybody, and she said it was more severe than she had known it before.

The good news was that we were eventually told that Holly could go home at 3pm after another check of her sugar levels, assuming that they were OK. Although they turned out to be a bit high, I think they had enough confidence in her and us to cope that they didn't seem too concerned. Even so, it was a bit of a daunting prospect - not unlike taking home a newborn baby for the first time - so the relief that she felt at going home was tempered by our unspoken concerns that we had taken sufficient information on board.

While Julie tried to sleep off her toothache, I took Holly for a trip round Tesco's so that we could have a good look at the food labels and work out rough eating plans. To be honest, we don't yet understand enough about how it all works with food, but it was worth doing to emphasize the fact that she can eat anything as long as it is properly managed.

Even so, we had a bit of a traumatic teatime as we struggled to work out the carbohydrate content of spaghetti bolognaise - her later blood test suggesting we miscalculated. Still, none of this is critical and they say it's only a matter of time before you get a feel for it and it becomes easy.

Julie eventually put herself to bed early in a vain attempt to get to sleep and get rid of her toothache, with everything that has happened in the last couple of days and maybe the last couple of years seeming to have caught up with her.

But the main thing is that Holly seems happy enough and has already taken control of the situation - and far better than we could have hoped. She's wearing pyjamas and dressing gown in the picture because it was bedtime, not because she is any kind of patient. And the smile is genuine.

D-Day

I think it's fair to say that we've been hit by a whirlwind and that Monday, March 19, 2007 is a day that none of us - especially Holly - will ever forget.

It was the day she was diagnosed as being diabetic - something that we half saw coming but which, before about 2pm on that day, we were still blissfully unaware of.

Over the last few weeks we'd noticed that Holly was drinking alot - certainly much more than was normal for her. So Julie took her to the doctor's last week, then I took her for a blood test on Friday.

She had been taking four bottles of drink to school every day but previously never finished a single bottle, so we suspected something was amiss. The knowledge that excessive thirst is a classic symptom of untreated diabetes was obviously on our minds, but it wasn't as excessive as some stories we've heard - like people drinking water by the bucketful - and we hoped that it was maybe just something to do with her being a 12-year-old girl or some other more trivial thing. It wasn't until the day of the blood test, when I saw how much four bottles actually looks when it's in a school bag, that the thought in the back of my head that it could be diabetes suddenly grew, although it still seemed improbable.

When the phone rang on Monday afternoon, however, and the caller said she was Dr Brooks, I instantly knew what was coming. She wouldn't have been phoning otherwise because we'd made an appointment to go back a week later. She said Holly's sugar levels were high and that meant she was almost certainly diabetic. She said we would have to take her to the surgery that afternoon.

As it was near the end of school, Julie went to collect Holly as normal and didn't tell her anything, but we all sat down together when she got home and I told her what the doctor had said. I said that it wasn't a disaster but a big challenge for all of us - which was the best way I could think of to describe it, and which now seems like a completely accurate assessment. Holly's eyes filled up with tears, and we were all feeling pretty much the same, but she was really brave and mature about it, right from the first moment, which has been typical of her approach to it so far. I can't say how impressed I am or how proud that makes me feel.

After telling her the news, our appointment at the doctor's was at 4.40pm. She explained that the sugar level was 17.4 and should be about five - and when she also tested a urine sample, it meant that Holly had to go to hospital that evening because it showed there were also ketones present. "You'll get to know all these terms," said the doctor. And she's not wrong.

There was no emergency - her sugar level would have to be about 30 for that, we later discovered - so the doctor wrote out a letter for us to take to A&E and sent us home to get overnight things first. We arrived at the hospital at 6.36pm and were called into a treatment room within five minutes, where a very nice doctor coolly and sensitively started to explain what it was all about and what would happen. Holly had her blood tested again - it was now 21.4 - and within an hour she was up on the children's ward.

She had a thing put in her arm - some kind of catheter - ready for a drip, but this wasn't necessary as her 'blood gases' turned out to be not so bad. A nurse came in and very kindly explained a little more, and by about 9pm I decided to go home, where Sean had been waiting. Julie was staying the night in the hospital (in a bed next to Holly's). While I was gone, Holly was given the first of many many shots of insulin which will become a constant companion for her from now on. When I got home, Glyn (my nephew) phoned - he'd found out by chance what was happening, earlier on - and had some very reassuring things to say about diabetes from his experience of it, working as a paramedic. My own experiences gave me conflicting ideas about what to expect for Holly in the fuiture.

Stuart (my nephew) has been diabetic for 22 years without it outwardly seeming to affect his life much, yet a former colleague at the Adver regularly had problems with her sugar levels which often resulted in a hypoglycaemia attack - as I now know it's called, or 'hypo' for short. It often left her looking remarkably like she was drunk. She didn't seem to be able to control her levels at all, even though she had had a full lifetime of practice. One consolation is that Holly is extremely organised, sensible and matter-of-fact, which are three qualities which are now going to be especially valuable to her during the rest of her life. People who control it well have very few problems.

Julie, who hadn't slept well because, on top of everything, she had a raging toothache - phoned in the morning to say that Holly's sugar levels were back to normal, although we soon discovered that it is going to be a case of them fluctuating endlessly in a battle to keep control - especially in the beginning. By the way, at no time during all this has Holly felt the slightest bit unwell and you wouldn't know there was anything wrong with her (thirst was the only clue).

I arrived at the hospital, expecting it to be a day featuring a fair amount of education, but it proved the most rapid education on any subject that I've ever experienced. Everything was explained by nurses, a dietician, a specialist diabetes nurse, various doctors and a consultant. However, the more you find out, the less daunting it all becomes because all the myths are stripped away and, especially these days, the basic theory is simple enough, even if the practice doesn't always prove the same.

Whereas the old-fashioned way was to have two injections of insulin a day but a very strict regime of when and what you ate, including having to get up at the same time every day, that's all changed. These days, people have a slow-acting injection at bedtime to control their levels until breakfast, then have three injections during the day, just before or just after meals, with the dosage worked out according to what they are about to eat or have just eaten. It makes it much more flexible and, contrary to what you might think, there is scope for sweet stuff with meals and for snacks between meals - some of which have no bearing on the situation. Basically, you inject a suitable dose of insulin to counteract the amount of carbohydrate you eat, and I think this new development is because there is a new, very fast-acting insulin available.

And the technology is amazing. The needles are incredibly tiny - not much thicker than hairs and not even a centimetre long, instead of a whopping syringe that you have to draw the insulin up into. It's all enclosed in a trendy looking pen-shape thing. You have to set a dial to determine the dose, stick the needle in, press a button, wait ten seconds - and then take it out. You'd be surprised how little insulin you have to inject too. The pen has enough for a week or more.

Injecting is as easy as they could possibly make it - almost as easy as it is for Dr McCoy when he does it on Star Trek, which is supposed to be 26th Century technology (I think). But no matter how much you try to convince yourself that it's a doddle these days, especially compared with how it used to be, it always come back to the fact that you have to actually bring yourself to do it. There's still a huge psychological barrier to overcome. Despite all the reassuring things we've heard and all the things that we don't have to worry about that we thought we would, the thought of the injections was a shadow hanging over us for the first 24 hours in hospital - and especially Holly.

I am a person who often has to give blood samples while lying on a couch because the nurse taking it sometimes worries because I look like I am about to keel over. I never have, actually, but I've often felt like it. It soon dawned on me that I would not only have to know how to inject Holly - in case she was ever unable to do it herself - but would have to prove to the nurses that I could do it before they would let her go home. Poor Holly was soon saying that she would never be able to do it herself.

When it came to do the next injection, Julie took the bull by the horns and did it - and after some gentle persuasion from the diabetes nurse, including some practice on a teddy bear, Holly bravely did it for herself the next time. The look of relief on her face once it was over is impossible to describe, nor my pride in her for the way she had handled it. She also did the next one - the bedtime one - with me looking on and thinking that it would be my turn in the morning.

As well as injecting, there is also the chore of testing your blood - which will be four times a day for the forseeable future but once a day sometime in the future. You might think that the testing part would be rubbing salt in the wounds, especially as it involves pricking your finger to extract a drop of blood. But this part really couldn't be easier. There is a smaller pen-like device for pricking your finger which, when I did it on myself, I literally didn't feel. Then you put the drop of blood on to a little bit of plastic that fits into possibly the coolest little gadget I've ever seen - even cooler than an iPod. In about a second it gives you a sugar level (mine was 5.4).

So that's a quick guide to diabetes based on my experience from two days of watching and listening.

I stayed the (Tuesday) night at the hospital - my first overnight stay in hospital without wearing nappies - while Julie went home to try to sleep through toothache (she's got an emergency appointment at the dentist's in the morning).

I don't think either of us are convinced that the whirlwind has stopped or even that it ever will - they are promising more education in the morning - but we are relieved that diabetes isn't as bad as you might think and the more you hear about it from the experts, the better it sounds.

Another factor in it all is that one minute Holly was at school, and the next minute - or so it seemed - she was having an insulin injection. It's not as if you can prepare yourself and say you'll come back and start it a week next Thursday. And that's an incredibly good thing because, having been thrown in at the deep end, we're all now just getting on with it. After all, what else is there to do?

It's not what anybody would have chosen to happen but I was dead right. It's not a disaster and it certainly is a challenge - but not quite as daunting a challenge as it seemed yesterday.

PS If anybody ever tells you the NHS isn't the greatest idea the world has ever seen, slap them. We could not be more impressed with Holly's treatment and the support that we've already had - which seems to be the tip of the iceberg of what's to come. Everybody we've seen has been efficient, caring and encouraging, and perhaps most surprising is that they have all been excellent at the communication side of the job. We've quickly realised that Holly's case stands for what the NHS is all about - somebody who is unlucky enough to get a rare condition automatically qualifying for free lifelong support that will cost the taxpayer far more than we will ever contribute to the pot ourselves. Just because it isn't always perfect, it doesn't mean the NHS isn't Britain's greatest asset by a country mile and the first thing to consider when you put your cross on the voting slip every four or five years.

Oh God

Well, I've just finished reading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and it's a really powerful and thought-provoking book.

It's basically an 380-page argument for atheism from a scientist who doesn't pull any punches when it comes to exposing the beliefs and practices of organised religions. He absolutely hammers them - Muslims, Jews, Hindus and anybody else who might deny that Darwin was right about evolution - and he also has some pretty terrifying things to say about Christians, especially the born-again American variety as personified by George W Bush. It leaves you in no doubt that they are the biggest threat to world peace and justice since Hitler.

The fact that the appendix is "A partial list of friendly addresses, for individuals needing support in escaping from religion" just about says it all.

Dawkins doesn't just demolish religious arguments but sets out to prove that there is no God. Most of these are pretty powerful, although there is one part where he is much less convincing - trying to explain why religions have spontaneously occured in every civilisation the world has ever seen.

But he has no trouble in attacking dodgy modern creationists, pointing out how some of these are still trying to convince people that the world is only 6,000 years old. "To get an idea of the scale of this error," he says, "it is equivalent to believing that the distance from New York to San Francisco is 700 yards."

I think there are various books out that try to counteract it, including one called The Dawkins Delusion, which I am considering buying - if only to see how you go about trying to take apart a book like this.

At the moment I'm thinking it must be like trying to stop a steamroller.


Get out the way, old Dan Tucker


Old Dan Tucker, he's a fine old man,
Washed his face in a frying pan
Combed his hair with a wagon wheel
And died with a toothache in his heel

Imagine this sung by a load of hillbillies with banjoes, trumpets and a double bass and you've got some idea what We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions is like. It's a tribute album to American folksinger Pete Seeger by Bruce Springsteen - somebody who I have never been a fan of. Until now.

Ronald (my brother) leant me the CD and I'm having trouble turning it off, especially Old Dan Tucker, a song written in 1843 and featuring the chorus: "Get out the way, old Dan Tucker/You're too late to get your supper". I would defy anybody to listen to it and not smile.

Old Dan Tucker is the most hillbilly one on the album and some of the others are really blues, but it's predominantly folk, which I'm always in favour of. The banjo is especially good, although the second best track (so far) is probably Mrs McGrath, a traditional Irish song that I've heard before, about a sailor who loses both his legs in a battle.

They are all recorded live or as near as dammit - in single takes, I think - which obviously makes it even better.

I found this slightly different version of Old Dan Tucker on YouTube:


Happy birthdays

Though it hardly seems possible, it was Sean's 15th birthday today - and he seemed to have a pretty good day, even if it meant having to work (at the County Ground).

Tonight we all went to somebody else's birthday party - Sarah Wardell (Mercer), who is 18. This confirmed what a lovely young woman she's turned into, and when she insisted on recognising Sean's birthday and posing for a picture with him at the party, it showed just how much she's matured.

The party was in a private room at the King's Arms and a good time was had by all. Sarah's friends turned out to be a great gang and the opposite to what you might expect 18-year-olds to be these days. Apart from their taste in music, they were a credit to each other and Sarah.

I was the semi-official photographer for the evening. Below are some of the 248 pictures I took. There are more here.




Spooky

We had a spooky experience last night when Holly did a bit of sleepwalking - for the first time.

She's always talked in her sleep - although we've never been able to quite catch what she says - but last night she went a step further, in more ways than one.

During the evening we had been to Kingsdown School because Sean and Holly were both playing in the music department's regular recital evenings, when the kids who are learning instruments or singing perform in front of an audience. Sean played a solo drum piece and again in a duet with an electric guitarist. Holly sang with all the members of the choir who were present - only about 10 of them - and also played the violin. Both played (and sang) really well, but the pressure of performing may have contributed to the sleepwalking episode later on.

At about midnight, when Julie was snoring away and I was sat up in bed, reading my book, I heard Holly get up, and half a minute later she appeared by our door. Julie had woken up by now and Holly looked straight at us, obviously a bit confused and not saying anything.

We asked her if she was OK and did she want anything, and she said yes, she wanted... but then couldn't quite remember what she wanted. We asked her two or three times and each time she said she wanted or was looking for... "It's an... that..." and never quite got there. She was doing this while wandering around the bedroom, as if trying to remind herself. We later suspected that she could remember what she wanted but couldn't quite work out why she was stood in our bedroom, explaining it to us, and also why she was awake when we were in bed.

In the end she sat on the bed, apparently having woken up but having no idea what it was all about. At no point did she suddenly realise and looked shocked. It was a gradual waking up and in the middle it was impossible to tell when she was asleep and when she was awake, which was the spookiest part. Then she could see the funny side and didn't have a clue what it was all about.

She went back to bed OK and was perfectly OK in the morning.

It was all a chilling reminder about the fact that Carol (my sister) also used to sleepwalk when our mum was pregnant with me (and my twin brother, Brian). Because our mum was aware of needing to keep alert if Carol started walking about - especially when our dad was working the night shift - she didn't take the sedative she was prescribed by the doctor (presumably prescribed because of the stress of having twins). And that sedative was called... thalidomide.

Over the moon

I saw my first lunar eclipse tonight. Probably the most amazing thing about it was not the phenomenon itself but the fact that, for once, something interesting in the sky wasn't obscured by clouds. We all have bad memories of the solar eclipse of 1999. Although we got a better view than people at home, having travelled to Strasbourg to see it, we still didn't get the full effect because of patchy cloud.

I wasn't really expecting much from tonight's eclipse because I've always understood that it was mostly about the moon changing a funny colour, which is naturally lost on somebody who's colourblind, but it was fun watching the shadow of the earth slowly rise until it covered the whole of the surface of the moon. At this point it was at its weirdest, first looking like a drawing pin, with the edge highlighted, then looking like a ball, hanging there. Yes, I know it always looks like a ball, hanging there, but it somehow seemed to be more three-dimensional than normal rather than a shiny disc.

I tried to take a few pictures of it, which was a tall order considering the tiny camera I have, and as the moon wasn't actually very big in the sky, it was just a little dot on the screen. The top one is 'as is' while the bottom one, amazingly, was done by holding a pair of binoculars in front of the lens! I have to admit to re-touching it in Photoshop, though, to get rid of some of the camera shake. Or rather binocular shake.


Browned off

I've now finally finished reading Derren Brown's book, Trick of the Mind, which I have to say was a bit disappointing. I am a big fan of Derren, having avidly watched his telly programmes and seen him live at the Wyvern Theatre last year, and I was hoping the book might give at least some insight into how his act works or even how he goes about putting it together. But it never really gives anything away, although it is quite a good insight into the sort of person he is.

That said, there are a few interesting sections in the book, including systems for improving memory and an insight into how so-called psychics' stage acts work.

My favourite bit of the book is about probability, including the following scenario, which requires a bit of thinking to figure out, but is worth the effort. This is my re-written version of it:

You hear on the news that a deadly virus is spreading across Britain. It affects one in 10,000 people and there is no cure. If you get it, you die. The government is advising everybody to be tested for it, and the NHS announce that they have a test that is 99 per cent accurate. You take the test and a week later your doctor tells you the bad news that the test says you have the virus. How worried are you?

Obviously, the instinctive answer is that you should be very worried because the test says you have the virus and the test is 99 per cent accurate. But, as you've probably guessed, it's not as bad as it might seem. Far from it, in fact.

There is one key fact that most people overlook - that only one person in 10,000 actually gets the virus. This means that out of any group of 10,000 people, 9,999 haven't got it, regardless of what the tests say. But one per cent of this 9,999 are going to be told they have the virus even though they really haven't, and that adds up to 99.99 people. But they can't all have it because only one unlucky person out of 10,000 is really going to have it. In other words, the chances of you actually having the virus after the test says you have it is only one in about 100, not 99 in 100.

Here's another way of looking at it: if 1,000,000 people were tested, 100 of them would actually have the virus (although, because the test is 99 per cent accurate, only 99 of the 100 will be told they have it). Meanwhile, 999,900 people will not have the virus, and of these, 9,999 will be told that they have it when they really have nothing to worry about. You are nearly 100 times more likely to be in the second group (the 9,999 people who have been told they have it but don't really) rather than the first group (the 100 people who actually have it).

Good luck with figuring it out because it took me ages to get my head round it.

Check us out in the Daily Telegraph

For the past couple of years I've been involved with organising the biggest junior weekend chess tournament in the country - the West of England Junior Congress, which takes place at New College in Swindon. This year's took place last weekend.

I am in charge of all the equipment for the matches, which involves sourcing, setting up and taking down up to 180 boards, sets and clocks in a dozen different rooms, including a large hall. There is a lot of shifting of chairs and tables to do - some of which is done by children who I have to organise (and they get paid for helping) - including Sean, Holly and Lucy. Various unpaid adults also help, including Julie. When this takes up large chunks of a whole weekend - starting with a four-hour stint on Friday evening and finishing with another four hours of hard graft on Sunday evening - you sometimes wonder what you do it all for.

However, our efforts have been recognised by the Daily Telegraph's chess columnist, no less. Malcolm Pein - whose book, A Guide to Chess, we own - was at the event because his son was playing, and this is what he wrote.

You will notice that the Under-12 Girls Champion for the West of England was somebody called Megan Owens. Holly ended up second in this competition - there were only two who were eligible, actually - but she can count herself unlucky not to have got a mention because Megan, who is a former British champion, was eligible only because she happened to have been born in Wiltshire (she now lives and goes to school in Chepstow and plays for Wales). Oliver Carter, who won the Under-8 title, is no relation.

The competition was extremely tough. Although the prizes are only for kids from Wiltshire and the West of England, anybody can enter and, because it has such a good reputation, attracts the best players. Somebody totted up that there were 10 kids playing who held some kind of national title and 18 former British title holders. The vast majority of players are boys but there are prizes for the best girls.

Before the event I said it would be good if Holly could win two of her six games - which were all against boys, as usual - and that's exactly what she did. Two of her defeats were against boys she has previously beaten. Not that she expected to beat them because they both have a higher grade than her and they would have been especially determined to get their revenge on the girl who beat them before.

Taken in for questioning

Tonight I took part in a quiz organised by Moredon Netball Club at the Moonrakers. Our team, called The Bruvvers - Ronald, Maurice, Brian and me - did pretty well, finishing about fifth or sixth out of 27 teams. In fact, we thought we were doing really well and were on a bit of a roll, but as ever in these things, there are always other teams who are made up of people who know virtually everything. A measure of how much of a roll we were on is that we played our joker on the religious round and got ten out of 12 right (double it up to 20). It was a really enjoyable night, especially as the girls' team - Jenny, Jacky, Julie and Claire - only scored 99 while we got 136. Probably our most spectacular answer was remembering all five toys from Play School on TV (answer at bottom of page).

Play School answer



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