windowthroughtime

A wry view of life for the world-weary

Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Needle And The Damage Done

needle

I make it a rule in life to give the medicos a wide berth. Get into their hands and you are on a conveyor belt that leads to either drug consumption for the rest of your mortal or lying on the operating table or both.

Of course, having an operation is not as traumatic as it was a couple of centuries ago when surgeons were rightly known as saw bones and the poor patient was literally biting the bullet to endure the pain. We like to think that the anaesthetist with their bag of drugs are sufficiently skilled to administer sufficient knockout drops to see us through our procedure.

I hold no truck with these local anaesthetic procedures. I don’t want to see my giblets rearranged, thank you very much, and I have no desire to see the inner workings of my body. There is a very good reason why it is encased in skin and my eyes point outwards! If there is any procedures or surgery required then I want to be out like  a light. There is something quite pleasant about the rapidity in which you lose consciousness, the profundity of your unconsciousness and the delight to be had in coming round.

Alas, my confidence in anaesthetics or, perhaps, the proficiency of those administering them has taken a bit of a knock when I read a synopsis of a study conducted by the Royal College of Anaesthetics – reading the whole report would, I fear, have done the job of a mild anaesthetic. The report has found that at least 150 and, possibly, as many as several thousand of us a year are conscious whilst undergoing surgery. The reason for the wide range in the estimates is that people are often reluctant to speak of their operating table experiences.

A common thread seems to be that the patients have been given a muscle-relaxing drug as well as an anaesthetic – the relaxant paralyses the patient making it difficult for operating staff to see that they are conscious. Around 10% of the cases were caused by drug errors. In some cases, patients had been given relaxants but not anaesthetics, meaning they were conscious throughout the whole procedure. The period of maximum danger is either at the start or the end of an operation. This phenomenon is most common during a caesarean or a heart procedure.

Not unsurprisingly, half of the victims were distressed by the experience and 41%, perhaps sensing a bit of compo on the horizon, claimed they had suffered long-term psychological harm. The sensations they felt included tugging, stitching, pain and choking and they reported feelings of dissociation, panic and a sense of entombment.

On the other hand, the blissed out section of the survey took comfort in the sense of detachment they felt from the whole process.

I suppose you pays your money and takes your choice. For me, though, I will continue to give the people in white coats a swerve.

Advertisements

The Streets Of London – Part Eight

220px-GoldenBoy

Pye Corner, EC1A

When I was a youngster, every school child knew that the Great Fire of London of 1666 started in Pudding Lane – not sure that is the case these days. Pudding Lane was so-called not because it was the locale where tasty desserts were made but because of the puddings of entrails that fell off the carts as they made their way down the lane to the river to be disposed of. But very few children knew then – and, I suspect, hardly any do today – where the terrible conflagration finally stopped.

If you go to the corner of Giltspur Street and Cock Street in the Smithfield area of London and look upwards, you will see a gilt cherub, known as the Golden Boy of Pye Corner. If you look directly below the statue you will see the inscription “This Boy is in Memory Put up for the late Fire of London, Ocassion’d by the Sin of Gluttony, 1666.” Pye Corner – this old name is no longer used – was just outside the ancient walls of London and close to St Bartholomew’s hospital. It was here that the fire was finally extinguished.

So terrifying and devastating was the fire that the citizenry of London were soon casting around for explanations for the conflagration. The Monument, erected on the site of the outbreak, bore an inscription which remained in situ until the Catholic emancipation in 1829 attributing it to the treachery and malice of the popish faction. Others sought a more peccatogenic explanation for it all. One rabble-rousing preacher opined that if the fire had been retribution for lewdness it would have started in Drury Lane (the haunt of actresses and the byword for licentiousness), for blasphemy Billingsgate (the haunt of fish merchants), untruthfulness, anywhere in the City (nothing has changed!) but as it started in Pudding Lane and ended in Pye Corner, its root cause must have been gluttony. And so convincing was the argument that the monument marking the final resting place of the conflagration bears the attribution to the sin of gluttony.

The cherub, made of wood and gilt, was supposed to be unfeasibly fat but to modern eyes looks about five Big Macs short of being obese. It was originally fixed on to the Fortune of War pub which stood on the site – it was pulled down in 1910. The pub itself had an interesting history. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries bodysnatching was rife to feed the desire of aspiring medical students to have human bodies to improve their understanding of human anatomy and upon which to practise their surgical skills. The fear that a recently deceased’s body would be stolen for this purpose was such that churches – for example, the nearby St Sepulchre’s – had a watchhouse built to deter bodysnatchers.

The Fortune of War, because of its proximity to St Bart’s, was a centre of the bodysnatching trade. The landlord made available a room with benches all around the walls. There the cadavers were laid out, each carefully labelled with the names of the resurrectionists (as the bodysnatchers were known). The medicos from St Bart’s would then come and inspect them, selecting those that were most suitable for dissection.

An area with a fascinating history, to be sure.

Cyclops In The Room

rembrandt

I blame Donna Tartt but I can’t stand in front of a Dutch Master these days without the anticipation of a devastating explosion. Fortunately, at the National Gallery’s fantastic exhibition, Rembrandt : The Late Works http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/rembrandt-the-late-works the only explosion was that caused by sensory overload after gazing on 91 examples of Rembrandt’s work from the period running from the early 1650s to his death, at the age of 63, in 1669. A blast, though, might have been helpful in clearing the crowds, although as the majority of the attendees – it was only the eighth day into the show when I attended – were on the short side my view was on the whole uninterrupted.

The exhibition contains a fine range of sketches in pen and ink and etchings, all demonstrating a high proficiency in draughtsmanship and providing an interesting insight into what caught Rembrandt’s fancy and how he developed his compositions. But they are overwhelmed and overpowered by the sheer grandeur and brilliance of the paintings which spread over seven rooms in the Sainsbury Wing draw you in. As well as the sheer size of the canvasses – and some of the works had been cut down in size by some of the ingrates who got their hands on them when they could easily have built a bigger room – there is an overwhelming feeling that whilst his colour range is quite limited – brown in all its shades is the dominant hue – his mastery of shade, tone and light is second to none. So used are you to brown on a dark background that a splash of red almost affronts the senses.

rembrandt2

The 17th century Dutch were a gloomy race, their strong sense of Protestantism meaning that the men wore big hats and black and white, their furniture was dark and heavy and their propensity to tax on the basis of the amount of land a house occupied, thus encouraging narrow tall buildings, must have meant that they were surrounded by darkness. Whilst Rembrandt continues with the theme of darkness and gloom in his background you can only imagine that his use of tone and light just enhanced the visual impact of his pictures in their original hangings.

rembrandt1

The picture I was most looking forward to seeing was Rembrandt’s (then) controversial The Conspiracy of the Batavians under Claudius Civilis, featuring a massive full-frontal representation of the eponymous one-eyed rebel leader and it didn’t disappoint in its power. The burghers of Amsterdam, who had commissioned the painting for their new town hall, took it down almost immediately and what we see today is just part of the original.

The first room presents the viewer with a number of self-portraits, all revealing subtle (and no so subtle) changes in his appearance as the years wore on. There are so many highlights – the The Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild, the suicide of Lucretia and, probably his last work, Simeon with the infant Christ at the temple – but, for me, the most striking, partly because I was least familiar with it, was the fire-damaged The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Joan Deyman where the corpse has an almost religious and iconic feel about it, the sensation heightened by the fact that you only see the anatomists’ hands hovering above the cadaver’s head.

rembrandt3

There was so much to see and enjoy that a brief synopsis like this can’t possibly do it justice. Art exhibitions have become the new rock and roll and London this autumn is full of must-see shows but if you had to choose just one, this is the one to go for. After all, it is about a master at the height of his technical and creative powers.

Charitable Hangover

glass

It’s that time of year when the charity fascists come out from under their rocks and tell us how to live our lives.

Macmillan Cancer Support, a charity that doubtless does much good work to ease the sufferings of those battling with cancer, is posturing as the new Prohibitionists. On the back of some research that claims that the average Brit spends 315 days of their lives nursing the effects of hangovers after a session on the electric sauce, they have launched a Go Sober for October campaign.

Anyone who likes a drop of alcohol knows that a thumping head and, possibly, a dicky stomach is the natural consequence of a spot of over-indulgence. But one person’s hangover is another person’s mild bonce-ache and I can’t help thinking that many occasional topers like to play the sympathy card when they feel a bit below par. If you can’t stand the pain don’t pour so much down your throat or, to put it another way, if you wake up with a hangover you know your day is only going to get better.

The researchers acting on behalf of Macmillan bothered 2,000 British adults and discovered that one in 14 of us – based upon extrapolations upon extrapolations – will have more than 3,000 hangovers during their life. Women suffer longer with their hangovers – nine hours on average compared with men’s seven hours – and 22% of our friends in the North are likely to have four or more hangovers a month compared with 15% down sarf. Bizarrely, one in 13 admitted that a hangover caused them to miss a job interview or a first date. Methinks that they got pissed to avoid the appointment in the first place, not the other way round.

So, assuming you think that this is a terrible state of affairs, what’s the answer. Easy, say the good folks from Macmillan, sign the pledge, enrol in the Go Sober for October and get your friends and colleagues to sponsor you.

When you have done with that you are just in time to grow a moustache in support of Movember, a prostate awareness campaign. And then don’t forget to tip a bucket of iced water over your head – so irritating has this craze become that I have ditched Facebook – and then those nauseating career resurrectionists from Comic Relief will pop up to exhort us to wear a red nose.

Where will it end? And what rights do charities have to put us under moral pressure to change our lifestyles, even for a relatively small period of time?
I’m not against charities per se and charitable donations – they are increasingly necessary as our government seems to have abrogated any responsibility for maintaining a civilised society in which to live – but I am against them using fascistic methods to bring their cause to the fore. If I want to give to charity I will do it in my own way in my own time to my selected charity, thank you very much.

If you see me with the shakes from alcohol withdrawal, moustachioed, with a red nose and a sopping wet shirt you will know I have caved in! Cheers!

Quacks Pretend To Cure Other Men’s Disorders But Rarely Find A Cure For Their Own – Part Twelve

radnam

William Radam

The latest practitioner of quackery to come under our microscope, William Radam, was born in Prussia in the middle of the 19th century and emigrated, like so many, to Austin in Texas where he set up and ran a gardening and nursery store. He contracted malaria and despite taking many of the then alleged cures for the malaise, was unable to make a full recovery.

Radam seems to have been an early adopter of today’s bane of all medicos, the self-diagnoser. He read medical journals voraciously and his interest was piqued by microbes and the link that scientists such as Pasteur and Koch had made between these micro-organisms and disease. Our hero developed the idea that killing microbes in the body would be similar to killing garden pests and after a period of experimentation produced a liquid which he claimed was a universal and non-poisonous antiseptic, which he dubbed the Microbe Killer.

He claimed that his elixir was “pure water permeated with gases which are essential to the nourishment of the system and in which micro-organisms cannot live”. Drinking it like water over a period of six months, he claimed, would clear your body of all disease.

Radam started off giving his miracle cure away discreetly and those who consumed it, proclaimed its miracle properties. Soon the news spread by word of mouth and people flocked to Austin to get their hands on the potion and so busy did Radam become that his nursery started to get overrun with weeds, persuading him to take up quackery full-time.

Our hero started selling the potion by the jug full, applying for a patent in September 1886. In 1887 he had developed a trademark – a young be-suited man swinging a club in the direction of a scythe carrying skeleton who was crumpled at his feet. This elixir would defeat death!

So successful did the Microbe Killer become that Radam was able to up-sticks and move to the Big Apple and his pharmaceutical empire boasted seventeen factories across the land. And it became available internationally – a factory in London produced Microbe Killer jugs for the Brits and the Melbourne Glassworks did the same for the Australians.

Inevitably, such success brought sceptics out of the woodwork, no more tenacious an opponent than R.G.Eccles. Eccles claimed that the potion was little more than water with a splash of red wine to give it its distinctive pink colouration mixed with, worryingly, traces of hydrochloric and sulphuric acid. The two clashed in court and although Radam won the first encounter, he couldn’t shake his opponent off. Radam realised, though, that whilst Eccles was dissing his product in the medical press, no one outside of the medical and pharmaceutical professions read them and so continued to advertise in the popular press which everyone read. Business continued to boom even after his death in 1902.

In 1912 the Sherley Amendment was passed which put teeth into the anti-quackery movement and the Microbe Killer was the first to be targeted. Its days were numbered from that point on.

High Jinks Of The Week

ewe

For some reason sheep have been on my mind this week, probably because of two news items I spotted over the last few days.

Firstly, in rural Merstham in Surrey a flock of sheep had a tasty supplement to their diet, when they came across several blag bags containing vegetable matter which had been tossed over the hedge. They chomped away at the contents to no visible effect to their well-being or mental equilibrium – not sure how one can be so sure but that is another matter – despite the vegetation turning out to be mature cannabis plants. The remainder of the stash has been removed by the Old Bill and incinerated. Might be worth keeping your eye out for fresh Merstham lamb in the next few months!

And then news reached me, rather belatedly I must admit, that the Danish Minister of Agriculture has announced that the country is to ban bestiality. Surprisingly, the practice, if, indeed that is what it is, is legal in Brazil, Finland, Mexico, Romania, Thailand and 11 states of the land of the free that is America including Texas. In Germany being caught in flagrante with a sheep could land you with a fine of up to €30,000 whereas over here you could end up with two years inside and in Ireland where a severe view of such matters is taken the maximum sentence is life imprisonment. But not as severe a view as that which pertains in Iran where you would run the risk of the death penalty but only afterfour strikes is it out.

Funny old world really. Oh, and high jinks was an 18th century Scottish drinking game involving a die. If you threw a poor score you had the choice of drinking more alcohol or performing an undignified act. Let’s hope there weren’t any sheep around at the time.

 

Wager Of The Week

recycling

What receptacle would you consider sticking your head in for a bet? And what size of bet would induce you to do it?

A recycling bin in a bottle bank and £10 and a Big Mac? No, me neither.

But the lure of a tenner and a Big Mac was enough to persuade Chelsie Redwood – for it was she – a fashion student from the Solent University of Southampton – I rest my case – to stick her head into a recycling bin. Alas, spatial awareness doesn’t seem to have been her forte and she found that her napper was stuck fast.

The local pole sliders were called and they had to summon specialist cutting equipment from East London to liberate her.

Apparently she will not do it again – Darwin will be pleased! Hope she enjoyed her burger and spent her tenner wisely.

Ayia Nappa

napping

Another sign of the remorseless advance of age is my propensity for narcolepsy. At the drop of a hat – I studiously avoid any milliner for obvious reasons – I fall asleep for a few minutes. I judge many a film or TV programme by the simple criterion of whether it induced me to take forty winks – what I call its restful qualities. I am beginning to feel like F Scott Fitzgerald’s creation, Roger Halsey, who espouses the philosophy, “just take forty winks and when you wake up everything will be fine.”

Coming from an essentially Protestant work ethic and, it has to be admitted, a colder clime we used to look at the Latins with disdain for having the audacity to take a siesta during the day. In reality in the days before air conditioning and when the pace of life was less frenetic than it is today, taking time out when the sun is at its height seems pretty sensible to me. Even in these enlightened days when standards are slipping everywhere there is still something infra-dig about taking a nap at your desk. My first boss was a past master at it – he would return to his office around three o’clock, shut the door and we would be treated to the delights of some stentorian breathing. Half an hour later he would bounce out of the office like a man reborn. His propensity for afternoon napping may have been exacerbated by the amount of lubrication he took at lunchtime but he was the closest to a practising office napper I have come across in my working career.

The National Sleep Foundation – and they should know a thing or two about the subject – are all for napping. They point out that 85% of mammals are what is known as polyphasic sleepers which means that they sleep in short bursts during the day. Humans are in a minority as monophasic sleepers, meaning that we have one distinct period for sleeping. Of course, at the dawn of time we might well have been polyphasic because of the need to keep a look out for predators and those who practise the art of napping are simply reclaiming their roots.

The benefits of napping are undeniable. A NASA study showed that a 40 minute nap increases your alertness by 100% and other studies have indicated that a 20 minute nap is more effective in boosting your alertness than a cup of coffee or a bit of exercise. Napping improves your working memory allowing recent memories to be transferred to the neocortex where long-term memories are stored and solidified. Sensory perception is increased by forty winks and the refreshing qualities of a nap improve our productivity when we leave the land of Nod. Too little sleep leads to excess cortisol in the body which increases glucose intolerance and abdominal fat, weakens the muscular and immune systems in our body and increases our chances of diabetes and heart disease. A no brainer, then!

We should not be ashamed of our desire to nap but take a leaf from the Japanese Health Ministry which has introduced guidelines recommending that everyone of working age take a mid-afternoon nap.  Nod if you agree!

Would You Adam And Eve It

slang-wordle-300x174

I love words and their origins and particularly slang and idiomatic expressions. Not unsurprisingly, the human body is fertile ground for the logophile with a penchant for the vernacular. In this very occasional series I will be turning the spotlight on some of the more unusual words used to describe parts of the human anatomy, starting with your limbs and their appendages.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the word daddles was used to signify the hand. Quite why, we don’t know, although the verb dadder was used in the period to describe the act of walking unsteadily or to stagger. Daddle may have come to be used to signify the shaky or unsteady grasp of someone who was dadding.

For those of a nautical bent the hands were known as grabbers, perhaps as a consequence of the dog-eat-dog lifestyle of the matelot. By extension grabbing or grabbling irons were your fingers. The army, not wishing to ape the language of their sea-faring confreres, used military ranks to describe their digits. The corporal was your thumb while your four fingers were called privates.

Inevitably, there is some inherent racism in some of the slang. A Welsh comb was used in the 18th century in certain metropolitan circles to describe the thumb and four fingers, the theory being that is all the indigent Welshman could afford to tame their unruly barnet.

In Tudor times when religious observance was more acute than it is today, many couldn’t help notice that we had as many digits on our hands as there were commandments. Not surprisingly, therefore, your two thumbs and eight fingers became known as the ten commandments. The Bard himself, William Shakespeare, uses the idiom in Henry VI, Part 2, “Could I come near your beauty with my nails, I could set my ten commandments on your face”. I had always wondered what that had meant.

Turning to your feet, these were known in certain circles during the 19th century as dew-beaters. When you walked, particularly in the early morning, your feet would get wet as a consequence fo disturbing the dew that had formed overnight on the grass. By extension the term dew-beater was also used to describe someone who got up with the lark.

The 18th century slang to describe the long bony legs of a man was cat-sticks or trap-sticks. The phrase owes its origin to a game called tip-cat in which the contestants using a long tapering stick – the cat stick – would hit a short wooden bar into the air and as far as they could – remember there was no TV in those days!

Your underpinnings were also your legs. Those familiar with the building trade will not need reminding that the underpinnings of a building are what hold the whole edifice up. Likewise, the upright stance of Homo sapiens reliant upon the legs – simple!

And finally, your prayer bones were your knees, so-called because when you were praying you were doing so on your knees.

Until next time..

Book Corner – October 2014 (2)

farzana

Farzana – Julia Keay

In the fevered imagination of the marketing wallahs, bloggers are deemed to be influencers. Thanks to the good offices of a recently rediscovered friend (and follower) of mine I was encouraged to sign up to Netgalley.com which allows you to sign up to review books. What’s not to like about that?

So I signed up and volunteered to review the late Julia Keay’s book, Farzana, which was published last year in India but has only just seen the light of day here. Tragically, Keay succumbed to cancer before she was able to get beyond the first draft of the book and, I’m sure, the book would have been radically different had she lived long enough to finish the job.

That said, the book sheds some light on the Wild East that was the area of India between Delhi and Agra in the second half of the eighteenth century when the last remnants of the Mughal Empire were tottering into oblivion and the Raj was limbering up to move into the vacuum. Keay’s heroine is the glue that binds together a motley and picaresque collection of freebooters and desperadoes who hired themselves out as mercenaries to whichever leader had the most money.

Farzana was a poor girl made good, starting out as a courtesan in the Chauri Bazaar to become the jagirdar of Sardhana and commander of a 3,000 strong mercenary army. The key to her good fortune was Walter Somber Reinhardt, a mercenary from Alsace, who earned everlasting infamy from the Brits for being the Butcher of Patna, a massacre as notorious at the time as the Black Hole of Calcutta. This crime meant that Reinhardt was always on the run from the British and siding with their enemies. Riding on his coat tails Farzana became a confidante and main protector of the Mughal Emperor, although she was conspicuously and, for her employer, disastrously absent when he, Shah Alam, needed her most.

Keay’s heroine had a number of romantic dalliances after Reinhard’s death but was wily enough to keep them at arm’s length from her power base and her fortune. Recognising which way the wind was blowing and making her peace with the British, Farzana later converted to Catholicism, picking up a priest called Julius Caesar along the way, and became a fixture and object of some interest in the early Raj social scene.  All in all, a fascinating tale of an era which I knew very little about.

Stylistically, there is something a little Homeric about the book with Keay’s use of a distinctive epithet each time a character appears or reappears in the narrative. I’m also sure that the book would have been shortened and would have had a sharper focus in its subsequent revisions.

Still, if you are interested in Indian history, it is worth a read.