Saturday, 20 July 2013

Nye Bevan Started This

I’m so used to travelling to the hospital by now that the car drives there itself.  Two roundabouts, four sets of lights, swerves, chicanes, zebras, staff arriving on shift in a steady stream, patients drifting the roadway like clouds;  a world of purpose melding with a world of the lost.  In the strong early sun the features that endear this outpost of the NHS to me  are all still present.  Gangs  of smokers, babes in arms, dressing gowns flapping cluster the entrances.  Consultants in suits rattle into their mobiles as they stride the stairs.  Ancillary staff, mouths full of crisps and coffee, dot the summer grass. 

Along the corridors which run back from that entrance-framing and slightly frightening full-length portrait of Nye Bevan, founder of health free at the point of need, the crowds surge.  There is purpose here. Overweight administrators roll Tesco trolleys of paper files, patients are on sticks, the   tattooed limp, there are  mad bastards in gaping gowns.  Heading for the clinics are the aged in catalogue shoes,  the young on their career paths to glory,  well-meaning volunteers, new patients, returning visitors, the don’t know what work is, the can’t be bothered. 

I’m in the hands of physiotherapy, the latest referral  in the Service’s attempts to still my synovial cyst.    I’m signed on for a series of sessions in the gym.  It’s called back2basics or something equally uninspiring.  I ask at reception and the woman there isn’t sure what it’s actually called either.  You wait here, love, they’ll call you when they’re ready.    

Stoically  I sit myself among the limping and the lame, the wheelchair bound, the stick bearers, the becrutched;  those carried here, and those who stumbled in on their own.  Are these to be my fellow gym mates?  Nope.  They’re real patients around whom hope drains away like sand.  On the wall are adverts  for support equipment including an ergonomic aluminium exoskeleton that could have been designed for Rocket Man.     

With my pain in retreat I feel I should be at the David Lloyd not here.  Inside it’s like being back in school.  A 50s set-up of varnished wooden wall bars, beams, ropes hanging from a high light-filled ceiling.  All that’s missing is a vaulting horse.  In its stead stands a fan and next to it a water-cooler.  Be sure to drink from here often, instructs the instructor, ice-cold mouthfuls in cardboard cones.

There are nine of us with everyone on the surface looking fit enough to run for charity.  In a side room there’s a mad bugger wearing camouflage shorts and covered with tattoos at a density thicker than burning tyres.  He has slash scars across the side of his head and a face that would frighten ships.  Staff are measuring the strength of his grip.  He once, I imagine, could crush scaffold poles and punch holes in reinforced doors.  Is he with us?  No, thank god, he’s not.

We are each given a set of forms to complete which, in addition to the usual identity questions, ask us how we feel about the lives we live.  Write down an activity you find hard to do and measure how much pain is involved on a scale of 1 to 10.  The guy next to me, who looks like Nick Hewer from The Apprentice, has written Harry Belafonte down as his name.  I’m sure this can’t be right but I let it pass.  His hard to do activity is picking up pieces of toast from the floor.  I think for a bit then put down shopping at Homebase as mine.  

We set to.  There’s stretching, floor mat work reminiscent of Pilates, circuits, sessions on a treadmill, stepping on and off a bench while holding a fairly heavy medicine ball.  Do this in your own time and at your own level, yells the instructor.  A guy in a Superman t-shirt is running at sprint pace on the machine while a woman in a loose-fitting ensemble sourced from Laura Ashley has given up and is collapsed at the side waiting for world to slow down.

I crack on, sweat coming out of me like rain.  It’s the old days back.  Step up, breathe, step back.  Chuck the ball at the wall.  Catch it.  Squat, stand, leap in the air.  That’s it, shouts the instructor, go for it.   I do.   

After twenty minutes or so we are told to stop.  We cluster in a heat-ridden clump around the gym’s single fan.  That’s given you all an idea of what we’ll be doing over the next five weeks, Norman tells us.  I think that’s his name.   No mention of backs.  Amazingly mine still feels fine. 

Out at the lockers a guy who reminds me of Tony from the Sopranos tells me he’d normally run a mile rather than exercise.  But running a mile is exercise, I reply.  Guess it is, he says, unfolding a crushed jacket from his brand-new red Cardiff City rucksack.  But I did enjoy it all.  Sweat drips off my nose and fans out like Australia across my back.  Me too. 


Monday, 1 July 2013

The Psychic Centre

The way to overcome the synovial cyst pressing the spinal nerve is to hang the leg down below the peddle.  It’s a cycling technique I’m proud of, makes you look like a boy racer ready to round a corner at speed.  Although doing this on my folding Bromfield - small wheels, no crossbar, handlebars like a giant bottle opener - can look somewhat surreal.

There’s something about these bikes that makes teenagers shriek.  It happens again today.  As we roll up through the crowds along Churchill Way, the feeder hidden deep beneath us, a gang of bright sparks at a bus stop start the cat calls.  ‘Come on boy, get your feet turning, push those peddles.’  Why? Better than chants of  **&!!!***   I guess.

Bikes are certainly the best mode of transport for post-Polymyalgic, lower-spine synovial cyst sufferers.  There can’t be that many of us out there.  I'm down to 2 mg daily of the wonder drug and the cyst is falling in and out of focus like pulsar.  Sitting is about the only sure relief I know: the spine opens and the the pressure on the cyst reduces.  Doing this on two wheels lets you move about as well which makes it just about perfect.

I’m leading a psychogeographical tour of Cardiff, and doing it by bike.  There are twenty of us, all winding our way through the city centre.  It’s Saturday afternoon and the sun is uncharacteristically blazing.  The streets are dry and full of the joyful.  The pubs and bars have spilled out way beyond the confines of their smokers-only enclosures.    Shoppers in t-shirts have their arms full of brand new purchases.  You would not know there was a recession.

We’re heading up to the place in Park Lane where Bute’s Dock feeder, a sort of canal without boats built to fill his first West Dock with water, emerges briefly.  It’s there, stuffed into a two foot gap, fifteen feet below us, darkly surging.  Everyone is terribly impressed.

After this it’s the Glamorgan Canal underpass at Kingsway and then the psychic entre of Cardiff.  Everyone wants to reach this spot.  The psychic centre – a place of power and mystery.  I’ve told them all that this is what it is anyway.

We get there through the surging crowds leaving Bute Park, decked in Help For Heroes t-shirts and Battle of Waterloo military hats made from cardboard.  It’s Armed Forces Day.  I’d forgotten.  The tattoos and the beer swill down the pathways.  “This is Cardiff’s psychic centre,” I announce just as the refuse collection service arrives to empty the bin next to which I am standing.  I plough on regardless. 

“Here,” I tell them and the massed bus queues and straggling car parkers who have all moved I  towards me to hear what’s happening. “Here is where the power lines cross.  The Roman roads north and east and west,  the canal with its iron and coal, the ley lines running down from the Beacon’s standing stones, the secret tunnels that access the castle, the roadways into and out of the capital.  They all meet here.  This is a vast nexus of subliminal power, ancient and modern, lay and spiritual, real and imaginary.  Can you feel it?”  The entranced crowd nod. They can.  It’s here, the vibrancy, the energy.  If we pulse it up into our bodies I’m sure we can all fly. 

I tell them the story about how the late blind bass player and poet Dave Reid would be out on the town drinking and when  he’d had enough would find his way up here simply by sensing the ley lines.  He’d sprawl on the floor and thrash his white stick about until the police arrived.  What could they do with a drunk blind man?  They’d take him home.  Reid’s personal and free taxi service.  He pulled this trick many times although once, after the cops had unloaded him into his Cathedral Road bedsit, he chose to re-emerge and started flailing about again in the road there.  This time the police were not so obliging.  They took him back, all the way to the psychic centre, and then into police HQ nearby where they locked the drunken blind man in the cells.  £25 fine and bound over.   That’s what psychic power can do.

The crowd laugh, in sympathy perhaps.  I’m doing well.  The cyst is in retreat.  Cardiff around me is real. The past merges with the present.

The tour finishes at the new library.  We’ve gone around the back of Wetherspoon’s Prince of Wales where the fake outline of St Mary’s Church hangs high in the air.  So much of the city is fake.  The West Gate, attached to the Castle wall, is a Burges recreation.  The stone circle in Bute Park is artificial, put there by the Gorsedd of the Bards when the Eisteddfod visited.  The Gorsedd itself a fake, imagined by antiquarian and all-round literary man Iolo Morganwg two hundred years ago and now a fabrication so long that it has become venerated.

At the Library, wedged in between the drinkers and the Wagamama diners, I perform the poem of mine which has been engraved onto the Library’s front glass.  It’s a list, as many of my works are.  This one rolls the characters – street and otherwise – who have made Cardiff into a reverberating chant.  Here, I tell them, the past really does become the present. 

Near this spot you could once
cross a Cardiff bridge
before that a Norman ditch
before that Welsh water
before that Roman mud

Was there much here
found in the clay?
socketed axe head
with converging ribs
bone fragment pot
a few microliths

Now all lost

What we’ve got instead is the vibrant future. Leg down, one peddle cycling, I head off.  Synovial bugger, you haven’t got me, not yet.


Prednisolone update:  dose reduced to 1 mg / 2 mg on alternate days.  Ghosts of unsettled sleep and fear of crowds finally put to rest.  Does the wonder drug ease pains from the cyst?  Jury hasn't told me yet.

Creative Update: since March 2012 the house hunting, house purchase, property development, battles with planning and with Welsh Water, management of project, finding the money, selection of builder and then actual building with its noise, disruption, neighbourhood agony,  super stress, dust and constant timetable readjustment “they’ll put the flue liner in tomorrow”, they don’t, you ring up to complain, they don’t get back, all this has taken its toll.  Writing has reduced to a trickle.  Blog meander.  A few e-mails. No poems.  Not a new piece of verse in almost 9 months excepting the RS celebratory ode as a new commission, proving, I guess, that it can still be done. 

Creative Future: kick start, soon.

House Update: have moved, Southminster a dead duck.  Bronwydd glory with its trees and peace instead.

Status: married, again, and it’s wonderful

Car: Ford escort staggering on but on its last MOT and has to be changed.  Can anyone get enthusiastic about these things?  Not me.

Family: enlarging.

Music: Georgia Ruth, Ray Charles, John Fogerty, The Ventures, Max Richter – bought them this month.

Books: Edging The Estuary – the trail along the waterway – due March then June, then mid-July  and now July's end, 2013.  My fear of having a title out at the same time as the Eisteddfod boom at long last realised. 

Films: went to see Man of Steel and it was like being inside a computer game.  

What’s on the player as I write this? Neal Casal.  He visited Chapter once.  I somehow managed not to be there.